The Running of the Hippies

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RUNNING OF THE HIPPIES

I sit in a café, pouring whiskey from a flask into my coffee to keep my nerves straight. Across the room sits a beautiful young woman, early twenties, Mediterranean skin, sundress, sandals, neon peach toenails. She is reading a magazine. She’s already smiled at me twice, but I’m not here for romance. I pay the waiter and leave.

Fluffy white clouds roll across the afternoon sky, and I can see a billowing tower of precipitation forming, glowing in the sunlight, the eruption of Mount Cocaine. I breathe the humid air and can smell the sea. I light a cigarette and walk with slow, measured steps. People already fill the streets, drinking wine straight from the bottle, dancing, and singing festively. I can’t speak their language, and I don’t know anybody on this side of the world. I’ve never done anything like this.

Bracken did it two years ago, and came home with a different look in his eye, like he glimpsed some type of eternal truth. He starting moving up in his career. Women were immediately drawn to Bracken, who I figured would die a virgin. He met his wife. He claimed the run changed his life, and I really need a life change right about now.

I take another drink of whiskey from my flask. I can’t drink my last wife off of my mind. Number two, and here I am, thirty eight, unemployed, divorced again. I spent everything I had on the plane ticket to get me here, and I have nothing and nobody to come home to except Bracken, who I rarely see because he’s so happily fucking married. I wonder what my third and fourth wives will be like. I wonder if I will still be alive this time tomorrow.

The further I walk, the closer I get to the downtown area, the plaza where the gates are at. The crowd becomes more dense and festive. I can’t hear myself think, which is fine. I wish I didn’t have memories. I wish I didn’t have to drink to get over the women who left me because I drink too much. I pull out my flask again, take another hit for balance, then push my way to the gateside area.

I have second thoughts. People have been trampled to death before, but Bracken, who got a broken rib when he was here, claims that it’s worth the gamble. But I’m not a good gambler. I always lose. With relationships and money, I blow it all in the beginning. Win a few rounds, get cocky, then lose and have to learn how to bluff all over again.

I light a cigarette and grab a rail, pull myself to the very front and onto the street where the stampede will take place. Several people are standing in front of the gates, stretching their limbs and preparing for the charge. These are the brave ones because most injuries and deaths happen in the first few minutes after the gates open.  Bracken advised me to jump in after the initial surge. I light another cigarette. My heart is racing. I know that I shouldn’t drink anymore whiskey today, but that’s never stopped me before. I drink the rest of my whiskey and put the empty flask back into my pocket.

The sun is hot, and sweat stings my eyes. I hear thunder behind me. I can’t chicken out. I won’t be able to face Bracken if I go home without running. I won’t be able to face myself.

Two men in padded uniforms and helmets approach the gates, which swell against the force behind them, and colorfully dressed men and women stand in nearby bleachers, strumming guitars, singing, playing trumpets. The air is thick with humidity and the stench of body odor. Tension peaks as the two men in padded uniforms unlock the great wooden gate. They jump out of the way as the gates swing open and a horde of barefoot, dreadlocked, tie-dyed hippies charge, a cloud of potsmoke and patchouli trailing behind. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, wide-eyed hippies, their nostrils in full flare, glorious colorfully braided hair weaves bouncing off their shoulders, some of them handrolling cigarettes as they run, others beating on hand drums, trampling every fallen body, decimating everything in their path. I dodge a hackee-sack hurled from the epicenter of the stampede.  My stomach is in my throat, but I know what I have to do. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, jump the rail, and run for my very life.

First Published in The Angler (Issue 3, December 2009)

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