Half A Million Strong – Short Story by Charlie Chin

By Charlie Chin. Posted February 13, 2024.

   It’s not easy to fall asleep in the mud.  But it can happen if you’ve been high for two days on marijuana and tequila.  When I rolled over, my clothes made a slushy sound, and it woke Danny Chang.  We were lying in some farmer’s corn field. Danny had fallen asleep right next to me.  We were both covered in mud and slime, but we didn’t care.    We had drove as close as we could to the festival site and then ditched the V W on the road.  The old machine had seen better days.   It looked like everything on the highway in front of us was just a parking lot of abandoned cars and vans.  We joined the others on foot and formed a line of long-haired hippies, Pad Burners, and Flower Children as we made our way up to the festival site.  Danny had some weed, a couple cans of tuna, some bananas, and a bunch of donuts in a big paper bag.

Photo by Seongjoon Yoon.

    Some of the others on the road were confused.  I had to explain to them that it wasn’t the actual town of Woodstock that we were headed to.  The town of Woodstock is just a quiet little artist colony.  The things were going to happen at the farm of a guy named Yager.  Didn’t matter, even if you weren’t sure where it was, all you had to do was follow the crowds of people wearing tie-dyed tee shirts and sandals and you would find your way there.  And everybody who was going knew it was going to be “far out.”

     Danny Chang was kind of glum.  He wanted Janey Takata, his special girl, to come with us but when she told her family she wanted to come with us up to Woodstock, her family told her it was crazy, that she would get hurt or worse.  They did everything they could to prevent her from coming.  When she muttered something about running away and they got all freaked out.   They warned her that they would call in some “head shrinkers” that would say she had lost her mind and then have her locked up in an institution.

      We traded some of the donuts we had for a canteen of water with some people in fringe leather shirts who came from a yoga center in New Jersey.  They were nice and invited us to join them at their campsite by the side of the road.  One of them, a guy called “Scooter”, pulled out a Gibson 12 string and played “Michael row the boat a shore” and we all sang along.  A woman about my age with long hair and wearing a wrap-around skirt made from an Indian bed sheet did a little dance to the music.  I got up and joined her and we kind of made up a hokey pokey step based on the rhythm of the guitar.  As we danced our eyes locked more than a few times and when Scooter took a break the woman asked me for my name.

     “I’m Bill, Bill Fong.”

      “Oh wow, are you like an Oriental?”

     “Yeah, but I was born in America.”  She smiled.

     “You can call me Summer Rain.”    We walked a little way from the group and lay down on the ground next to the big, renovated bus they used to get there.  It was very cool.  They had painted peace signs and bright daisies all over the sides.  As the sun went down, ‘Summer” brought out a blanket she found, and we lay down.  She snuggled up to me, I gave her a big hug, and then we kissed a little.  A tall guy named Neil had a gallon jug of cheap wine labeled “Pride of Cucamonga.”  We used it to wash down the fat joints that Scooter had just rolled and let me tell you, it was like heaven on earth.  A guy named “Easy,” began to talk about how if all the people in the world just got together and got rid of our “Hang ups,” there would be no more wars, and then all the people on the earth would live in peace.

   “Summer Rain” and I lay there in the grass and stared at the clear night sky.  We laughed and giggled for over an hour about how the moon might really be made of cheese. When we became too tired to laugh anymore, we drifted off to sleep.

    The next morning, I woke up and “Summer Rain” gave me a long goodbye kiss and some groovy Love Beads she had made herself.  I was hesitant to leave, but Danny said,

    “Hey man, come on, we gotta to go.  I don’t want to miss anything that happens.”  I said goodbye to “Summer Rain” and promised if I ever passed through New Jersey, to look her up. Danny and I rolled up our sleeping bags and headed to the road, some of the others stayed behind, something about one of the other chicks having trouble with a bum hip.  A guy with them said he was a massage therapist and claimed he knew what to do.  As we got further away, the group stood up and waved goodbye and I could hear their drum circle starting to play a farewell rhythm and they sang, “Will the circle be unbroken.”   We waved back to them and made our way further north.  As we walked, I kept looking back over my shoulder, wondering if we should have stayed, but Danny said we had to keep moving.

Photo by John Doumis.

     As we walked the crowds of people on the road around us got thicker.  There were folks from all over the country.  There were smiles, peace signs, and jugs of cheap wine that were passed around.  It seemed like the whole world was heading in the same direction.  I saw people of all different colors, women walking around bare chested, and some guys wearing no clothes at all.

       About an hour later I could see that there were cop car flashing lights of red and blue on the road ahead of us.   Danny motioned for me to slip off the side of the road before they saw us.  I hunkered down behind some bushes, and I could see that they were questioning everybody on the road.  We made our way through the wooded area.  I got a nasty cut from the broken end of a fallen tree branch, but we kept quiet and moved as softly as we could.

     We had almost passed them when one cop looked up and saw us trying to get through the brambles and the underbrush.  He called us over.  Danny looked at me.  The paper bag he was carrying had some dynamite weed and hash in it.  He couldn’t drop it or throw it away; because the cop was watching too closely, Danny decided to bluff it out.  We walked up to the police officers and asked,

“What’s the problem?”  A burly guy with no neck looked us up and down and asked the question we feared,

    “What’s in the bag?”  I thought we were toast, but Danny came through.  He opened the top of the bag, reached in and pulled out a donut.  He took a bite and then offered the rest of the donut to the cop.

    “Donuts and tuna fish.  Want a donut?”  The cop had a look of disgust when he saw Danny eating the donut and getting the crumbs all over the front of his “Make love, not war” tee shirt.   The cop waved his hand towards the road, and said,

     “No thanks, get back on the road.  If you wander around in the woods, you’ll get lost.”  Danny smiled as he mouthed the last of the greasy donut and wrapped up the paper bag again.  The cop had never looked in the bag and we breathed a sigh of relief.  We stepped back on to the road and headed north.

    By the time we reached Woodstock, or at least the road leading up to it, the roadway was filled with people.  There must have been a thousand people just where we were.  A guy with no shirt and shoulder length hair came running down the line shouting,

     “They’re sold out of tickets.  No more people can get in.  They want us to turn around!”  A bare foot woman with a garland of flowers in her hair began to shout,

     “No, no.  What a bummer man.  We’re not going back. We don’t need any tickets. Come on everybody, let’s push down the fence.”  Others started to shout the same thing and it became a chant.   Then all the people on the road began to push on the metal wire fence around the site.  In just a few minutes they had a rhythm going and the fence was rocking back and forth and then with a loud metal groan, the fence finally began to give way.   When it fell, there were shouts and people pushed and trampled each other to get into the festival grounds.  It was pure pandemonium.

     We got caught up in the stampede and Danny got knocked down.  I tried to reach him, but other people kept getting in the way.  He tried to cover his head with his arms, but a lot of people were pushing from behind and they all ended up stepping on him.  When I finally got to Danny, he was pretty bloodied up.  I dragged him over to the side of the road and looked at his head.  There was a cut on his forehead, the length of my finger, and the bleeding was profuse.  I took off my shirt and ripped off a piece to form a bandage.  Danny kept saying he was O.K. but the bleeding didn’t seem to stop.

       Suddenly a guy in a white jacket appeared from out of nowhere and came running over.  He shouted out loud,

     “Hey dudes, how bad is it?” Danny tried to sit up, I offered,

     “Just a head wound, he’ll be able to continue.”  The guy shook his head and put down the medical bag he was carrying.

     “You guys shouldn’t be out here in the middle of nowhere.”

    I didn’t say anything, and Danny made a weak effort to try and stand up again.  The guy frowned and shook his head.

     “You don’t know what you’re doing.  What if you got hyperthermia or fell and cracked a femur?”

      Danny groaned and rolled backwards, and I realized he was hurt worse than I thought.  When the guy in the white jacket saw him collapse, he grabbed Danny’s wrist, took his pulse and shouted into his phone,

    “I got one down, he’s having a cardiac episode.  South wall.  Get a gurney here right now.”

     The man loosened Danny’s collar and raised his head.  The medic said to nobody in particular,

    “Every year these old-timers and geezers try to come to the Woodstock Festival Revival and every year somebody gets hurt. “

     Maybe the Ambulance paramedic was right, this was the 50th Woodstock re-enactor’s festival.  Janey Takata should have been with us but when she sneaked out of the Senior Care facility, both of her granddaughters drove around until they found her at the bus stop and made her come back.  They told her it was just too dangerous a trip for a 76-year-old woman with onset dementia to go on, but she muttered she’d do it again next year.  I was worried about Danny, but he didn’t care.  He was smiling and made a peace sign with his fingers as they put him in the back of the ambulance.  You see, when were roommates back in college, Danny and I made a promise to one day make this trip again.   After he retired and then had his second heart attack, Danny said it was time.  It was always Danny’s dream that when he died, it would be where he had spent the three happiest days of his life.

-end-

Author’s Bio:  Charlie Chin is an author, singer/songwriter, and master storyteller. He served as the Community Education Director at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City and as Artist-in-Residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco. He is the author of several children’s books, including China’s Bravest Girl (1992) and Clever Bird (1996).

Featured Photo:

Photo by Bill Eppridge.

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