By Michael Pellegrini
In 1970, Federal Way in Washington state was a small suburban backwater of the greater Seattle metropolitan area. In its myriad streets and byways was a sea of nearly identical tract homes, thrown together to house workers for the massive Boeing plants south of the city. Federal Way was where tired housewives sat at kitchen tables living the American Dream, trading gossip over endless cups of coffee, conspiring together against the waxy yellow buildup on their linoleum floors.
Rather dull on the surface, but for a person fresh out of high school, it was just right. Everything we wanted was there, albeit mostly hidden from the prying eyes of our parents.
Our clandestine lives centered mostly around sex, drugs and rock and roll, the forces which sustained us even in that vast wasteland of suburbia. Because back then, love was still free, lids of good weed were only ten bucks, and music was vibrant and new.
Rock and roll was by far the most important part of our lives, enjoying an almost sacrosanct status among our ranks. Each new record was listened to with reverence, each personnel change in a band was carefully scrutinized, because music was truly what we lived for. Every last subtle nuance of a song, every possible permutation or effect of a new line-up in a band would be examined in detail before we could rest. A discussion on the meaning of a song could go on for days or weeks; or for instance, if George Harrison were rumored to be planning a tour with Ravi Shankar, many more hours could be consumed in rife speculation on what that portended for rock and roll.
We had much to talk about that year. The Beatles had just broken up, but the consensus was that they'd get back together soon. Neil Young was playing with Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Eric Clapton played with Stevie Winwood, then later, with Dave Mason and finally, Duane Allman. It went on and on. And then of course, there was Woodstock.
In 1969, less than a year before, more than a half a million hippies converged on Max Yasgur's farm in upstate New York, and gave birth to the Woodstock Nation. This was the absolute highest incarnation of our Holy Trinity.
We were certain a rock festival had to be the finest thing in the universe. Rampant sex and drugs with great music, all rolled up into one. Heaven on earth.
And so it was our fondest hope that a rock festival would soon be coming to our corner of the world, so that we might partake of the holy sacrament. This was our shared vision to attend a rock festival and that and the rest of our daily rites tended to blot out everything else, except in those unseemly intervals when a burst of reality would intrude.
Reality. Pictures on the five o'clock news of soldiers trooping through rice paddies, along with the inevitable body bags and body counts. Blue-collar workers bashing the skulls of hippies in an anti-war demonstration. A low number in the draft lottery, or worse, a letter from the draft board. Someone's brother coming back from Viet Nam missing a leg or arm or not coming back at all. Transient images that flashed by occasionally.
I was able to ignore most of it. I was lucky because I had the luxury of apathy I had the promise of a college deferment so Viet Nam was definitely not on my travel itinerary. Beyond that, I wasn't particularly interested in freeing the poor Vietnamese farmers from the oppressive yoke of communism or for that matter, in demonstrating against the war.
Apathy seemed affordable for an eighteen-year-old living with his parents in Federal Way in 1970.
I. - Wednesday
August 26, 1970
At two o'clock in the afternoon, the Federal Way pool hall was almost empty. It was oppressively hot outside nearly eighty-five in the shade and muggy, so wet that my shirt stuck to me like glue. Only people like me who actually enjoyed the game, shot pool in the daytime. Everyone else was out catching rays as you're supposed to do when it's hot and sunny.
Me, I was dedicated about pool. I had been practicing my bank shots in preparation for what I hoped would be a career as a pool hustler, or for what would at least supplement my income during college. I was in the process of lining up a long shot on the eight when Dave Heinlein snuck up behind me and jogged my stick, causing me to miss.
"Gordie, you asshole. Whatch ya doing?" He said in a low voice.
Dave was one of my best friends. Fine brown hair that went down to his shoulders with prominent sideburns that ended below his jaw-line. A bushy, drooping mustache reminiscent of a Mexican bandito. He had cultivated the mustache while still in high school, which was not a small accomplishment and made him the envy of many of our peers. A couple inches taller than me, about five foot ten, we still weighed about the same, around one fifty.
Like me he was eighteen, and we had gone through all the usual high school trips together. The cruising for babes and burgers along Pacific Highway South, the hanging out at the pool hall on Friday and Saturday nights looking for parties, or organizing keggers that would take place out in the woods by the power lines or at Lake Geneva. And then there were the many bags of dope smoked while listening to music and looking for the perfect high, along with the numerous hits of mescaline and LSD taken with the same intention. All the requisite rights of passage, at least for someone growing up in Federal Way in 1970. And sometimes we had even gone to school.
Dave stood now, head cocked to the side, twisting the mustache and smiling.
Angry at missing my shot, I glared back at him and shook my head.
"What am I doing?" I asked, voice dripping sarcasm. "I'm blowing my shot, you sonofabitch. You ain't got nothing better to do than go around screwing with people when they're making a shot?"
He smiled. "No shit, Sherlock. My life is a mission to make you miserable. You know that." He leaned casually against the table. He was dressed in bell-bottom jeans, a tie-died T-shirt with a black leather vest, and black square-toed boots. A misshapen peace sign dangled on a chain from around his neck. The epitome of cool.
I leaned back against the table then looked at him. "So what are you doing here?" I asked. "I thought you had to go to Seattle with your mom?" I chalked my stick.
"Got out of it." Smiling, he paused then said, "Gordo, you know what's up?" Eyes wide, he canted his head to the right and a manic grin took form on his face.
I had no idea what he was talking about. Leaning back against the table, I tried to read something from his expression.
"What?" I asked, "You got that bag of Acapulco Gold you were talking about last week?
"No, better. Think big."
"Big?" I paused for a moment thinking, then asked hopefully, "Derek and the Dominoes are gonna play the Coliseum in Seattle?"
"God, I wish, said Dave, frowning. He quickly shook his head and replied, "Naw, not Clapton, but still cosmic stuff, Gordo."
"Cosmic? What, they're gonna charge the National Guard with murder for offing the students at Kent State last May?"
"Nope. Better than that, even."
"Okay, I got it. President Nixon committed suicide."
"Uh uh. Way better."
Tired of the stupid game, I moaned, "Aw, come on man, what's better than that? Gimme a break, huh?"
He leaned towards me and drawing out each word, whispered theatrically, "A rock festival."
My heart pounded. "A rock festival? Where?"
"Out in the sticks south of Tacoma, by a town named Yelm. Festival's called Rio del Sol. Gordo, a whole bunch of bands are gonna be there. It's gonna go for eleven days!"
"No shit?" I lifted my eyes to the heavens. Bells rang, angels cried then everything came abruptly to a halt. I looked back at Dave. "Hey, hold on a minute. I remember hearing about that, but I thought they'd cancelled it 'cause it was illegal."
Dave shook his head. "Naw, no way man. I got good info. This is one festival that's gonna happen, no matter what the pigs say. Anyway, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke. I'm going. You wanna go?"
Wild horses and J. Edgar Hoover couldn't have stopped me. I looked at Dave and nodded. "Damn straight. When is it?"
"Now. It opens Friday, but I'm gonna go down there today and get an early start. Go for it?"
"Fucking A, man. Let's do it to it. Right on!"
Hurriedly, I checked in my balls and paid the attendant, and then left in Dave's '55 Chevy. We drove past my house and picked up my tent and some other camping gear. From there we found the freeway, and headed south.
An hour later, we rounded a corner and in front of us, was a wide gateway with some longhaired hippies standing at the side.
"Look at those freaks standing there, this has gotta be it," said Dave.
"Fucking alright!" Quite excited, I straightened up in the seat.
The long metal gate was standing open, and we pulled up in front of it next to a tall hippie with a Jesus beard. He was in his mid-twenties, and was wearing bib overalls, and had straight red hair that went down almost to his waist. He came up to Dave's window and bent down so we were at the same eye level, close enough so I could read a large button pinned on one of his pockets, "Stamp Out Campus Violence Euthanize Spiro Agnew." The hippie had a soft southern accent.
"Howdy, folks. Welcome to Rio del Sol. Y'all gonna stay for the whole thing?"
Nodding, Dave answered, "Yeah. Thought we'd come down early so we could get a good spot."
The hippie nodded. "That's cool, brothers," he said. "Glad to have y'all. All right then, it'll cost ya twenty-six bucks each for the full eleven days of the festival. Y'all get a two-day free bonus for coming early."
Dave and I looked at each other, eyes wide, both of us in a panic. Fifty-two bucks would about wipe us out. Money was one of the small details we hadn't really thought of when in our excitement, we hit the road.
My mind raced, desperately trying to come up with possible solutions. I leaned over and anxiously whispered in Dave's ear, "Ask him if we can work some of it off or something."
Dave nodded quickly and looked back at the guy. He stammered, "Uh, like we don't quite have that much on us right now, man. Is there like any way we could do some work or something to get in?" He smiled hopefully.
The hippie idly scratched his head and shrugged. "Well, we could use some help parking cars. Y'all both agree to do that?"
We both nodded our heads vigorously in agreement. Dave answered quickly, "Sure, man. We'd love to help out."
"Alright. I reckon that's okay. Y'all go in and park, they'll show you where. Unpack your stuff and get a campsite, then get on back to the security trailer at seven thirty and ask for Mitch. Trailer's over yonder." He nodded his head at a group of trailers to the right of the gate. "I'll tell him y'all are coming. Whata they call you two?"
"Dave Heinlein and Gordie Lawson."
He wrote the names down on a scrap of paper, and then looking up again, he nodded. "Okay. Go for it, brothers. Enjoy!" He stepped back and waved the car in back of us forward.
Dave smiled at the guy, and then let out the clutch. Our car lurched slowly forward through the gateway.
"We did it Gordo! We're in!"
"Thank fucking Christ. God, I woulda freaked if he hadn't let us in!" I paused then said, "There's the security trailer he was talking about." I pointed.
Just inside the gate and to the right was a cluster of three small travel trailers arranged in a semi-circle. One had a cardboard sign with 'Security' scrawled on it with a marking pen. In back of the trailers were cars and trucks, all parked in two neat rows, and then a few tents and a sea of scotch broom.
Dave slowed to let a car pull out in front of him, and then pointed to a group of longhairs sitting on the left side of the road. "Hey," he said. "Look at those freaks and the signs they got. 'Orange Sunshine a dollar a hit.' Good lids eight bucks.' On and on. Shit, they're fucking advertising dope!"
I nodded, amazed at the signs. "Crazy sonofabitches. I guess there mustn't be any cops around."
"They better hope so, or they're gonna be dead meat!"
The pavement had ended at the gate, and we drove on a dusty dirt road bordered by the scotch broom on both sides.
"Check out the road, Gordo. There must be three inches of dust on it. Look at the cloud going up in back of us. Musta been a helluva lot of traffic, here, huh?"
"No shit." We had come to a three-way intersection, and another longhair was waving at us. I looked over at Dave. "I think he wants us to go through that gate to the left."
"Are you sure, man? I think he's waving 'cause he thinks I'm a rock star. Shall I stop so he can get my autograph?"
"Dream on, asshole. Just turn."
Grinning, he turned left, and we drove down a short road and into what had recently been a broad expanse of pasture. Several long lines of cars and trucks were parked there now, and Dave parked our car at the end of the first row. We got out.
I stood up slowly, stretching from our long drive, tired but very alert, and very conscious of our surroundings. It had cooled down somewhat and was quite pleasant outside, maybe seventy-five degrees with a slight breeze. Someone had a radio cranked up, and the fragrant smell of freshly mown hay and the sounds of Janis Joplin singing Summertime drifted over the languid August air.
I looked over our surroundings. The parking lot was on a slight incline, running down to a small valley with a stand of trees across the bottom and at the sides. Above the trees on the other side of the valley and to the left, rose the imposing majesty of Mt. Rainier, sparse fields of snow clinging to the top looking like a bad frosting job on a cake. Across the other side of the entry road was another spacious pasture, which was being used as a parking lot, then more trees far away, off in the distance at the top of the hill.
Back in front of us on the road, a convoy of three U-Haul trucks threw up a billowing trail of dust as they moved in towards the festival. Dave stood leaning against the car, taking it all in. He looked over at me.
"So what you think, Gordo?"
"Man, I think I'm in love, I said softly. This is what I've been waiting for all my life. Can you feel the vibes?"
"Damn straight. You know what it's like?"
"Uh uh. What?" I looked at him.
He gazed off in to space, shaking his head. "It's like those parties we did at Lake Geneva, you know, with the Ballew's and all them. Remember? We'd spend days setting it up, just so everything would be perfect. You go around school Friday afternoon, smoking out by the paper shack, and the party is like the only thing everyone is talking about. That night, when everybody finally gets to the lake, you're so hyped up that you feel like you're gonna bust, what with all the fucking energy. This is like that, only a helluva lot heavier."
I nodded my head. "Yeah, I can dig it. It's kinda like the biggest kegger ever, where they got all this fantastic live music and dope and shit." A tingling sensation in my spine, I absently followed the progress of an old converted school bus painted in wild psychedelic designs, as it passed nearby on the road. Looking back at Dave, I went on a lower voice, "You know, I think I'm gonna really dig this. I got these vibes, I think this is gonna be the best fucking party ever. Better than Woodstock, maybe. One heavy motherfucker!"
He smiled. "No shit? Maybe even a father-raper, huh?"
I nodded, grinning. "No shit. Shall we check it out?"
"Yeah. Let's scout out the lay of the land first, then come back for our shit, later."
We hurriedly locked the car then set off, walking in silence, urgently drinking in all that was around us, looking for signs of what was to come.
Not too far beyond the gate that led out of the parking lot, the road split off in two directions just before the crest of the hill. To the right, a bunch of workers were unloading Sani-Cans off a flatbed truck, arranging them in a double line of ten each, just off the side of the road. To the left at the other side of the intersection, a longhaired man running a backhoe was digging a ditch.
I looked anxiously at Dave. "The right side has had more traffic, I said.
He nodded. "Yeah, let's try it."
At the top of the hill, a tree-rimmed valley was spread out below us. It was a gigantic natural amphitheatre, the grassy hill curving around like a clamshell, making a bowl which sloped gently down to a flat area at the bottom, about a quarter mile away. The ridge we were on swept around to the right for another quarter mile at the top of the bowl, with trees standing in back like sentinels. My head spun the place could hold thousands of people. Presently, only a few tents marred the otherwise pristine surface as evidence of human habitation.
Dave interrupted my dreaming. "Gordo, look down at the bottom there. Look."
I turned my gaze. Workers were building a huge stage at the bottom of the amphitheatre. I'd seen pictures of Woodstock, and this looked similar. Quite similar.
"Man, you could play football on that, said Dave, staring at the stage. "It's fucking humongous!"
"No shit. And check out all the speakers for the PA system. Jesus!" At either side, giant columns fifty or sixty feet high made of painter's scaffolding held probably a hundred large black speaker boxes.
Dave laughed. "For real. And look at all the people crawling around. The ones up on the top with that sheet look like fucking monkeys."
High up in the scaffolding, workers were stringing up a big white tarp between two smaller columns towards the back of the stage, apparently a projection screen for the light show. Down below, others laid down the plywood floor.
Fifty feet in front of the stage was a smaller tower set right in the middle, dividing the stage in two, with a walkway from it to the stage. As Dave had said, people poured all over the stage and the surrounding area, and the sounds of saws and hammering filled the immense amphitheatre.
"Gordo, look at all those semis and U-Hauls. You suppose there's some bands here already?" He pointed to a group of semi trucks and U-Haul's parked just outside the tree line. Directly behind the stage were several large army tents and a group of travel trailers.
"I dunno, I spose it could be. What about the tents just behind the stage?"
"That must be where the musicians will stay. Hey, check out the choppers."
To the right of the stage and back sat two helicopters, one with rotor blades slowly turning, both looking like giant bugs squatting on large white crosses laid out in the dry, brown grass. There was a loud rumbling crash, and I jumped.
Thirty feet to the right from where we stood was an old barn and a battered looking windmill, with a bunch of people standing in a knot passing reefers just outside the barn. A large cloud of dust billowed out from where a section of wall had fallen from the barn.
I called out to a hippie wearing a brightly colored serape and a straw hat, standing on the fringe of the crowd. "Hey! What's going on?"
He smiled, and shouted back, "We're tearing this down so we can use the lumber for the shops down there." He pointed down to the left of the stage.
I looked back into the bowl again, and saw they were building what looked like a long line of stalls. Dave just stood shaking his head.
"Far fucking out, man! This is just too much, he exclaimed. "A humongous stage, a huge sound system, beaucoup cheap dope, the helicopters, and room for thousands and thousands of fucking people. Everything they need. Really. And we're here. We actually made it." Still gazing at the stage, he paused for a moment, and then shaking his head, he went on. "Man, this is so fucking A groovy I just can't believe it. A goddamn rock festival and we're in on it! C'mon, Gordo! Let's boogie on down. I wanna go see the stage."
Enraptured, I managed an assenting grunt, then after clearing my throat, said softly, "Yeah, the stage."
We walked down the grassy hill towards the stage, and then on Dave's suggestion, made a slight detour towards the place they were building the stalls. It was a line of shops in the shape of an oblique 'L', which was several hundred feet long. A few shops were already finished.
"Look at the signs, I said as we walked along the row of shops. "It's like the dealers at the gate, everyone's advertising dope here. They gotta be nuts. Advertising?"
Dave nodded. "Yeah, alright! Hey, look at that one." He pointed at one of the booths, nearly complete. "Rio Del Sol Drugs, and they got Purple Owsley acid for a buck a hit. That's my kinda drug store."
"Don't ya think it's a little too up-front advertising dope like that though?"
He shrugged. "This ain't fucking straight-city anymore. It's like Woodstock, man. They didn't allow any pigs in there and there ain't gonna be any here. The signs show that. Don't have to be paranoid like usual when it's all just brothers." He paused, while eyeing a passing woman dressed in Levis and a tight body shirt with a plunging neckline. Looking back at me, he shook his head and went on, "What the fuck. You gotta get with it, Gordo. I mean man, like this is a rock festival." He cut in front of me and started walking off in the direction of the stage.
A rock festival. Including the carpenters working on the shops, it seemed like every one of the people we had encountered since we arrived had been a hippie. Many of the people we passed were openly smoking weed, and the fragrance often pervaded the air, interspersed with the heavy smells of patchouli oil and incense. Dope was even advertised.
As profoundly unreal as it was, the atmosphere seemed so comfortable, and the usual all-pervasive paranoia seemed to have finally been banished. What the hell, I thought. I decided to take Dave's advice. To hell with paranoia. But I knew I was dreaming and in heaven.
We stopped just short of the stage, watching the work progress. In front of us, men were cutting sheets of plywood, and placing them on the front of the stage to hide the scaffolding.
One longhair sat down on a stack of lumber next to us, and after wiping the sheen of perspiration off his forehead with a large red bandana, he pulled a plastic baggie and some Zig Zags from his hip pocket. He began rolling a joint, working awkwardly, as if he had hurt one of his hands earlier. He was in his mid-twenties, a lean and lanky build, with long, kinky brown hair tied back in a pony tail that reached the middle of his back, nearly touching the carpenter's tool belt riding at his waist. A full beard covered most of his tanned, narrow face, and bushy eyebrows peeked over the rims of his wire frame glasses, which sat on a red and peeling, sunburned nose. He was dressed in blue jeans and a green T-shirt, the front of the shirt shiny with sweat. He finished rolling the joint and looked at us, smiling.
"Hey! You guys wanna toke up?" He asked good-naturedly. He held the joint out towards us.
"Sure, I said. We sat down on the lumber next to him. He lit the joint and passed it to Dave. After holding his breath for a ten count, he let it out slowly, the cloud of marijuana smoke being lofted into the air by the breeze. He held out his hand and said, "My name's Bruce Stuckey. Welcome to Rio del Sol. You brothers musta just got here, huh?"
We shook hands. "Thanks. I'm Gordon Lawson. This is Dave Heinlein. Yeah, we just got in." I took the joint from Dave and he and Stuckey shook hands. The weed tasted like the Mexican we normally smoked.
"Man, this is far fucking out, said Dave, letting out his hit. "Say, how long till you guys finish the stage? There gonna be any music tonight?"
Stuckey laughed, his green eyes shining in the light of the evening sun. "Naw, there's not gonna be any music tonight. If we're lucky, we'll have the thing done tomorrow so they can do some sound checks. Right now, we're putting the facing on the stage. Another crew is almost finished with the sub floor. When they get done, they've gotta lay the final layer of plywood decking."
"That's gonna take till tomorrow?" I asked.
"Probably. Way it looks, we may havta knock off when it gets dark. If they don't have the big generator up, there won't be any work lights. Till they get the big one going, all we got are the small generators we run the saws off of - won't handle power tools and lights, both." He paused for a moment then asked, "You guys gonna work here?"
"Yeah, I said. "We didn't have the bucks for the tickets so they're gonna have us do parking to pay our way in. Hey, you get paid for doing this stuff?"
He laughed again. "Naw. Everyone here are volunteers. Doing it for the karma."
"Huh." I paused then pointing, asked, "Hey, what are the helicopters for?" I was getting a pleasant buzz from the joint.
"They're for the bands," answered Stuckey, smiling. "So they don't have to come in by road and get stuck in traffic. They've rented three of them for the whole length of the festival."
"Huh," said Dave, who then took a hit off the joint and passed it to me. Letting out a cloud of smoke, he went on, "Have you heard what bands are going to show up?"
He looked into space for a moment, and then answered, "Let me see, I think the Grateful Dead are still on, The Jefferson Airplane, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, It's a Beautiful Day, Ten Years After, Boz Scaggs, John Mayall and Quicksilver. Steve Miller and Humble Pie had to cancel, they said. That's all of the biggies I can think of right now. But there are a whole shitload of others, I'm sure."
"Have you heard if Clapton is gonna play here?" I asked expectantly.
He smiled, a knowing look in his eyes. "Ah yeah, Clapton is God! But, no. No, I haven't heard anything about him being here."
Undaunted by the setback, I charged ahead. "How about Lennon?"
Stuckey shrugged. "I heard one guy who said John and Yoko were supposed to be coming here. Just to party, not play. But the guy was really tripped out on STP and I dunno if it was for real. I kinda think not."
"Have you heard how many people are supposed to be coming?" Asked Dave, as he fitted the remains of the joint onto a roach clip.
"I've heard them say anywhere from forty thousand to a quarter million."
"Sonofabitch! That's a whole lot of people! But how are they gonna be able to pull it off if the pigs bust the place?" Dave asked. "I mean, like I heard someone say the festival is illegal."
Stuckey nodded. "Yeah, but they've got a new angle. Have you seen the tickets?" He pulled one from his pocket and held it up so we could see. "See, it's not a 'ticket'. It says 'Limited Partnership Agreement' on it. When you buy one of these, you become a limited partner, a part owner of Rio del Sol, Inc. The cops can't regulate what a man does on his own property. This isn't a rock festival, it's a stockholders meeting!" We all laughed.
Stuckey looked at his watch and then stood up, smiling. "Breaks over, I guess. I oughta get back to work."
Dave held out the roach to him. "Hey, you want the rest of this?"
He shook his head. "Naw, you guys keep it. I got plenty. You guys take care, now." He tipped an imaginary hat, and strode back over to the work party.
Basking in the warm, familiar glow of the marijuana, I looked at Dave. "Well, so what do you wanna do?" I asked. "It's getting late. You suppose what we should set up the tent?"
"I dunno. Whadaya think?" asked Dave, obviously stoned.
"I think it might be a good idea."
"Far out, man. Like where?"
"Well, I don't wanna be real close to the stage. If there are gonna be zillions of people coming, we'd get trampled down here. How about back on the hill?"
We turned around and looked. The level area in front of the stage continued for a couple hundred feet and then sloped up the gentle hill. About halfway up and slightly off to the left was a large oak tree, the only tree on the whole hill.
"It looks like it's almost level by that tree, I said. "Let's check it out."
Stoned, we walked through the freshly cut grass towards the tree.
An hour later we had the tent, a large six-person job my dad had bought the last summer, set up just to the right of the tree. It was situated next to the remnants of an old fence devoid of its wire, the split-cedar posts running in a long line around the width of the bowl. The ground was almost level, with no rocks and it was perfect. We were approximately two hundred yards away from and a hundred feet above the stage. From our campsite, we could see nearly all of the immense amphitheatre laid out below.
After standing back and admiring our work, Dave hung a sign he had made above the tent door, which read, Tortilla Flat. He said the literary allusion would help us pick up ladies. Myself, I wasn't so sure.
Most of the women we had seen thus far were the older, earth mother types, in long flowing dresses that swept the ground when they walked. The oldest women I had ever been with was nineteen, and I had no confidence that I could attract these sophisticated-looking hippie women. Most of them seemed like they were already attached, anyway.
After a dinner of some baloney sandwiches Dave had packed, we laid out foam pads and then our sleeping bags. By the time we finished, it was nearly seven thirty. I looked over at Dave.
"I think we should be getting down to the main gate, I said. "It's almost time."
"Time we went to the main gate to go to work."
"Like fuck. It's time to party, dipshit. You wanna get normal?" He was sitting on his sleeping bag, rolling a joint.
"Yeah, I could smoke a roofer, but hey you're not gonna work?"
"You gotta be kidding, man. I came here to get loose. You're really gonna work?" I silently stared at him, and he shook his head. "Shit, how are they gonna find us, Gordo?" He licked the joint then lit it, taking in a big hit.
"We told them we would, man. What, you're gonna welch out?" I accepted the joint from him and filled my lungs with the pungent smoke.
Dave made choking noises then let out his hit in a fit of coughing. He looked up at me and said, "I came here to party and listen to some dynamite tunes, not park fucking cars."
"Hmm. Well, I want to help. You heard the guy, everyone here's a volunteer. What would happen if everyone just partied? No festival, that's what." I took another hit off the joint. While holding my breath, I whispered, "Anyway, who says you can't do both?"
"You do what you want, Gordo, but I'm going down to the stage. I gotta check out the ladies."
I shrugged. "Whatever. Here." I handed back the joint and got up. "I'm gonna go to the gate now. Catch you later, I guess."
He saluted me as I left.
It took about fifteen minutes to walk to the gate. The smoke from the many cook fires dotting the bowl made twisting orange-red trails in the light of the sun beginning to set in the west. More tents were up now, at least twice as many as when we had arrived. The line of shops running off to the left of the stage was almost finished, and there was what looked like a large, wood frame building rising in back and to the left of the stage, just in front of the tree line.
At the main road, I paused to let an old bus pass. It was painted in wild colors with psychedelic designs and graffiti all over. According to a sign on the side, it was the Hog Farm bus. I'd heard of the Hog Farm. They were a commune from down in California, and they'd been at Woodstock, providing free food for many of the people there. The driver waved as they passed and the passengers were hanging out of the open windows, taking in the sights of the festival grounds.
The security trailer door was open when I arrived, covered head to toe with dust from the road. I knocked, and a man looked around the edge of the doorway.
"Who you looking for?" Asked the man, in a pleasant-sounding baritone voice. He was about thirty, with a bushy beard that almost completely covered his face. His blue eyes were alert, seeming to peer into me, and at the corners were lines that I thought must have been caused by squinting, as if he was a little nearsighted. He had wavy, light brown hair that covered his ears and hung to just past his collar, and which matched the color of his beard. He was wearing a dark blue work shirt open at the neck, a tuft of chest hair exposed. He too was covered by the road dust, which imparted a rather gray pallor.
"I'm looking for Mitch. Is he here?"
"You found him. Mitch Cameron." He got up and offered me his hand. He was big, like a mountain man, well over six feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds. His blue jeans were stained with grease on the front. He looked weary.
"So what can I do for you?" He asked.
"Uh, I volunteered to work parking to pay my way in. My name's Gordon Lawson."
He stepped back and indicated a seat at the table, then sat on the opposite side, and pulled a clipboard from a stack of papers, leafing through the sheets.
I walked in, sat and looked around.
The trailer was small, maybe eight feet by fifteen. The booth where we sat filled one end, then there were some cupboards and a small stove and sink, then more closets and in back, a double bed with an ice chest sitting on it. In the middle of the table was a saucer with a candle standing in it, multi-colored trails of wax at its base. Papers were everywhere. On the floor sat a cardboard box filled with walkie-talkies. I looked back at Mitch, who was still looking at the papers on the clipboard.
"Let me see ... yeah, I've got you here." He made a check mark next to the name with a pen, and then looked up at me. "Okay. Have you got any experience in crowd control or security?"
I shook my head no.
He continued, "Well, parking is real simple. What we need are people to direct cars coming in to the proper places so we make the best use of the space we have. We've got room for about five thousand cars here, inside. We're talking with the farmer that owns the land next to us about parking cars there. That'd give us space for several thousand more. But even if we get that, we've still gotta pack 'em in as tight as can be. There could be thirty thousand people here in two days. You know how many cars that is?" He smiled.
"A whole bunch. Hey, I've heard there were gonna be forty or fifty thousand people, or maybe even a whole lot more."
He shrugged. "Everybody's got a different estimate. We've sold about ten thousand advance tickets. How many we're gonna get after that is anybodys' guess. We won't really know for sure until after it happens. But any way it goes, it's still a whole shitload."
"This is true. You're one of the promoters?"
"I'm on the festival committee. I'm a Green Panther. I'm up here from LA to help out."
"That's like a Black Panther, only green?"
"No, not quite." He paused then asked, "So when can you start working?"
"Any time I don't have anything planned."
"Great. You can start now, then." He paused then added, "I think you'll like it. I mean there are some benefits for staff the Hog Farm will be providing free meals for us, and we have our own dope stash. It's not such a bad deal, really."
He turned and reached over to a cupboard and pulled out a small box. From the box, he took a white cloth armband with the letters 'RS' silk-screened on it in blue. He handed it to me.
"Here, this is your staff pass. Blue are for main gate security and traffic control. Green is for ticket taking, red is for backstage. Gold armbands have clearance for anywhere in the festival."
I put it on my arm and as I was admiring it, a girl with curly brown hair leaned in the door.
"Mitch?" The voice was a sexy contralto.
He looked at her and smiled. "Yeah, what's up?"
Beautiful brown eyes. "Marty and I are getting ready to leave and she asked me to find out if you're coming back with us tonight." Her eyes briefly locked on mine and there was a hint of a smile. I felt myself beginning to blush.
Mitch shook his head. "Nope. This is home from here on out. When exactly are you guys coming back?"
The girl smiled at him. "Tomorrow morning, by about eleven." She was really pretty. I sat up straighter, and brushed my fingers over my new armband.
Mitch nodded. "Okay. That works for me. You two be good and have a safe drive back to Tacoma."
She nodded. "We will. See you tomorrow." She disappeared.
Mitch turned back to me, then pulled a manila envelope out of a stack of papers. He pushed it across the table to me.
"Okay. First, I want you to take this to Dr. Johnson at the OD Clinic. Then on the way back, check with the guy in the south lot, Jim Vale, and see if he needs any help. If he does, stay there. If he doesn't, come back here and I'll find something else for you to do. Do you know where the OD Clinic is?"
I shook my head no.
He went on, "Okay. It's in the woods in back and to the left of the stage. Big army tent with a white cross on the roof. Have any trouble finding it, just ask around. Okay?"
"Cool. Catch you later."
"See you, bro. And thanks."
I got up and left.
Traffic on the road was still heavy. Every few minutes, I would have to step aside and let a car or truck go by, and would be left gasping for breath in the thick dust cloud that followed.
At the stage, I found they had erected a four-foot high plywood barrier at the sides and around the area in back. The enclosed area was about three hundred feet across. A lone hippie dressed in a pair of tattered brown cords and a short-sleeved army shirt with sergeants' stripes was standing at a gate in the back. A peace sign was embroidered in red above the left pocket of the shirt. I approached and waved.
"Hi, I said. "How's it going down here?"
At first he looked like he was going to brush me off, then his eyes found my staff armband. His face softened, and he smiled.
"Howdy. Pretty good, I guess. You're from the main gate?"
"Yeah. I got a package to deliver to the OD Clinic."
"Groovy. Hey, you guys got any speed up there at the gate? We could really use some down here, don't ya know." He was about twenty-one, skinny and had freckles all over his face, and on his arms. He went on, "We all been working like days, man, and we gotta boogie like hell if we're gonna finish in time. Havta wire-up to do it. I wonder if they got any whites at the clinic? They got some hip doctors and shit there, I heard."
"I'm not sure. I can check, though. Hey, they get the electricity going yet?" I nodded towards the stage.
"Naw, they're still fucking around up there. Supposed to be done tomorrow, don't ya know. They're having these problems with the big generator thing. I been saying a mantra for it." He pointed at the generator.
Fifty feet inside the fence was a flatbed truck with a huge diesel engine on the back. It looked like an engine I had seen one time when I took a tour of a submarine. It was painted gray, and was about six feet high, and ten feet long. At the end was a large panel with thick wires coming out, leading off towards the stage. Two straight-looking men were standing on the truck bed next to it, talking.
"What's the problem with the generator?" I asked.
"I dunno. Something about the current not being steady, don't ya know. They plugged some lights into it or something, and they blew 'em out right away." He paused for a moment, and then said, "Hey, you heard about the electric cool-aid they got over at the Seattle Liberation Front bus?"
"Uh uh. That's the old school bus over the other side of the stage, on the left?"
"Naw. That's the Hog Farm, there." He paused to scratch him crotch and went on, "The SLF bus is over the other side of the helicopters near the trees. They got this big tub of grape cool-aid, and I heard they put like a hundred hits of orange sunshine in it. Giving glasses of it away to anyone who wants it, don't ya know."
"Far out. Sunshine is the best."
"No shit. If I wasn't working, I'd be there right now."
"Yeah, me too. Huh. Well, speaking of working, I better get it on and deliver this package to the OD clinic. I'll tell them about the generator up at the gate. And thanks for the info on the acid. Maybe I'll cruise over there later. Take care, huh?"
Nodding, he flashed me a peace sign with his fingers, then said, "Remember the speed!"
I walked towards the tree line, where I thought the clinic must be. It was easy to find, a big tent set back in a clearing in the woods. The tent was approximately forty by twenty, and the sides were rolled up to let in the slight breeze. Inside, were rows and rows of empty cots. A man was sitting at a card table by the entrance. He had close-cropped blond hair and brown, horned rim glasses, and was wearing loose-fitting light blue slacks and a bush shirt. He was leaning over the table, resting his head on his hands, reading a thick hardbound book. He looked up as I approached.
"Hi. I'm looking for Dr. Johnson, I said.
He nodded. "That's me," he said curtly.
I handed him the envelope. "Here, Mitch at the main gate asked me to give this to you."
He opened it, took the papers out, and without further comment began to study them. I waited, rocking back and forth on my feet.
After several minutes, he looked up. "Tell Mitch this will do. I've got enough volunteer nurses and orderlies to cover for pretty much anything. The only thing I still need is about a hundred dollars for some extra supplies." He paused for a moment, staring off into space. Looking back at me, he continued, "We could really use a radiotelephone, too. Tell him we need a radiotelephone here in case we have an emergency we can't handle and we have to call an ambulance because there's no helicopter available. It would be for in the event of a heart attack or something similar. If he can't approve that himself, tell him I'll talk to Gary. That's about all I can think of. We'll be ready for Friday. The physician and nursing staff will start coming in tomorrow afternoon. Alright?"
"Got it. Say, what does OD stand for? Overdose?"
He smiled politely. "No. This is the Open Door Clinic. We're from Seattle."
"Oh, okay. Well, I'd better get going. We'll see you later." He nodded and went back to his reading. I left and walked towards the stage, and the south lot.
It was nearly dark when I arrived at the main gate and found Mitch sitting by himself at the table where I'd left him, reading by the light of a candle, drinking a beer. He looked at me as I entered, and gestured at the seat across from him. I could see the title of the book when he laid it on the table In Dubious Battle, by John Steinbeck. Arms held high over his head, he stretched, straining his muscles, and then he yawned and rubbed his eyes with his hands. He shook his head then smiled at me.
"I guess I'm kinda beat. You want a beer?" He asked.
"It's over in the ice chest on the bed. Help yourself."
I went over to the bed and fished a beer out of the icy water in the cooler. When I sat down, Mitch passed me an opener.
"So how was your trip?" He asked. "Vale didn't need any help at the south lot?"
"Naw, it's dead there. Vale had this lady that'd lost her boyfriend. She got left here, I think. Boyfriend disappeared after a fight, now their car is gone. Vale wanted to be alone with her. The lady thinks the car was stolen." I took a hit of the beer, the icy bubbles making a cool track as they went down my throat. It tasted wonderful.
"The lady thinks the car was stolen?"
"Yeah, she wants us to call the cops."
"What kind of car was it?"
"A cherry-red, fifty-three Packard."
Mitch laughed, and almost choked on his beer. "Stolen? A red, fifty-three Packard? Shit, I saw him leave two hours ago, same guy that drove it in. I remember, 'cause a car like that, you gotta look when it goes by. The lady was blonde with a big chest?"
He smiled. "I think I better go down and see Vale, I think he may have more than he can handle."
We both laughed, and took long drinks from our beers. After the laughter subsided, Mitch shook his head and asked, "Okay, so what about Doc Johnson? Was everything alright with him?"
I gave a rundown on what the doctor had told me about staffing, and the radiotelephone and supplies.
"Radio-phones are no problem, responded Mitch. "We've already got two coming. One for here, the Doc can have the other one. You see the Doc, you tell him they'll be here by noon on Friday. I'll get him the bucks for supplies tomorrow. What's happening with the stage?"
I told him what I'd learned from the security worker.
"They need speed?" He said, smiling. "Shit, they've got more dope down there than we do. They're always crying for some fucking thing. We got enough problems of our own without them stealing our dope, the shits." He paused and took a hit off his beer. "Too bad about the generator, though. They were supposed to have it going tonight so they could rig work lights. That's gonna set us back some."
"Will the stage be ready Friday?"
"It better be, or we'll have some really pissed people on our hands."
It was now completely dark outside. Near the gate, a Coleman lantern burned. Other than that, there was no light at all, not even car headlights, traffic having died off. Inside the trailer, the candle lit only the area by the table and each time the flickering flame moved in the slight breeze that wafted in through the open door, it cast shadows that danced on Mitch's face.
I took another drink of the beer, finishing it. I held it up. "Got another one?" I asked.
"Absolutely. Get me one too, will ya?"
I returned with two beers and set one in front of him. He passed me the opener, looking thoughtful.
"Is this your first rock festival?" He asked.
"Yeah. I'm really looking forward to it. How about you?"
He fought a belch then said, "This is my fifth. Woodstock was the last one I went to."
"Wow! You were at Woodstock?" I was awestruck. I'd never actually talked to someone who had been there.
"What was it like, man? Was it really as good as they say?"
He shrugged. "Better and worse too. The music was outasite. Hendrix, the Who, Ten Years After, the Airplane. Everybody was there you couldn't have asked for better tunes. But there were just way too many people. Five hundred thousand people on a place half this size! Everywhere you turned, you'd be stepping on bodies. You go to use a can, you waited two hours, then when you got inside, the shit was piled halfway to the ceiling, and stink? You never smelled anything like it. Made ya gag. The music sorta made up for it, but still, I'd rather be here. This festival will be the best ever. Not the biggest, just the best."
"Huh. How so?"
He leaned left, head resting on his hand, eyes looking down at the table. He shrugged again.
"This is gonna be an educational experience, as well as a music trip. That's what the other festivals missed. They get the brothers and sisters together to listen to all this music, which is great, you hear a couple a raps about peace and love, and then everybody goes home. Well, not here. Here, we're gonna do serious education. There won't be music every day. In the middle of the week, we're gonna have classes on political organizing, the SDS is putting those on. Other people will be giving talks about nature and about drugs, and about tactics for non-violent civil disobedience and whatnot. Timothy Leary is supposed to do a talk about acid. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman will be here to talk about the war, plus a whole bunch of other heavies are coming. Over the eleven days, we'll give everyone a chance to learn the essentials of what they need to know to be able to actively participate in the movement. I'm talking about changing peoples' lives, getting them involved in determining the future of the country."
He sat up straight, staring at me intently. I took a drink of my beer and said, "Huh. That's some heavy stuff. But what's the matter with music? Why not have music every day?"
He shook his head. "As a medium, it's too limited to put out complicated ideas, and it's one-way, only. You've gotta talk, exchange ideas, communicate back and forth to really learn anything." He paused, and then continued, "Look. Viet Nam is a fucking abomination. If we're gonna end the killing there, we've gotta be smart, plan, and get organized. Now Woodstock ... Woodstock was just a big party. Yeah, it got all the brothers and sisters together, but it was a disorganized mob. No plan, no purpose except to get high and rock out. Here, we're gonna change that. We're gonna have balance. We're gonna build something. Something that will work, a movement that will live on after everyone goes home. We're gonna motivate people to get off their asses and take action."
"Huh. What kinda action you talking about? You gonna blow up stuff, or what?"
He shook his head. "In my book, if we use violence to try to stop the war, then we're no better than the baby-killers. Non-violence is the only way. Civil disobedience and demonstrations, that kind of stuff. But we need people. Lots and lots of them. If we can involve enough people in the movement, even the silent majority will finally have to sit up and take notice. And that will make the politicians get up off their fat asses and finally bring the troops home. But it's not gonna be easy. Are you with me?" He smiled.
He was a persuasive speaker and I wanted to agree with him. I nodded. "Yeah, I can dig it. I'm against the war." I paused then asked, "Hey, when you say movement, are you talking Green Panthers, or what?"
He shook his head. "No, I mean everyone I meant it in the broader sense. There are probably sixteen different groups that will be here. Students for a Democratic Society, a few Weathermen although they'll be real low profile, the Black Panthers are here, us, the American Liberation Front, the Students Non-violent Coordinating Committee, the Socialist Workers Party, the Seattle Liberation Front, the Rainbow Family, the Yippies, the Hydra Collective, the Sasquatch Family, Radical Christian Youth everyone that's anyone."
"So what about the Green Panthers?"
He nodded. "We're dedicated to ending the war in Viet Nam through non-violent means, and to ending the racial injustices of our black brothers and all others here at home. But I'm not trying to recruit you or anything. When I say I want to see people get active, I mean with whatever particular faction that turns them on. If you want to blow stuff up, go see the Weathermen, that's their bag. I don't approve of their methods, but we're all brothers in the struggle."
I shook my head. "Naw, I can't get behind shit like that."
He nodded. "Good, that's the right attitude." He turned and stared out the window into the blackness.
I cleared my throat, then asked, "You said you're from Los Angeles?"
"Yeah, I'm originally from Tacoma, but I've lived in LA for the past few years." He paused for a moment, smiling, then went on, "Being able to come back here and live for a while is one of the best things about this festival. I miss all the greenery." He paused again, then looking at me closely, asked, "Say, how old are you?"
"Eighteen. Gonna start college in a couple of weeks."
"Huh? I thought you were older. What are you gonna major in?"
"Nothing sexy. Business administration."
He shrugged. "Business admin has a lot going for it. Don't knock it." He paused and looked at his clipboard, then said, "You gonna be able to help out again tomorrow?
"Yeah, I want to. I want to do whatever I can to help the festival."
He nodded. "Good. Look, it's getting late. Tonight's gonna be slow, but tomorrow may be a real bitch. Why don't you knock off, then come back tomorrow morning at about eight?"
"Cool, man." I got up. "Hey, thanks for the beer."
"Nothing to it. Thank the people. It's theirs."
I left and trudged back down the dark, dusty road, towards our campsite.
II - Thursday August 27, 1970
"Man, I'm so hungry I could eat a horse, said Dave, scratching his crotch, absent-mindedly. I yawned. It was about six thirty in the morning. We were sitting outside the tent, looking at the activity below us. A number of new tents had sprouted up overnight. Smells of frying bacon and wood smoke wafted up through the slight breeze, the cook fires making smoky blue trails in the early morning light. And although there was a slight haze in the sky, it looked like it would be hot again today. I looked back at Dave.
"So you struck out last night, huh?" I poked him in the ribs.
He looked at me and frowned. "Yeah. No luck. I had this one babe, she was great. Nineteen, big tits, nice looking. We talked for about an hour, music and stuff. Just when I thought I'd be able to get her back here, her old man shows up! She never even told me she was with someone. I just split back here afterwards and crashed. It was a real bummer. So what did you do? Park a lot of cars?" His voice was heavy with sarcasm.
I shook my head. "Not a one. I just ran a couple of errands for them, and talked with one of the guys in charge of the main gate, and had a couple of beers. The guy is a Green Panther."
"Green Panthers? I heard a them. A bunch of 'em got arrested in a sit-in at an ROTC building in LA. It was on the news." He paused, then said, "Hey, let's go find something to eat, okay?"
"What you got in mind?"
"There's a stand down there that sells this macaroni with tomato sauce and hamburger stuff. I tried some. It's good. I'll buy."
We walked down there. The stand was in the middle of the row of stalls to the left of the stage, and was named the Good Grub Shop. A lone hippie stood in the back, stirring a pot on a Coleman stove. He was in his early twenties, and looked like he hadn't slept. His face had a two-day growth of whiskers and a cigarette drooped out of his mouth. His army jacket was open, displaying a T-shirt that may have been white at one time, but was now heavily spotted with tomato sauce. He looked at us, out of his blood-shot eyes.
"What can I do for you brothers? Some food? Just cooked this batch this morning. Great stuff."
Dave spoke. "Yeah, give us two, will ya? How much is that?"
"Buck fifty." He started ladling the food into two paper plates. They at least, looked clean. "Here ya are. Enjoy."
Dave passed him the money and we picked up some plastic forks from a box, and dug in. It was tasty. We leaned against the counter and ate the food.
Between mouthfuls, Dave asked, "So what shall we do today? I talked to a guy last night that knows someone with some good acid Purple Haze. Wanna trip?"
I swallowed. I was watching a group of three women in long, Victorian dresses, hippie beads and peace signs hanging around their necks, with brightly colored headbands. They were distributing flowers to people who passed. One of them was about my age, and was very pretty.
I looked back at Dave. "Maybe tonight. I told Mitch I'd go back to the main gate at eight o'clock."
He frowned at me. "You still on that kick? You don't have to work, man. Get real! It's party time. This is the biggest party in the whole fucking state, maybe the whole west coast or even the whole country. You wanna work? Gimme a break."
"It's a nasty job, but someone's gotta do it. And it's not all work. They've got their own stash. And staff gets free food at the Hog Farm."
He snorted, "You like mush? That's all you'll get at the Hog Farm. I was over there last night. I saw what they were cooking. Mush for breakfast, lentil soup for dinner. Yuck." He noticed my armband. "Hey, what's that?"
"My staff pass. Blue is for main gate security, red's for backstage, gold can go anywhere. You watch I'm gonna have a gold one, soon. I'll wave at you from the stage."
"Yeah, right. BFD big fucking deal. I think you're nuts, Gordo."
I shrugged, and tossed my empty plate in a trash barrel. "Maybe so, but I'm gonna have fun. I think I'm gonna go to the gate now, and see what's up. Go ahead and get the acid if you want, but wait until tonight to drop. I ought to be able to get off then, and we can do it together."
He nodded. "Cool. But I still think you're nuts, Lawson."
I smiled. "Fucking A. Later."
I turned and started towards the gate, first walking past the flower ladies. The girl I'd had my eye on smiled at me warmly as she handed me a flower, a white carnation.
I'd gotten almost to the end of the row of shops when I stopped. Mitch had asked me to tell Doctor Johnson about the phone and the money. I decided this would be a good time to do it, so I changed direction, and walked back towards the OD Clinic.
Doctor Johnson was sitting at his table, eating breakfast when I got to the tent. He looked up and smiled.
"Morning. You eaten yet? I've got more on the stove and I'm not going to be able to finish it myself. I got this really great bacon from a butcher shop by the river in McKenna." He waved his fork at a camp stove on a table outside the tent.
"Thanks. I just ate." I sat down on a vacant cot next to the table, saying, "I'm on my way back to the main gate. I just thought I'd stop by and give you a message from Mitch. I told him what you said, last night. There's no problem. They've already got two mobile phones coming and you can have one. They'll be here tomorrow by noon. And Mitch'll get you the money for supplies today."
He speared a piece of bacon with his fork and held it aloft, nodding his head. "Excellent. Tell Mitch thanks." He put the bacon in his mouth and chewed. With his mouth still full, he said, "Say, are you going back by the stage?"
"Yeah, I could. What can I do for you?"
He swallowed and took a drink of orange juice, and then put the glass down. "We had a bad overdose last night, he said. "I won't be sure until I get confirmation from the lab, but I think the person took some LSD that was buffed with strychnine. The symptoms he displayed were consistent with acute strychnine poisoning. He had some more of the pills on him, so I sent them off to a lab for analysis. He said the street name was Pink Rollers. It's a small bright pink tablet, twice as tall as it is wide. What I need, is for them to make an announcement from the stage, to warn people not to take any."
"I can check, but I don't think they have the PA going yet. I think they were having problems with the main generator."
He took another bite of eggs. "Well, do what you can. This stuff is very bad. We don't need more reactions like the one last night."
"I'll see what can be done." I paused then said, "Well, if I'm gonna stop at the stage, I better get going. Have a good one." I rose and left.
Providence had smiled upon me and I was ecstatic. I had a genuine mission from the OD Clinic doctor where it was necessary for me to go to the stage. If I was lucky and played it right, I thought, maybe I could actually get up on the stage. I spent the next few minutes in furious thought, desperately trying to figure out the best approach, as I walked slowly towards the stage compound.
What I'd always heard is that if you're trying to get in some place where you weren't allowed, usually the best method is just to act like you own the place. Act like you belong there, as if there's no question that you can go in. So finally, after discarding a number of other ideas, that's what I decided to do. I was going to get up on the stage if it was the last thing I would ever do. As I rounded the corner before the gate, I crossed my fingers.
I was in luck. At the entrance to the compound, the same guy from the last night was still on duty. That could make it easier, I thought. He waved as I approached.
"You found some speed, huh?" I asked as I stopped and casually leaned back on the gate next to him.
"Yeah. Got it from one of the carpenters. Criss-cross meths. Great stuff, don't ya know. Took three and I'm still going strong." He lit a cigarette and offered me one. I lit up.
Nonchalant, I let out a long drag. I hesitated for a moment, and then started my pitch. "Uh, I just came from the OD Clinic. The Doc wants me to see if they can make an announcement from the stage about some bad acid. Who should I talk to up there?" I held my breath waiting for his response.
He scratched his head. "I dunno. I don't think they can make announcements, yet. But I suppose you could talk to John about it. John Lloyd. He's in charge up there. He's just under six feet and skinny, with dark brown hair like Eric Burdon down to his shoulders. Wears red suspenders. He'll be on the stage. You don't see him, just ask around."
Deadpan, I answered, "Okay, thanks. We'll see you in a bit."
I straightened up, and walked through the gate, trying to hide my awe. The stage. This was the heart of the festival, the place where it all happened. I walked over by the generator and just stood there, quaking in my boots.
It had been almost too easy getting inside the stage compound. Inwardly, I cringed waiting for the cries of, "Hey, you! What are you doing in here?"
After all, big-time musicians would be here shortly, and it seemed profoundly unreal that I should be treading the same holy ground they would soon be walking on. I was certain that someone would throw me out as soon as I was discovered. But, no one paid me any attention. After a few moments, I calmed down and took a good look around.
To my left were a couple of large semi-trailers and several U-Haul trucks and an old red and blue bus, along with a few tents and a couple of small travel trailers. People were sitting in circles around campfires, eating breakfast and talking. To the right, a forklift was picking up a pallet of plywood. The large generator was running full tilt, the exhaust blue in the morning light. The stage loomed in front of me, huge and forbidding. I saw a stairway on the right hand side, and anxiously, I made for it.
The stairs were wide enough for three people to walk abreast. They went up to a landing, turned and then let out at the top. At the top, I found myself standing in back of the stage, proper. The white canvass tarp for the light show was directly in front of me, rippling in the gentle morning breeze. Its bottom ended at about the height of my head. On the tower to my right, workers were again hanging like monkeys forty feet above the stage, now running wire from the speaker cabinets.
The stage itself did look big enough to play football on. A long expanse of plywood, maybe a hundred feet wide by fifty feet deep, crawling with men carrying hammers and other tools. In the center, a group of people were talking. One had red suspenders, and I figured he must be John. I walked towards the group.
They were locked in conversation when I came up to them. Timidly, I stood listening and didn't interrupt. John was speaking. He had a voice that sounded like a disc jockey, with a deep, slightly nasal tone and careful enunciation. He looked like he was in his mid-twenties, and his piercing blue eyes offered a startling contrast to the color of his suspenders. A recently trimmed mustache framed his mouth. His face was animated as he talked, and his hands gestured to punctuate each point.
"I don't care what you say, we've got to have the power up here today," he said, waving his hands. "It could take a whole afternoon to get the sound system up and balanced. We have groups scheduled to play starting at noon tomorrow. There's no way I want to wait until tomorrow morning to balance the system. What if we have problems?"
"You have problems, said a man with a gravelly voice. I recognized him as having been one of the ones crawling around on the generator last night. "Your Perkins 360 has a bad regulator. One minute it's putting out 440 AC and the next, it's up to 500. Big voltage spikes like that would ruin your sound equipment. Christ, it even blew up some of the lights we hooked up last night. I've got to replace the regulator before it will be usable. I think they have the parts in Seattle. If I leave now, I can be back by noon. It'll take me a couple of hours or so to make the switch. I can give you power by three, maybe four o'clock, but that's the best I can do. And that's if they have the parts. If they don't, we'll have to send to Portland or San Francisco. There aren't many of these babies still left in service."
Another man broke in. He looked like he was twenty-five, and had curly black hair and round wire frame glasses. "He's right, John. Our equipment can't take voltage spikes. It'd fry. We'll just have to wait."
Frowning, John said, "Whatever. If that's the best we can do. But I don't like it." To another hippie, he said, "Eric, you go to Tacoma and see if you can rent another backup generator. I don't care what it costs. Get the specs from Robin."
Everyone nodded, and then started to leave, the conference over. As John started to walk away, I found some courage and spoke up.
"Ah, excuse me, John? I'm Gordon Lawson from main gate security. Got a minute?"
He turned to me, looking annoyed. "Yeah, what is it?"
"I just came from the OD Clinic. Doc Johnson had a bad OD last night. Says the guy ate some acid cut with strychnine. He wants to know if there's any way you can make an announcement or get the word out that the acid's bad, to warn other people. The acid's called Pink Rollers."
He looked thoughtful. "Well, you heard about the electricity, so the main PA is out. We've got some bullhorns. I suppose we could do that, and pass the word around. Is that all?"
"Okay, I'll make sure they make the announcement." He turned and left.
I watched him walk off towards the stairs, then turned and gazed out at the vast amphitheatre. Forgetting my inhibitions, I was almost immediately lost in a vivid fantasy, imagining I was a rock star, and that there were thousands of people there in front of me, screaming my name. The stage and the crowd were mine.
"You wanna move buddy, you're in our way." Reality intruded. Two carpenters carrying a stack of lumber wanted to get down onto the catwalk that led out to the tower in front of the stage. I stepped aside, and then glanced at my watch. It was seven forty five. At stage left, a helicopter rose noisily into the air, and quickly disappeared over the top of the bowl.
Hurriedly, I walked back to the stairs, and went down.
Fifteen minutes later, I was at the main gate. It was bustling with activity. A steady stream of cars and trucks was being passed through the gate. Just outside, workers were putting the finishing touches on a plywood ticket booth. Over in front of the security trailer, Mitch was talking with a group of older, well-dressed hippies. I sat down on a box and lit a cigarette, and passed time watching the dope dealers on the other side of the road hawk their wares, as I waited for Mitch to finish what he was doing.
Soon, the people he was talking with left. I sauntered over and called out, "G'morning. How's things going?"
He saw me and smiled. "Not bad, Gordon. Glad you came back. You eaten yet?"
"Yeah, thanks. Hey, I stopped over the OD Clinic and gave the Doc your message. He was real happy." I paused, and then related the story of the bad acid, and what I had done.
"Good going. I hope they find a way to make the announcement." He paused for a moment. "I'll pass the word on to the people at the gate. They can warn everyone who comes in. Hey, I've got a job for ya."
"Yeah? What can I do?"
"Well, like you can see, traffic is getting pretty heavy. I need someone to go to the Y in the road, the place where it splits off to the different parking lots, and direct traffic. Rotate the flow from one lot to the other. Let five cars in the top, then put five in the bottom, and so on. That way, the guys in the lots won't get swamped, and lose control. Like I said last night, we gotta pack 'em in tight. Also, you gotta make sure you don't let them onto the service road that runs to the bowl unless they have a stage or concessions pass."
"Sounds easy enough."
"Yeah, but it takes somebody with some brains. Everyone wants to drive into the bowl and to the stage, so don't let 'em bullshit you. If they're cleared for the stage or the concessions, they'll have a pass from the gate. No pass, no stage. Hang on a minute." He turned and went back to the trailer. In a few moments, he came back with three walkie-talkies. He handed them to me. "You know how to work one of these?" I nodded yes. "Okay, take one for yourself and give one to a guy in each lot. That way you can talk to each other. If you want to talk to me, change to channel twenty-one. Main gate is twenty-one, parking control is sixteen, at least till we get our comm center going. The lady that's gonna operate the radios won't be back until later this morning."
"Got it. Anything else?"
"Nope, that's it. Knock 'em dead."
"Okay, catch you later."
Walkie-talkies in hand, I strode down the road towards the lots, my feet raising small clouds of dust with each step. I found the guys working the lots easily. We exchanged greetings, I gave them the radios, and then I took my position at the Y in the road.
At this point, the road actually split off in three directions a road to each lot, and then the middle road continued towards the stage. More like an inverted peace sign than a Y, but if they called it that, what the hell.
Off to the right was long grass and a dusty road that led to the north lot. In-between the roads that lead to the bowl and the south lot, was a grassy 'V' shaped island with a small oak tree and a couple of granite boulders. To the left of that were the remains of another fence, and the south lot, where we'd parked.
The guys I had given the radios to in each lot had agreed that we would use call signs. I would be "Cobra one," the person in the south lot would be "Mr. Natural," the person in the north lot would be "Roach."
At first, I had thought that I had gotten the best job, because I controlled the flow to both parking lots I always had been big on control. But after breathing dust for a couple hours, the job had lost some of its appeal.
By noon, it was getting hot. My shirt was sticking to my chest, and I was covered with a thick layer of gritty dust. Two hours before, Mitch had sent some people to help me. I had them stationed just up the road from where I was standing. They were waving cars on towards me, not really doing anything useful, but seemed to be having fun.
I was hungry. I called out to the one who was closest, a black guy about my age named Charles Saint. He wanted me to just call him Saint he'd said he hated his first name. He came over now, the sweat dripping down his round, clean-shaven face, making little trails in the dust. His short black hair with its tight curls looked wet. His eyes, set wide apart on his face, were almost black, making it impossible to distinguish the iris from the pupil. He smiled at me and shook his head.
"Hot enough for ya?" I asked, smiling back.
"Too damned hot for me, he said. He had an educated voice, and spoke softly. His skin was jet-black under the coat of dust. He went on, "Yeah, I think it could get up to ninety today. We're going to fry." He was a little taller and heavier than me, and was dressed in blue jeans and a T-shirt with a picture of Che Guevara silk-screened in blue. He was from Seattle. He wiped the muddy sweat off his broad forehead with the back of his hand.
"Ninety?" I moaned, "God, I hope not. Hey, can you take over here for a minute? I wanna see if I can get us some lunch."
"Sure. I could use some food right now. I didn't have any breakfast today. I've got a big hole in my stomach that's crying out, feed me feed me!"
"I can dig it. Let me see what I can do." I stepped back into the shade of the small oak and hefted the walkie-talkie.
After switching to channel twenty-one, I spoke into the radio. "Main gate, main gate, this is Cobra one at the Y. Copy?" I'd talked to them a couple of times already and we had the call signs down.
A new voice on the radio came back, "Cobra one, this is the main gate. What may we do for you?" It was a deep, husky and very sexy female voice that sounded vaguely familiar. I was frustrated because I couldn't match a face to the voice. I keyed the mike.
"Uh, we're all getting pretty hungry down here. Is there any way you guys can send us some lunch? Over."
There was a burst of static, and then she answered. "We've heard from the Hog Farm that they've got some sack lunches prepared. They'll be coming up your way in about a half hour or maybe less. How many people do you have?"
"I've got two here with me at the Y. There are about six people in each lot. Over."
"Okay, I'll let them know. Anything else? How's it going?"
"Everything's okay here. Lots of dust, but no real problems. Over."
More static. "Alright, ten four or whatever. Talk to you later."
"Copy. Cobra one out."
I walked back to where Saint was directing traffic. He had a small transistor radio hanging from the belt of his jeans, playing soul music. I wasn't very fond of soul, but some of it was okay. The song playing now was one I liked, Marvin Gaye, doing I Heard it Through the Grapevine. I watched Saint as he directed the cars, swaying back and forth in time with the music.
I stepped beside him.
"I talked to the gate. They say the Hog Farm is bringing us sack lunches in about a half an hour."
He looked at me, continuing his dance. "The Hog Farm? Oh, God. It'll probably be Soy burgers or something. They're all on a real natural trip. You want good food, give me some Jesus freaks. Those guys can cook. Meat and potatoes. Good stuff."
I nodded. "Huh. I don't know about Jesus freaks, but I do know I don't like Soy-anything. Puke food."
"Got that straight."
"You a Jesus freak?"
"No. But I hung around with some for a while. Couldn't get behind what they were preaching, but they sure could cook a great feed. And some of the ladies were real obliging."
"Huh. I've never had a Jesus freak."
"Oh, man. You get some of these Holy Roller types, they get so full of the spirit, they just have to share it with you. When you're balling someone in the name of Christ, it can get pretty intense." We laughed.
A blue Dodge pickup pulled out of line, ignoring Saint's hand signals, and pulled up beside us. I walked over to talk to the driver. He looked like a biker, big as a line backer, a dirty yachting cap on his head, and a black leather vest covering his torn T-shirt. His hairy arms showed off several tattoos.
"Hi. Can I help you?" I asked.
He had a rasping, rough voice. "I need ta go into the concession area. I got a load of food for one of the shops." He jerked his thumb at the rear of the pickup. It was full of boxes of what looked like groceries.
"Okay. You got a concessions pass?"
"What's that? Nobody said nuthin 'bout no pass."
"They didn't give you one at the main gate?"
"Nobody gave me nuthin. Hey, what is this happy horseshit, anyway?"
"Hang on a minute, I'll check with the gate."
I went back over by the tree and extended the antenna of my walkie-talkie.
"Main gate, this is Cobra one at the Y. Copy?"
The same delicious sounding female voice came back over the radio. She sounded so sexy. I was definitely going to have to look her up later. "Cobra one, this is the gate. Go ahead."
"Main gate, I've got a guy here in a blue Dodge pickup that says he has a load of food for a concession, but doesn't have a pass. Says no one at the gate told him he needed a pass to go down there. Over."
Mitch's voice came over the radio. "Gordon, that guy refused to pay for a concession permit. Don't let him drive in there. If he wants to sell his stuff, he can park his truck in the parking lot, and then hump the stuff over to the concession area on foot. That's the rules."
"Ten-four." I answered glumly. "I'll see what I can do. Out."
Less than joyous about the prospect of confronting the biker, I collapsed the antenna and returned to the pickup truck. The guy looked mad. Oh, great. I held up my hands and smiled at him.
"Look. I just talked with the gate. I hate to say it, but their story is that you refused to pay for a concession permit, and that you've gotta park in the regular parking lot with everyone else."
"That's fucking bullshit! They never said shit about no permit." I stepped back a half pace and caught Saint's eye. He walked over to join us.
"Well, I'm sorry, but that's what they told me. You can either turn around and go back to the gate and get a permit and pass, or you can park down there." I jerked my thumb at the south lot.
The guy looked at me, then at Saint. His face was red with anger, but apparently he thought the odds weren't good enough to press it any further. He muttered something under his breath, then started the truck, turned it around, and when there was a break in traffic, he started off back to the gate.
Relieved that he left, I shook my head, then said to Saint, "That's gotta be one cheap sonofabitch."
Saint smiled, and with an accent out of the deep south, said, "Yeah, youse honkeys is all alike. Cheap somabitches that always wanna free-ride."
I smiled back. "No shit." We both laughed.
Lunch came a few minutes later, delivered by a beautiful young woman from the Hog Farm, whose toga fell open in the most interesting ways as she walked barefoot towards us. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches bland fare indeed, but made edible by the method of delivery.
Later, after some mutual fanaticizing about the girl as we ate our sandwiches, Saint returned to his position and I resumed directing traffic at the Y.
Standing there in the dust, waving at the cars, I spent a lot of time thinking about the girl on the radio with the sexy voice, wondering where or if I'd met her. That afternoon, I used every excuse I could to call the main gate on the radio so I could talk to her.
At about four-thirty in the afternoon, I left Saint in charge and walked to the gate. Mitch was in the security trailer, talking to a woman I'd never seen before. She was about twenty-three, with long red hair that hung down almost to her waist. Her face and arms were covered with thousands of freckles. The hair partially obscured her eyes, which were a bright green, a pleasing contrast to her hair. She was dressed in faded jeans and a yellow T-shirt. Mitch looked up as I entered.
"Gordon, how ya doing?"
I stood next to the table. "Howdy. I thought I'd come up and see if you were gonna send us some replacements. We're all pretty beat, what with the sun and the dust."
"Yeah, I think we got it covered. Say, have you met Amy yet?" He indicated the girl.
"No, I don't think so, I said as I stuck out my hand to her. "Gordon Lawson. Hi." She shook hands with me, her grip firm, not like most women. Full sensuous lips that and a most becoming smile showing off straight white teeth, and above, a cute button nose. She had long, elegant fingers, with short, well-manicured nails.
"Hi. Pleased to meet you." I'd been hoping that she would turn out to be the voice on the radio, but it wasn't her.
Mitch spoke, "Amy is from San Francisco. She's a Digger. You know, the ones that organized most of the Summer of Love trips." He paused, smiling at her, and then said, "So Gordon, how many people will we need on your spot tonight?"
"Ah, just one, I answered. "It isn't that difficult. Tomorrow may be a different story, though."
He looked like he was thinking, then spoke. "Okay. Come with me. I think I've got your man. You take him down there with you now, get him started right, then you can knock off for the night."
He rose, smiling at Amy, and then we left the trailer.
"See you guys later, said Amy, waving as we left.
"Yeah, nice meeting you. Later."
As we walked up the road, I said, "Amy seems nice. She with you?"
He smiled and nodded his head. "I'm hoping so. We'll see."
I was silent for a moment, and then asked timidly, "Hey, who was the lady with the great voice I spoke to on the radio?"
He looked amused. "Lady with the great voice?"
"Yeah. The sexy voice. She gave you the radio when I called about that guy that wouldn't get the concession permit. That girl."
"Oh. You mean Susan. You just missed her. She took off on a buying trip to Tacoma. She'll be back later, though." He smiled.
"She got an old man?"
He shook his head. "You volunteering?"
"Maybe. If the rest of her is as good as her voice, I just might be interested."
He smiled and patted my arm. "She's a nice lady. Smart, good looking, and a good disposition. You'd like her. Maybe I should introduce you to her."
"Would you? That'd be great. Hey, thanks, man." We talked more as he led me out to find the replacement and I found myself coming to like him. He came across like an older brother or something. Mitch was a nice guy.
Later, when I got to the top of the hill and looked down in the bowl, the changes that had taken place over the course of the day were readily apparent. There were perhaps five times as many tents as on the previous night, mostly concentrated in clumps on the lower part of the hill, and over towards the concessions. As for the concessions, they were doing a booming business, lines of people standing in front of many of the shops, and scores of others just milling around on the Ave, as the area running in front of the shops had been named. About halfway between the stage and the concession row, a large crowd had gathered, watching someone play a solo on a drum set.
Construction on the stage was coming along. They had strung a large tarp over the top in case of rain, and between the two sound towers, hung a broad banner which read, "Rio del Sol Rocks!" in five foot tall letters. On each end of the banner was a stylized river running through a sun, the logo for the festival.
I decided to go to the tent first, and see if Dave was there. Five minutes later, I found the note he had left me. It said:
"Gordo: JD is here with some weed. I'm helping him sell it. If I can sell ten lids, he'll give me two free. I'll be standing on the Ave around the Grub Shop, the place where we got breakfast this morning. Come see me.
Love and kisses, Davie pie.
PS: EAT SHIT AND DIE, MOTHERFUCKER!"
JD was a friend of ours who lived in Federal Way. He was an artist, a good one. He did the sort of stuff that you would see in underground comics; psychedelic art. He didn't look like a hippie. He had short hair and glasses, and his face was pocked with the scars of countless pimples he'd popped in his younger days. Nonetheless, he smoked more dope and dropped more acid than Dave and I put together. He was one crazy sonofabitch.
I put on a clean shirt from my pack, and then walked down to find them.
Someone had dug a big pit just down the Ave from the Grub Shop, and fenced it with chicken wire. A sign hanging on the wire said, "American Dream Memorial." It was a trash pit, a layer of garbage resting on the bottom.
Dave was standing by the pit, leaning up against one of the fence posts. Every time a person walked by, he'd chant, "Lids, ten bucks. Good Mexican weed, ten bucks. Buy some, try some, get it while it lasts."
I stood out of sight and watched him in action. I'd noticed a lot of other dealers as I walked down the Ave. It seemed like there was one every ten feet or so. Based on all the price quotes I'd heard, eight to ten bucks was the going rate for lids, a hit of acid averaged one dollar. There was also a lot of exotic stuff in addition to those staples people had tried to sell me mescaline, STP, MDA, speed, peyote and psilocybin mushrooms everything actually, except dirty pictures or a new watch. Quite a palette.
Dave finished with a sale, and I silently moved up behind him and flicked his earlobe with my finger. He jumped.
"Gordie! You sonofabitch!"
"Serves you right for fucking up my pool shot yesterday. How's biz?"
He stopped frowning and smiled. "Man, it's great. I sold fifteen lids already. We're gonna have a shitload of smoke, man."
"Hmm. I didn't do so bad myself. I've got about a half ounce of weed, two hits of acid and a couple hits of mesc."
"You bought it?"
"Naw, people gave it to me. People coming into the festival."
I nodded. "No shit. Every time I turn around, it was, 'Peace brother. Have you tried any of this?' and they hand me some dope. I think most of them were so glad to be here, they just wanted to share the wealth." I took a breath then asked, "So where's JD?"
"He went home to get some more weed. He'll be back later."
"Huh. I'm surprised I didn't see him. I was standing on the road all day."
"He saw you. He waved. Said you were talking to some chick and didn't see him."
"Huh, oh well. Hey, you wanna eat? I'm hungry as shit."
"You probably want me to buy, right?" Asked Dave, smiling.
"You are mister moneybags, huh? Mister big-time dope dealer?"
"Okay, okay. Here, take this money." He handed me a ten, then said, "Get us something. I gotta stay here. I've got four more lids to sell."
"What do you want?"
"You got it, bro."
I walked up the long row of rickety stalls built with the lumber salvaged from the old barn, the weathered boards and haphazard construction giving the place the appearance of a main street from an 1849 Goldrush frontier mining settlement. My senses were assailed by the mixture of the rich smells of cooking food, exotic marijuana and sweet incense. The atmosphere was electric-charged, powerful and urgent, perfectly augmented by the strident sounds of Alvin Lee's guitar solo from "I'm Going Home, blaring from a large portable stereo someone had set up on top of one of the booths. Hundreds of people were milling about window shopping, talking, eating and doing dope.
Everyone was decked out in their coolest clothes the long, flowing, brightly colored hippie dresses or tight cut-off jeans with T-shirts on the ladies; then men wearing tie-died or paisley shirts and bell bottom jeans with patches all over. One guy had a pair of pants made out of an American flag. A number of others men and women were completely nude. It was like a bizarre carnival on the fourth of July, but with open drug use and good music.
I took inventory of the food places. There were several barbequed chicken places, and the delicious smells of roasting chicken seemed to pervade those areas. One charbroiled hamburger place advertised the 'Best burger in the Festival,' then there were several others with less grandiose claims. Four or five places had natural food. One had icky-looking Soy patties on whole wheat bread, the others had different sorts of soup and brown rice combinations that were probably just as yucky. A couple places were selling booze, and then there were others selling hotdogs, sandwiches and other, more exotic foods.
For those not interested in food, there was a Rumor Control booth, and a bunch of other booths selling handcrafted knick knacks, roach clips, tie died T-shirts, rolling papers and pipes, incense all the usual stuff you'd find in a head shop.
I stopped at the Rumor Control booth to find out what they did. The guy in charge told me they were there to keep track of all the rumors that were circulating. Give them a rumor, and they would check it out. You could come back later and see if it was for real. The idea was to stop the rampant flow of rumors that were always circulating. I asked if he had heard Eric Clapton was going to play. He said he hadn't, but would check it out for me. The biggest rumor so far, he said, was that the cops were going to bust the festival by parachuting in five hundred SWAT Team storm troopers. He hadn't confirmed it, though.
Another booth advertised Free Drug Testing. The man there told me if you weren't sure about some dope you had bought, you could give them the drugs and they'd have someone take it to see if it was okay. The next day, they'd give you a report on what the stone was like, how long it lasted, and all that. I warned them about the bad acid.
Farther down, was Rio del Sol Drugs, an honest to God drug store. In addition to all the usual acid, weed, speed, etc, they also had aspirin and cold medicines, as well as cigarettes and gum.
After making the rounds, I settled on a place that sold some kind of goulash. It smelled wonderful. 'Farmer Bob's Goulash Stand,' the sign said. I got two dishes of the goulash and a couple beers, and then took them back to where Dave was standing.
We ate our goulash as Dave hawked his remaining lids. It only took him a half hour to sell what was left. He was right business was good.
We decided that we would drop our acid just before it got dark. After agreeing to meet back at the tent at nine o'clock, we split up. He went in search of a lady he'd been talking to earlier. I went around to the back entrance of the stage compound to see if I could get inside again.
My buddy from the previous night was gone. Probably crashed and burned, I figured. Speed makes you go like hell for a while, but when you come down, you sleep for three days. The new gate guard at the stage wasn't real talkative, being more interested in hustling a bulgy brunette lady that was into Sly and the Family Stone music.
I saw John passing inside the fence, and taking the opportunity said to the guard, "There's John, I need to talk to him, see you two later."
The guard looked like he was going to stop me, but the brunette had put her hand on his bicep and it distracted him. I walked quickly in the gate towards where I'd seen John, and then ducked behind a semi truck. I didn't want to talk to John. And I was sure he didn't want to talk to me. I just wanted to be near the stage.
I looked around, hoping I would be able to recognize some musicians. Bands had already started to arrive. I'd seen a number of their big trucks coming in.
To my left, was another semi trailer. People were lounging on the open tailgate. In back of them, I saw what looked like band equipment. Roadies maybe? I thought. Over the other way, workers were putting the final touches on the stage. They were installing a handrail on the stairs, and putting up signs that showed who was supposed to go where and whatnot. To the left of the stairs was the forklift. Its lift was all the way up, and at the top, some people were off-loading speaker cabinets. One of them was Bruce Stuckey, the carpenter we'd met when we first came. I waved, and he saw me and waved back. I walked over to the stairs and went up to the stage.
When I got to the top, Stuckey was sitting on a box, lighting a joint. He took off his baseball hat, and wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
"One hot sticky sonofabitch, huh?"
"No shit. How ya doing? Everything set to rock and roll?"
"Damn near. Take a load off and have a hit of this joint. It's Vietnamese green."
I sat down next to him and took a hit. The weed had a pungent, exotic aroma.
"I see you went ahead and volunteered, he said, motioning at my staff armband.
I let the smoke out, coughing. When I recovered, I said, "Yeah. And I'm glad I did. I'm having a righteous time." I passed the joint back.
"What they got you doing?"
"Oh, today, I was in charge of traffic control at the Y in the road by the parking lots. I don't know what they'll have me do tomorrow. More of the same I suppose." He let out a big breath of smoke. The wind carried it up into the air.
"That sounds fun. Me, I finished putting up the facade on the front this morning, then now, they got me moving sound equipment. When the music starts, I'll be helping with the equipment changes."
"That sounds outasite. You get to be right there when they're playing. I wouldn't mind that."
"Got room for one more if you're really interested." He raised his eyebrows.
My stomach churned and I thought about it. The stage was the center of the universe it was the focus of the whole festival, and if I worked on the stage, I'd actually get to meet some of the heavies up close and personal. I'd be rubbing elbows with some of the biggest names in rock music. My immediate impulse was to shout Yes! and to hell with everything else. Still, I liked Mitch, and didn't want to let him down. I felt responsible to him, like I owed him something. And then there was the matter of the girl on the radio with the sexy voice. Mitch had said he'd introduce me to her. I had to follow through on that.
"Let me see how my trip at the main gate works out. If it doesn't work out, you'll see me down here like a shot. Right now though, I just wanna hang-out."
"Cool. You let me know if you change your mind."
The weed was coming on like a ton of bricks, and I settled back against some scaffolding and lazily looked around me. It almost looked like two stages in one. The walkway to the tower in front stood like a 'T' in front of the stage, splitting it in two. I pointed at the tower.
"Hey, I asked, "How are people going to be able to see the bands around that front tower?"
He laughed. "Easy. This is two stages. One on each side of the walkway. While a group is playing on one side, we're setting up the next act on the other side. When the new group starts playing, the crowd switches sides. It's a great idea. It does away with the dead time in-between bands, taking down and setting up equipment. One stops playing, the other one starts right away, like a flash. Nonstop rock and roll."
"Huh. Neat idea. Farley fair out." The weed was making my mind reel. I decided I liked Vietnamese weed.
He pulled out a roach clip and fitted the joint onto it. He took another hit and handed it to me.
"So do you live around here?" He asked.
"Naw. Federal Way."
"No shit? I live in Auburn. Where do you work?"
"I don't. Just graduated highschool, my school. Going to the UW University of Washington in the fall. Shit, next month, I mean. Jesus, it's gonna be September next week. Hey, that's some bodacious weed, man." I took a large hit off the roach and handed it back to him. Speaking as I inhaled, I asked, "So what do you do?"
"Oh, I do carpentry. I got a couple guys I work for. I'm trying to get in the union. That's where the real bucks are."
"Huh. So my dad says. Works for mother Boeing. He's a shop steward for the office workers at his plant. He's always going on about unions and stuff."
Bruce nodded. "The power is in the people. One guy by himself can't do shit. But you get a hundred guys all singing the same song, people listen. It works with bosses, and it works with politicians. Same shit, really."
"Huh? You sound like one of the guys up at the main gate. He's a Green Panther. Says if we're gonna stop the war in 'Nam, we gotta get together and wake up the silent majority."
"He's right. Like I said, the power is in the people."
"Whadaya mean?" Quite stoned, I laid back further and watched the fluffy clouds change shape in the sky above.
"Well, six years ago, there probably weren't five hundred people all across the country that were really doing anything that made a difference to stop the war. Today, there are thousands. Demonstrations come off in every city. The media covers it close. You know, you see the headlines, 'Campus unrest at an all-time high.' That sort of stuff. Nixon appointed a Presidential Commission to study it. William Scranton is heading the commission. Bigtime shit. We keep going the way we are, if more and more people get involved and get active, we will stop the war."
I had a fantastic buzz on. The weed was truly excellent. I considered the clouds and his words and said, "I'd like to believe you. But I dunno if people can make as big a difference as you say."
"It can be done. You just gotta work at it."
"But I'm just not sure that a bunch of stoned freaks like us could ever have any effect."
He shrugged and looked at me. "You're absolutely right. If it was just us, we couldn't pull it off. But others are getting involved. You remember in sixty eight, at the Democratic National Convention, they showed pictures of hardhats stomping hippies?"
"Yeah. I saw it on the tube." Two rhinoceros clouds were fighting up in the sky.
"It was the rage, right? Wherever you went, if the guys were blue collar, they were pro-war. Well, it ain't that way any more. I know. I work construction. I know the people. You wanna know why Joe Hardhat is turning against the war?"
"I haven't seen many hardhats smoking dope."
"That's irrelevant bullshit. I'll tell you why they're changing. It's because their sons are coming home in boxes, that's why. They've felt the effects of the war, first hand. Maybe their sons don't come home in boxes? Then they come home on crutches missing a leg, or maybe it's just an arm. Naw, middle class America is turning against the war. Our job now, is to capitalize on that. And if we do it right, we'll win."
I looked over at him. "Hmm. I do hope you're right." I paused for a moment. The dope had made me a little sleepy, and I was wholly uninterested in the war because I had my deferment. I said, "Look, I better get out of here and let you get back to work. Hey, what are you doing tonight? Me and a friend, Dave, you met him, we're gonna drop some acid. Interested?" I hoped he'd bring some of the weed. Dave would love it.
"Sounds fairly far out. Where you gonna be?"
"Our tent's just to the right of the big oak tree halfway up the hill." I pointed at it. "The tent's got a sign that says 'Tortilla Flat' on it. I'm supposed to meet Dave there at eight-thirty or nine."
"Cool. I've got some beer stashed in my pickup. I'll bring a couple six-packs."
Beer was nice too. I stood up. "Outasite, man. See ya later."
I left the stage and went back up the hill to the tent, laid down and had a nap. It had been a long day.
Dave woke me at about eight o'clock. He had a girl named Melanie with him. We'd met before. She went to Thomas Jefferson Highschool, the other highschool in Federal Way. Melanie was the same age as Dave and me, and she had short brown hair cut like Goldie Hawn's on Laugh In, and large breasts. Really large. Voted the "girl most likely to..." by the senior class, Melanie constantly had a large wad of chewing gum in her mouth, and had an annoying habit of blowing bubbles and popping them with a loud 'snap' as she talked.
Dave had come into the tent by himself and was talking to me in a low voice.
"Ya gotta understand, Gordo, he said. "I told her that you were in charge of security for the whole festival, and that I was your right-hand man. Got it?"
I looked at him above me and shook my head. "Dave, Dave, Dave. She knows us. She knows you, she knows me. She isn't gonna believe that shit. Whadaya gotta make shit up for? Life is complicated enough, already."
"You don't understand. I already told her. She's not real swift. She believes it. All you have to do is play along. We'll give her some acid and smoke some weed." Grinning, he paused then in a lower voice, said, "Gordo, I've heard she pulls the train! We could have a real party going here tonight."
"Sloppy seconds aren't my bag, thanks, I said. "I'll play along, but I think you're nuts."
"Gordo, you're a prince."
"Hey. You remember Bruce Stuckey, the carpenter from the stage that shared the joint with us when we first got here?"
"I invited him to drop with us. He's bringing a couple six-packs."
"You said JD was coming back?"
"Yeah. He should be here anytime. Look, I gotta get back to Mel. We're gonna build a fire. Cool?"
He exited the tent, and I could hear him talking to Melanie outside. During the day, he had dug a fire-pit about ten feet in front of the tent, and had lined it with rocks, then had scrounged a bunch of firewood, which was now piled to the left of the tent.
I had a good stretch, smoked a cigarette, then got up and joined them.
Melanie was dressed in a black mini-skirt that looked completely out of place here. I had to admire the way it showed off her legs, though. Her fabled breasts were barely confined within a tight blue body shirt that would have been ruled obscene anywhere but the festival. She snapped her gum and smiled at me as I came out of the tent.
"Gordon! Like, how nice to see you!" Her voice had a bedroom quality that few others could manage. She oozed sex. "David's told me about what you're doing here. I think it's like groovy!"
Dave was looking at me expectantly. I smiled at her and said, "We all gotta do our bit. Dave's really been a big help, too."
She snapped her gum. "Yeah, he's told me all about what you and him have done." Snap. "You were so lucky that those Hell's Angels gave up without a fight. That was like, so dangerous." Snap. "You two could have been killed." Snap.
I looked over her shoulder at Dave. He shrugged and smiled. I smiled at her.
"Yes ... we were very lucky there."
I heard my name being called. I glanced to the left and saw Bruce coming towards us. I waved. To Melanie, I said, "That's Bruce Stuckey. He works down at the stage." Her eyes widened, and snapping her gum, she began preening herself.
Bruce put a bag of beer down by the fire pit, shook hands with Dave, who was blowing on the fire, trying to get it going, then came and joined Melanie and me. I introduced them. Melanie gushed and oozed some more, especially when she found out Bruce was a stagehand, and would be working right with the bands.
In a few minutes, Dave came over and put his arm around Melanie, pulling her close, giving Bruce and me a clear message that she was taken. Melanie played right along, kissing him and pulling at his chest hair, snapping her gum at a furious pace.
JD came a few minutes later. His old lady, Cindy, was with him. She was from Colorado and had been in Seattle living with JD for about six months. She had long, straight brown hair that flowed over her shoulders, and had a cute face. Tonight she was wearing a buckskin skirt and matching jacket it had a hanging fringe around the shoulders. JD was wearing his usual slacks and a short-sleeved sport shirt he looked like an accountant.
I greeted them as they came up to the fire. They both said hello, then Dave and JD went off to talk business. I introduced Cindy to Melanie and Bruce. In short order, Cindy and Bruce were arguing about how to stop the war while Melanie and I politely listened. A little later, JD came back and interrupted the conversation.
"We are gonna stop the war, he said. He had a nasal voice, and an accent that sounded east coast. He continued, "I heard it was gonna be next Tuesday at one thirty in the morning. Gonna be a big party and we're all invited. Here."
He held out a paper plate and offered it to us. Arranged around the outside of the plate were joints, probably twenty or thirty of them. In the middle of the plate was a small bowl, part full of pills.
"Voila!" he said. "Take what you want. The joints are some good Mexican I've got. The pills are orange sunshine, really good trails there, the red ones are MDA, the brown caps are chocolate mesc, really trippy. If the sunshine ain't strong enough for someone, I've got some 1200 microgram clearlight in my pocket. Nasty, nasty stuff."
We all took some pills and a reefer or two. I washed down a hit of the acid and two hits of the mescaline with some warm beer.
After we smoked several joints, Cindy and Bruce resumed their argument about the war, and disinterested, I drifted over past the fire pit and looked down towards the stage. The light was almost gone. The smoke from hundreds of campfires made a blue haze over the bowl, and the smoke mingled with the smells of marijuana and incense in the air. The stage, looming impressively in the background, was partially lit, work lights burning at various places. On the screen ran a silent movie, Charlie Chaplin, with his hat and cane. Every few seconds, the picture with Chaplin would be replaced by a naked lady with humongous breasts, legs wide open, beckoning with her hands. To the left and right, pulsating blobs of color danced and jiggled. It appeared the light show was warming up.
I was struck by a warm feeling of belonging. I felt like this was the place I had waited to find all my life. No bad vibes or negative energy, no weird head-trips like having to worry about cops or parents. Just peace and harmony under the stars, and the possibility of a great shared spiritual experience with thousands of other people, all who had the exact same purposes in mind.
I studied the joint I held in my hand, and then looked back at the crowd. I was profoundly aware that we were one, and philosophical considerations aside, our lawlessness was the common tie that bound us. The moment I had taken my first hit off a joint, and then later, dropped my first hit of acid, I had joined the ranks. I became a rebel, a lawbreaker. When I looked at a brother freak, I knew he had taken the same chances as me, and was looking at the same stretch in prison if he got caught. Our fate, our mutual existence was in each other's hands, both just a phone call, a thin dime away from jail. Thus, the sharing of a joint became a sacrament, a ritual of trust to strengthen our ties, as well as a means to enhance our meager knowledge of ourselves.
This quest for knowledge was our holy grail. Nobly, we shared the same bond as two lion hunters might have felt a hundred years ago on the plains of Africa we were the brash new adventurers that searched for the true meaning of life through altered states of consciousness. Boldly, we were striving to build a better world, after forsaking all that was wrong with the present. And this new world was named Rio del Sol. Yes!
I felt an extraordinary love for all the brothers and sisters around me. The goodness they exuded was a tangible force, and seemed to permeate my whole being. Instinctively, I knew that people who weren't freaks could never appreciate the surreal beauty, the twisted and subtle humor of the festival, because the bizarre atmosphere was designed for hippies, by hippies and of hippies. But for me it was heaven, my own personal apocalypse.
There was a loud buzz from the sound system like a mike shorting out, then some feedback that slowly echoed across the bowl. My pulse quickened and I refocused on the stage. An announcer with a strong English accent came on, loud. "Rio del Sol rocks! Yeah! Good evening people, are you having a good time?" There were shouts of approval from all over the bowl.
Heart pounding, I stood entranced, listening. The announcer continued, "Right on! Yeah!" He waited a few moments till the roar of the crowd died down, then went on, "Okay people, the Retina Circus is going to do a light show, and run some more silent flicks tonight. No music though." A groan went up from the crowd. "Sorry. We've got just a tiny bit more work to do on the sound system, and as soon as I finish, they're going to turn it off again. It will be ready for tomorrow, though." Cheers. "I have some announcements." There was a rustling of papers audible. "Pete McHenry... Jaime is ill and is at Harborview Hospital in Seattle. Call your brother Mike now. Call your brother now ... Would the owner of a light blue Ford pickup, Indiana license number 328 WWZ which is parked near the OD Clinic please move it - you're blocking a fire lane. That's Indiana license number 328 WWZ ... Jim or Dave Krum, contact Lurch at the message center ... Dale Gilmartin, please see Wavy Gravy at the Hog Farm bus, Dale, please go to the Hog Farm ... Oh yes, and a very important item. The stage crew is short of speed. If we're going to make this festival happen, we're going to need some more speed up here now so the crew can continue working through the night. If you've got some speed, come to the stage gate now, thank you." More papers rustling, and a muffled conversation off-mike. Then, "That's all we have tonight, people. God bless and good night. Rock on!" The crowd cheered, and the silent movies started again. I walked back to the fire and sat down with the others.
During the past few minutes, I had noticed the first signs that I was starting to trip. I felt a slight chill, and kind of light headed. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something, but when I looked, there was nothing there. I shook my head. The buzz was starting. I looked at the others.
Dave and Melanie were locked in a passionate embrace, Dave's hand resting in her crotch. Cindy, JD and Bruce were still arguing about bombing napalm factories. I looked back down at the bowl.
Black Bart, Goofy and Popeye all dressed up as pirates, were waving big broadswords and running towards me, full tilt! I ducked fast so I wouldn't get hit by them. When I looked up, Mickey Mouse was standing next to me, hands in his pockets. He had an approving smile on his face.
Mickey squeaked in his falsetto voice, "Fucked up again, huh Gordie?"
I shook my head and blinked my eyes several times. When I opened them the last time, Black Bart and Goofy were running at me again. I decided I should get out of their way and get in the tent before I got hurt. Unfortunately, I found I couldn't remember how to move my arms or legs. I looked down at the blazing fire and watched shooting stars arc outwards towards the heavens. JD and Bruce were in a heated debate about something, but I just couldn't make out the words, because they were talking too slow for me to follow, and their voices made a toneless, droning sound. Each time JD would make gesture with his hand, a rainbow would trail after it. I laughed at the thought, because I hadn't been aware he knew how to make rainbows. I knew how, of course, but no one else. I talked with the fire for a while and we agreed that spring was the best time for planting roses. He was quite knowledgeable about archery. Then I noticed Mickey had returned. I made room for him and he sat down next to me. To escape the enemy gunfire, I rolled over on my stomach and low-crawled into the tent. After some time, I was able to find my sleeping bag and I cooked a meal inside it.