In Seattle Greyhound Station, disheveled and disgruntled passengers slump in molded plastic chairs. A tumult of arcade machines chirp, ca-ching and whistle off to one side. From the numbers of slumpers, it looks like unless I perfect professional glowering skills and attain truly shocking levels of pungency in the half hour before the bus leaves, I’ll not be so lucky with spacious seating on the next leg.
I barely have time to be surprised by the number of empty wine bottles in the bin in the ladies’ “restrooms,” before it’s time to grab a place in the bus queue and get back on board. Seats fill quickly. I try glowering but I know it’s in vain. There are just too many way more pungent passengers to compete with. I don’t stand a chance of traveling solo.I look out at the people left to straggle on board. A gangly man in his late 30s and a voluminous, stained mustard sweatshirt weaves his way alongside the bus, smiling to himself. My heart sinks slightly as he waves at an imaginary friend. I know I’m looking at my traveling companion to Olympia.
At least it will be an interesting trip, I think, as he crumples, somewhat elegantly, into the seat beside me. He immediately starts hunting through an array of plastic bags. Half a dozen magazines, five different brands of water, chips and several cans of Red Bull are rummaged out. He offers me a pot of sour cream, half a Hershey’s Bar, a hunk of plastic-wrapped sponge cake, all the water varieties – with the exception of the Evian – and a choice of magazines – except Interview. He tells me a convoluted story that implies that a friend paid him for drugs with the pot of sour cream and he felt it was impolite to say no. Although sour cream is a “repulsive concept”, he’s taking it with him on a 24-hour bus trip to San Francisco, surely ensuring a lifetime’s aversion to the product for all on board.
“It would have been rude to leave it behind,” he insists.
I don’t have an answer to this.
He babbles incessantly, trailing off and mumbling at the ends of sentences. Stories rise up to grand heights and then he loses them, looking confused as to their destination.
Eventually, after my thanking him politely but refusing all offers of gifts, he turns to me, fixes me with a serious look and says,
“You have to take something. It’s a friendship gesture. I insist. Gâteau?”
“Um…” I muster.
He looks down at his stash, weighs up a magazine and his drink selection, and gives me a Red Bull and a stern look. I accept meekly and take the can, surreptitiously trying to wipe it clean with my shirt. Our friendship is sealed. He gives me his MySpace page address and I attempt to read his scrawl.
“McT? Is your name McT?”
“MC T. I am an M.C., darling. Master of Ceremonies,” he tells me grandly.
I tell him that I’ve re-named him “McT,” an honourary Scot for the journey.
“I shall be McT for you,” he allows graciously.
For the next ninety minutes we talk, often in French, much to the aggressive incomprehension of the cartoon Texan with the meagre teen ‘tache and white cowboy hat across the aisle. He leans over to listen.
Interrupting, he drawls, “I have not one idea what the heck you two were just saying.”
There is a split second where I am excruciatingly aware of the potentially explosive combination of a precocious, strung out, gay black man and a weedy, blustery redneck, but McT swiftly dismisses the Texan with an unlikely summary and returns, twitching and sweating, to his monologue.
Reaching into one of the bags, he extracts a scrappy off-white paper folder, spilling with loose papers, and reads me extracts from his anarchist manifesto. He sings me reggae tunes that he insists are the works of David Essex. He gives me fashion advice.
“Never say ochre; it’s bohemian beige.”
“There is cool. There is chic. Some things are cool. Some are chic. Never mix the two.”
He pauses and adds, ”Not even in jest.”
It is a sombre moment.
“My favourite president,” he announces, “was Mitterand.”
“You have a favourite president?” I ask, surprised.
“Of course I have a favourite president!” McT looks outraged at my question.
“I have a favourite president and it is Mitterand,” he states firmly. “Mitterand rocked it.”
McT lived in Paris, he tells me, until he “fromaged out.” I begin to worry that he may be about to do more than fromage out. He shakes and twitches and tries to pick what he calls his “thug chic” sweatshirt away from his clammy skin. The same thought obviously strikes him. He leans over and says, “I think I might be about to have a psychotic episode.” I am concerned for my new friend.
He manages not to have any episodes between Seattle and Olympia. We reach the state capital and say our goodbyes. Too addled to remember my full name, he professes,
“I shall be your McT and you shall be my Lady A.”
Watching the bus lurch away from the station, I feel very sorry for both McT and the rest of the San Francisco-bound passengers.