Derek Gentile: Still a good story a half-century later


PITTSFIELD>> Arlomania continues to grip the Berkshires in the wake of Arlo Guthrie's garbage-dumping adventure a half-century ago that he immortalized in song.

A post of the original story that ran in The Eagle 50 years ago ran on our Facebook page and garnered almost 900,000 views. The Boston Globe recently ran a story, saying "Alice's Restaurant was real, and The Berkshire Eagle covered it." That online post had 100,000 views as of a day ago.

So let me add a few more things you didn't know.

Rick Robbins is the "other" guy in Arlo's song. He's been a friend of mine for years, and he's as nice a guy as you'd want to meet. And 50 years ago on Thanksgiving, he and Arlo were at the home of Ray and Alice Brock (which is now the Guthrie Center), enjoying a fine Thanksgiving dinner.

Guthrie and Robbins are still friends. On this most recent Thanksgiving, he and his wife attended Guthrie's community Thanksgiving dinner at the Guthrie Center. They had a good time reminiscing, said Robbins.

Back to our story. After Thanksgiving dinner, the two young men offered to transport the Brock's garbage to the Great Barrington town dump. And, of course, the dump was closed on Thanksgiving. This we all know.

"We got to the dump and it was closed," recalled Robbins. "So we drove around for a little while and then Arlo said, 'I know a place.' And we headed toward Stockbridge."

So, Robbins was asked, what did he say?

"Nothing," said Robbins. "Arlo was driving."

The alternative site was adjacent to the former Indian School in Stockbridge on Prospect Hill Road. Guthrie had been a student there a few years before.

Just up the road from the school was an old foundation hole for a house. The house was gone, the hole remained. There was a fair-sized pile of debris in the foundation hole already. Guthrie stopped the van and the two got out.

The point Robbins wanted to make 50 years later was that this act of dumping garbage in the foundation hole was clearly a fairly routine event in the town.

"We did not do it clandestinely," he said. "We didn't sneak around. It was out in the open."

After completing their task, the two returned to Brock's house and the next morning, as the song notes, they were contacted by Stockbridge Police Chief Bill Obanhein about their potential involvement in the dumping of garbage in Stockbridge.

Obanhein was satisfied the two had committed the crime. They were tossed into a cell in the Stockridge police station. Brock eventually bailed them out, but they had to report to Lee District Court for sentencing.

The sentence, Robbins said, was speedy.

"The judge heard the case and we were fined," he said. "It was that quick."

The fine was $25 for littering.

"Being tossed in jail for littering," said Robbins. "Well, it's all water under the bridge now, but if you ask me, it was a little over the top. I mean, jail time for that?"

But, of course, that criminal conviction kept Guthrie out of the draft. And as Robbins admits, it's still a pretty good story, a half-century later.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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