Woodstock Flashback
posted: August 11, 2009
When I was 15, I smoked hash and wore bell bottoms that were frayed from walking on the hems and I decided to go to the Woodstock Festival. It sounded like another event where we could all get together and do things our way -- the counterculture way -- the right way. I wanted to be a part of it.

About a month before the festival, my best friend Joanie and I bought tickets at a record shop on Broadway. They were not only very expensive -- I think it was $6 for each of the 3 days , which was a lot of money to us then -- they also proved to be unnecessary since Woodstock wound up being so swamped with kids that no one bothered to collect tickets at all.

We each packed up our camping gear, which for me was my brother's old Boy Scout sleeping bag I found mouldering in the basement and a can of Chef Boyardee ravioli. We never ate the ravioli since I forgot to bring a can opener.

We left a day early and took the subway down to Port Authority where we got a bus to a town whose name I can't remember. When we got off the bus, we found we had no way to get to the festival. We weren't alone in this. Dozens of  baffled kids were milling around, and eventually one of them spotted a flatbed truck driven by a longhair. He was headed to Max Yasgur's farm, so up we clambered and off we went.

Joanie and I were ill-prepared in more ways than our camping gear: we didn't have anything to get high on. I guess we were scared to carry anything on the bus -- we might have gotten stopped and searched crossing the border into Upstate New York or something. But lucky for us, a guy on the flatbed had mescaline and we bought a few tabs and took them right away.

Ah! We were gonna have a blast!

Well ... not right away, that's for sure. The ride to the farm was short, and within 10 minutes we were wandering around with thousands of  kids, looking for a place to put our stuff down. Half an hour later, we were waiting for the mescaline to hit, but it never did. We'd been sold beat drugs. At Woodstock! Man. Where was all that peace and love and brotherhood?

Beat mescaline aside, it was a mind-blowing sight, thousands and thousands of longhairs blanketing that hilly landscape. Many more kids showed up than there were tickets sold and word got around that there were a half million of us camping out there; we had created a city of our own on that Upstate farm.

What was it like over the next few days? Frankly, pretty miserable. I remember the rain: walking in it, sitting in it and sleeping in it. Joanie and I went swimming in the lake to wash the mud off, but we were too shy to skinny dip and kept our underwear on. I laid down on the hood of a car in a field, fell asleep, and woke up with a sunburn. I don't remember the music much at all, but I was never a concert-goer type anyway and was there for the experience, not the groups.

Most of all I remember three things:

When the festival was over, Joanie and I had to find a ride to town to catch the bus, but all the cars were so jammed with hitchhikers that we couldn't get a seat in any of them. Finally a Volkswagen beetle stopped and offered us the back bumper, so we jumped on. At first it was fine as we crept along in the line of cars leaving the festival site, but the traffic eventually thinned out and we started to barrel down the road. It was terrifying.

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As we sped along, clinging to the back of that car, we were passed by the coolest girl I ever saw. She was driving a chopped motorcycle, wearing a miniskirt, looking tough and sexy and independent.
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A few days after we got back, I was going downtown on the IRT when a guy with long blond hair and a sunburn sat across from me. When he spied me sitting across from him with my own sunburned face he gave me a covert little peace sign. That sunburn was the badge that marked us both as veterans of Woodstock, the legend of which would grow far beyond its reality.
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