“You know if that door’s locked?” Rudy yelled.
I hadn’t really checked. I was going for the same door he was coming from. So we both went to the main door and confirmed. This location was doing drive-thru only at 3 am.
I made some mental calculations. I still needed…processed, fried chicken and greasy french fries in order to get back on I-66 and make it safely home. This wasn’t as bad as the night I slammed Barbara Ann into a curb. But I made a promise to myself that night – I would never leave Falls Church again without taking some proper precautions.
Rudy didn’t have a car. I did. I invited him to hop in and asked him what he wanted to order. He pulled out the cash in his wallet. It appeared to be…one dollar. I told him not to worry about it. I would pay for it. He thanked me profusely and reiterated that he was a disabled veteran. That would make him the second disabled veteran I’d run into in the past few weeks.
We placed our order and Rudy began talking to me about the world as he saw it. Rudy, who was black, was considering voting for Trump. Something about how we really weren’t safe and maybe Trump had the right idea. He didn’t seem all that committed to it, though.
I half-heartedly gave a couple of my arguments against Trump. His automatic death penalty talk. But Rudy didn’t care. Frankly, I had stopped caring about Trump, Clinton, Sanders. All of them.
We pulled up to the window and received our drinks first. Then the big ol’ bag of fried food. Later, I would realize I had forgotten to order the barbecue sauce.
Earlier that night, I’d been on a sticky dancefloor in Clarendon with a Ukrainian girl who was visiting and knew a couple of my coworkers. It was, in my opinion, our first successful night out for the night shift.
I don’t know how the Ukrainian girl spells her name, so let’s just call her Beatrice.
Beatrice knew how to salsa dance.
With my judgment hampered by the rum and whiskey in my system, I, of course, told her that I was once a salsa instructor. And that proceeded to her schooling me on the dancefloor.
As always, I went for the flourish. What she called “Casino Style,” but which was really “Phil bastardizes salsa with a lot of American Swing-isms.” I feel like we eventually had some fun – I got a couple of dips in, but overall, she wanted the more direct salsa approach. Ironically, what she called “Colombian style.” Something I, the Colombian, have yet to master.
Earlier in the night, Beatrice almost gave me some insight into what it’s like to live in Ukraine with Putin breathing down the country’s neck. She lives in Kiev. One of my coworkers had gone for the easy political joke and asked her whether she’d seen a lot of guns in the US. This led to her looking at me and starting to mention the security situation in Kiev.
But I felt responsible for the group’s collective merriment. I had organized the night out and wanted to make sure we hit up at least one more bar. As fascinated as I was by this girl, I couldn’t get sucked in and see everyone else had a bad time. So I didn’t press her on it. I just had us move on to a bar with a dancefloor.
I’ll probably never see Beatrice again.
Rudy and I had our meal at the outside tables. It was December at 3 in the morning, but it was still 60 degrees.
Rudy told me about his ex-wife. His daughter. Mentioned a son. Mostly, he was lonely. And ready to find someone who he could just treat well, he said. Trying to avoid the mistakes from the past.
I gave him the Cliff Notes version of my own situation.
Afterwards, I bought Rudy a donut at the nearby 7-Eleven. He kind of tried to talk up this Russian woman who was buying cigarettes. I kind of interrupted to tell her, “Have a good night” and signal Rudy to stand down. He said it was really hard to find people in his apartment complex who speak English well.
Dropping Rudy off at his apartment, he said we should go Christmas shopping on Sunday and he could be my wingman. I laughed. “Maybe that’s what I need,” I said. Rudy offered to buy me lunch, since I bought the food this time.
I told him I’d try to be out at front of his apartment Sunday afternoon. That’s when I told him my name. “Rudy,” he said. And he shook my hand.
I watched him enter the apartment beneath a flickering security light. I knew I wouldn’t be there Sunday afternoon. After all, I had to sleep. I had to work. I had to go back to my regular life.
Tonight had been anomaly. A brief surfacing before going back under and wandering the oceans of the night shift. Corporate media work. Isolation.
There was no real time to meet the Rudys and the Beatrices of the world and keep them in your life.