Some things can’t come fast enough. Sometimes, when they do, you find you’re disappointed, let down. It’s not what you think it should have been. Too much thinking in the buildup can ruin a perfectly good experience. You can blow it up out of proportion and then reality becomes just a puddle of piss you walk through. But Woodstock was more than I ever imagined. Even today when I look back on it, trying to remember the event, it doesn’t fade. Some memories do, though, but some do last. This one has persisted over the decades to this very day, and will beyond. Of course, I often find myself trying to fill in the blank gaps of my experience with recollections that don’t quite fit. But that’s to be expected. We all do that. I figure it’s close enough. And like anything else in life there were problems with Woodstock, along with the highs, no doubt about it. Still, the music and the atmosphere of the festival keeps soaring out of my memory like a tulip opening its petals to the shafts of the sun after a hard rain. Woodstock was legend.
We got to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in Bethel, New York, a couple of days early, but of course, not without problems. It took us four days to cross the country – roughly two thousand miles – from Denver to Max Yasgur’s six hundred acre dairy farm. And no, we didn’t drive in Haggis’s blue VW bus. Altoona gave us something else, something far more unique and as wonderful as it was ugly. A rundown, runaway 1958, 24 ft. plumber’s truck that resembled a U-Haul, which was large enough to haul three packed bedrooms in the cargo space. The faded logo of a plumber’s helper was plastered on both sides and the name in bold red letters underneath read: Joe Piccadio, Your In-house Plumber You Needa, along with the phone number, Beverly 8-9306. No area codes in those antediluvian days of yore. Haggis had bought the truck from a junkyard and fixed it up. Ran his dope in it, large enough to stash five keys under the floorboards in back. Other than that, nothing special about it. Just an old beat-up truck. Nothing special, that is, until we unloaded our entire living room and placed all the furniture inside the cargo hold the night before we left. And we didn’t merely pile it in helter-skelter, we arranged the furniture so that it resembled the living room of our small cramped rental. A couch and two easy chairs, an old rug and two standing lamps. A coffee table in front of the couch. Everything we owned was bought from Value Village. Of course the lamps didn’t work. We didn’t have plugs to plug them into (they didn’t work properly anyway, plug or no plugs). So we brought along a couple of battery powered flashlights, stood them on their ends, and voila, let there be light, albeit pretty dim light, especially when the batteries started wearing down. When we stopped for gas we replenished them. Add a couple of Styrofoam ice chests, as we called them in those days, filled with beer and other assorted goodies, we had a rolling home away from home. We were going to paint it like Ken Kesey’s Magic bus, which he named, Further on their trip East in 1964, but we refrained. We didn’t want to call attention to ourselves, and we didn’t have time. We weren’t the Merry Pranksters. Just students disguised as plumbers. Yeah, so we named our truck: the Magic Plumber’s Helper.
Just as you’d expect, on the first day out, the Magic Plumber’s Helper broke down outside of Kearney, Nebraska. Haggis managed to limp the old gal along the apron of I-80 to a campground a mile away. The rear axle on the left side was hanging by a snap of my fingers. Nonplussed, Haggis hitchhiked into Kearney and returned after dark with a new axle dangling out of the back of a flatbed tow-truck.
While he was gone we decided to throw a party with the denizens of the campground. We had set up our living room around a campfire and soon those crazy enough to join us, joined us. Crazy begets crazy. When Haggis got back we disbanded the party and helped him remove the old axle and put the new one in. It was about midnight when we dragged our furniture back in and passed out. All, expect Haggis, who stayed outside by the campfire. At about three in the morning, as he told us, the next morning, some of the party-goes snuck back to our site intending to steal our liquor and pot. Haggis suspected as much. As they snuck toward the campfire, he stood up brandishing a four foot spanner in one hand. In the waning firelight flicking across his face, he lurched toward them gyrating his arms and legs in a Frankensteinian manner. They outnumbered him five to one. They knew they wouldn’t win. They turned and ran for the Sand Hills to hide behind the thousands of cranes that were migrating south.
The next morning we were off: me, Haggis, Sven, Autumn, Pink Bear, Norman, and Roger, plus his dog, all right of us headed east on I-80. Haggis drove with Pink Bear in the passenger’s seat. The rest of the motley crew lounged in back in our living room. Of course we had the back door cracked open about an inch from the floor so we could get air. But who needed air when there was so much smoke filling up the cargo hold? The flashlights were blazing and we were drinking and smoking, and actually conversing, because we had no music. Boom-boxes hadn’t been invented then, or if they had been, we didn’t have one. Someone had a transistor radio, but we couldn’t pick up anything of value, just crappy am music. I fondly remember Freddy Cannon’s hit song of 1961: Transistor Sister and his other one, Sea Cruise in 1968, which, at the time, I felt we were on, a cruise on a four legged truck with bald tires and bad knees to the east coast and nirvana (no, not the band). Although, a day later outside Chicago, after driving all night, and thinking of a film I had recently seen, made in the thirties, called They Drive by Night with Humphry Bogart, about truck drivers crossing the country in their rigs and falling asleep and popping pills to try and stay awake, I was so stoned I thought we were on the Starship Enterprise. We didn’t have Warp Drive, we had Weed Drive. Truck drivers, starship drivers, weed drivers.
* * *
Back at Woodstock, the crowds had yet to materialize. Haggis knew. He always knew. Got us there early so we didn’t have to fight the crowds early on. He parked the truck on the side of the road outside Max Yasgur’s farm. He knew where the campgrounds were. We were one of the first in line. As I sat on the couch in the back of The Magic Plumber’s Helper, I could feel it coming at me fast now. Looking out to one side I could see the activity, the stage being constructed down in the hollow. I had to wait, though. A little longer. We camped out that night on the side of the road with others lining up behind and ahead of us. It wouldn’t be long now. I was nearly there. Don’t die tonight, I told myself. Don’t die. Everyone partied the night away. Except me. I went to sleep on the couch early. The next day would come faster that way.