Monday, May 11, 2020

Politics in the age of pestilence

By BOB GAYDOS
 Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, on the same team.
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, on the same team.
   The job of the next president of the United States is to restore a sense of competency, decency and dignity to the office. Nothing is more important than that. 
     I actually wrote those words about three weeks ago as I worked on a reaction to developments in the Democratic presidential race and various complaints being voiced about the front runners — too old, too radical, too conservative, too male, etc.
     COVID-19, unfortunately, intervened. It also reinforced my belief in that simple campaign slogan: competency, decency, dignity. Put any Democrat’s name in front of it:
     — Joe Biden, competency, decency, dignity.
     — Bernie Sanders, competency, decency, dignity … uh, scratch that campaign, not the sentiment.
     — Andrew Cuomo, competency, decency, dignity. (I know; it’s Joe, but just hold that thought).
     As swiftly as Covid-19 moved through parts of the population, just as swiftly do political stories change. Sanders dropped out and pledged to support Biden just as I was rewriting for Covid. Cuomo burst on the scene just as abruptly, reminding Americans that it is important to have elected officials who are capable, competent and concerned about people’s welfare. Actually, their lives.
     Cuomo’s father, Mario, also a New York governor, once wrestled with the notion of running for president to the point he was dubbed “Hamlet on the Hudson” — to run or not to run. He decided not to at the last moment. Andrew has insisted repeatedly he is not looking to be president.
     Not yet. He’s also a friend of Biden’s. But Democrats can at least rest assured that if something else unforeseen happens between now and their nominating convention in August, they’ve got Bernie and Andrew in the bullpen. Elizabeth Warren, too.
   But the real need now is for Democrats to present, not just a familiar, comfortable name for president, but a super team, if you will, of potential cabinet members and presidential advisors who will reinforce the need to return competency, decency and dignity in the Oval Office.
      The need for competency has been apparent from the first days of the Trump presidency. The administration’s unconscionably inept response to the Covid-19 virus is the predictable result of three-plus years of looking the other way, justifying and making excuses for Trump, a man with no moral compass or sense of responsibility and who is incredibly dumb to boot. His dismissive attitude to doctors and scientists on the handling of the virus has resulted in chaos, fear, panic, a probable recession and death. There is no excusing this arrogant incompetence.
     In the category of decency and dignity, I include a respect for the truth as well as the Constitution. I also include an understanding of this nation's once respected role as the leading voice for freedom and democracy on the planet — a nation represented by the Statue of Liberty, not by an egomaniac’s wall and caged migrant children,
    Regarding the nay-sayers among Democrats … Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are both 78 years old. I am 78 years old. If you wanted to dig into my past life and drag out every stupid, profane, dumb, selfish, hurtful thing I have ever said or done, a lot of people probably would say, no, I don’t want him to be president.
     Given that, I still say without hesitation and in all humility, that I believe I would make a much better president than Donald Trump has been (as would a lot of you). That’s because I think I have learned, sometimes the hard way and with age, what is important and what is not so important. I don’t think I’m smarter than trained professionals. And I have a respect for the truth as well as the history of this nation. If you want references, I can probably pick some up.
     But I’m not running for president. Joe Biden is and, until recently, Bernie Sanders was. (Cuomo still says he’s out.) While I can agree and disagree with both men on a variety of issues, I have no doubt that either one would honor the tradition of the office and work immediately from day one to remove the stain that has been Donald Trump. I can say that about every one of the Democratic presidential candidates.                  
      For disappointed Sanders supporters, and they are legion and loyal, the victory can be claimed in his demand for Medicare for all. If the virus has shown anything, it is the utter failure of the American health system to deal efficiently and even-handedly with a health crisis. People should not die because they can’t afford to get tested or there are no tests or they have no insurance for treatment or their governor insulted the president. Not in this country. Biden as president may calm Wall Street worriers, but he must also make Sanders’ central issue part of a Democratic plan to restore America’s legacy of competency, decency and dignity. Sanders for Health Secretary? A thought to build on.
      Having been vice president to Barack Obama for eight years (a source of much of his support), Biden knows how this is done. As the presumptive nominee he should choose a younger female vice presidential running mate and assemble a team of one-time rivals for the presidency as potential cabinet members. Unity must be paramount for Democrats. Take back the country first, then fix all that has been broken. Republicans appear ready to stick with Trump right into the sewer. A united, impressive Democratic team behind Biden can defeat that.
      Also key is voter turnout. Republicans will do anything to keep potential Democratic votes from being cast. They have already shown that. A unified Democratic Party behind Joe Biden, with a plan to make America competent, decent and dignified again should get out the vote. It would help if Obama campaigned. It is also crucial to reclaim the Senate.
     And, as he enters the fourth and last year of his term, President Biden, at age 82, can say he does not intend to seek re-election, paving the way for that younger vice president to continue the restoration project. First remove the stain from the presidential seal, then polish it with gusto.
rjgaydos@gmail.com

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Enjoying The Impossible without guilt

Burger King’s Impossible Whopper

By Bob Gaydos
     If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know.
     I’m talking about the Impossible Burger, obviously.
     In a recent column about a young man who couldn’t believe I didn’t eat bacon (not fanatically, just practically, for health reasons), I ventured into a discussion of the new plant-based burgers that have quickly become popular and promised to write a review as soon as I found a place that served them.
      Thank you, Burger King in Warwick, N.Y. My partner and I do not frequent fast-food establishments, but we recently had some unexpected time to kill and went to the nearest Burger King, specifically looking for the Impossible Burger to satisfy our curiosity.
       There it was on the menu — the Impossible Whopper. Two please, with cheese. No fries.
       The first reaction will be hers, sitting across from me in the booth:
       Bite.
       “Incredible.”
       Bite.
       “It looks like meat.”
        Bite
        “It acts like meat.”
        Bite.
        “It tastes like meat.”
        ... “Delicious.”
         I agree. If you didn’t know it was a meatless burger, you wouldn’t be able to tell. We were satisfied. It’s possible.
          My partner hasn’t had a beef hamburger in more years than she can remember. She also doesn’t eat red meat. But if we have a yearning for a burger, she’s hooked. We now know where to go to satisfy it without feeling guilty.
          However, some vegans and vegetarians, the ones you might think would appreciate this culinary development the most, are not thrilled with this “meaty” hamburger concocted in a lab. Strict vegetarians, in fact, are reportedly turned off by the taste of the Impossible Burger. They say it tastes and acts too much like real meat. It stirs up feelings of guilt and worse.
        And some vegans are upset — even feel cheated by Burger King — because the Impossible Whopper is cooked on the same grill as the beef burgers. To them, this is an unacceptable mingling of beef product with plant product. One customer has even filed a lawsuit against Burger King for false advertising, although it doesn’t appear that the company has ever advertised the product as vegan.
      Burger King did say at the introduction of the new item that the Impossible Burger would be cooked on the same grill as its beef and chicken products, but customers could request that their Impossible Whoppers be cooked by a “non-broiler option.” The oven. The company says this offer stands. But until this lawsuit it was not well-publicized and most customers are probably not aware of it. In truth, most customers don’t care.
      And there apparently are a lot of customers for the new product. The Impossible Burger, the Beyond Meat burger and other new, plant-based meat substitutes are growing in popularity with a group of people to which I may belong – flexitarians. Who knew?
        I came upon this new category in my research on meat substitutes. It’s apparently a real word that was coined in the 1990s, a combination of flexible and vegetarian. One online dictionary tells me that a flexitarian is ”a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish.” 
According to that definition, I am probably a flexitarian wannabe, since, while I eat plenty of vegetables, I eat poultry or fish more than occasionally.
       Another source says that, basically, flexitarians are omnivores who are trying to reduce the amount of meat in their diet, for health, environmental and ethical reasons. These are not people who don’t eat red meat or won’t eat burgers, but are happy to be able to enjoy the taste of a burger without the beef from time to time.
        It’s about being flexible (or balanced), which to me is a recipe for good health. The meatless burgers are processed, offering less protein and less fat than beef burgers and, like beef burgers, probably too much sodium if consumed regularly. The Impossible Whopper’s calorie count is about the same as regular Whoppers, about 630. Beyond Meat burgers, which are rumored to be coming to McDonald’s sometime in the near future, are non-GMO. Impossible burgers do contain GMO‘s. If this matters to you, take your pick. Flexibility.
        Right now I’m curious to compare the Impossible Whopper with the Beyond Meat burger and, while we don’t have a Burger King in our neighborhood, we do have a McDonald’s. As a wannabe flexitarian, I’m willing to share the appreciation.

rjgaydos@gmail.com
         

Take me to your leader: A fable?

By Bob Gaydos
Emperor Diocletian, of Rome

They really should have known better. After all, the evidence was there from the beginning. The erratic, impulsive behavior. The fascination with the spotlight. The ignorance and pettiness. The lying, cheating, arrogance and lack of empathy. It was a show. Always, just a show. Not surprising for a veteran of what was known as reality TV.
     Yet the people of The Promised Land elected him to be their leader, even though he made it pretty clear to anyone who paid attention to his street brawl of a campaign that he didn’t really want the job, just the attention and prestige that went with it. Run for leader. Insult everyone. Wow the audience. Maybe stir up new business for his brand-name empire … Sell the name. It was always about selling the name.
    It worked. Sort of. The other major candidate, a woman, was clearly more qualified for the job. Smarter. More experienced in government and diplomacy. Familiar with the constitution. And her husband had been elected leader in the past, twice. She understood the tremendous responsibility that went with the honor.
    In truth, many citizens saw The Showman for what he was and did not like him or vote for him. However, many other citizens, saying they did not like her because she was too something or other (traits usually overlooked in males) chose not to vote at all or to vote for a third candidate with no chance of winning. A protest of sorts, they said. He’s obviously unqualified, but we just don’t like her, was the reasoning.
      She still got the most votes, but that didn’t matter under the arcane voting system used in The Promised Land that emphasized geography rather than actual numbers of people. Also, he cheated. He got secret help from another country, ironically (to all but him), a country which had long been an unfriendly rival for world leadership. The Other Land and The Promised Land had waged what was described as a Cold War for decades, stockpiling weapons and forming alliances with other nations. The Promised Land had emerged victorious in that struggle, so the Other Land was glad to help disrupt The Promised Land campaign and infiltrate voting systems to provide just enough geographical votes for The Showman to win. A “leader” who could be bought.
      The investigations started immediately because there were actually laws prohibiting such interference in the country’s elections. Those who had written the laws a long time ago feared influence over a leader who was beholden to foreign powers for their help in getting him elected.
    Their wisdom was quickly validated as many early decisions made by the new, unprepared leader were to the benefit of The Other Land. He also filled key government positions and judgeships with people who were as equally unprepared or equally self-serving as he, or both.
     Worst of all, the delegates who had been elected to Congress to write the laws and to provide a check on the leader — at least those delegates from his same political party — chose instead to overlook or defend his inexplicable, often cruel, decisions.
     Of course, they knew who he was from his well-documented past and his ruthless campaign and had almost universally condemned him at first. But once he demonstrated that through his support among rank-and-file party members he had political power over their careers, his onetime critics bowed and kowtowed. They had staked their careers on the votes of people who were, in many ways, as ignorant, petty, boorish, racist, selfish and uncaring as their leader. None of the delegates had the courage to resist. Those who shared his views, of course, simply hoped to get rich in the process.
      It didn’t take long for the unraveling of the veneer of civilized governing to begin. The leader spent most of his time playing golf, watching television and sending messages to the people via social media. He gave his adult children “advisory“ roles in his administration. He chose people to lead various departments of government whose main mission was to dismantle those departments. He rekindled feelings of racism and distrust of immigrants among those citizens who had previously been outvoted by the nation’s more welcoming and open-minded citizens. He ignored all his campaign promises and lied about “accomplishments“ daily. His supporters cheered.
      In just two years, The Promised Land had lost its standing as the respected, trusted leader of the free world. He insulted its longtime allies and, instead, courted leaders who were as ruthless and thuggish as he. Murderers. All the while, he also saw to it that his private business interests gained financially from his position as leader. He insulted his generals, his senior diplomatic advisers, top law-enforcement officials and anyone who dared to disagree with him. He fired the top law-enforcement official who was investigating foreign interference in his election. Still, his party members in the Congress supported him and resisted any efforts to remove him from office.
      Inevitably, being someone who never learned from his mistakes — actually never admitted any mistakes —  The Showman went looking for help from yet another country to help solidify the position which he hoped would become leader-for-life. He would withhold aid to Newkraine unless its leaders agreed to try to dig up some dirt on a political rival. He also abandoned longtime allies on the battlefield, leading top military leaders and even some of his own party supporters to criticize him.
     The opposition party, having gained some power in the Congress because of his erratic behavior, began a serious attempt to remove him from power, using the laws of the nation as their guide. In response, some of his followers in the citizenry threatened civil war were he to be removed. Leaders of an extreme religious cult, which had supported his every immoral act, warned of eternal damnation for those who would dare to try to remove him from office. After all, he had been sent by God.
    All the while, he lied, as did his closest aides, often contradicting themselves and compromising him in the process. To them it didn’t matter. Until of course it did. To him. He fired those who couldn’t keep up with his lies and managed to find others willing to try. He called those who criticized him or were testifying against him “scum.“
     By this point, even most of the citizens of The Promised Land had grown weary of The Showman and wary of what he might do next as commander-in-chief with an arsenal of nuclear weapons.
     What he did was order his loyal supporters among congressional delegates to storm the private, top security hearing in which an official investigation was being conducted into his efforts to extort help from Newkraine for his political purposes. They were ineffectual, but to him it didn’t matter. They had served a purpose. These lawmakers were demonstrating that the law didn’t matter, just as he had been insisting on a daily basis that the truth didn’t matter. “The press is the enemy of the people,“ was his motto. 
     In the end, only he mattered. More to the point, he knew full well, only the next season mattered. Could his show survive for another season? That was the overriding question, not global warming or terrorism. He knew from his reality TV experience that the best way to guarantee success was to foment friction, create turmoil and drama, play to people‘s fears and biases, do the unexpected. Create suspense. Make people long for a hero who would just make it all stop.
       “Make me leader again,“ he would say. The people of The Promised Land would cheer. His contract would be renewed for another season. Reality. He knew that from the beginning. They should have known, too.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A life without bacon? Not impossible

By Bob Gaydos
    
   “You don’t eat bacon!?”
      The look of incredulity on the speaker’s face matched the tone in his voice.
       “No,” I replied. “I don’t.”
        End of conversation. At least the out-loud part.
       “What, are you a commie? Un-American? A vegan!?” I said silently to myself, imagining I could read his mind.
       Then, out loud again, “I don’t eat red meat either.”
       “Yeah, my doctor told me I shouldn’t either,” Mr. Incredulous offered. “Not good for my heart.”
        I nodded knowingly.
        He went back to his slice of Buffalo chicken/bacon/ranch pizza and I dove into my taco salad (with grilled chicken). By looks of the size of the guy and his relatively young age, I surmised his doctor was probably right. But not for me to say, at least under the circumstances (in public, others at the table and none of my business).
        I don’t go around making a big deal about what I eat and try not to comment on what others eat, or should eat. But I notice. I notice that a lot of Americans seem to have  difficulty making the connection between how they eat — what they eat, more than how much — and their general well-being:
       — “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t eat so much sugar, but I love cookies and candy and cake and soda …” 
       — “I’ll have a bacon cheeseburger deluxe, but leave off the lettuce and tomato. No pickle, but I’ll take the fries.”
       — “Diet Coke, please.”
       — “I hate salad.”
      And of course, there’s an out-of-shape, orange-skinned septuagenarian in the Oval Office who lives on burgers, fries, fried chicken, steak and ice cream. He has also effectively disbanded the President’s Council on Fitness and ended Michelle Obama’s Healthy Hunger-free school lunch program.
     So what the heck, if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for us, a lot of Americans have apparently decided. Man or woman cannot live on kale alone, right?
      Right. But man or woman is likely to live a longer, healthier life if a few greens and assorted vegetables were a more common part of their diet. The chief rap on bacon and red meats, healthwise, is that they’re loaded with saturated fats, which are linked to cancer, heart disease and stroke. That’s why the doctor told Mr. Incredulous to lay off the bacon.
      But a lot of people (myself included) don’t like to be told to do what’s ultimately good for them. In fact, they will often do the opposite. There’s a lot of that going around these days in this age of anti-science and constant accusations of “fake news.” Willful ignorance is now brandished the way a gold star from the teacher used to be.
       So how do you get people to do what’s good for them (and also, by the way, the planet)? How do you convince people to occasionally eat more healthful food when they are hooked on beef, bacon and burgers?
       Well, maybe you figure out a way to blend a bunch of plants together and make them look and taste like a beef burger.
        Welcome to the Impossible Burger, now available at Burger King. Or the PLT Burger from Beyond Meat, about to get a test run from McDonald’s.
       What’s different about these and other new, plant-based burgers that are causing a stir in fast-food lines as well as the stock market apparently is that — unlike the well-meaning veggie burgers that have been around for years — these Whoppers and Not a Burgers actually look and taste like beef burgers. Juice and all. But they’re vegan. No animal byproducts at all.
      I’m thus far unable to provide a personal review of one of these plant-based burgers because I haven’t found a place serving one yet. When I do, I will.
       But it is worth pointing out that the plant-based burgers themselves, even if they turn out to be juicy and yummy are themselves a mixed bag, health-wise. For starters, they have been heavily processed to attain the desired taste and texture and the jury is out on the health effects of a lot of the additives. Also, they can be high on calories and tend to be heavy on salt, which is definitely not a health benefit. They also have less protein than animal-based burgers and, while they contain no cholesterol and have added some vital nutrients, they may have some saturated fats from coconut.
      In other words, the jury’s still out.
      So why bother? For one thing, eating even a little less red meat is good for one’s health. For another, relying more on plants, less on animals, for food, is good for the planet. Livestock farming is a major contributor to global warming (greenhouse gasses, ammonia) and a major consumer of water and user of land. People who believe in science think global warming is the major issue of our time. (As we know, the Oval Office burger-muncher is not a science believer.) And for some, there is the benefit of knowing that no animals lost their lives so they could enjoy lunch.
        I’m no purist in this area. As I said, my taco salad was topped with chicken. I also eat seafood, including sushi. But I don’t run from salads, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and love non-dairy frozen desserts as well as frozen yogurt. My favorite non-beef burger thus far has been a black bean burger. Delicious, especially with sweet potato fries.
      I guess my point, which I wrote about several years ago when a doctor told me it would behoove me to cut down on the sweets, salt and red meat, is that it is entirely possible to enjoy eating and also enjoy good health. Take fewer meds. I tried to follow the doctor’s suggestion. She said most don’t. Insurance companies have reaped the benefits. Medical costs have soared.
      I still do the best I can. Lost a bunch of weight and I am in pretty good health for an old curmudgeon. No meds. Wear a size 36 belt. I don’t feel deprived because I avoid bacon. Oh, in a weak moment, I might actually grab a piece. I haven’t yet, but that’s all it would be. A piece. It’s all about balance. Given my usual diet, it won’t kill me to have a slice of bacon. Then again, between you and me, it wouldn’t kill Mr. Incredulous to try a nice Greek Salad once in awhile. Or at least an Impossible Burger.
      
rjgaydos@gmail.com

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

One addiction at a time? Not necessarily

Addiction and Recovery


By Bob Gaydos
      Once upon a time, not that long ago, you used to be able to find an AA meeting by looking for a church with a cluster of people standing outside and smoking. That’s still possible, but the clusters have grown smaller. More significantly, as people in recovery joined much of the rest of society in quitting smoking, the air in the meeting rooms cleared up and ash trays disappeared from the tables.
      But it wasn’t easy. Many people in recovery say snuffing the cigarettes was much harder than putting down the drink or the drug. Until recently, that belief, supported by research, meant recovery programs focused solely on the alcohol addiction and left the nicotine addiction to be addressed at a later time, if the person so desired. It was too hard to do both at the same time, the thinking went, and the primary goal was to address the substance abuse.
      This, even though statistics showed that: 1. more than 80 percent of clients in rehab were smokers; 2. people with addictions to alcohol (or other drugs) were significantly more likely to be smokers than those without an alcohol abuse disorder (17 percent of adults); and 3. people who have been treated for alcohol problems were more likely to die of health issues related to tobacco than to alcohol, since they have a higher risk of heart disease and cancer than non-smokers. Also, non-smokers in recovery live longer than smokers in recovery.
      Time and research have changed the treat-one-addiction-at-a-time philosophy, at least to the extent that more rehabs are now offering stop-smoking programs as well as traditional alcohol/drugs programs. This may have something to do with the fact that surveys have shown that a sizable majority of smokers in treatment for alcohol or drug addiction say they also want to quit smoking and that they think it is better to do so within six months of stopping drinking or using drugs rather than waiting until later.
      A primary motivator for quitting smoking early in recovery from alcohol abuse is the strong connection between smoking and drinking. For many alcoholics, the two activities went hand-in-hand. In direct contradiction to previous thinking which said quitting smoking would make it harder for people new to recovery to stay sober, some treatment specialists today say that continuing to smoke while not drinking can be a strong trigger for relapse. Nicotine stimulates the brain’s pleasure receptors, feeding the “need” for more.
      No one says it’s easy to quit smoking and drinking at the same time, but it’s often suggested to use the motivation and strategies used to stop drinking to also stop smoking. That means, for certain, not trying to do it on one’s own, but rather, being open to a variety of help from behavioral therapists to nicotine replacement therapies, to encouragement from friends and family, to online and in-person support from groups such as Nicotine Anonymous (https://www.nicotine-anonymous.org) and the American Lung Association (https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking).
       Ideally, recovery from alcohol or other drugs means adopting a healthier lifestyle including exercise, proper nutrition and emotionally or spiritually rewarding behaviors. Smoking doesn’t qualify.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com
  

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Smoking can lead to premature death


Addiction and Recovery


By Bob Gaydos

“The cigarette is a very efficient and highly engineered drug-delivery system.”
      The sentence appears on the web site of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. With its sheer bluntness, it says all you need to know about why more than 50 million Americans smoked a cigarette last month despite massive campaigns detailing the health risks of smoking, despite the fact that many of those risks are printed right on the cigarette pack, despite restrictions on smoking in public areas, and even despite the increasingly high cost of smoking because of taxes placed on tobacco products.
     Nicotine delivers endorphins, euphoria, dopamine to the brain with each puff on the cigarette. A pack a day is about 200 “hits” of good feeling. Stop puffing, it goes away. The brain doesn’t like the change in mood. Withdrawal can be unpleasant.
     “Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, and smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States.”
    That sentence also appears on the NIDA web site (www.drugabuse.gov) and the two statements taken together are why it’s important not to ignore the addiction health threats staring us in the face — or assaulting the senses of non-smokers — amidst the daily serving of headlines on drunk drivers and drug overdoses. 
    Nearly half a million deaths annually are still attributed to smoking and, despite significant progress in reducing the number of smokers, according to NIDA, “if current smoking rates continue, 5.6 million Americans who are currently younger than 18 will die prematurely from smoking-related disease.”
    Nicotine is addictive. Smoking kills people before their time. 
And yes, a lot of people have gotten the message. Surveys show smoking rates for people 18 and older continue to go down and the rate of smoking among those under 18 is at historically low levels. That latter is key because tobacco is often the first substance adolescents use to emulate adults and often leads to other substance use disorders. Research also suggests that nicotine has a strong impact on still-developing adolescent brains, making it more difficult for those who want to quit when they are older. And nearly everyone who smokes has tried to quit. Some succeed. Some have a hard time.
   The jury is still out on e-cigarettes as a replacement for cigarettes. They remove the chemicals that, when burned, are responsible for the various health risks attribute to cigarettes, leaving vapers to go for the nicotine rush. But some research suggests other possible risks, especially for young users, so it’s buyer beware.
    Significantly, for the focus of this column, research shows a strong connection between smoking and persons with alcohol or other substance dependence and a prevalence of smoking (65 to 85 percent) among persons in treatment for all substance use disorders. Addictions often go together, but quitting one doesn’t always mean quitting others is easier. The next column will report on what some people with alcohol or other substance use disorders have experienced as they tried to quit smoking.

Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I finally got to Woodstock. Peace.

By Bob Gaydos
Turning on the lights at the Woodstock 50 celebration.
Turning on the lights at the Woodstock 50 celebration.
By the time I got to Woodstock, I was 78 years old and walking with a cane. I fit right in.
And it was fun.
Unlike the ill-fated Woodstock 50 concert that was apparently planned with the same “whatever-I-think-of-next” model Michael Lang used 50 years ago, the Woodstock 50 celebration at Bethel Woods, site of the original festival in 1969, was a well-organized, enjoyable tribute that attracted fans of all ages, although it definitely trended geriatric. The gray-haired easily outnumbered the tie-dyed, although some were both.
I missed the original festival of peace and love, even though I was within striking distance, working as city editor for The Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton at the time. It was about an hours’ drive away and I’ve kind of regretted the missed opportunity as the Woodstock mystique grew. As I vaguely recall, we didn’t think it was worth the time (and money) to send someone to a hippie fest on a farm for three days.
Anyhow, the Middletown paper had it covered and, as the fates would have it, I wound up working for that paper (for 29 years), living and retiring in Sullivan County, not far from Bethel and Yasgur’s farm and available as an emergency fill-in for a friend with an extra ticket who called and said, “Want to see Santana at Bethel Saturday?”
Which is a run-on sentence on how I got to Woodstock.
I said yes. Honestly, not because I’m a big Santana fan, but because of the history and the quiet hope that it would be an event to remember in the spirit of the original. It was
The Doobie Brothers as an opening act did a great job of loosening the crowd of 15,000. Women danced, beach balls bounced, the Doobies rocked and everyone sang. The early rain stopped, the later lightning went away. No rain.
Also no arguing. No loud drunks. No fights. A faint aroma of pot from time to time. “A mellow Woodstock,” a tie-dyed Social Security recipient strolling by said to no in particular.
Which was what I was hoping for. We are not a mellow nation at the moment. Nor were we 50 years ago when nearly half a million mostly young, many stoned individuals brought traffic to a standstill, then enjoyed and eventually survived an utterly unprepared event thanks to the kindness of countless strangers. Peace and love.
It’s what Santana talked about when he come to the front of the stage to welcome the crowd: “Unconditional love. Compassion. Peace.”
3739CADA-6E0A-4831-BC48-EDE613FDD2A5That’s what this anniversary concert was about, he said, and in my mind I agreed with him that, at least that’s what this concert ought to be about.
He had only gotten a few bars into “Turn Your Lights On,” when the hillside came alive with thousands of swaying lights, as cell phones added a new dimension to the song, which for me had a message of hope for trying times: “There's a monster living under my bed, whispering in my ear.” But also: "There's an angel with a hand on my head. She says I've got nothing to fear.” I used to doubt angels. 
The moment was special, but it was his version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that cinched the deal for me:
“You may say that I'm a dreamer 
But I'm not the only one 
I hope someday you'll join us 
And the world will be as one ...”
The words came easily and knowingly from thousands of voices, young and old, across the Bethel landscape and I uttered a silent, “Please” to myself.
Santana rocked on quite a bit longer, there was more dancing and there were fireworks to seal the deal, but my (good!) friend and I left early, more than satisfied with Woodstock’s golden birthday. Many others came early and stayed late, also happy to have been there. The people who run Bethel Woods had the event planned to the smallest detail. Traffic control, the biggest concern, was no problem.
Also no anger. No fighting. No name-calling. Just music, dancing, singing, peace, love and respect for all, for one night at least, on a hillside in Upstate New York. Just what I hoped it would be. Sure, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I did finally get to Woodstock.
Bob Gaydos is a freelance writer. rjgaydos@gmail.com