I like to think I came this close to going to Woodstock.

I like to think I came this close to going to Woodstock.

"This close!," I like to think, holding my thumb and forefinger a tiny smidgen apart.

In fact, although geographically speaking I was practically within walking distance of the concert venue, I never seriously considered going to Woodstock. For one thing, I had a job. It was a miserable job waiting tables in a Pocono Mountains resort, a job for which I was hired sight unseen over the telephone, which should have warned me, but still I couldn't just walk away from it.

Several of my dining room colleagues did walk away. All requests to return after the concert were denied, so those who left knew they were leaving for good.

"Oh well," they said, packing their backpacks.

I realize now that theirs was the healthy attitude. Say what you will about stick-to-it-tiveness and emotional maturity (a phrase that in those days was still waiting to be invented), the concert-goers had an instinct for survival that I -- who worked on until I had a crying jag in the dining room and was sent home -- clearly lacked.

Before my minor breakdown, however, when I was still slogging through the days, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to unhappy vacationers who would express their disappointment with the resort by leaving me a weekly tip -- a tip that was supposed to cover six days, 18 meals and three small, messy children -- of $3, the erstwhile employees returned to collect their belongings.

"It was incredible," they told those of us who were still wearing our little white waitress caps. "It was just incredible."

It was obvious, from the long pauses, the solemn expressions and the way the returnees kept shaking their heads as if they wanted to tell us all about it, but how could we stay-at-homes possibly grasp their story, that Woodstock had turned out to be something more than a few music sets out in a field.

Soon after that they all wandered away, trailing the muddy hems of their jeans behind them and unaware of the cachet to which their days in Sullivan County, N.Y., would entitle them in just a few decades. The rest of us went back to washing our own silverware.

Woodstock's upcoming 40th anniversary -- Aug. 15 through 18 -- is being acknowledged with an outpouring of commercial opportunities. "Celebrate history-making festival with books, CDs and a new film," read a subhead in the Akron Beacon Journal.

No doubt all of the merchandise will make much of Woodstock's finest claim to fame and immortality: the fact that in spite of too little food and water, too few toilet and shower facilities, too much rain and mud and far too many people for the size of the concert space, the festival never got ugly. For four days, concert-goers wallowed in peace, friendship and a common appreciation of the music.

Or so I've heard.

It was ironic, really, since the original plan had been to make several people a lot of money.

Performance artist Wavy Gravy, quoted in the same Beacon Journal story (Sunday, July 19), described the whole thing as "created for wallets designed to make bucks. And then the universe took over and did a little dance."

In my case, my conscience took over and made me do a little more table-waiting. If it hadn't, I might have joined my colleagues heading to Yasgur's farm. Then I too would have a Woodstock story to tell.

Instead, my only story is one of an opportunity passed up. But I like to think I missed it by a hair.

"I was this close to going to Woodstock," I like to think.

And then I almost touch my forefinger to my thumb.

Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer: E-mail her at mbartlett@thisweeknews.com.

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