Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Woodstock 99: magic bus

I woke up halfway leaning on, halfway spooning a 300 pound hippie with a beard like the pelt of some dead animal. He was asleep, too, but I sat up abruptly, looked around frantically then glanced out the bus window at the rolling countryside. None of it was familiar, we'd slipped into rural New York at some point and were edging our way up to a former military base on the outskirts of a town called Rome.

Woodstock was someplace else, but it was close enough for the uses of the festival organizers and good enough for everybody on the four or five buses that had pulled out of a parking lot not far from Baltimore.

I'd driven half the night from West Virginia to get a seat on this bus and had almost missed the mark. My directions had been confusing and I'd spent an extra hour on the beltway driving in circles, terrified and unsure where I was going.

A pair of cops, sitting in the parking lot of a closed gas station, pointed me in the right direction and asked me what the fuss was about.

I'd had to answer the same question over and over. Nobody really got why I felt like I needed to do this. New York seemed like an awfully long way to go to see some music --and to be honest, a lot of it was music I didn't care anything about. I bought my tickets on rumors that the Rolling Stones, The Who and Bob Dylan might be there --and if not them, at least Aerosmith, Pearl Jam or maybe Guns n' Roses.

We ended up getting Metallica and Kid Rock, which wasn't all bad, but it wasn't The Rolling Stones.

In 1999, I was a wreck. My first marriage had fallen apart and I was miserable, though better off then being married to who I had been. Still, I was flailing for equilibrium. Instead of moving forward as an adult, I'd somehow slipped backward. Friends from college had taken me in and in a lot of ways it felt like I'd returned to the dorms.

I'd gone to Woodstock alone. Nobody else wanted to go. I couldn't bribe anyone to come along.

It felt weird going alone. I was a little scared and worried I might end up in a ditch somewhere. I had no idea what would happen if I got into trouble or who I'd call.

At the time, my support system, my circle of friends I felt like I could call on for bail money or would be willing to drive up to New York to get me out of jail seemed very small.

The bus cruised into Rome around noon. It was hot and mostly everybody seemed to be keeping to themselves, but slowly starting to loosen up. At the breakfast stop a few hours back, we'd bummed cigarettes off each other and tried to borrow phones to call home or call anyone.

We were all strangers here, but not necessarily hostile to one another. If anything there was a certain strange camaraderie in no one knowing anyone and none of us knowing what was going to happen next. We had the same misguided expectations and mistaken notions of how things would be. 

On the side of the road, a guy was selling cases of bottled water for $5 and we laughed our asses off.

"Good luck with that."

"New York prices.Yeah, fuck you."

We were so stupid.

The buses pulled onto the formerly abandoned air force base which held the festival and dropped us off abruptly. As a mass, a couple of thousand wannabe hippies marched to the front gates, dragging our gear and hoping nobody searched too closely.

It seemed like the exact opposite of a military induction.

"Any glass or bottles?" The guy asked and started pouring through my bag.

"No," I said. "I got a couple of cans of tuna in there and some noodles."

He looked at me like I was beyond stupid then pushed the bag and the rolled up tent back at me.

"Have a good time," he said.

The guy next to me, a genuinely weird-looking guy who looked like someone who cruised Ren Fairs for chicks, he'd brought a bottle of wine and one of those leather wine skins. Screening took the bottle, but let him keep the other. He didn't seem to care and besides, who brings red wine to a rock festival?

Of course, who brings tuna? I didn't even like tuna.

We moved past the guys at the entrance and made our way to the campgrounds, in hopes of finding a decent place to set up and still get to the festival grounds for the fun.

It felt like we'd arrived late. The sun was so hot and everybody was thirsty.

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