I noticed the sign while we were waiting for the bus. It said “Tell Us Your Story.” It said something about a website where you could share stories of funny situations you had encountered while riding the city’s public transportation. I thought that was clever. A little cliche, but still sort of clever. Public transportation usually makes for interesting situations. I thought about all of the times I had taken the trains and subways in New York. More often than not I had some kind of silly story to tell at the end of each ride. I wondered if Baltimore would offer me the same.
Not long after I read the sign, I turned my head and happened to notice a peculiar man standing at the other end of the bus stop. To be fair, it was hard not to notice to him. He had brightly colored, turquoise hair. It was short, but it was tied up into several small sections that sat on the top of his head, sticking up like miniature horns. He had a short scruffy beard and his face was painted with smudged blue and white paint. His clothing was equally as loud. He wore a red t-shirt under a black pin striped blazer, a red and black, plaid kilt, and Sperry boat shoes with ankle high, patterned socks. To top off his ensemble, he slung a tapestry like blanket across his shoulders. I overheard him saying something about wanting to dance. It was the middle of the day on a Sunday and he wanted to go someplace where he could dance. Like I said, it was hard not to notice him. I thought he could be a character in a book. I could make up a million stories just based on his appearance.
The air was extremely humid that day. The sun was beating down hard. When the bus finally arrived, the embrace of the cool air from the AC was a much welcomed relief from the sticky heat. Kevin and I sat in a block of four seats towards the back of the bus. They were arranged into two rows that faced each other. Not long after we sat down, the turquoise-haired man walked onto the bus accompanied by two friends and enthusiastically flung his body into one of seats directly across from us. He acted as though he had known us all his life.
One of his friends was a short, plump blonde girl. She was wearing a breezy, white dress and a long white overcoat. It looked like she had been flustered and sweating because her hair was frizzy and her makeup was messy and smudged. His other friend was a skinny, curly-haired guy. He wore baggy jeans, an over-sized t-shirt, and dark, athletic-looking sunglasses. The girl sat down in the row of seats across the aisle. “Dude! Sit down! Right here next to me” the turquoise-haired man said to the curly-haired friend while he patted the seat next to him. “Nah, I’m good standing,” he replied. He nonchalantly grabbed onto the bus pole and stood next to the girl.
“And how are you guys doing today?” he exclaimed as he turned towards us. He had an overwhelming energy about him. “Pretty good!” I smiled at him. “Not bad, not bad.” Kevin said. “Where are you guys headed to?” Kevin asked the three strangers. “Oh, We’re going to Gay Street. You know Gay Street, right?” he asked. “Yep, of course,” Kevin replied, half laughing. “Gay Street. That’s the road you told me about that has all of the crazy bars and strip clubs, right?” I turned my head to direct my question towards Kevin. “Yeah,” he nodded. “Cool,” I said to the turquoise-haired man. “Mhm, Gay Street. Have you ever been there before?” he asked me. “Nope. I’m not from around here,” I told him. “Just visiting. But I heard about it last night.”
“Woah! This bus’s hydraulics are off the hook. I love hydraulics,” the blonde girl blurted out suddenly when the bus stopped at a red light. Then the turquoise-haired main said, “I know! Oh my gosh! My bus is going to have the most insane hydraulics. That is, when I get a bus.” He turned to the curly-haired friend. “Right, dude? When we get our bus we’re just going to tour around the country and do awesome things.” He nodded. “Yeah man, totally.”
“Dude, it costs $2,342 a day to run a tour bus. I know because one time I rented one for a party. It was sick,” the blond girl said. I thought that seemed like a lot of money to run a bus for just one day. I didn’t believe her. I thought she was probably just saying things to say things. When she was done rambling, Kevin and the turquoise-haired man got to talking about some bar. I listened. It was called The Red Maple. The turquoise-haired man said that every Monday night he hosted an event for artists and musicians there. They kept talking and talking. I didn’t have much to say, but I was sort of glad that I could just sit and listen, because I wanted to remember the story. Not because I was going to write it on that website I had seen on the sign. I had actually forgotten about that. It was mostly just because one of my favorite things in the whole entire world is unexpected encounters with interesting people.
The turquoise-haired man told us more about his life. He said he went to college for a year or two but then dropped out. “It was so constricting! I hated it,” he exclaimed, shaking his hands in the air. He said that after he dropped out he just started moving around from city to city. “So do you just couch surf around?” Kevin asked him. “Nah dude. I’m never like calling up a friend to be like, ‘Hey could I come sleep on your couch?’ I call up my friends and ask them to hang out. And yeah, afterwards I usually end up sleeping on their couch, or like, even the floor. I don’t need a couch. I’ll sleep anywhere.” he said. “But no, when I’m calling up my friends, I’m like ‘Let’s hang out!’” He was really into music and art. He said that he was working on creating different ways to help struggling artists. That’s what his event on Monday nights was about.
Eventually he said, “Well hey, listen, were about to get off at the next stop but do you have a pen and paper? I’ll write down my name and you can look me up on Facebook.” I couldn’t believe he used Facebook. There is a very small population of people left in the world who don’t use Facebook, for some reason, I was expecting him to be one of them. “I’d love to see you at our show tomorrow night. Bring whoever you want. Anyone can perform. It’s always a good time.”
“I don’t have anything to write with, but I’ll probably end up heading down there tomorrow night. I have a bunch of friends who will probably want to come,” Kevin said. “Dude, awesome! I still want to write down my name though, so you can look me up.” He turned to his blond-haired friend, “Do you have a pen and paper?”
“I totally do. I’m always prepared,” she said. She reached into her bag and pulled out a notebook and a red sharpie. She handed it to the turquoise-haired man. “Aww, sweet.” He wrote down his name and handed the paper to Kevin. “Look me up on Facebook. This is our stop. It was awesome talking to you. Have a good one, you guys,” he said as he and his friends stood up and walked off the bus. After they left, I looked over to Kevin and asked, “What was his name?” I was dying to know what his name was. Kevin turned the paper towards me so that I could read it. It said Topher. I wondered if that was his real name. Topher is an interesting name. I thought maybe his real name had been boring, something less fitting. Maybe he decided to change it to Topher after he dropped out of college. Who knows.
After a few minutes had passed, I glanced at the seat where he had been sitting and noticed that he left behind the red sharpie that his friend had given to him. I grabbed it. “Look, he left the sharpie,” I said. “Ooo, his friend’s gonna be mad at him,” Kevin said jokingly. “Yeah she probably will be,” I laughed. “Doesn’t matter though. It’s mine now.”