What are you ready for?
I was thinking about the first two lines of “Down Under” by Men at Work. I was on a hippy trail but I was not filled with zombie. In fact, my wife was sitting next to me and my kids were in the back seat of the car. It was not exactly how I thought I would end up at Woodstock but here I was on Rock City Road. Where else but Woodstock could I be? The psychedelic street art, the antique shops that looked more like Grateful Dead paraphernalia than 19th Century bottles and farming tools, the bills on the lamp posts selling CBD products, it definitely had what one might imagine the town of Woodstock to be like.
It was of course a wonderful accident. My wife wanted to see the Catskill Mountains. Woodstock just happened to be nearby. So, we were there. And, I got to play out a hippy trail fantasy. It was a win-win.
My mouth got the better of me, and I found myself seeing if I could teach my kids some American history. “The actual concert wasn‘t in Woodstock; it was at a nearby farmer‘s field in a nearby town,” I told my children. I was met with stony silence.
“Did you know the whole concert was free? They even had to bring in food and water and it was all free. But, what was amazing was that there was no crime despite it all.”
This got a peep out of them. “Why was it free?”
“Well, there were too many people. And, it was kind of a humanitarian disaster. So, the concert organizers decided to just to make the whole thing free. And, some of the best musical artists of the time all played. Though, I guess they made up their money by making a movie about it.”
“How do you know it was crime free? You said the people didn’t pay?”
“Well, that is what people said. The concert goers believed in peace, not war. And, they acted peacefully. It was an experiment in living without rules and it succeeded.”
“Did they do drugs?”
“Well, yes, I think some did.”
“Then, it was not crime free.”
“The concert wasn’t even free. They paid by being extras in a movie.”
“Well, they didn’t think it was a crime. And, the concert was free, at least for those who came a little later. Anyway, the point is they lived peacefully with each other, and people were surprised and amazed.”
More stony silence. How was I going to make my point across? I mean it was a significant moment in American history. It was like the continental divide. Which way was the world going to go?
I thought back to another hippy trail I had been on. I had been living in Cleveland. My good friend, David, worked for the City of Cleveland Welfare Department. He was a social worker. He had a co-worker Dom, who was a bit of an old-school Hippy. He was a little dumpy around the middle, and balding, but with a big lamb chop stache above his lips. Dom told this story about getting a little freaked out. He finally found Jesus and righted himself but there was this period in the early 70s where he was a little freaked out. He was living in New York City. And, he just started walking. That’s his story. He walked all the way to Vermont where he joined this commune called People’s Park. Dom tended to talk a little fast, maybe a little New York City, with lots of “mans,” you know man this and man that, in what he said. Dom told David and me that this rich guy had bought some land and that he offered it up to anyone who wanted to live there. Hippies from all over had come and put up tents and lean to’s and primitive structures and started a new community. It was the Woodstock vibe! We could all just live together peacefully. Who needed money? Wavy Gravy was even there!
Dom really wanted to see that place again.
So, one day we got into David’s car, and we started driving. We decided to go to New York, and then north into Canada. This was all before 911 so entering Canada was pretty easy. Show ‘em an American driver’s licence and you were in. David decided I should drive since I was younger and understood kilometers per hour better. We put some classic rock on the cassette player: Grateful Dead, the Beatles, some Kinks – no Rolling Stones – this was a peace and love ride. I’d have to listen to the Stones some other time.
We passed through Quebec and down to the US border with Vermont. The US border guard stopped us. Dom couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Do you know where People’s Park is?” The guard pulled us over. Nothing we had not experienced before. He asked us all for our driver’s licenses and went into a building to do a criminal background check on us. He came back and handed us each individually our driver’s license back.
Then, he began to speak. “People’s Park is still here but it is now a public park.”
We all look at each other.
“It was a den of crime, so the state confiscated the property. It was turned into a public park to keep its mission but you can’t squat there.”
We all let that information set in our minds while the border agent gave us directions to the park. In the end, he was kind of a nice guy.
This was in that era before GPS. There were no smart phones. The Internet was a fledgling thing. But, we found the park quite easy.
And, there in the center of the park was what we were looking for, though we did not know it. It was a rock and chiseled into it, it read:
Free Land for Free People
What were we looking for? Confirmation. Hope. A sense of things not being lost.That a dream can live. Maybe, it was the American dream itself. It was why the Sooners of Oklahoma left soon. The promise of free land for free people. Was there anything more American? It was what Langstan Hughes might describe as deferred, though he was talking about a slightly different dream. Though, its source is the same. Like so many things, people weren’t ready.
What was I going to tell my kids? Nothing. They weren’t ready. But, someday, they might. I thought to the times my parents pleaded with me. Take a look outside the window. The scenery is amazing! But, I didn’t want to. I had my own ideas. Now, I say similar things to my kids. And, they act like I once did. But, I know something that I didn’t know then. That when you get older, you mature and change. What did Bob Dylan sing? The Times They are a Changing…They gave that man a Nobel Prize.
My thoughts now turned to the former Governor of Ohio when I was a teanager: Dick Celeste. They named a park after him in Cleveland, where I am from. After he retired from politics, he had made a splash in the newspapers because he said that he believed people would live in peace…when they were ready. For such a pragmatic politician, it sounded very hokey and idealistic. Why do old people tilt at windmills that younger people not dare?
But, when will people be ready? How long must we wait? The Bible said to everything there is a season. When will this season be here?
Many hippies turned inward. John Lennon sang: Free your mind first. Maybe, it was the Buddhist influence. Did you know there is now a Tibetan Buddhist monastery overlooking Woodstock?
But, it is easy to wait when you are comfortable. When you have time, waiting is nothing. But, what about those who aren’t comfortable? Who don’t have time? Who need change now? The easy answer is they suffer. And, they complain that those who knew better didn’t do anything. But, again, how do you deal with the people who aren’t ready? What did Stephen Stills sing? How can everybody be right, when everybody is wrong?
I did what many parents do. They take the family out for lunch because food heightens the mood and unburdens the emotional side of the heart.
I did not fear eating meat. It was a Reuben sandwich, One of the best I’ve ever had. A painting of Jimi Hendrix looked down on me from one wall. A painting of Bobby Dylan from the other. It was Woodstock. It was a part of American history. Who knows? It could be part of a future that I could not imagine.
I assume that whatever I imagine about the future will never be; it is most likely what we never expect. Okay, more likely, it is what people are ready for. See! I already got it wrong. But, the question left unanswered is what are people ready for? How about you? What are you ready for? Be honest…
A.E. Pole is the author of “You Can’t Get Jack Out of This (The Story of Language Whore). You can find it on Amazon and through this website. Please help out independent artists. I know not everyone has some money to spare but if you do, please check out my novel. You can also read it free (okay, relatively free through KIndle Unlimited.) Check it out.