WATKINS GLEN 1973, part2
Copyright 2006 Robb Strycharz
JULY 27, FRIDAY
The original plan was to leave once Joey, an old high school friend, rode in on the 1p bus. Joey was once a wiz-kid... youngest Eagle Scout in the region, mayor for the day, top honors in school. After high school he went to study biochemistry in Boston so he could learn to make acid. He dropped out a year later and now was caretaking a decrepit tenement in Roxbury that a friend of his won in a card game. The neighborhood was so bad that one day the building was broken into and the perps stole the plumbing! I hiked, backpack and all, down to Dave and Wally's apartment for noon. We packed Wally's tiny yellow VW bug and headed down to the bus station in the next town. With all our gear in the back seat, would there even be room for Joey?
We waited. The 1p bus came and went. Joey was not on it. Where the hell was he? We were in a bind. The next bus was not for a few hours. If we waited we'd leave much too late and we'd lose any chance of finding a decent place to crash at the concert. With no word from Joey, we headed out about 2:30p.
On the Mass Pike cars and trucks of Freaks were heading west. On the NY Thruway signs saying the festival had been sold out. One rent-a-truck with about 15 freaks in the open back section had been pulled over by the NY Staties.
Chicopee to Albany was no problem since it was all interstate highways. But not from there to Binghamton. Most of I-88 was not built yet so we were forced onto the two-lane RT-7. We finally pulled into Binghamton NY about 7p. From there it was west on RT- 17. Wasn't this the same highway that shut down during Woodstock? We hit what we thought was police roadblock about 20 miles out Binghamton. Perhaps it was to be a ticket check? We got our tickets ready. But it was a giant traffic jam. Looking at the road map I believed that most everyone coming in from the south would try to take the major highways into Watkins Glen... RT-17 to RT-14. I made a suggestion that we bushwhack on back highways. We all agreed and with RT-34 not far ahead we drove on the shoulder to get there and broke free. Ha! Did we feel like clever shits! That was until we got lost in some hick town and were forced to stop at an American Legion for directions to RT-224. By then it was dark.
In that last stretch into Watkins Glen we seemed to have outwitted everyone. That feeling of triumph soon ended when we hit a traffic jam on RT-224. At this point we were on the eastern slope entering the valley where the town of Watkins Glen was located. In the distance all the roads coming into the valley were outlined with the headlights of likewise stranded cars. Since we were going nowhere fast, Davy took the wheel and Wally got on the roof of the Bug and played harp. A few months before I'd picked up an ancient stereo (3-D) camera. I took some time exposures of brake lights of cars ahead knowing they'd be smeared... but smeared in 3-D! I may be wrong but I often wonder if I had the only 3-D camera at Watkins Glen.
In the meantime, at the festival itself the Dead planned a sound check. It turned into a 5 hour show with the Allman Brothers and the Band also doing sets.
Hours later we finally did merge with traffic coming in from the south on RT-14... the highway we originally sought to avoid. Who knew where we'd be stuck if we did take the main highway? We were now in the small town of Montour Falls. It wasn't until my return trip in '85 did I realize what a beautiful town it was with its main street aligned to look at an impressive waterfall.. Chequaga Falls.
We had no idea where we were in relation to the racetrack. If we did we would have taken some back roads west from the center of Montour Falls. But we followed the herd north on RT-14. Soon it was clear: either we could keep fighting the traffic or ditch the car and start hiking. So when it was clear we were no longer making any progress we parked in a ditch and followed the crowd. It was about 2am. I popped some No-Doz... one of my big discoveries from that spring.
So where the hell were we? Someone said the site was 8 miles north. Another said 3 miles south... another 5 miles north. Where the fuck was north anyway? We followed the crowd. In a half mile the crowd took a sharp turn up a road.... actually it was state highway 414. We now owned it. We kept asking people how far the site was. Someone told us to keep going up the hill and at a crossroad with a flashing light to take a right. From there it was 3-4 miles. But how far was the light?
In these days Wally and Davy liked to eat in style. To that end Wally brought a small hibachi stove and a bag of charcoal. It's one thing to have such luxuries when you're having a regular picnic. It was another to carry them 7-8 miles. On the hike the stove and charcoal took turns falling and soon bag soon broke open. Exasperated Wally didn't seem to care what he was losing as long as he was getting rid of 20 pounds of troublesome cargo. So upward in the dark we trudged. While the road was packed with foot traffic some cars still tried to make it through. It was a toss up who was making more progress. They, too, would learn that it was best to abandon their cars and join the throng. We did find the flashing light and took a right on Steuben St. We crossed tracks and was there a factory out there? Mostly it was farmland.
It was 5:20a when we decided we just could not go on. We were exhausted, of course... but also starving. We walked into a sparsely populated field of dew-kissed waist-high grass and settled in. Wally dug a pit for a campfire upon which he and Davy would grill their steaks. What they used to keep them refrigerated who knows. I also don't remember what I had. I'm sure I was not that ambitious for much more than canned chicken spread and bread. I think my big concession to eating more healthy was graduating from white bread to Wonder Bread's New Horizon's high fiber bread. Being run by pathological corporation ITT, heaven forbid they got the fiber from natural sources like bran. They used goddamn wood pulp! After eating I set up my green canvas pup tent. Just before I faded off into sleep in the distance I heard someone shout "Let's party! There's 400,000 of you fuckers!".