By Stephen Lemons
By Weston Phippen
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
By Kathleen Vanesian
By Stephen Lemons
By New Times Staff
By Stephen Lemons
Last spring, Patrick Lange removed an ornate Persian urn from a shelf in his 1920s-era hacienda and carefully poured the contents of the small container on a table. He stared at the powdery mountain before him. Then, using a spoon and knife he went to work, dividing the chalky, off-white substance into nearly a dozen separate piles. Satisfied that every pile contained an equal amount, he then set about packaging the individual mounds in paper envelopes he would later surreptitiously slip to friends.
Although Lange looked to be in the midst of some sort of illicit activity, the clumpy powder over which he labored was not illegal.
This is not to suggest that his covert ritual was entirely without drug overtones. The packaged white powder was not heroin, cocaine or crystal meth. Instead, the bindles held the cremated remains of Lange's life partner, a counterculture Calamity Jane responsible for nearly single-handedly turning Phoenix on to pot in the late 1960s. And, who, in the process, unwittingly helped mainstream the illegal weed that, despite its popularity, would continue to sow the seeds of crime, controversy and chillin' more than 30 years later.
Following a six-month bout with lung cancer, 59-year-old Christie Bohling -- free spirit, hell-raiser, dope smuggler and arguably the most enduring figure to spring from the local hippie movement -- sprang off this mortal coil on April 24.
The Valley's Queen of '60s Counterculture Cool couldn't have asked for a more fitting send-off.
The Sunday afternoon following her death, during a celebration of her life, dozens of friends came to a bittersweet realization: With Christie Bohling gone, the joint would just never be the same.
Of course, the joint -- at least as Bohling had savored it during pot's mid-'60s salad days -- hadn't been the same for a long time. No longer merely the puff of preference for subversives kicking back to Ravi Shankar tunes, smoking pot has long since taken root in the American mainstream and, as an act of rebellion, is now only slightly more defiant than hoisting a beer. Easy Rider's Captain America has become Fast Times at Ridgemont High's Jeff Spicoli and the multi-dysfunctional family headed by Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. Now enjoying a retro renaissance among young music fans, the venerable vine is celebrated in the chart-climbing reggae tune "Because I Got High," a paean to singer Afroman's comic misadventures while stoned.
In an age when one U.S. president has admitted to smoking (albeit, not inhaling) marijuana, a time when TV sitcoms have abandoned accidental ingestion of pot brownies in favor of the comedic possibilities of inadvertent Ecstasy dosings, and an era in which head shops routinely share strip mall space with video rental stores, it's difficult to remember when a simple "roll-your-own" could create a firestorm of controversy.
But that was hardly the case during Christie Bohling's heyday, a period mirrored in the flashback-like memorial service at The McNasty Brothers' Ranch, a remote spread in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Reminiscent of a hippie requiem, circa 1969, the celebration of Bohling's life also served as a reminder of how far her beloved bud -- once the underdog of the horticultural community -- has come in the past 30 years. At that time, a Lifemagazine article reported that 12 million people -- mostly college students and an epidemic number by standards of the day -- had sampled the evil weed.
It's a safe bet that many of those early day experimenters were present at Bohling's unorthodox send-off. Instead of a sea of dark-suited mourners dabbing at their eyes, attendees at this service -- many sporting loud Hawaiian prints, flowing peasant shirts, tie-dyed tees and graying ponytails -- drifted into the surrounding desert, where they reminisced about Bohling's escapades over communal reefers.
Near the guest book, where funeralgoers might usually expect to see floral tributes and cherished keepsakes, were unconventional souvenirs documenting a life so extraordinarily loopy it might have been lifted from a Tom Robbins novel.
A favorite brandy snifter, once used by the deceased to quaff her morning Courvoisier, contained a small quantity of precious hemp-based oil. Guests -- including a correspondent from High Times magazine who flew in from New York to cover the event -- were urged to anoint themselves with the exotic balm.
A nearby gold frame held a yellowing 8-by-10 glossy of Bohling, dating back almost 35 years; in the photo, a blonde, barefooted woman in capri pants is engaged in a heated argument with a couple of cops on a Phoenix street corner.
And in another frame, a collection of electric-hued labels paid homage to the late entrepreneur's outlaw business acumen. Bearing names like "OD Imports," "One-Toke Red Eye," and "Mesilla Valley Madness," these are the labels with which Bohling proudly (or, as some might argue, "brazenly") marketed kilos of high-grade marijuana she helped smuggle in from Mexico during her days as a cannabis commerce kingpin.
As a leading light of the Valley's marijuana galaxy, Christie Bohling followed her own star. Talk to Bohling's friends, many of whom have known her for 30 years or longer, and a portrait emerges of a larger-than-life personality who zigged when the rest of the world zagged, a shrewd businesswoman who had one hand on the pulse of Phoenix's flower child community and the other on a cash register ringing up sales on the other side of the law. In short, sort of a Southwestern version of Janis Joplin, right down to an untamed mane of auburn curls, a taste for booze and a gravelly voice -- a raspy souvenir of a four-pack-a-day Marlboro habit.
And if the highs she received from trafficking in marijuana were more enjoyable to her than those she derived from smoking the stuff, well, don't knock it 'til you've supplied it.
"She was all woman but she loved running with the guys," says one Bohling contemporary who requests anonymity; like more than a few of Bohling's old cronies, the one-time pot dealer has long since turned his business smarts to the corporate world. "I remember unloading planes with her out on the Indian reservation. She worked with all the guys -- and she had bigger huevos than most of them."
According to the pal, the smuggling operation with which Bohling became involved was a high-flying seat-of-the-pants adventure bearing little resemblance to the profit-driven organized crime cartels that now supply most of the country's pot.
Literally operating on a wing and a prayer ("With some of those planes you were really taking your life in your own hands," recalls the source), Bohling and her pals would purchase beat-up, single-engine airplanes, then hire pilots to fly them to Mexican marijuana farms run by their connections. After loading the planes with bails of pot, they'd fly the crates back to the U.S., initially unloading their contraband right under the noses of officials at small airports in Glendale and Deer Valley.
"If the pilot was an older guy who didn't look suspicious, you could load up the van right out on the runway and nobody paid any attention," says Bohling's crony. "By the late '70s, when everyone started figuring out what was going on, we'd land in the desert or out on the Indian reservation instead; then you'd fly the empty plane back to the airport and nobody was the wiser."
Although Bohling made the occasional dope run, friends claim her major role in the operation was overseeing safe houses, including a swanky manse in the Biltmore Estates she leased one summer. It was here the contraband was stored until it could be packaged and distributed, frequently to areas of the country far from the border, where the weed would bring a better price.
"Back then, this was never really about the money," says Bohling's former pot pal, remembering that weed was selling for $55 a pound during the early days of their operation. "In the beginning, people would smoke a little pot, do a little business and everything was fine."
In fact, he says, no one involved in the smuggling business even considered themselves criminals, preferring instead to believe that they were just sort of operating on the fringes of the law.
"I don't think you could compare Christie to your everyday dope dealer on the street." Referring to the violence that in more recent years has permeated the high-price pot biz, he adds "I don't think she'd do the things that you see happening on our streets today. Christie had a conscience."
According to Patrick Lange, Bohling's companion for the past 18 years, it was Bohling's conscience that drove a wedge between her and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), an organization that would initially appear to have been her bowl of tea.
Outraged by some spurious claims in pro-pot literature distributed by the group (the propaganda suggested that if pot wasn't legalized, kids would automatically turn to heroin and other hard drugs), Bohling turned down an offer to head up a local chapter many years ago.
"The NORML people told Christie they wanted her to 'come in under their umbrella,'" says Lange. "She told them that if that was the kind of information they were giving people, she'd rather stand out in the rain. That was Christie -- nobody was going to tell her what to do. She loved being on the edge. Living with her was an adventure; you never knew what she'd get into next."
The only child of a Valley banker and his wife, Christie Bohling was rattling the establishment's cage almost from the day she could first stand up in a playpen.
In a 1985 New Times profile, published when Bohling was then facing a federal charge involving a conspiracy to smuggle 18,000 pounds of pot into this country from Mexico, the lifelong nose-thumber claimed there were two big influences on her life. One was TV's Dragnet, the cops 'n' robbers show whose black-and-white depiction of law and order clearly colored Bohling's world view.
The other was a Parker Bros. board game she'd play for hours on end.
"I was the Monopoly queen," Bohling told a reporter. "We'd play for very heavy bucks, and that's where I got my concept of money: You win, fine. You lose, you start another game."
But this born risk-taker would have to wait a few years before she could really vie for big stakes.
By the time Christie Bohling graduated from Arcadia High School in 1960, counterculture options were few and far between. The beat generation movement was dead and the next big alternative lifestyle choice -- hippiedom -- was still six years down the road.
So, Bohling being Bohling, she did what seemed to be the only logical thing: She moved to Fullerton, California, and married a poultry rancher.
Although details about this curious chapter of Bohling's life are sketchy, the highlight of this what's-wrong-with-this-picture union was undoubtedly its dissolution. While preparing for an appearance in divorce court, a friend slipped Bohling something to calm her nerves. The pill? LSD.
Single and now viewing life through the eyes of the newly enlightened, Bohling tripped back to Phoenix with the idea of opening a hip dress shop like the boutiques she'd seen in Los Angeles. When the cost proved prohibitive, she figured she'd raise the money by operating a poster shop. Taking out a lease on a former hamburger joint at 2510 North Seventh Street, Bohling and a girlfriend repainted the building's exterior with traffic-stopping psychedelic swirls, stocked its shelves with $500 worth of posters, incense and rolling papers and hung out their shingle in July 1967.
The Liquid Giraffe was open for business.
What that name meant is now anyone's guess; still, the giraffe allusion is apt. Although Bohling may not have realized it at the time, the proprietress of Phoenix's first head shop was really putting her neck on the line.
Interviewed by the Arizona Republic shortly after launching her business, Bohling enthused "We realized there was no such place in Phoenix, so we opened this shop. We want to turn the whole town on."
Accompanied by a photo of a bunch of teenagers in sunglasses and paisley prints sitting on the floor under a Jefferson Airplane poster, the full-page article ended with Bohling offering special thanks to Phoenix's finest.
"I would like to emphasize the cooperation we have had from the police," she stressed. "They have been very nice and we try to help them by enforcing the curfew for the younger kids who hang out here."
Just two months later, that cross-generational love fest was over.
"Fears of Hippies Leads to Arming" screamed an October 3 Phoenix Gazetteheadline over a story that claimed neighbors were taking up guns to defend themselves against the rowdy clientele at the Liquid Giraffe and two other nearby head shops, The Acid Vat and The Purple Bag.
"So many of us have been threatened and intimidated that the situation is moving toward open violence," one resident told a reporter. "These establishments have created a threat to the health and safety of the community at large."
Explaining that the hippies had "stolen lawn furniture, used our autos for petting, set off firecrackers [and] discarded beer and pop cans on the lawn," homeowners submitted a petition to have the shop closed as a public nuisance.
Clearly relishing her role as a rogue retailer (she now occasionally kept the store open 24 hours a day, with bands sometimes performing atop the roof), Bohling dismissed the prevailing lynch mob mentality as "the silliest thing I ever heard because that [hippie] won't do anything but throw a flower at you."
Such comments did little to endear Bohling to the cops, who reportedly began monitoring her every move. Driving home from the shop, she was regularly pulled over and ticketed for such picayune offenses as squeaky brakes and operating a car while barefooted. It was around this time that Bohling found a bag of marijuana that someone -- Bohling always suspected the cops -- had planted in her car. Enraged over being set up, she told the cops that if they didn't lay off, she was really going to flood the state with marijuana.
"It seems like I always had a file open on Christie," says Craig Mehrens, a longtime friend and attorney who represented her over the years. "One of my favorite stories about her involved a wiretap. On the wire [agents] hear her talking to this guy and she says 'Okay, I'll meet you in the Safeway parking lot and I'll give you the keys then.'"
Hearing the word the word "keys" -- bygone pot slang for "kilos" -- the agents automatically assumed a big drug deal was going down. In reality, says Mehrens, laughing, "the guy had simply left the keys to his car at her house the night before and she was returning them to him."
Somewhere along the line, Bohling became a key player in the Phoenix pot scene.
As near as can be determined, that was probably around 1969, when through a remarkably convoluted chain of post-Liquid Giraffe events, Bohling became stranded in Spain while managing a rock band. Living on her wiles (and the proceeds from the Saks Fifth Avenue blouses she peddled for 70 cents apiece), Bohling eventually pulled herself out of the hole by smuggling hashish from Tangiers to Hawaii several times.
Reliving several particularly hairy experiences (one of her favorite tales was about hashing out a dope deal in Morocco with knife-wielding "people who had probably never seen a white girl before"), Bohling told a New Times reporter in 1985, "I've been through so much shit, I can't believe it."
And if there hadn't been so many witnesses around to verify her fantastic tales, skeptics would have been well within their rights to dismiss Bohling's exploits with "and what was she smoking?"
"Christie was the stereotypical good-hearted marijuana trafficker," says Walter Nash, a Tucson attorney who handled Bohling's 1985 conspiracy case. "The defendant that you'd see in the '60s would later become a big-time real estate broker or an investment banker -- they were really bright, well-educated people that just wanted the rush. Now it's much more hardcore and you'll find much more of what you'd define as 'real crime' involved than it was back then. That sort of business doesn't exist anymore."
Fortunately for Christie Bohling, that burgeoning field was still wide open to counterculture capitalists like herself when she returned to the United States in 1971.
Following a shaky start as the state's first waterbed franchisee (the mattresses all leaked), Bohling kept her head above water at Clouds, a boutique she opened across the street from the defunct Liquid Giraffe. An upscale version of her earlier store, the hippie emporium also carried whatever Bohling happened to interested in at that particular time.
"You walked in there and you could buy anything from a hash pipe to a $3,000 gold ring," says a musician friend named Tucker, owner of the McNasty Brothers' Ranch. "God, man, Clouds had everything."
Of course, not all of Bohling's inventory was on the shelf.
By the bicentennial year, she'd established herself as one of the town's most legendary pot smugglers, a shrewd maverick whose operation closely paralleled that of Johnny Depp's character in the earlier reels of Blow. After hooking up with a trio of well-heeled young smugglers from Texas, Bohling began importing loads of pot from small Mexican farms via cars and planes. Although her initial function was to oversee a distribution center in Phoenix while others were on the road, the self-styled "designer drug smuggler" eventually put her own personal stamp all over the operation, right down to the silk-screened labels that adorned her kilos.
The business agreed with Bohling, and vice versa. Playing the role of the outlaw entrepreneur to the hilt (friends say she frequently referred to herself as "The Queen of the World"), Bohling ruled her kingdom in high style. Yet despite her love of the good life -- ignoring the pervading hippie ethic of the day, she flaunted her affinity for designer clothes, expensive jewelry and fresh manicures like a well-heeled rock star -- Bohling rarely wound up with anything to show for her illicit activities.
"She never wound up with much money herself," says Patrick Lange. "She was always funding some clinic, putting up money for someone who was trying to start a business or helping one of her friends who was in trouble."
One of the McNasty Brothers puts Bohling's philanthropy in more succinct terms. "All of Christie's pot [business] really takes a backseat to the other stuff the lady did," says Tucker. "Compassionate? She has literally taken care of thousands of people on the edge of whatever. Her whole left tit was heart."
By 1980, the bloom was definitely off the bud. Move over, Alice B. Toklas; here comes Scarface.
And for that, one of Bohling's buddies blames a spiraling chain of events triggered by the Mexican government's efforts to quash pot smuggling in the late '70s by spraying the country's marijuana fields with paraquat, a toxic herbicide.
"When the paraquat came in, the pot traffic from Mexico came to a complete stop," says a one-time member of Bohling's smuggling team. "That's when the Colombians moved in and the price of pot went from $55 a pound to $350, $450, finally all the way up to an all-time high for then of $800 a pound. Then they started smuggling cocaine in, too, and suddenly the whole business changed. People started packing guns; people were doing too much cocaine and becoming paranoid. People were wigging out and doing things they shouldn't do. That's when the old-timers like me decided it was time to retire."
As many pot historians have noted, the spraying of Mexican fields backfired, introducing smokers to a Colombia's higher grade of marijuana and conditioning them to pay steeper prices for weed, which turned out to be a status symbol in some circles.
Unwilling and unable to compete with organized crime cartels and a business that was now completely foreign to her, Bohling reportedly took her leave from the dope trade.
Although Christie Bohling had been out of the trenches for years by the time President Ronald Reagan and his wife launched their anti-drug blitzkrieg in the 1980s, her reputation came back to haunt her when she was one of 23 people named in a 24-count conspiracy to distribute 18,000 pounds of marijuana smuggled in from Mexico. By the time the case was over (Bohling was one of only five defendants who were actually tried), a jury found Bohling guilty of the smuggling charge, as well as of possession 100 pounds of marijuana and two counts of possession of half an ounce of cocaine.
In the appeal, which dragged on for two years, Bohling's attorney, Walter Nash, argued that the entire case was a "dry conspiracy": "They never seized a pound of pot," Nash told New Times in 1985. "It was totally dependent on an informant's word."
Despite a jury verdict, which could have meant a two-year prison stretch for Bohling, the judge ultimately gave her credit for "time served" awaiting trial; as a result, Bohling spent less than three months behind bars.
One might assume that this incident, along with a social climate far different from that of the '60s, would have seriously dampened the torch Bohling carried for her beloved bud.
One would be wrong. Instead, the mainstreaming of marijuana (currently a guilty pleasure of everyone from professionals to skate punks, the bud has long been stripped of any mystical trapping ) only fueled the flame in her belly. By the early '90s, Bohling was at the forefront of the national hemp movement, trumpeting the use of marijuana by-products in everything from clothing and beauty aids to surf boards and hack-sacks.
Thanks to her efforts in helping to organize the world's first hemp commerce convention, held at the Hermosa Inn in the 1990s, Bohling was subsequently named by High Times magazine as one of the "25 Living Legends of Pot," an honor she shared with such outspoken pot proponents as Woody Harrelson, Tommy Chong and Willie Nelson.
While others began to fight to use the marijuana plant in medicinal pain management, Christie Bohling was busy fighting to exploit its industrial use. A THC-free version of the plant used in rope manufacturing, hemp had almost been a cash crop for Thomas Jefferson and was the material used in the first pair of Levi's.
In what may be viewed as an effort to recapture her glory days, Bohling and Lange opened CHA! (Coalition of Hemp Activists), an all-hemp boutique on Scottsdale's Fifth Avenue in the mid-'90s. Despite Bohling's enthusiasm for better living through pot, non-smokable hemp was a tough sell -- and infighting within the ranks of largely inexperienced suppliers didn't make things any easier. After floundering for two years, the shop closed.
"The hempsters pissed Christie off," says Patrick Lange. "We dumped so much money into the cause, and then to have to listen to all that whining and complaining, it just wasn't worth it. But Christie had set out to make hemp a household word and she accomplished that."
Hemp behind her, Bohling tackled her last frontier: the untamed world of on-line auctions.
"E-bay used to be a lot more fun before they started passing all these rules about what you could or couldn't sell," says Lange, explaining that, for the past several years, he and Bohling had made ends meet by buying items at yard sales that they'd resell over the Internet.
"In the beginning, they'd let you sell switchblades, guns, whatever. Not any more. Like selling pot or hemp or anything else, the early boomtown days are always the best."
This spring, Christie Bohling would make what would prove to be her last trip to Mexico. Diagnosed with lung cancer just six months earlier (she'd been plagued with respiratory problems for 10 years but preferred to ignore them), she traveled to a Tijuana doctor who specialized in controversial treatments -- chelation drip and live-cell injections among others -- either unavailable or unaffordable in the United States. (Like others now battling for legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, Bohling found the herb useful in battling the side-effects of the disease, a use she could not possibly have imagined decades ago while merrily toking up under a black light.)
While Bohling initially responded favorably to the Mexican therapy, the natural stimulants in the medicine made it impossible for her to sleep. Desperately needing rest, Bohling reluctantly gave up on the treatments and returned with Lange to the rural Chandler Heights home where they had lived for the past 15 years.
"Christie loved this place the minute she set eyes on it," says Lange of their home, a 1920s-era hacienda on an acre of land near the San Tan Mountains. "She always said that this was the place where she was going to die."
Although that wish did not come true (she died at Mesa's Valley Lutheran Hospital), Christie Bohling couldn't have hoped for a better ending than the surprise going-away party Patrick Lange had planned for her: After her cremated remains were returned to him, Lange parceled out her ashes in little envelopes. Globe-trotting friends, he explained, agreed to "smuggle" Christie all over the globe, sprinkling her ashes everywhere from Castle Hot Springs in Arizona to Nashville, Chicago and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
"I thought a very appropriate place for some of her ashes would be in the Irish Republican Army cemetery," says Shami Maxwell, a friend who handled the Ireland leg of Christie's final journey. "Christie was always a good rebel."
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