Summer Of ’69: Woodstock Envy
In the summer of 1969, Provincetown’s Town House restaurant employed a “town crier” to walk the streets in a Pilgrim-ish outfit, ringing a big bell and loudly extolling the virtues of the eatery’s menu. His delivery was colorful, but his message was bullshit.
I waitressed at that restaurant in that summer. I remember serving a filet mignon to a customer who had paid dearly for it. On the large, oval plate was a dubious piece of meat the size of a hockey puck. The only side dish was a slice of canned apple. When I set the plate before the hungry dude, he looked at me as if I had presented him with a turd.
Later, I took home $1.10 in tips, making it a day like any other. I’d hoped to put away a bundle that summer to pay for my fall college necessities. (Okay, and for pot.) By the end of June, I was maybe $25 closer to my goal.
Even with the uptick in Provincetown’s population in July, the tips did not improve. Dispirited, my gal pal co-workers and I walked home after work to our tight quarters overlooking Commercial Street and, too broke to go out, we fried up some fish. Through the window we’d watch the lively parade of summer vacationers go
Provincetown had long been a famous refuge for the gay population, and they owned the street. But in peak season they shared it with tourists who came from all over to buy salt water taffy and local art. There were hippies, too, although mostly they were mostly just aspirationals, not yet steeped in enough pot smoke to qualify for full hippie status.
Also, there was Richard Gere. Almost famous, he was acting in a play at the Provincetown Playhouse. When I saw him on the street I was instantly crush-struck, like when Maria sees Tony in West Side Story and boom! Except of course Maria’s love was requited.
There was little hope of that in my case. In my work uniform—white blouse, black skirt and tidy apron, ugly shoes, nylons and hairnet—I was hardly a dude magnet. I was more like what happens when you turn the magnet around and it repels everything.
Still, the Gere buzz gave me a lift (and a fantasy life) in the otherwise tedious Town House routine.
Then, in mid-July, things started to get interesting.
One day, I was getting a Tom Collins from the restaurant’s lounge when I noticed that all the regulars were focused on the TV above the bar. I looked up and saw Neil Armstrong planting his feet on the moon, sending up a little poof of space dust. It was cool, but for those of my generation, the bigger step for mankind was to come a few weeks ater.
When my friends and I walked home from work one afternoon, our tips so meager they barely ka-chinged in our pockets, we saw a herd of young people coming towards us in muddy jeans and cutoffs. The guys topless and the women almost so, they were smelly, sunburned and seriously high.
They had been among the hippie wannabes we’d seen from our window. That cohort had been absent lately, rumored to have gone to New York, to something called the Woodstock Music Festival. Now they were back and behaving like they had experienced The Rapture without the disappearing part.
We stood in the street in our uniforms as they approached. They were rock-stunned, sleepy, happy and dopey. We looked like two rival gangs facing off. Once again I felt like Maria in West Side Story: I found something very attractive about the opposing gang.
They chatted happily with anyone who would listen about what had gone down at Woodstock. Hundreds of thousands of baby boomers had shrugged off the constraints of their normal lives and joined together peacefully, under the spell of rock ‘n roll, for three days. (Oh, and there was a lot of sex and drugs were everywhere and you had to wait in line three hours to use a toilet.)
In the days to come, as it became clear how transformative the event had been. Hearing people swap their Woodstock glory stories made me wild with envy and regret. Why hadn’t I gone? I was nineteen, for God’s sake—it’s what you’re supposed to do! My cousin Wendy went—Richard Gere probably even went. Meanwhile, where was I? Waltzing around in a hairnet, serving turds-on-a-platter to tourists!
I was not going to let it happen again; I was going to be ready for the next of my generation’s seminal moments. I was going to tune in, turn on and drop out: I would pay closer attention so I wouldn’t miss future Woodstocks and feel like a loser, I would drop acid as soon as possible and I would leave college because I could not get my mind around French literature while I was high.
I did all of those things. But sometimes you don’t get a second chance; there never was another Woodstock, only pale imitators. I did, however, get a second chance with Richard Gere. A few years after that summer of love, I co-starred with him in an Off-Broadway play.
Yes, I still had the crush. Yes, it was still unrequited. (Sigh.)
(This article was originally published at purpleclover.com.)