By the Time I Got to Woodstockbyfurryfan©
The story involves the adventures of a young man during the summer of 1971. What started out as a road trip by two friends to celebrate being liberated from high school, ended up to be a solo journey by Peter Alland. It was a journey that didn't take him very far in distance at all, but ended up expanding his horizons in many other ways.
There are three main characters, two males and one female. Please take note of the category of the story.
Chapter One: I knew it.
"You should come back home with me," Kenny said as he lingered for what seemed like forever around the open door of the bus, while the other passengers boarded the Greyhound bus bound for Albany, New York. Albany was home, or as close to home as public transportation would permit from here in Rutland, Vermont.
"No," I said, biting my tongue and hoping that he would get on the frigging bus before I told him what I really thought about him. "You run home. I'm going to keep going."
"We could try this again next year," Kenny said, posing with his foot on the bottom step of the bus while the exhaust fumes filled the air around us. "We could plan better next time."
"See ya," I said, waving at him while the bus driver revved the engine, and with that Kenny hopped up the stairs while I turned and headed away.
I knew if I turned around Kenny would be there waving at me, but that was so melodramatic that I couldn't take it. Besides, I was so pissed off at him that I didn't want to look at him at that moment, nor at any moment in the foreseeable future either.
I was pissed at myself too, because I knew - absolutely KNEW that this was the way it was going to happen, even before we set off on this adventure, yet I let myself me fooled into thinking that this time it would be different. Maybe Kenny wouldn't back out, or end up making up some lame-ass excuse about why he couldn't go, like he had done with every other plan or scheme we had cooked up over the years.
"Just like Easy Rider!" Kenny insisted when we hatched this grand idea months before graduation. "We're going to go looking for America like Fonda and Hopper."
I went along, not even reminding Kenny that while it might have been fun for Peter and Dennis in the beginning, it really didn't end up all that well for them. In the end, I knew Kenny would chicken out, so what difference did it make?
So we decided that right after we graduated high school, we would spend the summer traveling around the country with little more than the clothes on our backs and backpacks filled with the odd necessities.
Funny thing was that Kenny didn't back out like I thought he would, and the closer we got to doing it, the more fired up I got about it. It was a great idea. College was still a couple of months away, and what better way to spend our last summer before the real world closed in around us?
Where would we go? That would be the beauty of this grand plan. We would let fate decide the direction, and simply let chance dictate where we ended up. I was hoping for West and Kenny was pulling for South, but any place besides the Capital District of New York State was fine by us.
What was out there? Girls, and lots of them. Sure, there were girls around us at home, but we knew them and unfortunately, at least in my case, they knew me too. Out there, we would be new people with new identities. They wouldn't know how lame we were, or at least how hopeless I was.
Music? Surely there had to be a bunch of free concerts all over the place. They had them in San Francisco all the time, and while there was no way we would make it across the country and back in 2 months, we were sure that we would find a lot of places just as cool as that even if we never got west of the Mississippi.
So it was on that pleasant morning in late June 1971 that we stood just up the ramp from the tollbooths of the New York State Thruway Exit 24, with backpacks as full as our hopes and Kenny with his cardboard sign that read simply AMERICA.
"Cool people will get it," Kenny insisted when I questioned whether people would think that two long haired kids holding a sign like that might be a little weird.
Two hours later, I was looking like a prophet. Thousands of motorists passed us, and while many were amused and a few flashed us the bird, apparently none of them were cool. The State Police weren't cool either, but at least they didn't arrest us, but simply made us pretend to stop hitchhiking until they left to write tickets to people who could afford to pay them.
Spirits were sinking fast when a miracle happened. Some old guy in a beat-up pickup truck pulled over, and before he could change his mind, we jumped in the passenger side of the cab.
"Where the hell you boys going?" the old coot said as he eyeballed us.
"Same direction you are sir," Kenny said.
"Your sign says America," he snorted. "This is America. Where the hell you from?"
"Uh, Canada," I said fast in what I thought might be a bit of a French accent, before Kenny had a chance to tell him that we were from about 3 miles east of here. "We are sightseeing in your country and we love America very much and want to see it all."
"Best damn country in the world!" he said proudly, and headed down towards the toll booths. "Guess you fellas are headed east then, but I ain't going far. Just over the Massachusetts border."
"That's great!" I said, and although east wasn't even in my top three of preferred directions, anything was better than standing on the shoulder of the road all day.
Chapter Two: That was then.
That was a week ago. Seven days of waiting for rides that never materialized and six and a half days of listening to my friend Kenny whine. I loved the guy, but he has a knack of getting on my nerves when things aren't going well.
Frankly, if he hadn't been complaining, I probably would have been doing a lot of it myself. Instead, I tried to be the upbeat one; the guy who was going to take the lemons we had been dealt and make lemonade with them. That was the role I assumed for the bulk of our seven day journey together.
And what a journey it was! We probably traveled about 500 miles in that week, making a bizarre serpentine trip throughout Massachusetts and Vermont. Beautiful country to be sure, but we wanted to see the whole country, and instead we just got a series of little rides that meandered all over the map.
We were so happy to get picked up by people that we gladly accepted any ride we could, no matter where the person was headed, figuring it had to be better than standing still. Usually, that wasn't the case, so when Kenny declared that he was finished and wanted to go home, I couldn't really blame him all that much despite using his decision as an excuse to vent my frustration at him.
In a week we managed to make it to Rutland, Vermont, which was barely 100 miles from our initial departure point. We hadn't slept in a bed since the first night on the road, when we spent money we couldn't afford on a cheap motel room in Lee, Massachusetts just because it sprinkled a little.
Now Kenny was on the bus going home, and I was going onward, determined not to give up. I was going to have a great time and never let him live down the fact that he had deserted me and missed out on it all, so as the bus went one way, I went the other. It was 7 in the morning, and I was determined to have a summer that I would never forget as well as one that Kenny would spend his life regretting having missed out on, so with a bounce in my step I hit the road again, thumb out and hopes high.
By two in the afternoon my thumb was still out but my high hopes had disappeared somewhere back on the road. The humidity was oppressive and the sun was relentless, making the road surface feel mushy in some places. The sweat poured down my face, burning my eyes much like the asphalt was scorching my feet, and the heat was rising up in waves from the roadway as I began to stagger a bit from the effects of everything hitting me at the same time. What I wouldn't give for a little rain shower.
Chapter Three: Welcome to Woodstock.
Woodstock, Vermont, that is. That was what the sign I passed earlier had said, but that was a while ago, back when there was light enough to see. Then again, it was now raining so hard that even if it was daylight, visibility would still have been nil. It wasn't just raining either, it was raining sideways. Thunder was rolling and lightning was cracking and I was walking with my thumb out for some reason.
"I asked for this fucking rain!" I cackled to the trees that lined the roadway, not caring that to any prospective rides going by, I looked like a raving lunatic. "What a freaking idiot I am!"
Who in their right mind would pick up a drowned rat like me on a night like this, even if they could have seen me in the dark? I didn't even know there WAS a Woodstock, Vermont, for crying out loud! Why couldn't I be in the real Woodstock? It probably wasn't raining there. Everybody was sitting around playing flutes and making love there, while I was walking through a monsoon in hell with soggy shoes and musty underwear that I had been wearing so long they felt fused to my nuts.
Those was the sort of things I was saying aloud as I walked down Route 4 in the rain. Saying it? I was screaming it. I was cursing out everybody from Kenny to the entire state of Vermont. What difference did it make? Nobody could hear me. I was alone in a howling storm straight out of a horror movie.
So when I saw the faint sign of a diner down the road, I started jogging toward it. Just the thought of a cup of coffee sped me up, and even though I was embarrassed by what I looked like, I didn't care.
My dripping entrance was not greeted by much enthusiasm by the waitress, but thankfully there weren't many other people there to be offended by my look or odor, both of which were a testimony to what happens as a result of seven days on the road.
I set a couple of soggy ones on the counter and ordered a cup of coffee and a donut from the skeptical hostess, and after wolfing them both down, ordered a refill and headed to the bathroom.
The sight that greeted me in there took me by surprise. The guy in the mirror looked like shit. I had the appearance of a deranged escapee from a mental hospital; hair every which way and looking like somebody who belonged in a straight jacket. Hell, after seven days I almost looked like I needed to shave! No wonder everybody gave me a wide berth when they saw me. I was beyond grubby looking.
I got myself together as best I could, combing my hair and washing my face and hands, so when I looked back into the mirror I wasn't quite as revolting as I was before. Still, what difference did that make? I was stranded in the middle of nowhere. Tears started pouring out of my eyes as I realized I had hit rock bottom. This Summer of Love was an unmitigated disaster.
I knew what I was going to do. Survive the night somehow and go back to Rutland and catch the bus back home. Even crawling back home with my tail between my legs was better than this. Nothing could be worse than taking a sink bath in a diner out in the middle of nowhere.
Then I left the men's room and went back into the dining area.
Chapter Four: Peter!
Business in the diner had picked up since I had gone into the bathroom, that much was obvious. Two policemen were in the diner, chatting with the waitress who tried to nod in my direction without making it obvious, failing miserably in the process.
The two cops were standing around my seat, where my donut and coffee sat waiting for my return. I nodded to everybody and slid into my seat, hoping to at least finish my donut before I got hassled, but that wasn't to be.
Identification was asked for, and I fished out my license from a soggy wallet, and handed it over to the taller cop while the one that was about my height gave me the once over.
"What brings you here, Peter?" tall cop asked.
"My feet," I said, gesturing to my wet attire, and mentally kicked myself for being unable to resist being a wise-ass. "Just making my way to Rutland. Gonna catch the bus back home."
"You got money for the bus?" the shorter cop wanted to know. "You don't look too prosperous."
"Well, I already paid for my food," I said, giving a look to the waitress who nodded curtly, and then started fishing money out of all of the nooks and crannies I had tucked cash away in.
Piling the little pile of loot on the counter, I took off my boot and pulled out the twenty that was tucked into my sock, making a grand total of $44.91.
"The bus fare is $4.55," I told them, remembering how much Kenny had paid for his ticket. "So I guess I have more than enough."
The cops looked at me up and down again, thanked me for my cooperation without even a hint of sincerity, and went out the door. I set down my false front of braveness and slumped back into my seat. What I had to be happy about, I didn't know. I was still miles from nowhere, but at least I wasn't going to jail.
"Sorry I stunk up your diner," I told the waitress, who wouldn't look me in the eye. "I don't know what I did to deserve having you sic the police on me, but you have a good evening anyway."
Leaving too generous a tip, I walked out of the diner and back into the night, which had gotten cooler. The torrential rain had let up to just a steady drizzle, but now I was faced with a dilemma. Where to spend the night? It was only around 9 in the evening, which meant I had another 10 hours or so to kill, not to mention who knows how many miles to walk.
"Over here," a female voice called out, and at the end of the parking lot I saw a VW van that was some sickly faded shade of orange.
I went over to the idling van, where a woman was behind the wheel with a man riding shotgun. They had been in a booth inside the diner when my little drama went down, and when I got to the woman's side I saw the embers of a cigarette light up the guy's face, although the aroma coming from inside the van left no doubt as to what was being smoked.
"You look like you could use a friend," the woman said. "Get in the back."
I hesitated for a second, not knowing what this was all about.
"If you're really going to Rutland, we'll take you, but I don't think you want to walk," the woman said.
"Okay, thanks," I said, climbing into the back.
"Get down low for a little way," the man said as the woman drove down the road. "Yeah! I knew it. There they are!"
Peeking out of the curtained window, I saw the police car hidden around the curve about a 1/4 mile from the diner.
"Andy and Barney!" the woman said as we drove past them. "You can get up now."
"What was that?" I asked. "What were they going to do?"
"Probably nothing," the man said, handing me the joint he had been smoking. "Likely they were just going to make sure you left, although more than one kid has gotten a lesson in rural justice around here. This area is cooler than most, but it isn't ever a good idea to be a wise guy when you're a long hair in a strange place."
"I realized that after I opened my mouth," I said, inhaling deeply and passing it back up front. "Been having a bad day."
"I'm Roger," the man said before nodding at the driver. "The lovely lady here is my old lady Grace."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Peter."
"Were you really going to Rutland?" grace asked.
"I guess so," I said. "Not too smart for me to stick around here."
"That depends," Roger said. "You want to crash with us for the night?"
The decision was a no-brainer, so when I eagerly accepted, Grace made a hard left, sending me skidding across the back seat while they cackled loudly.
"Hang on Peter," Roger quipped. "Grace likes company, and we haven't had any in a while."
Chapter Five: Welcome to Big (not Quite) Pink.
After a 45 second journey on the bumpiest road on the planet, Grace made another quick turn and careened up a long narrow driveway before slamming on the brakes and killing the engine.
"Home sweet home Peter!" Roger announced, and we all piled out of the van into the drizzle and darkness, having arrived at their place.
"Welcome to Big Not Quite Pink," Grace declared as we went up the steps of a rickety porch, and I got the reference to the place where The Band recorded their first album.
"Looks like heaven to me," I told them, and when you've been sleeping under trees and beneath overpasses for awhile, even a rather dilapidated beige house with a bunch of junk on the porch looks pretty good.
Inside the house, the place was cluttered but clean, and after I followed them into the kitchen, I got my first real good look at my benefactors.
Roger had the look of a college professor, or what I imagined them all to look like. A bit taller than my 5'9", he was probably in his 50's, although I was never good at guessing ages. He had wire-rimmed glasses, curly brown hair streaked with grey that was the same shoulder length as mine, along with a moustache and goatee that gave him a distinguished look even in this rather primitive setting.
The first thing Roger did was to go over to the stereo and put the needle on an album, and although they had a bunch of LP's, the one that was on the turntable was one that would play almost non-stop. Although I had never paid much attention to the Grateful Dead before, I got to memorize the endlessly playing album Workingman's Dead, which only left the turntable when Anthem of the Sun took its place.
Roger's wife Grace seemed a little younger than him, and had incredibly long reddish brown hair that flowed halfway down her back. She wore a shapeless granny dress that hid most of her from neck to ankles, but she seemed to have a nice enough body from what I could tell, and whenever she moved she seemed to float around with the rhythm of the music.
"I really appreciate this," I told them as Roger fired up yet another joint and passed it to me.
My head was already spinning before this, because while I was not a stranger to weed, it wasn't something I did very often. Smoking on the way to the house, combined with my overwhelming fatigue, was making me slap-happy as well as a bit emotional, and when I started telling them about how I had ended up here, I found myself tearing up.
"Sounds like a cool idea," Roger said generously of my ill-fated journey. "Someday you'll look back on this and be glad you made the effort."
"Peter sounds tired and stoned," Grace said, putting her arm around my shoulder. "Betcha you would love a nice bath and a soft bed."
"Yeah," I agreed. "I'm kinda nasty."
"Follow me," Grace said, and as she walked me down the hall to the bathroom, I followed close behind, enthralled with the way her long hair flowed as she moved.
The bathroom was a bit different than the ones I was used to, in that it didn't have a door, which I found odd, and the aged porcelain fixtures were so dated that looked like they should be in a museum or something. No shower, which I would have loved, but instead a big white tub with long metal legs. At least there was running water, I noted while watching Grace spin the knobs until the temperature got right, and after she got the water flowing she turned to me.
"Let's get this stuff off of you," Grace said as she calmly reached down and grabbed the bottom of my t-shirt. "The stuff in your bag is probably dirty too, right?"
"Uh - yeah," I said, so shocked that Grace was undressing me that it took me a second to figure out that I should raise my arms to help her her get my shirt off.
"Well, we've got a clothes washer, so we'll get your stuff all clean for you," Grace said, steadying me as I started to lose my balance. "You okay, baby? Never smoked before?"
"No, that's not it," I replied. "It's just that I'm tired and all."