“Stay off the hill!” I bellowed to a swarm of young people, most of whom had spent the night in a field under open skies that bled rain for more than 12 hours. “Pig!” they countered. Rain had turned the hill behind the stage into a toboggan run of mud. It was also a shortcut to West Shore Road and the crossroads of the village known as the Woodstock Festival. It had grown up in only a day, populated by half-a-million counter-culture music lovers, pot-smokers, peaceniks, bikers and free-love advocates who had no time for pigs, uniformed or not.
I wore a Woodstock Security t-shirt that was meant to confer status, but really only led to ridicule. Those masses weren’t listening to me; they were sliding down the mud run on cardboard or free-style on their backs, yelling like Tarzan on the way. The medical tent, situated at the four-corners, had more sprains, broken bones and overdoses than it could handle, so it had sent a call to secure the hill. I was the 17-year-old sister of one of the backstage-security guys and a willing, if naïve, volunteer. They slapped a Woodstock security t-shirt on me and sent me to the front lines of the mud hill.
The night before, I had changed out of my work clothes and boarded a bus at Port Authority bound for White Lake with a three-day ticket and a tub of tapioca pudding from Horn & Hardart in case I got hungry. If I had known what I was in for, I would have packed more than that for the weekend. I had never been to a place that didn’t have enough food to go around. One of the most memorable aspects of the three days of Woodstock for me was not the music—it was the hunger.
By the time my bus left me at the crossroads in White Lake some nine hours after leaving the city, the tapioca was spoiled. I spit out the first taste and carried its sour legacy in my mouth for days. The next thing I ate was a Dixie cup of beef stew provided to the security crew as a form of payment for our services. I don’t recall eating again until Monday morning when I wolfed down a bagel and cream cheese with a chaser of fresh orange juice at the Monticello Bagel Bakery. Best thing I ever tasted! So that’s what they call hunger, I thought.
But no matter how I suffered along with my fellow Woodstock family, to them I was a symbol of authoritarianism that made wars, not love, and cracked heads at peace rallies. After my lack of success on the mud hill, I was re-stationed at one arm of the crossroads. My job now was to keep the road clear for emergency vehicles. That required me to politely redirect blissed-out counter-culture enthusiasts off the road and out of the flow of traffic.
It should have been easy to explain to hippies, a communal sort, to make way for those less fortunate. But again, I was a pig. Then I heard a siren. State troopers led a farm wagon down the road to the medical tent where a helicopter hovered, unable to land in the mud. On the back of the wagon was a man. He looked white. Not just Caucasian. White. Suddenly the helicopter lifted before the wagon got there. The wagon turned back and the man looked purple now. They were trying to get to another landing spot. I begged kids to stop so they wouldn’t clog the intersection. They laughed at me. Called me names again. I was feeling sick. It was hot now and all the rain had made a humid stew of the mud and grass. Finally the wagon came back to its original destination as the helicopter hovered again. The man was gray now. He was dead. The music was playing and there were people everywhere. I shed my t-shirt and joined a group of friends going to the pond.
As we ran to the water, naked and free, a scream rose up. The cry of an animal, I thought. When I looked around, I saw my friend Chris writhing in pain, blood pouring from his foot. A broken Coke bottle had severed a tendon. Suddenly the crowd lifted him up, naked, and ran him to the medical tent. He was on the next helicopter.
Three days of peace, love and music included a dose of real life.