Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. You’d think I would have learned that one by now. But experience teaches me almost nothing, nor, when you come to think about it, anyone else for that matter. There’s a quirk in the human mind that tells us we always get a mulligan, a do-over. We erroneously believe that whatever it was we did the first time will change the next time around. But the more things change to more they remain the same. We keep putting our hands in the same cookie jar.
Did we learn the lessons of Vietnam or any other war we got ourselves into? Nah. Have we changed our consciousness from waging war to peace, fairness and justice? Nah. It’s still the same old corrupt, cracked cookie jar of a world, worse, most likely. The instruments of destruction are more potent. Manned by deranged gatekeepers like Trump and Putin. We keep on going our merry way, as the fools that rule us build more and more behemoths of war, squash the poor and the unfortunates, and sprout anti-science and voodoo stances on climate change. Ignorance is bliss, and ain’t we blissful. The fate of the world is in the soiled hands of Republicans. They build their mansions of small ideas on sand and, when the foundations crumble in the rising tides, they blame others for their misfortune. Money has always ruled the world and they are the party of money. Inequality be damned. Woodstock and Marijuana. Everything they didn’t stand for.
To get to the fable land of music and fun I’d have to put the festival out of my mind. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, my mother always used to tell me, because you’ll get into trouble with the present. This was always added onto the end of her chicken-hatching adage. Did I heed her advice? Nah. She also said, don’t listen to the wail of the Sirens that call you away from your journey. They’ll steer you off-course and before you know it you’ll be dashed upon the rocks. Hell, I was all of six years old! To get to Woodstock I’d have to let it be. Let it be.
I sat in the back seat of Autumn’s Impala with Roger’s dog. We had just quit our jobs at Cherry Creek Liquor Store – right after the wine fiasco. I came to believe that we’d never make any bank if we continued to work there. Every day the wine beckoned – it had to be drunk. We just couldn’t help ourselves. We pulled into the Blue Spruce, our home away from home. Where I always said I did most of my studying – for life or death, which ultimately was the same thing when you came right down to it – just a matter of perspective. Death in life is Nixon. Death in life is Trump. Can’t have one without the other. Joined at the hips they are. Over a hundred beers or so and numerous joints in the parking lot out back I cajoled Sven, Pink Bear and Autumn to join me. In a new job I’d found. A good paying job to raise money for the road trip of road trips. To Woodstock, where else?
I had to concentrate on the journey at hand, and right now that entailed making the money for the trip so I could actually get there. Let it be, concentrate on the new job. Do it right and the rest will take care of itself. Be here now. And nowhere else. Saving money, though, was not something that came easy for me or any of my friends. We were grasshoppers playing the fiddle watching the ants carrying food back to their anthills for winter when the times would be rough. Money made was money spent. Again, I found myself obsessing about Woodstock and all the great music I’d hear. It seemed further away than ever and the further it seemed the more obsessed I became.
But then, Haggis Altoona, our dealer and friend, offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse. If we saved money from our new job, he would throw in the other half, plus himself, gratis – in case we got into trouble, which, if given enough time, we were sure to find ourselves. If we didn’t save enough for the trip, the deal was off. He had it all calculated. Fifty percent of our pay had to go into a special account, until we reached our goal. Then, and only then, would he throw in the other half. We could quit and head east to the fabled Land of Woodstock. He would even provide us transportation, although I didn’t know what form that would take. With a twinkle in his eyes, he wouldn’t tell me. Not yet, not until all the money was locked, stocked and barreled in the old banko.
* * *
The job I’d found on the boards of the college placement office paid really well. Five days a week, the graveyard shift from nine at night to five in the morning, yeah that’s just what we needed. Study during the day and haul ass by night in a warehouse filled with stuff like carpet and paint, lumber and concrete block. The hell with sleep. We were young and strong and stoned, looned crazy.
The next night, pitch dark and as cold a night as I could ever remember, around eight o’clock, five of us squeezed into Autumn’s car, Autumn not included (she was the only sane of one of the bunch and stayed home to study). Sven drove, a beer in his lap and a joint hanging from the right side of his mouth like Marlon Brando hanging that cigarette from his lips in On the Waterfront. Pink Bear sat up front, his head touching the ceiling, taking hits from a whiskey bottle. He was nearly as big as Haggis Altoona, who was meeting us there with some stash so we could get through the night with some form of sanity. Squeezed in between the two was Norman Brown, a small, wiry guy with jangled hair, jittery as all hell, looking like a carbon-copy of Don Watts. In back with me, including Roger’s dog, was Roger. Taking hits from a bottle of cheap scotch. Holy shit, the dude showed up! Five of us on the Hellbound Train.
At this point I got ahead of myself, yet again. I was sure 1969 would turn out to be the best year of my life, even after all the bad news it had harbored. Make the money, get out and get going. In several months, I would be privy to some mighty fine music in a setting that would not make my parents proud. Nothing could stop me. In my mind, I was already there – at Woodstock – listening to music that would stay with me the rest of my life. The light at the end of the tunnel was getting brighter the more I thought about it. I kept the light squarely in front of me, excluding all else. But, as we all know, it is difficult to navigate the darkness when a blaze is burning in your eyes and blinding you. Unbeknownst to me and my friends, we were headed for a rocky shoal hidden underneath the choppy waves. The Sirens of Woodstock were beckoning manically inside my head. I was headed for a fall as I counted my chickens still in their eggs. I just couldn’t let it be.