The faded red double-decker bus caught my eye as soon as we rounded the corner, its effervescent charm radiating from the top level’s vintage chandeliers I stole glances of while waiting at the adjacent stoplight.
What a nifty little monument to this city’s cultural scene, I thought. In its prime, it could’ve rolled up and down the streets of this town nestled in the foothills of North Carolina, royally awarding its second-level passengers a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Now, in 2016, it sat stationary, guarded by a wrought iron fence. And I suddenly wished to be a part of its past. One of its passengers.
Then the WALK sign flashed and as we drew nearer, I saw the sign.
Coffee & Desserts.
Be still my heart, why, this charming old bus was a coffeeshop!
I looped my hand around Jesse’s arm as we approached, silently trying to send a signal that we must give this brilliant shop owner our money before leaving town. Unsure he noticed, I cinched the deal with a longing, over-the-shoulder stare at the little old bus as we walked past and towards our lunch spot. I was rewarded with a: “Well, we’ll just have to stop there and get some coffee later, won’t we?”
I was already imagining the joy of sitting up at the top, sipping my beverage, taking in the quaint old-school aura and perhaps even delighting in a card game with my signal-reading husband.
After stalling the afternoon away with street tacos and people-watching, I decided it was time to indulge my heart and return to the bus. Shaded by matching, faded red umbrellas, crowds milled about the outside seating area while a short line was beginning to form on the first level. I shot a quick glance up at the top windows, suddenly realizing the crowds could be a result of a seat-less top level.
Met with an obscuring glare, I gave Jesse my order and made for the refinished, metallic steps to the second level, hoping to find empty bench seats.
Alas, there were two empty tables for the taking! That is, two tables that neighbored two other tables occupied by a large group of young adults who all turned to look at this vintage-bus-loving stranger who just climbed the stairs, apparently killing their conversational vibe.
Determined to enjoy my “ride” on the bus, I ducked under the low-hanging chandelier, averted my anxious gaze under the I-can’t-see-them-they-can’t-see-me pretense and sat down, praying for Jesse’s quick ascent up the stairs.
Now allow me to confess: I’m a bit of a curious person. (Some call it nosy… I call it “byproduct of a journalism degree.”) So, with both eyes nonchalantly looking out the window and one ear turned toward the group, I gathered little factoids about this ragtag bunch of young people sitting together drinking coffee on an old double-decker bus. For example, the whole right table was living, or had once lived, in Alaska. Inferred tidbit: the whole left table was jealous.
It had only been a few minutes after I sat down that the group’s conversation lulled. I stole a quick glance over and saw The Alaskas toying with empty to-go cups stuffed with trash, and assumed the scene meant the top cabin of this bus would soon be all mine.
I heard footsteps coming up the stairwell and began to shuffle things around on the table to make room for Jesse and I’s beverages. Instead, a couple emerged, scanning the close quarters with a disappointed look and turning to go back down.
Before the woman descended, a voice shot out from the Alaska table: “Hey I know that face!”
Her cropped dark hair grazed the chandelier as she swung her head back toward the voice. Her bearded companion (perfect for the Alaskan bush, might I add), hovered above the steps, waiting to see if the recognition was mutual and/or legit.
One “Oh my gosh, hiiiii!” and a hug later, the bearded man was retreating from the steps and I was losing hope the top cabin of the bus would soon be all mine.
One hug turned into three and four as the entire group greeted this new couple with surprised glee. Turns out each of the Alaskas and Alaska-Wannabes knew this couple, who obviously had made no plans with the aforementioned to meet here. At the top of a random, old, monster truck version of an everyday coffee cart.
And me, my journalistic self and I had to find out the connection.
Still staring out the window, I tune in and resist the urge to start taking notes on my phone. It’s shockingly apparent that the group has not seen this couple for quite some time, as they all start answering her “So where are you living now?” questions.
Not shockingly, one of the right-tablers introduces his girlfriend and says they’re just visiting from Alaska. Another explains that he’s right here in Asheville. One of the Alaska Wannabes pipes up and explains that he’s a Marine, so he’s living ‘everywhere.’ (I understand, bro. Oorah!)
I’m already fascinated with the journeys of each of these strangers and still curious as to why they’re all in one place at the same time, but my jaw nearly hits the table when I hear the dark-haired girl’s response to her own question. She reveals that they are in town for their last day of a three-year-anniversary celebration before they return back to Amsterdam.
Yes that’s right. Amsterdam.
Cue It’s A Small World After All.
Their chatter continues as Jesse climbs up the stairs and I have to keep myself from shushing him as he sits down. I mean, it’s one thing to have your husband realize you’re eavesdropping on strangers. But it’s a whole different ballgame when your subjects–an arm’s length away–realize you’re eavesdropping.
Suddenly it dawns on my new friends (since I know so much about the group to call them as such) that the dramatics of the spontaneous reunion deserve a photo.
Before letting them draw straws to choose who gets left out of the picture, I catch the Marine’s eye and offer to take the photo.
As I sit back down, I quietly admit to Jesse my one, burning question: How do they ALL know each other?
Using my journalist background against me, he tells me to just ask them. So, I put my fear of being publicly pegged a busybody behind me, stand up to follow Jesse down the stairs and politely address the group: “I’m sorry, but I’ve seen how unplanned all of this was and I just have to ask: How do you all know each other?”
Alaska Living In Asheville replied: “Apple. We all worked at Apple.”
This whole story is to encourage not only myself, but any others of you who are wondering how you’ll be able to leave that home, that church, those friends, your family… for a new place. A new state. Or possibly even a new country.
Whether it’s work, love or just life that takes you from what you know, this story shows that it’s never goodbye when you leave. It’s see ya later…
Perhaps on the top level of an old double-decker bus in Asheville, North Carolina.