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Our Trip to the Watkins Glen Festival

---by “Shari” (Friedman) Fuller

Watkins Glen is a beautiful town in upstate New York, located amidst rolling hills, majestic farmland and incredible gorges. Residing in the "Fingerlakes Region", it is not far from Cornell University. It is also the home of Watkins Glen International, one of America's premier racing facilities, which has sponsored road racing of nearly every class since the 1940's.

About 30 years later, The Glen decided to host an outdoor concert in one of its many huge fields. Three wildly popular bands—The Band, The Grateful Dead, and the Allman Brothers—were signed on to do a "Summer Jam". 150,000 tickets were sold.

However, rumors spread that it was a “free” concert, and over 600,000 young people showed up. Even though most did not hold tickets, they could not be turned away.

It was the summer of 1973; struggling through a turbulent adolescence, I was thrilled to find myself spending most of that hot summer in the company of Laurie and Debi. Both were much more outgoing than me and always seemed to be looking for an adventure. On the shy side, I quietly felt at times like a tagalong, albeit a happy one to be included in all their plans. Both of my friends had just graduated from the middle-class high school of our Long Island suburb, Plainview, with Laurie planning to attend community college in the fall and Debi working in an electronics factory. I was a rising high school senior.

Laurie (aka "Mama Pfeff"), popular and daring, had beautiful blond hair and such a pretty face and body that she sparkled. Debi "Red" (nicknamed because of her thick mane of carrot-colored hair) was equally beguiling and popular, though a bit more streetwise having hung out with the 'greasers' before she migrated over to the friends Laurie and I had been hanging out with since 1971.

These friends, somewhat eclectic and much mellower than greasers, had taken on the moniker of "Jones Beach Bums" because there were always some of us who met daily at Jones Beach during the summers of our high school years. Categorized as freaks (post-hippies), mostly grungy, long-haired and always without money, we were however joyous and loving, attracting teenagers from all over the island to become part of our ever-growing "anti" clique. And while always open to newcomers, we were still a close-knit group, enthusiastically loyal to each other, meeting anywhere and everywhere we could find, our bond strengthening with each passing year.

As the "Bums" grew, smaller groups inevitably formed, and I was excited that Debi and Laurie drew me into their intimate subset that summer. Always the follower, I usually went along with whatever they suggested, with or without the rest of the Bums. There were occasions, however, that I didn’t join them in an escapade, such as the times they decided to experiment with dropping acid (following the lead of a few other Bums). But even though I was intimidated in some situations, I was relieved that they continued to give me the opportunity to participate in their quests for fun and excitement.

In the summer of '73, rumors were rampant amongst the Jones Beach Bums regarding the upcoming Watkins Glen Festival. Most of us were frustrated by the fact that we'd been too young for Woodstock. It was our dream that “Summer Jam” would be our Woodstock, that it was going to be our chance to party and have as much fun as the lucky Woodstockians seemed to have, and that maybe it would be even better!

While it was advertised as only one day (not three) and only 3 bands (not many), no one believed that was the truth. We all truly believed there were going to be surprise visits by just about every band in the world, so it had to last longer than one day. Everyone I knew wanted to be a part of it... all of us were totally convinced that it would surpass Woodstock as the greatest concert ever.

So even though I was not a huge fan of rock music, Debi and Laurie didn't have any trouble convincing me to join them on this particular adventure. Even though I preferred music that I could sing, such as Neil Young, Cat Stevens, and especially Joni Mitchell, I still thought it would be great fun to go to the festival. And who knows, maybe Joni Mitchell would show up unexpectedly (she was supposed to perform at Woodstock but was unable to be there because of a conflicting TV appearance, and she really regretted it). So it was my hope and desire that my absolutely favorite singer/songwriter would be one of the surprise guests we all knew were bound to be at the Watkins Glen concert.

Transportation to the festival was an issue, but Debi and Laurie assured me that they would find us all a ride. And true to form, not long after we bought our $10 tickets they told me that they had secured us places in a van with a group of other Beach Bums. I was so excited! Confident that I would be driven to the festival and then surrounded by many good friends, I even talked my beleaguered parents into buying me a bright orange, inexpensive sleeping bag for the journey.

My parents did not have much energy left to monitor my activities. With three younger children in my family (ages 13, 8 & 2) they were very distracted, and were by this time somewhat worn out with my ever-increasing Beach Bum activities. They reluctantly accepted my plans with minimal protest.

Unfortunately something happened, and just two days before we were to leave on our journey Debi and Laurie discovered that our ride to Watkins Glen had fallen through. If we still wanted to go to the festival, our only option for transportation was the magic thumb.

I was disappointed that we lost the ride, but the thought of hitchhiking to an unfamiliar town in upstate New York didn't faze me at all. Hitching was something the three of us often did because our friends (and our various meeting places) were all over Long Island. And to be perfectly honest, we considered it fun... not to mention a great way to meet cute guys. The only change we made to our plans (besides lying to our parents, as knowledge of the hitchhiking would have definitely put them over the edge) was to leave for the festival a day earlier.

Since the festival was scheduled for Saturday, we started our journey on Thursday. Did I have a clue as to how to get to Watkins Glen, what route to take, where exactly it was? Nope, Debi and Laurie were always in charge of those kind of details, and I trusted their leadership.

Around noon, I told my mom that 'our ride' was picking us up at Laurie's house. Then I walked over to the Old Country Road Exit of the Seaford Oyster Bay Expressway, where I met up with Laurie and Debi. Giddy with excitement, our thumbs went up and our spirits went soaring.

For enhanced visualization, see http://www.jonesbeachbums.com/1973_page.htm

Three girls, a mere 17 and 18 years old in skimpy outfits, standing on an entrance ramp of a highway carrying sleeping bags and backpacks would be a alarming sight in today's world. But in the early 70's (at least on Long Island) that was not uncommon. Has the world changed, or are people now just much more aware of the dangers? All I know is the three of us felt completely safe and confident that we would have no problems.

Our first two rides were brief and took us to the NYC limits, which was not a good place for us to be, even back then. It was the area where if a car broke down and was deserted, in 5 minutes flat it would be stripped of everything and become an automobile skeleton. We all suddenly became aware—though it was unspoken—that vultures were close by, and we began to feel a bit uncomfortable.

I may have had no idea how to get to Watkins Glen, but I did know it was over 5 hours from Plainview. In one hour we had progressed about 20 minutes, and then found ourselves standing in a dubious spot, to say the least. That was the first time it struck me that maybe I should have placed the Watkins Glen trip in the same category as an acid trip.

But as luck would have it, in a short amount of time a third car pulled over to pick us up. It roared, clanked and sputtered, was painted psychedelic colors, and inside were 3 guys. Two of them were young, while the third appeared much older. Also, in the backseat was a large, panting, drooling dog of indeterminable breed.

Besides the bizarre paint job, the car was old and could not accelerate above 50 mph. It had bad shocks, no padding on the ceiling, the driver-side window was broken and taped, and the radio was missing. Nevertheless, we were thrilled when we were told that they were on their way to the Watkins Glen Festival too. We put all our gear into the trunk and climbed into their car.

The interior reeked of beer. Dozens of empty beer cans littered the car floor, amidst a partial case of unopened ones. The older guy seemed ancient to me, but I was only 17, and at that time of my life anyone over 25 or 30 seemed old. Also, drinking and taking drugs can age a body prematurely, and he did not hide the fact that drinking and using were two of his favorite activities. He was tall, ropey, and had weathered, grizzled skin. His shoulder-length hair however was thick, wavy, and a beautiful golden color, which would have been a wonderful asset on a different body. On him, though, it seemed totally wasted, because in addition to the battle-scarred skin, he never smiled, and had small, ice blue very mean-looking eyes. Except for an occasional whoop or holler, he mumbled and growled rather than spoke, and was very hard to understand. Still, in a short amount of time he managed to make it crystal clear to us that he felt superior to everyone in the car, including his two younger buddies. This was because—he repeated it over and over till we were sick of it—he had been at Woodstock, and we hadn't.

The oldest, mean-looking one was called "Sunshine"... I assumed partly due to his hair and partly due to his drug of choice.

The second in command was overweight, had stringy, greasy, long black hair, was 19 years old, and had the interesting name of "Ripple." The youngest guy said he was 17 (like me), though he looked a little younger. He was the only cute one, although it was in a grungy, elfish sort of way. "Spirit" seemed to fit him. The dog's name was "Cocaine." Despite this, there was no evidence of any illegal drugs in the car.

At first thrilled about scoring the ride, in a little while Laurie, Debi and I began to exchange concerned glances as we tried to get comfortable in the bouncy, sputtering car, getting drooled on by Cocaine, often bumping our heads on the unpadded ceiling, and forced to listen to increasingly irritating and obnoxious merriment. We couldn't speak much to each other, and so we just did our best to maintain a friendly atmosphere with these three guys, who despite the noise seemed harmless enough.

At least an hour of drinking, yipping and yaying passed, and then they settled down into small talk, finally admitting they weren't going straight to the festival. They were making a "slight" detour in order to have an indoor place to spend the night. The oldest guy had a friend—a topless dancer, in fact—who lived in Rochester, and that's where they were headed at the moment. But Rochester was 6 hours away from NYC, and almost 2 hours from Watkins Glen! They assured us, however, that first thing on Friday morning they were going straight to the festival. "So," they asked us, "do you wanna go to Rochester with us—our friend will have room for you too—or should we just drop you off somewhere?"

After a quick pow-wow, consisting mainly of looks and telepathic thoughts, we decided to go to Rochester with them. None of us were in the mood for hitching anymore. It seemed the lesser of two evils. Truth be known, by our advanced ages of 17 and 18, we had already spent quite a bit of time around drunk, obnoxious boys, and had even driven with drunk drivers on more than a few occasions. So these three did not seem very menacing to us, particularly the younger two. The oldest one seemed relatively harmless, maybe due to his apparent loss of brain cells. Whether or not staying with them was the wrong decision, we will never know. A fourth ride could have been worse.

Three times that day we got pulled over by police and thoroughly searched. It most definitely was due to the sight of the car. Purple and yellow stripes stand out in my memory. In those days, not only were teenage hitchhikers common, but cops were not concerned about them driving around with weird-looking guys obviously drinking beer. They were only looking for drugs. And luckily, we didn't have any. But each time we got pulled over and searched, we had to open the trunk and allow the cops to go through all of our stuff. Which, by the way, was not only time-consuming and awkward, but also particularly embarrassing to Debi and Laurie, who were both having their periods, and therefore had a good supply of tampons in their backpacks.

Eventually it got dark, and the searches ceased. But still, Rochester seemed very far away. Of course, the car couldn't go over 50, and all the searches and pee breaks and beer refill stops we made hadn't helped. However, it eventually dawned on us that the true problem was they didn't know how to get to their friend's house. A few times they would give up and make frustrated calls at phone booths, but they never wrote anything down, and seemed to forget the directions as soon as they got back on the road.

During this time I considered whether or not we should rethink our decision and continue onward towards Watkins Glen by ourselves. But around dusk, I was in the front seat with Laurie with Sunshine driving. When I turned around to glance at Debi, I was dismayed to see her making out with Spirit. Debi had joined in the drinking, and I realized our group telepathy was broken.

I turned back around with a sinking feeling and tried harder to help Sunshine figure out the way to Rochester. But I was no help at all with directions. In fact, no one seemed to be, so on and on we drove... all over upstate NY, or so it seemed. It was interminable, but we three hitchers could hardly complain. 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 P.M... around then I turned around to check on Debi, and noticed the entire back seat—Debi, Ripple, Spirit, even the annoying mutt—were passed out, sound asleep.

Soon after that, Sunshine suddenly announced he couldn't drive anymore, and he pulled the car over to the side of the road. "I'm done with driving," he said, "so one of you better take over." It was up to Laurie, the only one of us with a license. I hadn't even taken Driver's Ed yet. With a frightened look on her face, she got behind the wheel. I moved into the middle, with Sunshine next to me by the window growling, and uttering things that were hard to understand but did not sound reassuring at all.

The situation was tense, but then it got worse when a thunderstorm broke out. Rain pelted the car in sheets, and the old tattered windshield wipers barely allowed Laurie to see the road in the dark. As the rain dripped all over her through the broken window, she struggled to keep the car driving straight.

For what seemed like a long time, the only sounds we heard were the rain, the wipers, the thunder, and Sunshine rambling. Laurie's fingers got whiter and whiter as she gripped the vibrating steering wheel. The pounding of my heart increased in speed and intensity as the words Sunshine were mumbling became more coherent. Much to my dismay, I discovered that due to unfortunate experiences in his life, Sunshine hated women, including his mother. He wanted revenge, and worst of all he considered the three of us to be just like all the women he had known, and now hated. Now I really regretted our decision to go to Rochester with them.

Trying to come up with some way of distracting him from his venomous thoughts, wishing the radio worked, I suddenly remembered his bragging about being at Woodstock. "Hey, Sunshine," I said, "I bet you like Joni Mitchell, huh? You know what? I could sing some of her songs if you'd like." He stopped talking, a confused look on his face. At first I thought he didn't understand me. But then he stared at me and said, "Yeah, I do. Sing!"

I immediately launched into the first one that came to my mind, "California" (sitting on a park in Paris, France, reading the news and it sure looked bad...). He was quiet the whole time. A short silence ensued when I was done, after which he ordered me to sing another. Then another.

For the next three hours, I sang continuously... as soon as one song was over, another was demanded. As I sang I glanced at Laurie, and could see relief on her face. She must have been worried about my stamina, though, because at one point during my vocals she touched my leg and murmured, "You're doing great, Shari. Keep it up. Please.”

She needn't have worried about me, though, as I had no trouble going for hours without stopping. I knew every word and every nuance to all the Joni Mitchell songs in existence at that time. Music and singing were my passion, usually reserved for times alone in my bedroom. Although I often sang at at the beach and sometimes at a Beach Bum party, I never sang Joni Mitchell in public because her music was too difficult to play on a guitar.

So despite the bizarre conditions, with Joni Mitchell’s deep and melodic words effortlessly pouring out of my throat I became very relaxed, and it must have gone on for a long time because I was able to sing my entire Joni Mitchell repertoire. It was when I was about to start over that salvation finally came. 12 1/2 hours from the time they picked us up, we arrived at the topless dancer's apartment in Rochester.

Debi, Ripple and Spirit were woken up, and we carried our stuff inside the woman's run-down dwelling. She didn't seem to mind, which was surprising to me since it was after 2 a.m. As we walked in I remember feeling totally drained and exhausted and having just two thoughts: 'I don't care what anyone else does, I'm crashing in my sleeping bag immediately,' and 'That woman is really quite unnattractive for a topless dancer.'

Formalities be damned. Two minutes after crossing her threshold, I was in a dead sleep in the corner. So I didn't know until the next day the situation my two friends found themselves in next.

According to Laurie and Debi, after they settled down in the living room (with me sleeping in the corner and the dancer back in bed), they smoked a little pot they had copped from the dancer. The guys had suddenly become aggressive and insisted upon it. When the five of them had gotten high, Debi and Laurie were told that it was time to have sex, and have it now.

They were horrified at the thought, but kept their cool, and apologetically explained that having sex was impossible, since both of them had their periods, which was true. While at first the guys were outraged because they assumed they were being lied to, apparently the large stash of tampon supplies in Laurie and Debbie's backpacks provided enough evidence to convince them that Debi and Laurie were telling the truth.

Then the guys said, "But what about her?" pointing to my inert body in the corner. They said there was no way I could be having a period too, and after checking found no tampon evidence in my backpack. They were going to wake me up.

My friends came to my rescue and managed to talk them out of doing that by somehow convincing them that I was really, truly also out of commission: I'm not sure how they accomplished this. Maybe the drinking, smoking and early morning hour had finally taken its toll because a short time later the partying ended, and they all fell asleep. All I do know for sure is that I was indeed left unmolested.

The next morning Debi and I stood in the dancer's dark, dingy kitchen, frying two eggs that the dancer had generously given us along with one piece of bread, as Laurie slept a bit later. It was our first food since early afternoon the day before. The guys had never stopped to eat, only to pee and buy more beer. Apparently drinking constantly can dull one's appetite. Debi told me the story of last night in whispered snatches, emphasizing the obvious fact that we should get away from these guys the first chance we got. I was appalled at the story and wholeheartedly agreed.

But we were still frustratingly far from Watkins Glen, even after more than 14 hours of traveling! After thanking the ugly topless dancer, we reluctantly climbed once again into that weird-looking car, this time keeping our belongings close. An uneventful three hours later—still on the New York Thruway—we came to a dead-stop as traffic was backed up a few miles from the entrance to the racetrack. What a godsend for us! With every car at a standstill, walking was clearly the best way to get into the festival, so we were easily able to rationalize our escape. Ignoring their frustrated objections, we grabbed our stuff and scrambled out, promising to look for and meet up with them later. We never saw Sunshine, Ripple or Spirit again.

Having escaped that situation unscathed and having finally arrived at Watkins Glen, we were exuberant, on our way to participate in the next Woodstock! We couldn't wait to find our Beach Bum friends, figuring there would be about 50 of them and that all we had to do was look for the Beach Bum flag. Another contingent of Bums had promised to bring it and hold it high so we could all find each other.

Little did we realize that over 600,000 young people eventually assembled for this festival, so finding a group of 50—flag or no flag—was like looking for that pesky needle. The Watkins Glen racetrack was over 3 miles long, and there were many enormous fields surrounding it. Summer Jam personnel tried to check for tickets, but it was an impossible task, so sometime early on Friday they gave up and allowed the ticketless hordes to enter unchallenged. The fields became deluged with youth—a large percentage were just kids like us most probably also expecting another Woodstock.

Yearning to find our friends, we scanned faces all day long, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of faces, searching constantly for the red and white flag. While we were a generation who saw a kindred spirit in anyone the right age with the right hair length or clothes ("Love the One You're With" was a common mantra), the three of us became increasingly frustrated. It was only the Bums we wanted to be with—at least as a starting point. Only after we found our "family" of friends would we be ready to make new ones.

We were unrealistically optimistic and didn't give up on our quest until dusk, and only then because it became difficult to see. By that time we felt quite forlorn. Frolicking and partying was going on all around us; giving up on finding our family of friends was difficult, yet sometime that evening we did. We latched onto a group of kids from Pennsylvania. We must not have connected with any of them because not a single face or name remains in my memory. I think they were all too drunk and/or stoned to be particularly appealing, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were partying so hard that they barely took notice of us either, despite the fact that we were three cute unattached young girls.

The day had been thrilling and interesting, but it had also been frustrating and tiring. Having participated in only a small amount of partying, again I was the first one to curl up in my sleeping bag, bedding down on the periphery of the Pennsylvania delegation, right out in the open, hoping Debi & Laurie wouldn't wander away and leave me.

Sometime in the middle of the night, when all had pretty much quieted down and I was sleeping soundly (as only a teenager can do in a thin sleeping bag on hard ground), I became aware of a body next to me. One of the guys from Pennsylvania had unzipped my bag and taken the liberty of joining me. He was totally wrecked, which turned out to be a good thing because it rendered him unable to do anything but grope ineffectively and scream, "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"

I woke dazed and confused, as it slowly dawned on me that I was being attacked by an idiot. I couldn't see his face and wondered what was going on and why he was screaming "Fuck!" It eventually became clear to me, but it was obvious he was too wasted to be threatening, and I was able to literally kick him out of my sleeping bag. I could hear him rolling away, flailing on the dry grass, continuing to scream for a while longer until he finally passed out. I actually found it humorous and, chuckling, fell back asleep shortly after. That night turned out to be the better of the two nights I spent at the Glen.

In the morning the sky was clear, the sun was shining, and everyone around was preparing to walk over to where the show would take place. Once again hopeful we were going to find our friends, we followed the throng to the immense field in front of the stage—only to discover with a shock that the place was already completely jam-packed. From where we were standing we could barely see the stage.

Ignoring the protocol to sit down where we were, we squeezed and fought our way forward. For about an hour we worked our way towards the stage, pissing people off left and right. I was aware that most of the people we stepped through thought we were quite rude, but we didn't care... all that was important was finding a familiar face—or at the very least, getting a better view. We persevered, stepping on blankets and hands, causing more than one muttered curse to be flung our way, but not a single fellow Beach Bum was to be seen. When we got close to the stage we gave up for the last time, and managed to carve out a tiny spot in which to settle down.

At first the people in that area were annoyed at us for invading their already small territory, but eventually they accepted us and even became friendly, as the air was highly charged. The excitement was tangible—everyone's spirits were soaring, even those who weren't taking any of the drugs that were plentiful and being passed around like candy. The crowd was determined it was going to be just like Woodstock, and drugs were everywhere to be seen and shared.

The music did not begin until noon, and it was extremely hot. Water was in short supply. We hadn't thought to bring any—all we brought were little jars of baby food, and not nearly enough to satisfy our hunger and thirst. At one point I felt like I was being tortured... I was hot and sweaty and thirsty with no room to stretch out my cramped limbs.

The highlight of that particular interminable time period was when I decided to stand up and take a look back to where we had walked from. It was the most amazing vista—a humongous sea of people. 600,000 hot, thirsty, anticipatory and joyous people. It was breathtaking and awe-inspiring, and I will never forget that sight.

When the Grateful Dead finally began to play, everyone stood up to dance, giving at least the illusion of more space. Everyone was smiling, grooving... how blissful it was to be young and free, part of this once-in-a-lifetime event, personally entertained by the best bands of our time! But the Grateful Dead played for five straight hours; they just went on and on... eventually we all sat down, our minds reluctantly diverted to the more mundane problems of our bodies.

I noticed medics squeezing their way through the crowd. There were many people passing out, probably from lack of water and food and too much heat and drugs. And then I saw a welcome sight—gallons of water making their way through the crowd, hand over hand. I remember grasping one and deeply sucking on it. I was so thirsty and grateful I didn't even think about all the strange lips that had just been around that jug opening.

I was temporarily rehydrated, but it was still so hot, and the concert didn't seem that enjoyable to me. All three groups had apparently planned to perform true “jams.” The drummer for the Grateful Dead actually did a two-hour solo. The group played for five hours before giving up the stage for The Band. The music just went on and on and on, while we sweltered.

Then, a seeming miracle took place during the The Band's three-hour performance. Halfway through their set, clouds gathered, the sky darkened, and a drenching rain began, as if orchestrated simply to cool off the steaming bodies of the suffering festival goers. "Wow! Just like Woodstock!” We all cheered. It lasted for about 30 minutes.

During this time I did a very stupid thing—I generously suggested to my friends that we use my orange sleeping bag as an umbrella, thinking it waterproof. "Let's be cozy!" I said, opening it up and holding it over our bodies and heads. Halfway through the rain storm I realized it was not waterproof, since it was getting soaked, and rolled it back up. Then our bodies got wet too. I was not terribly concerned, since it felt so nice to be cool, and I assumed the sun would come out again. Unfortunately the sun never reappeared, and I stayed damp.

After the Band finished playing, it became time for the climax of the concert, the Allman Brothers. Once again everyone jumped to their feet in a renewed frenzy. However, I couldn't shake the chill that had seeped into my bones from my damp clothing. Not having a great love for rock, the music failed to distract me, and I spent the rest of the festival enveloped and shivering inside a large piece of clear plastic that had belatedly made it's way over to us (in the same way as the jugs of water).

All during that time I was downright bored and miserable, and I wondered what was wrong with me. Everyone else was stoned, tripping, loving the music or a combination of all three. But I just sat inside the slimy piece of plastic in an effort to conserve my body heat, nodding on and off for the four long hours that the Allman Brothers played their music.

I must have been quite a sight, a small lump in the middle of a huge, gyrating crowd. Every now and then Debi and Laurie would interrupt their dancing to check on me and show their concern. They would say, "Shari? Are you still alive? You haven't suffocated, in there, have you? Get up, silly, you're missing the best part!"

But I stayed put huddled in my little piece of plastic, too tired to care about music anymore... and the Allman Bros played on and on. Towards the end some of the crowd began dispersing in exhaustion, but Debi and Laurie wanted to be there until the final note, which did not happen until close to 3 A.M.

Then it was finally over—after only one day, with no surprise guests! Not only that, but we were once again painfully aware that we were bereft of our friends, and had not connected with a single other person. In addition, the night—overcast and starless—had become genuinely chilly.

When the music stopped, the partying was completely over. Everyone was spent, and the hordes of depleted people still left in the music field moved back into the sleeping fields. Some set up tents, while others just laid their sleeping bags out in the open, as we had done the night before. However, because of the temperature drop, sleeping out in the open was not as desirable as it had been the night before. So we walked around talking to people, and managed to cajole our way into a group's large tent, picking them to focus on because they were from Long Island and we hoped for a ride the next day.

Laurie and Debi had nice, dry sleeping bags. They pulled them out and were asleep in minutes. But I had only a sodden sleeping bag that didn't offer the tiniest bit of comfort. I rolled it out and lay on top of it, trembling in my halter-top and damp jeans, wishing I hadn't discarded the plastic. There was no one awake to talk to. I shivered so hard my teeth were chattering. All night long I lay there, thinking that I had never been so cold in my life. My misery was constantly finding new heights. I kept swearing that I would never, ever again take being warm for granted, not ever again. I kept imagining getting back home and taking a hot shower or a hot bath, and oh what heaven that would be. I just couldn't wait, but I had no choice, it seemed I had to wait forever, and suffer the whole time. How come I never realized that nothing on earth felt as good as being dry and warm? There was no point in crying or moaning, I just had to lay there, thinking I would remember this torturous night for the rest of my life. And sure enough, I still do—vividly.

I remember lying there as the seconds ticked by, wondering how time could move so slowly. It felt as if I would feel miserably cold forever... I tried to entertain myself by thinking about the day's events, but that didn't help at all, since it was also depressing to realize that I hadn't enjoyed the concert like everyone else seemed to. I liked rock and roll music, but I guess I didn't like it enough to ignore the discomforts of the day.

What to do to make the night go by, what to do... then a thought occurred to me. There was music that I loved. Next to Joni Mitchell, I loved an amazing new rock opera. It was so interesting and moving and melodic and rhythmic that I must have listened to it on my record player hundreds of times, and I knew and loved every note and word. So starting with the very first note of the electric guitar in the overture... "neir, neir, neir, neirrr, neir, neir, neir, neir neir neirrrrrrr...," I listened to the whole soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar, hearing every single note and voice in my mind, relishing each one. When I got to the end, I listened to it all over again. Andrew Lloyd Weber, Tim Rice and that original Broadway cast have no idea how much they helped get me through that night with my sanity intact.

Sunday finally dawned, the sky cleared, and to my delight it became blistering hot again. The sleepless night receded in my thoughts, and the people in the tent woke up, the owners informing us that they had no extra room in their van. They could not give us a ride anywhere, much less to Long Island, as we had hoped. Once again the three of us were alone.

Alone in that sea of thousands! Cars lined up for miles trying to leave the Glen. Instead of hitchhiking, we decided to walk from car to car asking for a ride directly to Long Island, preferably one with cute guys. In about 10 minutes we came to a van that met those requirements. There were two nice-looking young guys in the front seat.

Unfortunately, the driver and owner of the car, Bernie, did not feel inclined to give us a ride. While he was obviously in a bad mood for some reason, we were relieved to discover that his friend Rob was not, so the four of us lobbied Bernie until he grumpily relented. We climbed happily into his nice, clean van, while he firmly stated he would not go out of his way for us, that he would drop us off at the closest expressway to his house in Garden City, about 20 minutes from Plainview.

Relieved to have a ride for the vast majority of the distance, we accepted, not minding his scowling proclamation. Well, at least at first we didn't mind. His van was wonderful! It was the exact opposite of the car we had arrived in—spacious, clean, new, no animals, and both Rob and Bernie were well-groomed and seemingly normal.

Bernie, however, continued to scowl at us, and soon there was a high level of tension in the car. The fact that it took 3 full hours just to get out of Watkins Glen Raceway did not help. He did not like traffic... and he also made it clear he did not like freeloaders.

Once again, we found ourselves exchanging concerned looks. And though the traffic improved after we finally got out of the Glen, it continued to be very heavy on the New York Thruway, making it likely that we were not going to get back to Long Island until late evening. The knowledge that we'd eventually have to hitchhike from Garden City to Plainview, exhausted and in the dark, was not pleasant to think about. But think about it I did. If only I could think of a way to make Bernie like us.

Unfortunately Debi and Laurie were very offended by Bernie's seemingly misogynistic behavior. They decided to return his animosity, which only made the already uncomfortable atmosphere even worse.

Seeing that diplomacy was needed, as soon as Rob took over driving and switched seats with Bernie, I leaned forward and started chatting with the owner of the car and the one in charge. I asked him questions about himself, complimented the van, tried anything to stroke his ego, desperate to improve his mood. It seemed like a lost cause, since at first he wouldn't even turn around to look at me. But I didn't give up... and after about 20 minutes he finally started to respond to me and to talk.

Twenty more minutes passed... then, tiring of twisting his body around to chat with me, Bernie decided to move into the back of the van with us, ignoring the glares of my friends. I then spent the seven remaining hours of the trip with Bernie talking nonstop to me, as Rob drove and Debi and Laurie napped. To my dismay, though, Bernie's long monologue slowly descended into a streaming consciousness of worries, depression, anger, darkness, resentment, fears, problems... on and on and on. I hardly said a word during it, as I could tell only nods of sympathy were needed... though once again, I felt the discomfort of time passing slowly and painfully. What a struggle it was to keep a sympathetic look on my face and not give away my discomfort, but I thought to myself I should now be getting used to endurance tests! And at least I might be rewarded for this one, at least I might soften his hard heart. So, I gritted my teeth and listened, changing positions often to ease the cramps in my legs (there were no seats in the flat bottom of the back of his van).

It got dark, and we got closer to Long Island. I continued to listen to Bernie's deepest darkest secrets, never relinquishing hope that his catharsis would give him a change of heart, and that he would not leave us stranded in Garden City.

And... Bernie did have a change of heart. When we got near Garden City, his diatribe came to an abrupt end as I heard him direct Rob to take each of us to our front doors in Plainview, saying, "and Rob, take the one with the long dark hair home first." The surprise I felt that after all my hours of sympathetic listening he didn't even care to know my first name was dwarfed by a flood of relief and triumph. Sure enough, a short time later I was released from the van, and crossed the threshold of my wonderful, cozy little home into the arms of my relieved parents. The highly anticipated adventure that had morphed into a grueling ordeal had finally ended.

It wasn't the kind of adventure I had hoped for or enjoyed... but after it was all over, and I was able to think about the sequence of events in the comfort of my warm bed, I actually felt enriched. I will never forget the discomforts, but it certainly was an interesting experience and I felt glad to have been through it, especially since I survived both physically and emotionally.

Later that same summer, we all heard about another rock festival—this one being held near Washington DC. Debi Red and Mama Pfeff asked me if I wanted to hitch to that one with them also. Once again other Bums would be going, and they said since it was definitely going to be a much smaller festival, we would be more likely to find our friends this time.

But I wasn't tempted in the slightest, and quickly said, "No thanks."

Unperturbed, they went without me. (Taking along a bunch of tampons, this time only to be used as insurance.) When they returned I heard all the details enthusiastically described. The bottom line was they had a blast, even though it rained and they all got extremely muddy. There were no problems hitching, and this time they actually did manage to meet up with a handful of other Bums.

But at the end of listening to all their new stories, they sighed and said to me, "Yeah, you missed a great time. But don't feel too bad, because it wasn't nearly as great as the one we all went to at Watkins Glen. Wasn't that so much fun, Sha?"                                                                 

Summer Jam” at the Watkins Glen Racetrack has gone down in history as the largest rock festival of all time.

But because of the rambling, non-memorable performances, it is also largely forgotten.

Images of "Summer Jam"


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