By the time I got to Woodstock

Posted by Barry Strauss on August 16, 2009

Friday evening, August 15, 1969, found me in the traffic jam to end all traffic jams. I was on the Garden State Parkway in Northern New Jersey. The cars lined up bumper-to-bumper all around me were headed for Woodstock. I was not. I was sitting on a commuter bus, heading home. I worked a summer job as a clerk in an office building in midtown Manhattan, and I was on my way back to the suburb where I lived.

That was fine with me. At fifteen, I had as much interest in Woodstock as I did in cleaning my room. I didn’t want to go to the concert; I wanted to get away from it and, in particular, from its traffic.

Normally, the bus I took, the 5:15, got home around 6:30 p.m. But thanks to Woodstock (and to a downpour that flooded the roads around Paramus) we didn’t arrive until around 8:30. In those pre-cell-phone days, there was no way to tell my parents not to hold dinner – or to hold their imaginations in check.

When I finally reached my bus stop, I found my father, of blessed memory, pacing around a parked police car. My parents, it seemed, had not chalked up the bus’s delay to peace and love. Rather, they had concluded that, since Friday was payday, someone had robbed me for my paycheck and left me lying in a pool of blood in the Port Authority Bus Station. It seemed absurd then but, now that I have teenagers of my own, it makes a certain wild sense. Anyhow, I can still feel the bear hug that my dad gave me, and my mom’s kisses, when we walked into the kitchen a few minutes later.

One more memory of the day: half an hour or so before the bus reached my destination, while we were still on the highway, it made an unscheduled stop. The driver opened the door to let two Chasidic Jewish men off. They had long beards and were dressed in black. The sun was about to go down and begin the Sabbath, when it is not permitted to ride. Knowing where the nearest Chasidic community was located, I figured that these men had a 10-mile walk ahead of them. It was no deterrent.

Woodstock gave me a free lesson in faith and family. You can keep the music.