Thursday, August 19, 2021


The event that defined a generation, or just shit that happened?

I was up in the middle of the night, with my mind racing.  Your body does this on occasion, usually if you have a heavy meal late at night.  Mark makes a mean meatloaf.  Anyway, for some reason, I was recalling Woodstock, or at least my memories of that era.  I was only about 10 years old at the time, so I didn't go.  My older brother and sister (and a friend of theirs) went, but they might as well not have gone.  My other brother and I stayed home.  We didn't miss much.

Like so much of that era - or any era - a mythology has arisen about it.   If you listen to some baby boomers, they will tell you that everyone was protesting injustice and they were all on the side of righteousness.  But of course, not everyone was protesting, as I noted before.  Yes, there were "Young Republicans" even back then - perhaps even more than today.  But clean-cut young kids who looked like they were 40 didn't get much press back then.  Click-bait didn't exist then, but the old saying was, they would print anything to sell newspapers.  And scaring old people with stories about hippies sold a lot of newspapers back then.

But if  you were young back then, and living on the East coast, well, Woodsotck was a big deal.  I remember my brother holding a poster advertising the event (no doubt a relic worth a lot, today!) and trying to persuade my parents to let them go.  Not surprisingly, my folks, particularly my Dad, wasn't so keen on letting the kids take our old rusted-out 1965 Mustang to a drug-fueled orgy.  But he eventually agreed to let them go.

On the day they were to leave, I was taking pictures, and I have a black-and-white photo of my brothers and sister and their friend Danny, as well as a friend of mine.  The younger people were all acting like spaz kids - my next oldest brother holding a toy gun he made from a 2x4 and a piece of steel pipe.  My sister was wearing one of those flowing hippie dresses, and their friend Danny had daring shoulder-length hair.  Yea, long hair was a controversial thing back then - today only conservatives wear it.  How odd.

Anyway, being stoners, they decided to bring a stash of pot with them.  And being stoners, they thought it would be clever to hide it in the glove compartment (who would look there?) where my Dad easily found it.  He lectured them and made them promise not to do drugs at Woodstock, and stupidly, once out of range of parental authority, they kept that promise, which sort of shaped their experience there.

Of course, I didn't find out about that until later.  My sister didn't share her pot secrets with me until I was 13 years old, at which point she felt it was wise to turn me on to marijuana to "mellow" me out.  Like I said, we were pretty spaz kids.  Most are.  But I digress.

Anyway, they got there and had to park by the side of the road, as the event was so poorly planned, there was no parking provided.  They got to the "gate" and found it was torn down - people just walked in and didn't pay.  I am sure my siblings felt like chumps for buying tickets.

They found a spot and set up my Dad's old army tent, which was a pair of heavy canvas shelter halves, which sucked as a tent and was pretty useless for anything else.  It leaked water when it rained, to the point where just sleeping in the rain was a better option.  It probably wouldn't have been so bad if the canvas had been treated or we had real tent poles and stakes.  My Dad being cheap, always said, "you can cut your own stakes from tree limbs with your boy scout knife!" and you know how well that worked out.

Today, you can go to WalMart and buy a nice tent for $99.  Well, you could before the Pandemic, anyway.  But back then, shit was expensive, and most tents were heavy canvas and made-in-usa and thus very pricey as they used union labor.  Maybe we make less money today, in terms of inflation, but it buys a lot of cheap shit from China, effectively making us wealthier.  Well, it did, before inflation made the $15 minimum wage a moot point.  What's next for the unions, $30 "living wage"?  Because that's where we're headed right now.

Anyway, if you recall anything about Woodstock, it rained and rained like a sumbitch.   They sat there, in their tent, getting soaking wet, and not high, and barely able to hear the music.  What little food they brought with them was "shared" by others, and in the middle of the night, my sister was alarmed to find a smelly hippy had wormed his way into her sleeping bag and hoping to worm his way into something else.   She screamed and my brother woke up and politely asked this potential Manson-family member to leave, and fortunately he did, because my brother was all of 90 pounds wet, and in no position to challenge the guy if he refused.

Well, the next day, they left.  It was still raining and there was mud everywhere and my sister was tired of shitting in the woods.  Probably not being high didn't help, but then again, it might have made it a lot worse.  They came home, tail between their legs, just before the sun came out and the music started again.

Oh, and when they got back to where they had abandoned the Mustang, they discovered some "share the wealth" hippy decided to "share" their 8-track tape player, right out of the car!

Of course, if you ask them about it today (or in my sister's case, before she died) they tell a different story.   "Yea, I was at Woodstock..." my brother would say with a faraway look in his eyes, as if he were recounting a war story.  "You had to be there to understand.  A million people, the defining moment of our generation..."


It was, in reality, a very poorly planned event, with few toilets or fresh water, no food, no infrastructure, not even a place to park.   People were assaulted, raped, and even killed.  Drug overdoses were common.  And the few volunteers manning the medical tent were quickly overwhelmed.  It was an example of why "share the wealth" and hippy planning just don't work.

Years later, they had an anniversary celebration at Woodstock, and it was an interesting contrast.  Having decades to prepare, you'd think this time around it would have those portable bathrooms and booths selling Chardonnay and medical marijuana as well as rain-forest-friendly treats.  But no, it was about as poorly planned as the original.  A riot broke out, apparently, toward the end.  So much for peace, love, and music.  I guess the world has changed since those days - or has it?

And no, I didn't go.  I don't have romantic notions about the hippy movement.  I was at Oshkosh at the time, and the contrast was interesting.  Hosting over a million people .every year, the folks at Oshkosh had it all planned out, from food vendors, to RV sites, to shower houses, bathrooms, parking, and of course, airplanes.   You can't just invite a million people to your house and bring a bag of Doritos and hope Jesus shows up to do his fishes-and-loaves bit.  That never works out.

Did Woodstock change the world?  Did it end the Vietnam war?  Hardly.  The war wound down in the successive years, until we finally realized we were spending billions of dollars propping up an unpopular regime whose own people were not willing to fight for.  We left, tail between our legs and vowed never to do that again.  And we never did, either! The End.

Thoughts about "sharing the wealth" quickly evaporated when people realized that a few freeloaders wanted a free ride off someone else's labor.  Once hippies made a few dollars, well, they changed their minds about a lot of things.  And that's OK, too.  You can change your mind about things - particularly about bad ideas, like Communism.  Hippies became Yuppies and then Boomers and now they own and control everything and pretty much mucked it all up like their forebears' did.

What got me started on this was a comic I was reading.  Like I said, most of these online funnies are funny, but too many of them dwell on negative things.  It is assumed that everyone is depressed and unhappy, for example, or seeing a therapist.  Maybe Charles Shulz is to blame for this - he started the whole trend of comic characters having existential crises.  But another theme always harped upon (as assume to be background noise to daily life) is that "this generation" got the raw end of the stick and will never, ever own a home or have a fully-funded retirement or a decent job or healthcare. So we might as well share the wealth.

It is an interesting thought, and when you look back at the boomer generation in their prime days, well, they pretty much thought the same thing - that the system was stacked against them, they would never have the lifestyle their parents had, and so on and so forth. Of course, they were mostly rejecting materialism instead of merely not being able to find it. When they changed their minds about these things, well, like every other generation before them, they took charge.

And I have no doubt that the next generation will do the same thing.  Is their world lesser than that of the previous generations?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I am sure many a millennial or generation-Z or whatever would have felt like they were in the middle-ages if they had to grow up in 1975 - with no smart phones, no cable television, no internet, and no video games.  Then again, our generation would probably have revolted at the era our parents lived in, with hand-cranked record players playing scratchy 78 rpm records and only the radio to entertain you.  They got polio, we got the vaccine.  And today, people can get a vaccine if they chose to.  Some don't.  That's not my problem.

Are houses more expensive today than in the past?  Of course - in a world of finite land and a population growing exponentially, it is a mathematical certainty that housing will become more dear.  I could never afford to own the lake house my parents had - or even pay the taxes on it - even though I made, in real terms, more money than my Dad did.   But come to think of it, it was a stretch for them to afford it - my Mother drove a Vega and a succession of cheap cars, and we scrimped a lot, because the fancy house was indeed a budget-buster.   Today?  Our generation assumes that if you have a fancy house, you have the fancy cars to go with it.  We have a lot more, in real terms than generations past.

And the price of housing has always been dear.  The myth being spread today is that "back in the day" you could buy a house for a dollar, if you saved up your nickels.  It is like the old gag that some old-timers like to use - "I remember when Pepsi was a nickel!" they say, not realizing that a nickel back then is the equivalent of a buck today.   So yea, $30,000 for a house sounds cheap and all, until you realize that the average schmuck made maybe $5000 a year if they were lucky, and yes, they had a mortgage and it ate up much of their income.

(But of course, we are in the middle of an anomaly - another real estate bubble.  It is just like the last one in 2008, but different.  Eventually the Fed will have to raise interest rates, and even an increase of 1% in mortgage rates can cause housing prices to drop by 10% or more.  This not to say that housing prices will fall and stay low, only that the inflated values today are not likely to continue.  Buying now "before you get priced out of the market forever!" is a bad idea - and was a bad idea back in 2006, too).

Bear in mind, though, that while "they aren't making any more" land, there is a lot of it about, and every day, a new housing development is started and new houses are built.  Eventually supply and demand even out, even if there are instances where one outweighs the other.

But what about global warming?  The war on terror?  Well, there are always shit-storms going on in the world.  When I was a kid, you could not see across Pittsburgh, the pollution was so bad.  Rivers in Ohio caught fire from all the toxic waste dumped in them.  Smog blanketed Los Angeles - and many other cites as well.   We enacted pollution control laws and emissions from factories, houses, and cars have dropped precipitously.  We burned a hole in the ozone layer and managed to get most of the nations of the world to agree to stop using chemicals that did that.  We have made progress and can make more.

The sad thing is, of course, is that Mother Nature may make a correction before we have a chance to. When one animal over-populates its environmental niche, either it has to adapt to a new niche, or something culls the herd.  You know, things like pandemics or the like.  The fundamental cause of global warming is just too many damn people on the planet.   And while many like to blame the West for the problem, things like the Pacific garbage patch are caused mostly by developing countries, which are still burning coal.  Cities in China today look like Pittsburgh in 1965.

Every generation has its crosses to bear.  When I was a kid, it was "duck and cover" because the Rooskies were going to drop the big one.  Our parents had to go off to fight Nazzies.  There is always some crises in the world.   Eventually, these things are sorted out - and often there is much bloodshed and strife involved.   You can either hide under your bed and hope it all goes away, or confront it.

OK, this is a long way from Woodstock.  But I think I had a point.  If you thought that Woodstock was a fantastic drug-and-sex-fueled party, well, it might have been for a few folks.  But for many more, it was just a muddy nightmare, even as they try to reinvent it in their minds as some sort of generational watershed event.

We need to stop romanticizing the past, because let's face it, the past sucked.  I mean, the cell service in 1975 was one bar, at best!

Sometimes it pays to put these things in perspective.  Woodstock was just stupid, period.