. . . at Alice’s Restaurant. The original restaurant under Alice’s name is long since gone, but the song that made Arlo Guthrie famous in the mid-1960’s is still a satisfying entree. All 18 1/2 minutes of it. It’s actually not a song but a funny, rambling monologue that’s clever satire and wry war protest laced with an irresistible chorus that will lodge itself in the back of your mind and stay there for days.
And it’s a true story. Or at least, as Hollywood might put it, based on true events. “Alice’s Restaurant” starts with Thanksgiving dinner at Alice’s home in a remodeled church in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, wanders off to an escapade of illegal garbage dumping, meanders through a court hearing with “8 x 10 color glossy photographs” of the evidence and a judge who is blind, and ends up with a draft physical where Arlo, with his conviction for littering, is relegated to the “Group W bench” with the other undesirables rejected for military service because of their criminal records.
A brief digression: Until recently the treasurer’s office was on the second floor of our county’s elegant old courthouse building. You could walk up the sweeping, curved marble staircase on either the right or the left side—not without a passing thought of Scarlett O’Hara in a ball gown—to get to the open hallway in front of the office. Opposite the service windows were two long wooden benches like church pews where you could sit while waiting in line to get your license plates or pay your property taxes. As the person at the end of the bench was called up to one of the windows, everyone in line would slide to the right. The benches had to be the most thoroughly polished pieces of furniture in Pennington County.
Once, when it was my turn at the window, I told the clerk I always thought of the waiting line as the “Group W bench.” He was a man about my age; I didn’t have to explain the reference.
Though I wore my hair long and straight and appliqued more than one heart-shaped patch onto more than one pair of bellbottoms, I was never a hippie. I did not protest the Viet Nam War. The only college building I ever occupied was my dorm. I never participated in a sit-in, a love-in, or a be-in. The only mood-altering plant substances that have ever passed my lips are coffee and chocolate.
But I loved the irony and humor of “Alice’s Restaurant.” Still do, actually.
So I was pleased—at first—to see a news item this week announcing a new tour by Arlo Guthrie. He looked good in the accompanying photo, quite familiar in a cowboy hat with his curly hair flowing past his shoulders. It was a bit disturbing to note that the hair was white. The real distress came, however, when I read the full article. This tour is to celebrate the anniversary of “Alice’s Restaurant.”
The 50th anniversary.
Apparently, you can still get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant. You just have to order it off the senior menu.