Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 2009
Source: Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Copyright: 2009 The Morning Call Inc.
Author: Paul Carpenter


Except for a trip out West two months earlier, the Volkswagen (not the
Beetle, one of those miniature station wagon things) was brand new, so
the Catskills seemed like a good destination for a weekend outing.

It was a time of upheaval for the nation and for me. After nearly nine
years in the military, I took my discharge in 1965, partly because of
my inability to embrace the proper gung-ho attitudes about Vietnam.

Four years later, I still was struggling to transform myself from the
world of technology, clarity and regimentation to the slapdash,
irrepressible world of journalism. I had landed my first job at a
daily newspaper, in Towanda, Bradford County, which was less than
three hours in a VW from the scene of another upheaval -- the
Woodstock festival near Monticello, N.Y.

My wife, our three little kids and I did not know about that bash
until we were in one of the world's worst traffic jams. Hundreds of
cars and trucks were at a dead stop for miles and miles, with no way
to escape.

Horrible car crash? Some other disaster? No, said a state trooper,
everybody's trying to get into a music festival out in the middle of
nowhere, just over those hills.

That sounds like loads of fun, so how long before we can get

We never did get in, which probably was a good thing, because I later
learned it might not have been the best place for children under 10.
But there was quite a party, right there on the jammed highway.

Car radios filled the air with the Rolling Stones ("Honky Tonk
Woman"), the Beatles ("Come Together") and my favorites, Credence
Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary" and "Bad Moon Rising"), as young
people danced on the tops of campers and did other fun things. (Later,
to my dismay, I learned that CCR was at the festival.)

The most provocative sight of all was something I had heard about, but
I had never actually seen anyone smoke marijuana. I still was smoking
my Camels at that time, and the first surprise was that marijuana
smelled much nicer than tobacco.

Police officers were everywhere and they just smiled, or even joked
with the pot smokers. Nobody got busted and nobody got obnoxious, as
always happens when booze is involved. The hippies took their hits on
their joints and the cops let it go.

It was peace, love and happiness out there in the world's worst
traffic jam.

Not long after that, I tried marijuana for the first time, back in
Towanda, but I never really liked it. I am crazy enough without extra
help, and I get paranoid when I feel that something is scrambling my
cerebral cortex more than usual.

Nevertheless, it was obvious that marijuana was far less harmful than
alcohol, or Camels, so I was sure it would be legal soon. Forty years
later, I'm still waiting for the government's cerebral cortex to get
unscrambled on this particular issue.

This weekend is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, and a feature
article was planned for Saturday. The old meanies at the paper impose
an earlier deadline for me, but I was able to sneak a look at some of
the letters people sent to tell of their experiences in 1969.

Color me green with envy.

"It was surreal, like a Fellini film," wrote Roger Latzgo of
Germansville. "Woodstock was a manifestation of a parallel reality in
American society." (That's definitely the way I would have put it, if
I'd thought of it first, and I'd be talking only about the traffic

"I remember one morning rolling out of the tent with a bottle of
wine, etc., and putting my head on a hay bale to listen to The Who,"
remembered Tommy Crist of Hellertown. "Wow! It was so cool."

David Parke Epstein, an Allentown native who now lives in Los Angeles,
confessed that he was "psychedelically altered" at Woodstock. He saw
Janis Joplin who was even more so, and she "rocked and reeled about
like a drunken dervish."

Tim Brady of Bethlehem also told of a tailgate party on one of the
jammed highways. He referred to "some old bearded freak (must have
been in his late twenties) selling acid." (Old? Twenties? Sheesh.)

One of the main lessons we should take from this 40-year-old event is
that some illegal drugs, especially marijuana, should not be illegal.
Think about it this way:

Suppose you found a way to assemble thousands and thousands of people
at a festival out in the boonies, and heavy rain turned it into a mud
bath. The crowd is far bigger than anticipated, so you run out of
food, water and toilet paper. Security breaks down and people with
tickets see people without tickets being admitted.

Now suppose that instead of pot, the drug of choice at this festival
is booze. How long would it be before it turned into a brutal
free-for-all of disastrous proportions?

Booze is legal and marijuana is not. In fact, there now are hysterical
law enforcement crusades against pot and 80 percent of the people in
prison are there for drug offenses, at a staggering cost to the public.

I think the people in government must still be psychedelically
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