Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woodstock: I wasn't there

I might be one of the few people left on the planet who will concede that he was not at Woodstock 50 years ago.

But I could have been.

I'd just graduated from high school, Class of 1969. I was 18 years old and had just gotten my first car, a 1965 Ford Falcon, as a graduation gift from my grandparents. I thought I was hot stuff. Freedom was in my car keys. I was going to need a car because I was about to become a commuter student at Kutztown State College, soon to be driving the 90-minute round trip every day for the next four years.

But trouble came quickly. My grandparents, Depression-era survivors always on the alert for a good deal, bought the car from someone whom I now assume to have been a disreputable auto dealer. There was sawdust in the automatic transmission.

Keep this in mind as I continue the tale.

One evening, as I was watching either Walter Cronkite or maybe Frank McGee on the evening news, they were telling us of a music festival that was happening just a couple of hours away from us in rural Bethel, New York.

We were living in Perkasie, PA, at the time, so it wouldn't have been a bad trip for me to make. I actually considered doing this.

My memory gets a little foggy at this point, which is what I think is happening to all those other people who tell you that they were, indeed, at Woodstock back in the day. Fog sets in.

What I do remember was that I was young, impetuous and bulletproof. I thought maybe I could go for a day, see what was going on at the festival, and then drive back home. I had no plans to stay overnight. I had no money, either.

What I also didn't have was a concept of 500,000 people milling around in a farmer's field (Max Yasgur's Farm is now an historic site in Sullivan County), with no immediate parking for sawdust filled Ford Falcons. Uh-oh.

The news coverage continued the next day on network TV, because something special was clearly happening. The half-million people were actually getting along rather well with each other. I'm not sure which day it rained, but kids were having fun with mud slides and walking around naked. I'm sure I would have lost my car keys and wallet with the $5 in it. Uh-oh. I also figured these must have been big city New York kids, because public nudity hadn't hit Perkasie yet. They certainly looked more worldly than me (I'm certain that I was grotesquely naive), although I'd started letting my hair grow to fit into the hippie culture that was being helped along by this festival.

So now I was torn. Time was running out. The concert was entering its fourth and final day, and I was missing it. But when I saw the news footage of kids parking their cars on the side of country roads and walking miles through the rain and humidity to the festival, I started to get discouraged. Hmm. Maybe not.

And, just to remember, only a week before Woodstock, Charles Manson and his Family had murdered Sharon Tate, which was a huge game changer for long-haired people on the road. Damn hippies. Manson dominated the news on one hand, with Woodstock on the other and Vietnam in the middle. A cultural Yin and Yang, of sorts, was going on here.

So I never went to Woodstock. I soon traded in my Falcon for a 1963 straight-drive VW Beetle, which turned out to be one of the best cars I ever owned. It got me through four years of college and a 10,000-mile, six-week cross-country camping trip in 1973. And it fit in with my casually cultivated hippie persona, although I still feel like I'm a love and peace guy 50 years later.

I never regretted not going to Woodstock, because I'm sure I would have been eaten alive. And I've really enjoyed telling you that I didn't go, even though I wonder if it's a better story than if I had, in fact, gone.

Love and peace, y'all.

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