Twenty five years ago give or take a day I attended Woodstock. It wasn’t in the state of New York. It was upon a hill in Percy Warner Park at the Iroquois Steeplechase. The older readers of this blog or as I call them now, my peers, understand what I mean. The Iroquois Steeplechase used to be this anarchic event with just a handful of seats for the ladies wearing hats and their escorts while the unwashed masses commanded the hillside dubbed Woodstock by frat boys and girls, the triumphantly hip and tragically hip, stoners, punks, hippies, horse lovers, and my friend DD Blank who had suggested we go.
The sunshine was bright. The grass was green. The port-a-potties were white and blue. The hill was alive with the sound of partying and puking. Women in bikini tops carrying beer and booze would be staggering later. It was in a word: freakinglorious. As long as I could avoid the shirtless frat boy gorillas I figured I’d have a great time. DD staked out a place where we could see most of the race track. I wasn’t even thinking about the races. My only experience with steeplechasing was from seeing Tatum O’Neal in International Velvet.
DD spotted one of our Riverdale classmates, Chaney, wandering around dressed as usual in her finest preppie fashion. As the afternoon went on we made up a game called Spot Chaney. It became somewhat thrilling to find her and mark her perambulations among the crowd. I’m sure you’ve sussed out that I hadn’t been able to score any liquor so we were missing out on what some felt was the quintessential part of the event.
I will admit that even mastery of the Spot Chaney game brought fewer and fewer psychic rewards, but one could get a contact high just from being around the entire mass of drunk and stoned hillside revelers. The main excitement though was, oddly enough, the very reason for the event: the horse racing. You could see almost the entire course from the hill back then, before the evil white stands multiplied like sycophantic servant mushrooms in years to come to blot out the view.
I picked every horse based on their name and the more literary the name the better. There was a horse named Ozymandias that ran that day. I don’t remember if the horse won. Details are lost over twenty five years time, but I can still feel the energy and hear the sound of the hoof beats. Then there was the absence of the hoof beats as they leaped over the steeples replaced by the swelling song of the wasted hillside. All of us debauched kings and queens for the day.
The day ended and I caught sight of a blond girl wearing a camouflage shirt, black skirt, and combat boots. Now it wasn’t as if I had a Gene Simmons “Christine Sixteen” moment – you know the line in the song where Gene says he “had to have her” – but I did think she was cute and most punk rock stylish. I just admired her from afar as DD and I went back to his car.
Some quick off road driving and we were out ahead of the post race traffic jam. Then we saw her, the girl I would later dub the “Iroquois dream girl of space and time”, riding past us in the shotgun seat of her girl friend’s car. It was my camouflage vision. We chased after them and they saw us pursuing them so they backed off laughing and we passed by them. I urged DD on as I yelled out the window at the girls. We weaved in and out along Harding in an acceleration of exuberance.
We knew it was silliness. It was the kind of pursuit that would have been ruined if we had actually pulled over to the side of the road and introduced ourselves properly. I also had a late shift at McDonalds to get to that night. So we lost the girls when they finally turned in the opposite direction we were going. I would muse upon the missed possibilities that night as my sunburned skin tingled and sizzled like the hamburgers on the grill.
We went the next couple of years to the Iroquois Steeplechase. It had become a traditional event. We even got to play Spot Chaney again, but I didn’t see any blondes wearing combat boots. DD wasn’t around in 1988 so I went with Bruno who was covering the event for the Nashville Banner. So I hung out in the press tent with all of the free food and booze, but I missed the hill. I looked out of the tent and noticed Woodstock was shrinking. There were more and more stands. I went one last time in 1989. The stands had multiplied so much you couldn’t see much of the track from the hillside. The partying had also been curtailed with security clamping down on coolers full of alcohol. The entrance fee (while for a good cause) left me broke and the event now just "a shattered visage."