A few weeks ago, I introduced you to the characters of The Bar Car. We’ll now take a turn into the realm of PURE FICTION and start getting to know a bunch of crap I made up about them. For this one, I think the interview format works best. Here’s how the conversation goes down in my mind:
It is rare that we at Notes From the Train get to kick off an interview series with as esteemed a guest as Vespa Man. Not only does he offer a hulking physical presence, an international perspective, and a hearty laugh, but his absence over the course of the past several months has caused quite a stir.
Interestingly, when Vespa Man agreed to this interview, his one condition was that it not take place on the bar car. He wouldn’t say why. So we agreed to meet at the clock in the middle of the Grand Central concourse. It was summer, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by his appearance, but I was. He had shed his usual pressed khakis and Oxford shirt in favor of cargo shorts, a Margaritaville or Tommy Bahama (who can tell the difference?) shirt with a Hawaiian print, Birkenstock sandals (do they still sell those?), and a vintage Montreal Expos baseball cap (huh?).
Vespa Man so wanted to avoid the bar car that he had me walk the platform first to scout out the bar car and plot a route to avoid it. Unfortunately, it was the last car on the train, meaning it would be the first we’d pass walking onto the platform. He made us go downstairs, walk the length of a lower-level track, walk back upstairs, and emerge near the front of the train we were boarding. We didn’t have much time, so we had to sprint.
For maximum distance from the bar car, Vespa Man wanted to ride the first car, which these days has been designated the quiet car. You’re not supposed to talk or listen to music or breathe too loudly. I once saw someone admonished for brushing her hair too loudly. The result was that our entire interview was conducted in a low whisper as we half-faced each other with our hands serving as curved awnings over our mouths in an attempt to direct our voices toward my iPhone, which I had running as a voice recorder.
THE GUY SITTING NEXT TO YOU (nearly inaudible and a little out of breath): Thanks for agreeing to this. Can you hear me?
VESPA MAN (loudly): WHAT?! What did you say?
SURROUNDING PASSENGERS: SHHH!!
TGSNTY (normal, audible whisper): Can you hear me now?
VESPA MAN (now whispering too): Yes, yes. Much improved.
TGSNTY: Great, so first things first. I know you only as Vespa Man…
VESPA MAN: Vespa Man? Where the bloody hell did you come up with that?
TGSNTY: Well, I’ve seen you riding a Vespa to and from the station.
VESPA MAN: Clever.
VESPA MAN: I’m going to call you “Very-Literal-Nickname-Giver and Not-Very-Clever-at-All Man.”
TGSNTY (politely laughing): That’s very catchy. And it leads me to my next question: what’s your real name so I don’t have to call you by that silly nickname?
VESPA MAN: I ca—… You don’t need to know that.
TGSNTY (perceptively): I don’t need to know, or you feel there’s some danger in telling me?
VESPA MAN: Next question, Very-Literal-Nickname-Giver and… That nickname I gave you is too long. I’ll just call you “Stupid.”
TGSNTY: I have to say, so far you don’t seem as personable as you did on the bar car.
VESPA MAN (quietly, looking down): Things have changed, unfortunately. (He bends his head back, closes his eyes, and slowly exhales. He looks to be on the verge of tears. This lasts an uncomfortably long time.)
TGSNTY (trying to salvage the hour left in the ride): So having lived in England for a few years back in the 80s, and not having been back or studied anything about England since then, I consider myself a bit of an Anglophile. I’m going to say your accent is from the north somewhere, maybe Dover?
VESPA MAN (laughing): Dover’s in the southeast, you twit.
TGSNTY (also laughing): I know.
VESPA MAN: I’m from London. Where did you live?
TGSNTY: In Surrey. A town called Cobham?
VESPA MAN: Yes, lots of Americans. There’s a school there, right?
TGSNTY: Yes! My brothers and sisters went there.
VESPA MAN: Brilliant.
TGSNTY: How long have you lived in the States?
VESPA MAN: Oh, coming up on six years now. (He starts looking weepy again.) I moved here when I got married. She’s American. (He sighs at the ceiling again.) Oh, Lord! (snapping back) Sorry, sorry.
TGSNTY: No, no. Do you want to talk about that?
VESPA MAN: Not terribly much, no. (pause) My wife and I are separated.
TGSNTY: I’m sorry to hear that. You don’t have to tell me…
VESPA MAN: She said she finally realized how ridiculous I look on the Vespa. I mean here I am, this big hulking guy, riding round on a little scooter.
TGSNTY (losing control and almost shouting): That’s what my buddies and I always said!
SURROUNDING PASSENGERS: SHHH! (One may have muttered, “Asshole.”)
VESPA MAN: She says she doesn’t find me man enough for her.
TGSNTY: Well, I always did find that those types of seats tend to cut off the circulation down there.
VESPA MAN: No, no! That’s never been a problem! It’s all about the aesthetics of the thing!
TGSNTY: Well, that seems silly. Something you guys should be able to work out. Have you pointed out the economic and environmental benefits? I mean, the savings on gas are substantial. But what do you do in the rain?
VESPA MAN: Yeah, but I don’t ride the Vespa by choice, you see.
TGSNTY: What do you mean?
VESPA MAN: I ride the Vespa because I can’t drive a car.
TGSNTY: You can’t?
VESPA MAN: I’m not allowed. By law. I lost my license one night after a raucous night on the bar car.
TGSNTY: Oh, I’m sorry.
Upon which, we arrived at our station. I tried to convince Vespa Man to share a pitcher of beer and a plate of Buffalo wings with me at a restaurant near the train station, but he said he wanted to get home and work on his marriage. So I bid Vespa Man adieu. No longer annoyed with me, he agreed that we could speak again at some unspecified time.