Late, late, late at night, after an amazing show at the world-famous club Coco Bongo in Cancun, Mexico, I headed toward the place where I was hoping the bus that would take me back to the hotel would stop. (To the uninitiated like me, it’s rather unclear as to where the busses actually stop to pick up passengers.) Hovering around the area that only slightly resembled a bus stop were two couples. On my approach, the drunkest of them asked me in terrible broken English where I was from. On returning the favor, I learned they were all from France. And thus began the early-morning fun.
Traveling and meeting folks from not America, I’ve learned quickly that the international community really does not like George Bush or our little Iraq thing. This particular not-American (because I can’t recall his name let’s call him Frank) immediately started in on that topic in the best English he could squeeze out of his booze-soaked brain. His friends were trying to run defense for me but yet were still curious about the questions that he, in moments of drunken honesty, posed. I did my best to answer them and I feel we bonded over the honesty and lack of ability to speak any common language.
Picture the uncomfortable hilarity: he was murdering English while he grilled me on U.S. foreign policy mixing English, French and Spanish to try to complete a sentence. I, not to be outdone, attacked back except my French was worse, my Spanish was better and my English was suspect. The prolific sprinkling of smiles kept the conversation friendly and his friends were continuously diffusing what they thought might be an international incident brewing. They had no idea my endless patience for opposing views and couldn’t possibly have guessed that I found his arguments enlightening, if not entertaining.
After about 30 minutes of verbal melee, the bus came (much to my relief) and we boarded. Alone in the bus, one of them asked if I was married. Maybe it was the many Dos XXs or maybe it was the hours I’ve spent wondering if it’s silly to hide my past, but I shared with them as gently as I could under the linguistic numbing of two languages why I was traveling alone. It took a couple of minutes of translation but when it hit, it hit like a sledgehammer.
We weren’t far from my stop and Frank was crying. He told me in mixed English, French and Spanish that he could not imagine his wife (who was sitting beside him) dying. He told me he was sorry for arguing and he told me “You win, Chris.” What a prize. I’m not really sure what I said at that time but I’m certain it was all in an attempt to comfort. He was clearly shaken to his core.
Since I had broken the seal, so to speak, I figure the next greatest thing I could do was share pictures. Oh how I love pictures of us two. So I whipped out my my iPhone and pulled up a picture of us from way back around 2000 all dressed up and looking pretty. Just as I handed the phone to Frank, the bus driver signaled to me that my stop was coming up. They all got one good but brief look. It was a very abrupt end to a quite memorable international connection.
As the bus drove away I watched Frank. He was still crying.
He’ll never forget tonight. I’ve imprinted on him something so deep, so real it transcends even the passionate political differences that the U.S. and France politicos have created. For him, Americans are more real and more human than they’ve ever been before. They (we) experience life just like he is and sometimes shit happens, just like it does in France. He’ll never forget tonight. And because of our random encounter tonight, his perspective of the United States is forever changed. For good or for bad, the picture of me and my sweet wife is now what the United States looks like.