The Men You Meet On A Cross-Country Road Trip -The Toast

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An elderly gentleman who remarks on your license plate, one rarely seen in his rural Northeastern neighborhood. You happen to grab a coffee at the same cafe. He perseveres through your extended effort to ignore his hovering, thrusting the local paper at you, suggesting several regional events that will surely enliven your visit. In an effort to gain peace, you give him an e-mail you have not had occasion to check for years. You discover later that he sent several increasingly discouraged emails, upset that you did not contact him to meet up at the county fair.

A septuagenarian art fair vendor you dismiss politely, until you notice his wares: photographs from across the world. He has frizzy gray hair like cat whiskers. He asks about your journey and is the first person besides your closest friends to say you are brave. He describes hitchhiking from Seattle to Alaska in the 70s, and you say a silent prayer of thanks to your Prius.

A man with a southern drawl who sells grass to golf courses in Oceania, a job description that sounds like it belongs to someone on Caprica. He abandons the bachelor party he walked in with to ask about the postcards you are addressing at the bar. He says, “you are a very interesting woman,” and means it kindly. Perhaps he’s never met one before.

The between-deployments military man who took a temporary gig in his teeny-tiny hometown. He gets you in with the best bartender at the scuzziest dive bar in the desert and doesn’t laugh when you can’t figure out how to use your hotel key card.

The handsome attendant at a beach town craft beer store that also has a deli fridge full of artisan cheeses. He is genuinely interested in the obscure cider you mention that doesn’t ship across the country. He informs you he’s a Leo; it would never work.

The tall drink of water you meet at a lesbian bar who tells you he’s engaged, then begins to cry quietly when you say you’ve read The Silmarillion, because he appears to have genuinely believed no other woman on earth shares his love of Tolkien. You turn your back to him and let a fetching young woman buy you a beer. You are immediately 25 percent more gay.

The short-film director who suggests you meet at a very chic bar. You arrive early and it’s such a scene, you start reading Twilight fan-fiction on your phone in a very, very quiet act of rebellion.

The waiter who takes you out after his shift to dance in the VIP room of a secluded bar. He knows you don’t remember his name. The next morning he takes a Polaroid of the two of you and asks for your number. When he texts you later your heart breaks because you have, again, forgotten his name.

The recent USC grad who renounces his fraternity and has eyelashes for fucking days. He pays for things and his jeans are a little too tight. He rolls his own joints, gives you the first decent high of your life and takes you to see an all-girl surf-rock band. The sex is eager and fun, if a little impatient. He watches Orphan Black on your suggestion and you think maybe his life has been enriched.

The blue-collar guy at a steak bar who watches you ask for a specific game to be played, then talks through it. He asks a question about football rules that you know the answer to; later he will reference the fact that he asked, basking in his virtuous humility. He orders something called a gummy bear, and tells you about his ex, who wanted to be a surrogate and keep all the earnings.

The rookie cop who has an off-kilter Midwestern charm, but tells you a story about his brother in which the punch line is one calling the other a f-g. When you don’t laugh he says the punch line again, and then again, assuming you don’t understand. “F-G. F-G. F-G.”

The older man at the secret winery bar who is there for a family birthday party and watches you get shot down by a cute guy with an absent girlfriend. He has a world-weary kindness you think real life wizards would have. He is the first one to get you to talk about who, and what, you’re running from. You cry. At dusk, when the lit-up birthday cake is carefully carried out and all the family is singing, you take your chance and escape.

Sarah Enni is a journalist and author who sings in her car, loudly. Listen to her interview other writers and rogue publishing professionals at First Draft.

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