There is always that one friend, who, at a given moment, can piss you off to the very brink of your own sanity. They are always there when you stumble on a slightly raised sidewalk, he is the one who claps and fake laughs loud enough to draw extra eyes onto the situation. When you’ve had a few too many shots of tequila and you find yourself slung over a bar toilet he is there, standing with the bathroom door open shouting the play-by-play back across the bar to your seated friends. And he was there in 1999 when I went to the worst, and subsequently the last ever (hopefully) Woodstock.
He was driving in from Cape Cod so he picked me up along the way in upstate New York. We made the hour and a half trip blood free. I sat in the back and the excitement of it all carried us along the way, so did the open windows and lack of general conversation. That was where the niceties primarily stopped. We searched out parking when he informed me that his aunt and uncle would be meeting us, they were both about 50, their children where much younger, but also coming. I figured I could deal with that, he told me the uncle was bringing an ounce of weed and his aunt has cancer so she had good pain killers. However odd I found the idea of a cancer stricken woman bringing her 15 and 12 year old boys to Woodstock, I took solace in the mention of the drugs.
Then we got stoned in the parking lot. Summers, for me, were a slower fare than were the school years. In high school I was the rare unpopular homecoming king/quarterback. I was a straight edge loser it what I really was, so parties were never mentioned to me, thus I spent a lot of time sitting around alone throughout my high school days, so returning home for the summer meant working…pretty much exclusively. So when we got high, I recall getting very high.
After finding his family we walked into the combine. “This spot is good,” or “let’s settle here,” I said about 90 times. Each time I found a spot to set up camp I was turned away. We were off to find a better spot. We walked, mind you with a cancer stricken mother, to the complete other side of the combine, away from the car and set our stuff down. I didn’t like the spot one bit. We would later learn that we set our bags down directly on a patch of poison ivy; the joke was on him as I’m not allergic to it.
He decided we would use his tent so I didn’t bother to bring the one that I had just bought. Mine – brand new, big, clean, etc. His…well it looked like a 1974 tent with sides that didn’t stay up, broken polls, missing pieces, it was exactly the type of thing that he would do. I should mention he was my largest friend, at least 260lbs and about 6 feet tall. During the setting up of our tent his uncle had to come over and tell us to calm down as I was screaming; “you fucking idiot, you don’t even know how to set up a god damn tent,” and he was screaming; “get your fucking hands off the tent you jack ass, you’re going to fucking rip it,” generally nice things like that.
Eventually we set up the tent. Sort of. Each morning I would wake up with the nylon of the tent stuck to my back as the sides would cave in on us. You could spend the entire day walking around the campgrounds and I honestly don’t think you would find a worse tent than ours. If you were able to find one I wouldn’t have gone within 50 yards of it, as it was probably a mobile meth lab.
Until the fires started I don’t remember much. I remember taking a poop once and wiping my ass with my own sock, it was during Limp Bizkit and I’m still sure missing them to wipe my ass on a sock was my best decision to that point of my life.
But then the fires started.
In the middle of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s set we could spin around and see fire starting in 14 different spots. I don’t know why I remember the number, I just do. If they met we could have been surrounded by fire and things could have gone much worse, fortunately I didn’t die via Woodstock. The set was rather weak, I thought, and we walked back to our befallen-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-Tree little tent. We pushed passed people smashing open ATM machines with rocks, others openly selling Portobello mushrooms as if they would get you high, and aged hippies condemning our generation for being so violent and evil towards one another. One man in particular was saying things like; “these are your brothers! Your Sisters! You mustn’t destroy you must love!”
A lot was later made of the cost of water, food, etc. At the time none of that bothered me, that’s what happens, you go to a concert and get raped by vendors, you should expect that much. I’ve always known the real reason things went ablaze was nothing more than the fact that people where handing out candles, a few people wanted to be tough, and thus fires happened. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time and it still really doesn’t. I remember walking the mile back to the car with police and military on either side of us, standing shoulder to shoulder as we marched, dirtied and beaten, back to the parking lots and back to real life. It still seems really extreme. But that was the following day, we still had some time left at camp.
“Let’s go see the fires,” I was pestering him to go get into the action. He kept denying and then getting pissed when I was going to go off on my own. I don’t know how I eventually got him to go with me but after an hour or so of prodding him we finally struck out, and it was easily the most interesting time of our Woodstock experience.
Initially we stopped to watch a kid sit in a fire for about 3 minutes. He was on a piece of plywood in the middle of a huge fire, the board was getting smaller by the minute and he was getting stupider by the second. Of course the crowd was full of comedians yelling at him to keep going. We eventually left, not because the fire dude was going to die but because a group of young hippies had surrounded a tree and were keeping it safe from the fires. Of course the only fire near that tree was 40 feet away, with a shirtless bro sitting in it, the tree was in no danger but young hippies are annoying.
We walked amongst the looters for a while. There were rows and rows of concessions. Tee shirts, food, watches, all sorts of shit. It was the first time we had visited this area, the entire weekend he ate MREs that his family brought and I ate ice cream (just once, the rest of the time I fasted out of brokedome.) We wanted to steal something so I jumped into a booth and grabbed a few keychains. When I say we wanted to steal something I really mean that we were scared to steal anything big so we grabbed stuff that nobody else wanted so we could later recall how fucking cool we were.
Walking down there was a booth that stood out, we walked towards it. There was true madness around us. There were people running around with bags and boxes of stolen merch, there were Ryder trucks now parked near the booths, and fights were breaking out; it was like jock-heaven.
“Please, help me and I give you whatever you want.” At first we had no idea where the voice had come from but eventually, out of the darkness, arose the booth we had set out for. “These people are going to rob me, help me get the boxes in my truck and you can grab tee shirts for yourself.” Perfect! Finally, life was working out for me. I knew instantly that I was going to be able to tell people heroic (and fake) stories about how I jacked all this merch from “the man” and all the while I would actually be helping a guy out of a sticky situation. I jumped over the booth’s wall and started stuffing boxes. There was a small box that I set aside and I would occasionally toss a shirt or a keychain in there, this was my box – I was keeping it.
“What do you want?” my friend had stopped me from throwing stuff into the Ryder truck, his absence from helping me was really noticeable but I chalked it up to his unbelievably lazy nature. He was like a sloth…a stoned, fat sloth.
“We need to go…now.”
“but we’re helping this dude out,” his face repeated the ‘now’ over and over, hundreds of times, and in increasing volume. We turned to see the back door of the Ryder truck slam shut. We watched in awe as it cut through the human traffic and drove straight through a fence. I was standing with my little box, not having the slightest clue what was going on when he explained it to me.
“I was talking to the dude who ran this booth…he was all fucked up on something. A security guard came and asked him if he had the vendor pass or something and then the other guy,” there was another guy who was somewhat directing us on how best to pack shit, but mostly just screaming at us to go faster, “he runs up and smashed the security guard over the head with something. They both took off towards the truck, I grabbed you.”
Basically we were too scared to steal but in the end we helped someone who had apparently rented a truck in case there was an opportunity to loot. This same truck was in the local news for about a week. It had knocked over about 10 different booths. Of course, it would have been 9.9 if it weren’t for my help but I don’t want to brag about it.
The security guard was fine, he went on to study engineering at MIT and now works for NASA…I mean, perhaps. He did get up on his own and walk away so we figured he went on to great things in life, as have we all.
I’ve not actually spoken to that friend since senior year of college (three years after Woodstock.) We remained good friends throughout college. I’ve heard he’s married, has a baby girl, and is bald. If I ever see him again I wonder if we’ll start arguing right away or if we’ll try to avoid it. My honest feeling is that we won’t be able to avoid it, we had to be held back from punching one another several times…but we were mostly great friends and I miss him.