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They left me at a gas station at first light, a gray dawning, six or eight inches of snow on the ground and more still coming down. I showed up oafish and unannounced at the Hickeys' home between eight and nine in the morning, four days before Christmas. They masked whatever annoyance they might have felt and greeted me affectionately.
All four daughters in the Hickey family were home for Christmas except the one who drew me there. She wasn't expected for another 24 hours or so. No matter. The other three were going ice skating that day, and so, now, was I. Most folks don't forget their first time on ice skates, and with good reason.
Sue did finally come home, and we had a lovely New England time that next day. It was brisk, and the sun was bright on the unmelting snow. She got over the surprise of my presence, commiserated with me about the Tower-of-Babel Christmas tree back home, and wondered what I would say to Bob Dylan, himself, when we met. After breakfast the next morning she drove me out to the highway, and I was soon up at the Masachusetts Turnpike in the company of a Goddard student driving a Volkswagen with skis strapped to the back.
He was on intersession, he told me. He was going somewhere to ski for six or eight weeks, for which he would get academic credit. We drove west toward New York and the Hudson, and, before he left me off at the Saugerties exit, I had seen groves of chalk-white paper birches for the first time.
A couple of artists, a man and a woman, in a dingy old Pontiac drove me from Saugerties to Woodstock. They said they were friends of Bob's, and suddenly everything felt very chummy. The artists called themselves Group Two-One-Two, after the route number of the Saugerties-Woodstock road. A few years later, when I was living on the Upper West Side in New York, I would see a notice in the Village Voice about a show they were having down in SoHo and meant to ramble down and take a look. But the notice would stay taped up on the refrigerator until well past the closing of their show, and I would never make the trip.
Group Two-One-Two's explanation of where exactly Bob Dylan lived was so convoluted that I stepped into a shop in downtown Woodstock, a bakery, and asked them. In moments I was tromping on out of town through a wood and up a hill toward something called "The Old Opera House." Dylan's driveway, the bakers said, was right across from it.
It was about 18 or 20 degrees in the middle of the afternoon, and I wasn't used to such cold. I didn't feel dressed for it, but I certainly looked like I was. I had on a Marine greatcoat from a surplus store south of Wake Forest, a slouch hat from a surplus store on Granby Street in Norfolk that I'd bought on my way to see Cool Hand Luke with my Virginia cousins, and a pair of snakeproof boots from Rawlins, Wyoming, that I'd bought on my way to be a cowboy in eastern Montana. (You, or your beneficiary, said the card in the boot box, got a thousand dollars if you died of snakebite while wearing the boots, providing the snake bit you through the boots.) All this was practical and, back home in North Carolina, warm winter wear, though my mother lamented that I looked like something from the Ninemiles -- a remote swamp in Onslow County down east. It hardly mattered here. In Woodstock everyone looked like something from the Ninemiles.
Without my even thumbing for it, someone offered me a ride, and there I was at The Old Opera House. There turned out to be six or eight driveways next to and across from the place, no names on the mailboxes, certainly no sign that said: "This way to Bob Dylan's house." I waited. About 20 minutes went by before a thin man in his 30s came striding up the paved road. He would have walked right past me, but I spoke up:
"Excuse me, do you know which one of these driveways goes to Bob Dylan's house?"
"This one." He pointed at the one he was starting down.
"Thanks." I fell in beside him, and we walked 50 yards or so before either of us spoke again.
"Is Bob, uh, expecting you?"
"Hunh. I don't know if it'll be cool for you to just. . .go up to his house."
That was discouraging, but what could I do? Go back to the bakery and telephone for an appointment? "I've come from North Carolina," I announced.