Friday, May 11, 2012

My Friend the Millionaire

A few summers ago, I found myself stranded in downtown Los Angeles after a moving trip from Phoenix to Seattle went awry (which, I promise, will be a story told in a future post). Opting to take a bus from LA to my hometown of Dallas to live there instead of finishing my trip as planned, I bought a ticket for a one-way ride and packed my belongings that I couldn't afford to ship into three differently-styled, overstuffed bags: one messenger bag, one tweed suitcase, and one ten-raquet tennis bag.

Unable to afford a cab from where I was staying to the bus station, a friend of a friend named Joshua that had shown me around the city a few days previously told me he'd show me how to get there on foot. Seeing this as my only option to get to the station on time, I accepted his offer and we departed from my hotel room three hours before my bus was to begin boarding, me carrying my messenger bag and tennis bag, Joshua carrying my tweed suitcase.

For those of you that have never actually been, there are a few small parts of Los Angeles that look like what you'd expect Los Angeles to look like: beaches to walk on, plenty of stores to shop in and attractive people to gawk at. But for the most part, Los Angeles looks like what I imagine downtown Baghdad looked like during wartime if Baghdad was populated primarily by hipsters and hookers. There are injured people lying in the street moaning for help, homeless people or mangy dogs on every corner, and everyone seems like they want to stab you for having an opinion different than theirs. I hate to generalize Baghdad like that (and to a lesser extent, Los Angeles), but it's the truth.

Despite this imbalance, we managed to make it to the bus depot on time and without being mugged, passing by many interesting things on the way.

Aside #1: We passed by the red carpet event for The Expendables, a filming of an episode of iCarly, the biggest Inception banner I've ever seen, and an original Banksy piece, amongst plenty of other things. I know people that live in LA see that sort of thing daily, but shut up. It was neat.

After thanking Joshua and saying our goodbyes, checking my bags in and waiting in the terminal for a few minutes, I stepped onto the large grey bus marked "DALLAS" and unknowingly sat down next to one of the most interesting people I've ever met in my life.

His name was Bruce, and he looked like a short-haired, 50-something Iggy Pop impersonator. Staring at me with his wild eyes, offering up one leathery baseball-mitt of a hand, he introduced himself to me shortly after I occupied the space next to him. Over the next few hours, we would end up talking about everything from our personal lives to literature to current news, and Bruce would tell me the following five things about himself:

1. He is a construction company business owner and millionaire who is deathly afraid of flying, hence him riding the bus. When I asked him why he didn't just buy his own personal bus and hire a driver himself, he scoffed loudly. Apparently, he "really loves" the people he meets on the rides he takes a few times a year.

2. He was visiting his daughter in Waco, Texas, who is a mildly successful blonde-haired, big-breasted supermodel. He showed me many, many pictures of her, and even pulled his shirt down at one point to show me a portrait of her he'd had tattooed on his shoulder.

Aside #2: Before you wonder if it was terrible or not, it was. Sorry, Bruce.

3. In the 90's, he was addicted to cocaine. He told me that he'd been clean from coke for a few years, but still smokes pot regularly to deal with the arthritis he has in his legs from when he used to build houses. We really bonded over this in particular, because that's half the reason I smoke.

4. He's been married three times, and only has the single daughter from his first (from when he was "dumb and young"). He admitted that his last two wives had taken a lot of money from him, though he didn't disclose how much, exactly.

5. He's a born-again Christian. Go figure.

Right around as the sun was setting, Bruce asked me if I'd like to smoke with him the next time the bus stopped to refuel. I gladly obliged, and we did so, shortly after night had fallen behind a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

Aside #3: If you've never smoked marijuana regularly or been a part of the subculture, you probably don't understand how "normal" this is. Just know that his request wasn't weird or creepy at all, and that it was actually sort of a relief.

After putting my smoking supplies away, and making sure they were well-secured on my person before re-entering the bus, Bruce tapped me on the shoulder, staring at me with his big, wide eyes. Stuttering as he did so, he asked me if it would be possible for me to give him a small bit of weed, so he had some when he arrived in Waco. Being the ever-giving person I am (and having quite a bit on me at the time), I happily obliged, giving him a decent-sized nugget that should have more than satisfied him until he was able to find more. This is where things started to get a little weird.

Aside #4: Yeah, things only started getting weird after I gave an ex-coke addict millionaire a gram or so of weed for free.

Immediately after I dropped the pot into his hand, he looked me straight in the face and asked for a "little more." Not wanting to anger the person I'd be sitting next to for the next 15 hours or so, I gave him a little bit more, hoping that it would be enough. Apparently it was, because he immediately removed an Altoids tin from his pocket, turned around so I couldn't see its contents, and dropped both pieces into it. Thanking me, he promised that he would pay me back as soon as we arrived at his destination, telling me that he'd planned to give me a little money anyways for "entertaining" him on the trip. Feeling better about my decision to be a nice person, we both headed back towards the bus and got on.

Night had fallen at this point, so most of our co-passengers had fallen asleep in their seats. Bruce, however, decided to stay awake and keep me up with him. I didn't really mind, because I'm terrible at sleeping in moving vehicles, so all was well.

About midway through the night, during a lull in Bruce and I's enchanting conversation, he stood up and announced to me that he had to go to the bathroom (as if there was anywhere else to go). He stepped to the back of the bus, and remained there for about ten minutes. Right around the time I started to become worried for his safety, he emerged, eyes wider than before, grinning wildly.

"I just did some coke in the bathroom," he whispered to me quietly, an odd, child-like eagerness in his voice. "Do you want some, buddy?"

Aside #5: A detail that I forgot to mention in the list up there is that he always referred to me as "buddy," "pal," or any variation of the word "friend" (without actually calling me his friend). It was very odd.

"No thanks," I nervously smiled, synapses in my head popping. He'd explicitly told me earlier in the trip that he hadn't touched coke "in years," and it made me curious as to the validity of the rest of the claims he had laid earlier in our trip. Needless to say, from this point on, I began taking everything he did and said with a grain of salt.

Of course, this became harder and harder to do as his claims of riches and willingness to share them became more and more extravagant, and I began to wonder if he'd just lied to me about the state of his addiction because he didn't want to scare me off. After all, aside from that and the fact that he asked for more weed after I so graciously gave him some for free, he had been nothing but kind and ridiculously interesting the entire time. He was even offering to let me stay at his beach house in Florida, because he claimed to never use it. I was torn.

By the time we'd made it to Waco, a few stops before mine in Dallas, my mind hadn't been made up about Bruce. I wasn't sure if he was just a crazy, drug-addicted con man that had duped me into giving him free weed, or if he really was just an eccentric, lonely millionaire that needed someone to talk to on a trip to visit his daughter.

My question was answered shortly after we disembarked. Telling me he was going to get his bags from underneath the bus, Bruce quickly disappeared into the crowd at the station after we had stepped off of the bus, his average features and build camouflaging him from me. Assuming he'd meet me somewhere near the bus after he'd gathered his things, I went inside the station to use the restroom and buy food.

Fifteen minutes passed as I sat on a bench next to the bus we'd both stepped off of and ate my food, my belief in the man I'd sat next to waning with every passing moment. I had all but given up on trusting that he would come back, when a familiar, catcher's mitt-like hand tapped me on the shoulder. Bruce had come back. Smiling brightly, he reached for his wallet.

"Miss me?" he grinned, unfolding the old leather fishing a few bills out. Folding them in half, he handed them to me. "Don't spend it all on yourself, okay?" pleaded, sincerity in his voice.

"Okay, I won't," I said, smiling back at him. "Thanks, Bruce."

"No problem kiddo," he winked, and turned around, once again disappearing into the crowd.

I didn't check to see how much money he had given me until I was sure he wasn't looking at me, but when I did, I almost fell over. He'd handed me ten twenty-dollar bills, wrapped up with a small note written on a torn-off piece of paper. It read "Thanks for the conversation + weed."

And that's all it needed to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment