When the clutch started burning, I knew we were in trouble.
Though I hadn’t volunteered to drive the Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office “Command Post” bus to the 1969 Woodstock Festival, when my boss handed me the keys I tried to make the best of it. In truth, it is a wonder that the tired, old relic ran at all, so when the clutch failed while stuck in traffic on one of the many hills along Route 17B between Monticello and Bethel, New York, we had only one choice … summon a tow truck.
By the way, calling that antiquated rig a “Command Post” was a real stretch. It carried no radios or emergency equipment meaning that, except for the modicum of shelter it provided from the incessant rain, it served no useful purpose at Woodstock. Nevertheless, it definitely stood out … the hordes of young folks traversing Hurd Road could not miss its distinctive blue and white paint job, or the large, reflective Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office star on the rear exit door.
While being towed that day toward Bethel, I noticed a vehicle that was to become an iconic Woodstock image: the old bus – painted in psychedelic colors – belonging to a commune called The Hog Farm. That vehicle was at least as old as ours but, whereas we could not proceed under our own power, their bus seemed to run just fine. Taking note of this, two things occurred to me. First, it was obvious that the person who painted the Hog Farm bus was far more imaginative than the one who painted ours and, second, there was no doubting that the hippies had better mechanics than we did.
Thinking back, our arrival at Woodstock hooked to the back of a tow truck should have given us a “heads up” about what the next few days were going to be like … long hours, sodden fields, gridlocked roads and throngs of people. With the passage of time, though, my mind gravitates, instead, toward the more pleasant … smiling faces … acts of kindness … expressions of appreciation … and the sense that we were al involved in something bigger than ourselves.
Eventually, I would be able to process what had taken place over those hectic but exhilarating three days but, as things lurched to an end on the final morning, the ill-fated bus demanded our attention once again. Not only would it not start, we learned that it needed extensive (and expensive) repairs before it could be driven. Deciding that it made no sense to fix this over-the-hill conveyance, my boss ordered that it be towed directly to a nearby auto salvage yard.
Given the degrading way our crippled vehicle arrived at – and later departed – Woodstock, it deserved a better fate than the one it met with at the junkyard. Instead of a quiet out-of-the-way place where it could rust away in anonymity, that broken down rig – resplendent in its blue and white departmental livery – was dumped half way up a hill among numerous other junked cars, and in full view of drivers heading south on a major state highway. There was one final indignity; when the sun hit the back of that discarded old bus at the correct angle, that reflective Dutchess County Sheriff’s Office star on the back door lit up like a Broadway marquee.