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The Kristofferson-John Wayne hybrid mentioned earlier, having long ago finished blessing the ridership, now pipes up after watching me in my element.
"You the best of the best, brutha," he rumbles. "You're pretty good, brutha." Puuurty guhd. "The best of the best! You're pretty darn good…."
It's nice to hear at first, but the guy won't let up. I guess I should be grateful.
"You're gonna jinx it, Larry!" I reply. One of my favorite sleepers, Liz, stirs awake at Larry's low-frequency voice and its ceaseless adulations.
"Best of the worst, more like," she groans in mock displeasure. "This guy he love you. Have to invite him to your wedding!"
And so begins another of our epic bantering sessions. I love her Jamaican accent.
"What wedding is that?" I ask.
"When you get married! You have to invite all of us!"
"I didn't know I was getting married!"
"Of course you are, Nathan!"
"You know, that's actually something I think about. If I ever was to get married, I would invite all the passengers. Free food!"
"And free booze!"
"THEN they'll come! No one cares about food!"
"Yeah, nobody wants food," she laughs. "They just want booze. Except me, I want a soda."
"Yeah, I don't drink booze."
"Gimme some orange juice, I'm good."
"Wait," I say. "Who am I marrying?"
"Oh yeah? Do I know her?"
She cackles. "Yeah! You're gonna meet her on the bus."
"I'm so glad to be learning this information!" I quip. "Is she a bus driver?"
"What? No. Nathan. She's an office girl."
"An office girl!?"
"She works nine to five!"
"Nine to five, wow. One of those. Oh I get it, and I'll meet her on her way from work."
"No, she's at home right now. It's too late for her. She doesn't ride the bus this late. She's a good girl."
"Oh that's good. I'm glad I'm marrying a good girl."
"I'm just looking out for you, Nathan. Yes, invite everyone."
"Oh, I will, believe me! I especially have to invite you, since you know everything about me!"
"It'll be you and me, Liz, drinkin' some lemonade, and everyone else fallin' down drunk!"
We continue drifting deeper into the southlands. Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I greet an incoming passenger with, "Happy Sunday!"
He frowns. "Happy Sunday? Da fuck?"
"I'm just tryna keep it light, keep it positive, you know! Gotta do what we can, right?"
He sees something in me he responds to– truthfulness perhaps, or experience. He comes around. "Das whussup!"
This guy's the love child of Kawhi Leonard and Keegan-Michael Key. At the end of the line he asks, "when do you go back?"
"We're gonna park it here, mother nature's callin' me! I apologize!"
For some reason my verbalizing my bathroom needs compels him to proclaim, "you got GAME, bro! Don't gotta apologize for nothin'! You cool, light-hearted!"
Feel the enthusiasm, so rich in the air. Where does it come from? To what degree did we build it ourselves? I watch him and a young white man come together in search for his missing Mike and Ike's, connecting over Redman and Method Man. I can't catch all of their conversation, but I can feel its goodness.
Two young men got on, angry with each other. That was half an hour ago. But look at them now, standing up in the back to shake hands, coming together in a handshake hug. They bound out together, white teeth glowing.
Liz looks at Larry. She asks, "so what happened to your face?"
"Oh, I, uh. I fell down some stairs."
"Oh yeah? Nobody beat you up?"
"No, I just fell. But it's still funny."
"You got a great attitude!" I say. He's chuckling. I could learn from this man.
Liz responds, "it looks like it hurt!"
"Yeah. But it's good."
"Well, that's good," Liz answers. "Did you cry? Did you cry one little tiny tear?"
"It's okay to cry!"
"I'm a tough guy!"
"Tough guys can cry too!"
"I'm a tough guy."
"You're a tough cookie!"
"But my heart hurt a tiny little bit."
It's okay to cry, John Wayne. We know you're human too.
A randy octogenarian stares at me from outside, inhaling for a howl. "You are CUTE," he roars.
The night carried on, effervescent, moment to moment, making as much or as little sense as it needed to. I didn't want to be anywhere else.
Friends! I'll be featured on next week's episode of Bare Naked Bravery, a podcast "hosted by Emily Ann Peterson exposing the threads of heroism behind the stories and people we love most..." Eep! Stay tuned!