By Ben |

In 1996, my sister and her boyfriend had just moved into a new apartment in Pittsburgh, and they invited my family to join them for Christmas. I decided to take the bus there from my college in Grinnell, Iowa, which meant I had layovers in Des Moines, Chicago, and Cleveland. As I recall, the Cleveland layover was from roughly 11pm to 2am.

The Cleveland bus terminal back then was one big hall, with gates on three sides and a ticket counter on the fourth, with seats in the middle of the room and restrooms up a flight of stairs. I settled in to wait.

After a while, a young man with long scraggly hair, disheveled clothes, a guitar, a knapsack, and a faraway look in his eyes approached me and asked if I was headed to Pittsburgh, and if my ticket was refundable or not. He said he was also headed there on the same bus, but he had had a change of heart and needed to go home to Chicago. Unfortunately his ticket was nonrefundable, and he didn't have enough money to buy a new ticket. He wanted to know if I would trade tickets with him so that he could refund mine and go home.

It's worth mentioning that at the time, bus companies didn't check any ID whatsoever. A ticket was a ticket - except that some were refundable and others weren't, according to the whim of the companies. I said I didn't know whether my ticket was refundable, but I had nothing else to do, so I'd see. 

He waited in line with me at the ticket counter and told me all about how he was a devotee of Bruce Lee and the philosophy of kung fu, and he was endeavoring to live like water. We were waiting in line for quite a while, and he kept thanking me for trying to help him. To thank me properly, he dug around in his sack and gave me a book about the life of Bruce Lee. He also gave me a drinking glass that had clearly been stolen from a restaurant.

The ticket clerk ultimately said that no, I couldn't exchange my ticket, so I told the guy that I couldn't help him. He told me to keep the gifts, and he wandered off in disappointment.

Later, I was upstairs in the restroom when he approached me at the sinks. He wanted to sell me his guitar so he could buy a ticket home. I said I didn't play guitar and didn't plan to learn, so it wouldn't do me any good — although I could presumably sell it in Pittsburgh, I didn't like the idea of traveling with it, and I had no idea what it was worth. I suggested he try selling it to someone else, and he wandered off again.

While I was queued up for the bus, just minutes before departure, he came up to me again and held out the guitar in his outstretched arms. He said, "John Lennon wants you to have this." I said I was flattered, but I couldn't use it and didn't want it, and maybe if he asked John Lennon again, he'd suggest someone else. Then the bus boarded, and I never saw him again.

However… later that morning, I went into Oakland to do some Christmas shopping. As I walked down the sidewalk, I saw a young man with long scraggly hair, disheveled clothes, and a faraway look in his eye. It was a different guy but seemed cut from the same cloth. I opened my backpack and took out the drinking glass. I looked him straight in the eye and said, "I met a friend of yours this morning in Cleveland. He'd want you to have this." I gave him the glass and walked off.