Sunday, July 22, 2007

BUS STORY # 42 (I Knew Him When)

At the bus stop this morning is a new rider. He’s a young guy, mid-twenties, tall and lean, with an angular face and a short chin beard. He introduces himself – “I’m Clint”* – and reaches out his hand. We shake. Clint’s from Terra Haute, Indiana, and he’s only been here three weeks. He’s working at Wecks until he can get a job with “the fire” – by which he means the fire department. That’s what he did back in Terra Haute. That, and play country music.

“What brought you out here?”

“My dad’s retired military. He’s been out here since he retired.”

Which explains why he’s here but not why he left Terra Haute. But he’s definitely looking forward. He’s got an audition with a recording studio after he gets off work today.

“You write your own songs?”

Yes he does. In fact, he thinks he just might have some lyrics with him, he says as he rummages through his backpack. He pulls out a spiral notebook and flips through several written-on pages. “Here’s one,” he says, handing me the notebook. The handwriting is legible. The song is about dreaming and sailing. It’s competently written. I tell him I’m impressed.

“It’s just something I wrote out of boredom when I was stuck someplace,” he answered. “I think if I ever get to the ocean, I might never come back.”

“You’ve never seen the ocean?”

“No – at least, not that I remember. I went to Germany when I was two, but I don’t remember crossing the ocean that trip.” He says this with a straight face and a straight voice. He’s a classic Midwesterner.

His country music heritage comes from his family tree which grows out of the Appalachians. And he alludes to “a cousin” who’s “seventeen years older,” lives in Nashville and is in the business -- with some success, he implies, but he doesn’t offer any details.

“So are you a solo artist, or do you work with a band?”

Naturally, being down here only three weeks makes him a solo artist, but he figures if he got a contract right now, he’d go back to Terra Haute and recruit the “boys” he’d been playing with to come on down to Albuquerque.

“You like country?” he asks me.

I explain I went classical about fifteen years ago, but I think the best country album I ever heard is Steve Earle’s Guitar Town and its follow-up, Exit 0. He’s blank as a post. I realize that was twenty years ago. But he’s quick with factoring in my age. “I really like Hank Williams Junior,” he offers. We agree on that one.

“But I kinda think he turned himself into a caricature when he signed on with the NFL,” I add.

“Yeah, I can see that,” he allows, “but I saw him by accident in Nashville, and it was the best show I’ve ever seen.”

He gets off the bus at Eubank. I catch the outline of a can of snuff in his back jeans pocket as he heads for the corner convenience store. I smile because I can imagine remembering this morning a few years from now and thinking to myself I knew him when.


*Real name changed.


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