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The West Hollywood Smile

Public transport is in an interesting beast. A random group of strangers brought together by the journey to a destination is a tale in its self. Every one present has a story, and my inquisitive nature to observe and wonder enjoys these surroundings. Why so miserable? That’s a nice book. Cute. Cover your mouth. Not being enthusiastic about public transport when you are home is understandable. Living the grind and your own routine forces you to focus on getting from A to B more than anything else. Commuting on public transport whilst travelling, is a different story altogether. It’s an adventure. The constant absorption and awe of being in a foreign environment can make the most minor interaction with a local a lifelong memory. Be it comical drivers, odd odours, inaccurate translations, helpful strangers or peculiar pick-up lines, it can result in an unforgettable memory.

Or sometimes you can have an experience that unnerves you. An experience that forces you into a position to realise something about yourself whilst being out of your comfort zone.

Leaving The Palladium in divey West Hollywood at 1am for an hour long bus ride to Santa Monica is one of those times. Exiting the venue and inspired by a great show, I head to the bus stop and meet a fellow fan of the band I just saw. Our common excitement for the performance we just witnessed takes us from the wait to the next bus without a change in topic. As we get on, we sit at the front of the bus on the same side of the long bench seats. From the corner of my eye I notice a middle aged African American man with a cap, suit and sneakers. Boyz II Men automatically come to mind. Before this moment, it was the only time I had ever seen that combination.

As we continue to review the concert experience, I can’t help the feeling that I have someone’s attention. You know how your senses rise when you feel like you’re being watched? This was that feeling amplified. Like an intrusive hot breath was attached to it.

Focusing on my words all of a sudden became a difficult task. At the next stop, my company unfortunately leaves the bus trip and I am then left alone with a source of concern. With only an extended handshake’s distance between us, I turn and glance at the uncomfortable stare. Earlier thoughts of smooth RnB singers quickly vanish as I notice two steely, intense and unfriendly eyes locked on me. Not good. To make the scenario more down town, the suit is stained and dishevelled, hands unwashed, the low angled cap and tilt of the head hiding the majority of a gritty face. Out of place and intriguing was the vintage briefcase perfectly placed in between the worn out sneakers.

His stare continues.

Well, what to do now? It’s the dead of night in Los Angeles. I’m on a lonely bus ride with very few people present, in an area I don’t know. And due to infamous and mind altering television programmes like COPS, this man is not trust worthy and probably wants to stab me. Do I get up and switch seats? Do I start a conversation? Nope. I want to interact, that’s what I do, but the caution of igniting any instability wins. My extroverted personality is now withdrawn. I choose to stay in my seat, keep my mouth shut and take some deep breathes, softly.

This goes on for what felt like hours. Even when I have a curious moment and quickly check to see if I still have to deal with this, his unsocial gawk straightens me up like a bull does to a matador. How much longer I wonder?

And just like my questions had been paid attention to, the scenario changes in an instant.

Our bus is taken over by a powerful jolt, as the driver is forced to stomp on the brakes. We’re both rocked without falling out of our seats. In that moment, my creepy admirer’s briefcase slides across the space between us, and parks itself perfectly, in between my feet.

The landscape just changed. And as soon as we realised it, we both locked eyes again, this time, I kept looking. This was a stare off in slow motion. Both parties hesitant in making a move. It was time for interaction, and with the ice breaker at my feet, I finally decide to make a move.

Reaching down, I slowly pick up the briefcase and lean over. To acknowledge his steady attention, I provide a warm smile, nod, and extend my arm and briefcase with a welcoming, “Here you go.” It was a greeting and an ‘everything’s ok’ in one. In return, his stern face transforms into a grateful smile that lights up a different personality to the one I had been witnessing. His much longer arm meets mine in the centre and he collects the briefcase. “Thank you my friend” was his response, and with those few words, the tension is relieved.

A comfortable silence followed for the short time until he departed.

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