August 13th, 1969
I watch you Suzanne, in ways—with such depth—you will never know. Standing here, toes bare and soles blackened by the highway side with our thumbs pointing to the sun, I watch you. Inches away is your hair and its subtle mixture of ash and lilac sails into my nose. Step back Suzanne. Let your hips melt with mine as we watch the oncoming afternoon motorcade. Let your muted yellow poncho—which never ceases to render you angelic—scratch my skin. Gain an extra inch by standing upon my feet and add to our hope of hailing down a passerby; if you do, I’ll lace my hand within the pocket of your bellbottom jeans, holding you close. I’ll wait with you at this highway side until we reach our destination. I’ll wait; and sail and hold you close and feel your poncho scratch me; even if a thousand stars die before we make it. Suzanne, I watch you in ways, with such depth, I’ve never known before.
“I hate to be the bearer of some bad news, but I don’t think anyone’s stopping for’us anytime soon Artie.”
“I don’t wanna agree but I’m starting to think you’re not wrong. YouandI both know we aren’t going to make it on time unless someone takes us past the boarder. That at the very least.”
“I honestly don’t know. My gut’s’not feeling good banking on a random act of kindness or anything like that. How many miles to the next gas station?”
“At least ten. Plus I doubt anyone there would be much nic—you know—I really do think we’re better off waiting a while.”
“Mmm… would it be too late to do something else maybe? Catch another bus back where we got dropped off or…?”
“I trust your gut more than mine ninety-percent of the time Suz, but today she’s screamin’ at me to stay just a bit more.”
“Alright. If it’s crying out that bad, let’s give it five more. But after that we reorganize. Deal?”
And so, we stand patient on the edge of the King’s Highway. Praying deep that someone will see us—just two kids trying to make it—and gives us a chance. They pass in single file, row by row, far beyond the speed limit. Rusted green and silver trucks. Diesel-spitting Ford’s. Solitary red convertibles no different from their magazine counterparts. No dice. Spasms of ire enter my bones but stand no chance to the bliss surrounding. At our every breath, the August heat weaves itself within the air, birthing a smell of amber. Suddenly in the midst of waiting with marionette posture Suzanne jerks alive and spins around and exudes more energy than she has all morning.
“Hey’quick. Go in my bag and pass me the box of cereal I packed.”
“In my bag, probably real deep, deeper than where we hid the grass, there’s a box of Apple Jack’s. Can you get it for me?”
“A cereal box? You sure’you packed it?”
“Yep, I’m sure. I packed it…. Sweetheart, are you gonna make me get it even though it’s closer to you, or can you go to my bag and pull the box? I promise promise it’s there.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry, yeah, I can get it. Just give me a sec’ to look.”
“… And my notebook should be pretty easy to find in there too, if you could pass that too.”
A sepia memory pools in the foreground of my concentration. You’ll never get far without a full backpack. It doesn’t matter where you’re going, or what’s in the bag, it just has to be filled. A camp councillor taught me that on a hike one summer, years ago, when I was no older than ten. I’d occasionally revisit the moment but never found use for it. Now twenty-three, the lesson has come full circle as I go through the cluttered bag packed in sporadic excitement. Beside Suzanne’s is my own and my guitar—an acoustic, ebony-necked Gibson—is also with us. It was a last-second addition to our luggage before heading to the bus station. That was less than thirty-six hours ago.
A hairbrush we’ll share. Pairs of denim shorts, American and Canadian cash, flower-print and tassel-draped shirts. Pall Malls. Headbands, clean underwear, grass. Peanut butter sandwiches wrapped in plastic, her notebook, a bottle of water-
“Would you look a– you weren’t kidding.”
“Found it?” Suzanne asks.
“I had no clue you packed this.” I answer, weighing the box.
“Bring’it here, bring it!”
“I mean that’s awesome; these are fully welcome. But, the box’s half emp-“
“Arthur! C’mon. Stop staring at the Apple Jack’s and pass’em over quick. The notebook too. I don’t wanna lose any daylight.”
I do as told. Suzanne’s fingers meet the box and she tears off its front half. Her hand then reaches for the notebook and while passing it over I notice there’s more than just paper and verse sewn inside. Taking off the elastic bind, Suzanne flips to a marked page and pulls—from a natural crevice inside the spine—a pen and marker. She tosses everything back into her bag except the tattered rag of cardboard, one side blank, the other lined with advertisement, and opens the black marker which bushwhacks my nose with its ink. Cars continue to pass us amidst her lucid motions of creativity and before I can ask to help further Suzanne sits cross-legged in the dirt with the marker in hand and the cardboard ahead, laying on its back, waiting to be touched.
I find myself torn between two moments occurring in parallel. To my right, oak trees begin to line the highway and beckon me to stare off into the horizon. With no effort I could get lost, transfixed upon the peaks and crests of the natural skyline. I could pinpoint myself as one human on a rock. Floating somewhere. Maybe then I’d zoom my focus back and forth between the pebbles around my feet and the clouds above which resemble rabbits skittering to their burrows, far beyond the furthest reaches of my vision.
But to my left is Suzanne. As she sits there in kindergarten pose I could, with even less effort, get lost deciphering the mysteries that run deep in her marrow and aureate her skin. Or maybe I’d give up any hope of finding an answer. I’d let my eyes lose focus and stare as the details I know so well blend into an impressionistic mirage.
There she is. Mahogany, never-curled hair. Arms lined with freckles from childhood discovery. A nose arched slight and with a left crook unnoticeable unless you knew—two years earlier—that she’d fallen off her bike riding around campus. Working with discipline, I can see in her face all the qualities that have entrapped me. A stoicism that balloons when needed most and deflates in the midst of pleasantry. The line between her lips laced with a track of poise which never ceases to impress. Each cheek holds half her overflowing luminescence—for heaven knows there is too much to contain within one. And in her clarion green eyes there reflects nothing but boundless security, passed out with generosity to all in need whether or not they ask.
Taking a breath, bringing my eyes back into focus, I again find myself between the two moments whispering by. I’m no longer unsure which to pick. The trees will continue lining the road our entire journey. The sky’s rabbits will eventually come out of their burrows. The horizon will remain equidistant forever more. But Suzanne, as she is currently, with her arms flourishing upon the cardboard and her enchanted poncho still whirling in the amber, is only here in passing. In this museum only lasting seconds, I have chosen a painting to stand in front of and appreciate brushstroke upon brushstroke.
“Done, done and done.” Suzanne begins to herself, remaining motionless, with her focus locked on the cardboard. “If this doesn’t get us to New York, I have no clue what the hell will.”
“You going to keep it to yourself or can I see too?”
“Oh, shut’your mouth up.” She laughs back, picking up the scrap and capping the marker.
“Ok, don’t judge it too harsh, but check this out.”
And as those words pass through Suzanne’s lips—into the space between us—she holds up the cardboard to reveal the result of her lucidity. There, centered among a boarder of drawn flowers and peace signs, is a set of bubble letters:
‘WOODSTOCK OR BUST!’
I smile, knowing those words so well. They form the mantra we’ve repeated between every pit stop and roadblock so far. Only now we’ll broadcast it proud on this highway assured—even if it takes a thousand hours—that we’ll eventually find a passerby who shares our dreams.
Someone else told by a friend that, no matter what, they have to make it down to New York for August 15th, regardless if they’re a hippie or vagabond. Who then found themselves scrambling into their girlfriend’s apartment—only months after she’d finished university—begging that she come and finding their heart euphoric when she said yes, of course, with you, anything. Someone else who’s cash is shorthand, with no parents willing to pitch in, so they have to conceive a miracle. Currently, they too are on their way, tasting the amber August air, filled with opportunity, ready to dive deep within the oak-lined horizon. Someone else with backpacks full of whatever they could forage before rushing to a bus that’d take them to the rims of town. They’re gnawing—as we are—to be part of a moment larger than themselves. And truth be told, with this sign and that mantra and our synchronous heart, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll find that someone. That we’ll arrive before the first act even takes the stage.
I look to Suzanne, who’s now highway side again with our juvenile sign held high as the rabbits. I float behind, to where I was before—able to once more feel the itch of her poncho—and speak ever so spirited:
“Woodstock’or bust baby, we got this.”
“Woodstock or bust, Artie. And don’t you dare forget it.”
Guy Mizrahi currently studies Philosophy and English Literature at the University of Toronto. He writes fiction, prose, and journalistic pieces. His work has previously appeared in The Globe and Mail.