Washington Post journalist Alexandra Petri once referred to Woodstock as the natural progression of all that steam of a nation’s restless youth. I would like to say I was wrestling with the thought as I turned onto Rt. 375 and peddled the last remaining grains of sand from a four hour car ride. But truth be told, I just wanted to get to my Airbnb and hug my lit chick bestie, and then bend elbows to a couple frosty ones at a local watering hole.
That’s when the cosmos took a shine to me, tossing me a precious gem with which to spoil on for the space between. Petri’s name came up in a discussion that was taking place on the radio show I’d tuned in to, and before long they were culling a particular line Petri had fostered out of long lost places. It made the perfect amount of sense for the perfect storm that was Woodstock.
It defined a generation because, for a few days, it bottled its peculiar zeitgeist.
The words seemed congruent, if not familiar. Quotes are negatively buoyant creatures, in that they need thrust so they do not fall into the depths. And perhaps this quote is destined for obscurity, I don’t know. What I do know is that its pertinence was tangible, its timing impeccable, its gospel-like purity a gift.
I met up with my partner for this expedition and after a rather long and righteous embrace, we took to the road in search of nourishment. And frosty beverages. This was our first meeting but you’d never have known it from the chatter and buzz of familiarity we filled the missing puzzle pieces with.
The town of Woodstock has a printers box familiarity to it. Tracing the shadows of the Catskill Mountains, the main drag is a crunch of art galleries, cafes, gift shops and funky residential Victorians painted in all the colors of a time before houses became monotone showcases.
Oriole 9 Cafe was our first stop. We fell for the kitschy looking road sign that cropped it’s lovely head out from under the slumbering tree shade. The sign was a wonderfully budgeted scrap heap of a simple thing, hanging out on a main street whose bustle had gone lost to the bigger and badder places of a country whose best ideas became incorporated love stories long ago.
I found the address to be of interest: 17 Tinker Street. My favorite number merging with a favorite word of mine, tinker. A word which possessed the essence of our three day archaeological dig, because tinkering would be the abject purpose of our manifest. To learn our friendship in real time and to learn a place we had stuck a virtual thumbtack into quite spontaneously.
Because Woodstock hadn’t been our initial destination. It wasn’t even our second choice. The parallels to the Woodstock Festival and this ‘mini-vacation’ . . . they were everywhere. Both events were three days long. Both were held in locales that were not the original idea. And both made funky music whose crimson scream was a baptismal fire of a thing.
We ordered up, beers first, and then toasted to finally being in the same place after lots of conversations about being in the same place. We went with craft beers, which can be an exercise in futility if you are not otherwise committed to the stuff. But we chose right because the choices went down smoothly with no sticker shock. The friendlies had an ample amount of awe without the requisite shock that some of its brethren possess. We toasted to solidarity, pastry dishes, ’80’s music, wrong turns, the Montreal Canadiens and Coca Cola. Well, maybe we didn’t toast to every single one of those things at once, but the sentiment was prospering with the clinks, so there’s that.
We settled on our lunch selections and then we prospered a conversation whose wing span mated Budapest with Boucherville and the Bronx. We painted the lastima of foreign times in bold colors and transformed the cursory applications into a cursively luminescent mood. After lunch, we skimmed our toes in the center of town before heading back to our Airbnb to unpack before heading out to shop for groceries.
Topics of conversation ran the gamut: from peaceful protests to the death of heroes to military quagmires. Parallels once again, from there to here. From John and Yoko to Kaepernick . . from Watergate to Trump . . from the Gulf War to Vietnam. Inside of strange days, the song remains the same.
Still, the sixties stand alone as a decade in which the world changed for its better and its worst. The Woodstock Festival closed out the decade, tucked between the tumult of ’68 and the Kent State shootings in 1970; a couple of mean and thankless bookends to a musical event whose footprints still matter. Because Woodstock is where Aquarius grew up. It’s where half a million souls learned us a lesson on democracy that didn’t include bullets, bombs or intimidation.
It’s where a garden grew and prospered on the spirit of true believers who weren’t about to let the complicated arrangement of the times keep them down. They were kids who had watched their leaders get stolen away, their voices get bullied into submission, their hopes and dreams get mitigated by an establishment whose best ideas had little to do with real progress.
With dark clouds behind them and more straight ahead, they invoked the spirit of our better angels and made peace over three days. And if that is a ‘peculiar form of zeitgeist’, then I know one thing for certain.
We need more of the stuff.