Sunday, August 12, 2012

Were You at Woodstock?

Just about a month after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969, another big cultural event happened in August----Woodstock. As you recall from previous posts, I was working as a waitress on Fishers Island in the Long Island Sound that summer. Here is what I've written about that trip (in every sense of the word) off-island:

"I left Fishers Island only once that summer of ’69 to go with Mitch and Rob,  their sister Carol and her boyfriend Hans. We piled into Hans’s car at the ferry dock on the other side and drove to a music festival he knew about in upstate New York. Hans was the kind of guy who, though not very hip himself, always knew the latest, hippest things—where to get the best weed, or who the up-and coming bands were that no one else had heard of yet. He already knew this festival was going to be so big you wouldn’t even need a ticket to get in.
“There are gonna be so many fuckin’ people there,” Hans said. “They’ll never be able to take all the tickets. It’ll be free for the people.”
Woodstock wasn’t a place yet in our minds, just the road was, pulling us along with thousands of others to something, someplace, some experience. The 17th century Japanese poet Basho had said, “The journey itself is home,” and it was the journey itself, not the performances of rock’s luminaries, that is most memorable for me. The trip became its own home with a traffic jam of epic proportions, surrounded by tens of thousands of people just like us, our new family, our new tribe.
We happily walked the mile or so from where we left the car to carry all our gear (Hans’s gear) alongside our new tribe, which was going to save the world through music, peace, love, and drugs. Hans had found an old Army tent from his Boy Scout days in his parents’ garage, and had filled a cooler with over twenty sandwiches—whole wheat peanut butter and jelly, whole wheat humus and cheese, whole wheat cheese, and three with juicy slabs of ham. A big pot of brown rice still in the pot took up the rest of the room in the cooler.
Self-sufficient in our tent, we were escaping the confines of the old society. At our neatly laid out site, we even had a couple of folding lawn chairs Hans had grabbed from his parents’ porch. Cool people from all over the country stopped by to share joints and food. This was what the new world was going to look like, we told ourselves.
Somehow I got close enough to the stage that first night to see Joan Baez perform. How many nights in high school had I played her record over and over on my little orange plastic record player in my room, and now here she was, tiny on the big stage, singing "I Shall Be Released" in that pure voice that could echo through a teenage life. And the next night, Janis played and wailed. Janis Joplin, who sang it for us middle-class white girls who knew there was another life out there.
By the third night, though, the tent was leaking, the sandwiches were gone, and the family togetherness was wearing off.  Mitch was tripping and morose. Rob was tripping and even more of a loudmouth than he usually was. Hans and Carol just made out constantly for two days; rumor had it she was still a virgin. I got tired of wandering around dirty crowds in the mud, having the same boring conversation with different people: “Yeah, it’s really cool, man.” “Yeah, they were fuckin’ awesome.”  “Yeah, the outhouses suck.”
All those thousands turned out to not necessarily be just like me. But even if they smelled bad and raged on about absurdities and were right in your face, you had to love them as in: “C’mon people now, smile on your brother. Everybody get together, gonna love one another right now.”
It was all about sharing, not just sex, but your food and stash and what we would call in the ‘80s, your personal space. And the only way to turn down their offerings, no matter how undesirable, was to say nonchalantly, “I’m cool, man.”
In other words, we had to be nice, at least we women did, or we would earn that most terrible of epithets—an uptight chick.   Turn down another hit of acid, or tell someone rummaging in your tent to get lost, or push away from the embrace of a stranger and the tongue forced into your mouth, and you could later hear someone say about you, “She’s uptight, man.”
I didn’t get it. Here we were supposed to be creating a new society, and we chicks were getting the same message we had gotten when we wore little white gloves in the 1950s—be nice. I didn’t want to be nice. I wanted to do my own trip, not somebody else’s version of it. I wanted to be on the road that was mine." 

(Italicized text excerpted from "On Our Own Road" from Hullabaloo on the Space Coast: A Memoir of Place by Linda S. Buckmaster, copyright 2012.)


  1. By the time we got to Woodstock, the cars were parked for over a mile on both sides of the road. Some people had even parked in neighboring fields; Holsteins and Jerseys meandered around the VW buses looking in windows and licking the outside mirrors.

    We had a VW bug, and we found a spot just wide enough to pull in headfirst. I remember going out the windows because we couldn’t open the doors, and we started to walk up the road. A mile feels like forever when you’re stoned, but we drifted along with lots of other blue-jeaned, beaded and belled long-haired folks, all of us talking about how amazing this was, how it would change the world, how it would change us forever.

    And then we heard some music, heard the crowd! We took a shortcut through some woods, slapping at mosquitoes and other bugs, tripping over roots and deadfall; we all had welts and scrapes on our ankles and arms and cheeks from the thick twigs and scrub.

    We emerged, panting and sweating, on the edge of the bowl, and looked down the side slope of the field into that quivering, squirming mass of humanity.

    We had never seen so many people in one place in our entire lives, and we were terrified.

    We turned as one, headed back into the woods, back down the road, snaked through the windows back into the VW bug, chugged back down the road.

    We were back in Cambridge by midnight, in our own bed.

    Yeah, I was at Woodstock.

  2. Deb,
    What a great story! Love it. "A mile feels like forever when you're stoned." I love de-mything the myth.