By the time Antwon had finished his heartbreaking story, they were well into Kentucky, getting ready to cross over into Tennessee! Anthony hadn’t spoken a word through the entire story, paying respects to Antwon and his violent emotions. Anthony didn’t know what to say when Antwon finished, other than “I really have to pee.”

They stopped at a convenience store, filled up the bus with fresh, fresh diesel, got a bagel or two, and continued their trip. Antwon returned to his quiet and composed state, but Anthony felt the need to address the heartbreaking story. He hoped he didn’t make Antwon cry more. Emotions always made him uncomfortable.

“What a heartbreaking story,” was all he could muster. Pretty weak, but a story of this magnitude couldn’t be helped! What else was he supposed to say??

They drove in silence for a long while after that, the only sound being their mouths munching on the delicious salty snacks they had snagged. 

“You should know,” Antwon said to Anthony’s shock, “I’ve never been much of a talker.. I think that was the longest I’ve ever talked at one time. It feels so good.”

Anthony smiled.

“You’re a good listener,” Antwon finished.

Anthony’s smile beamed wider. While he had only known Antwon for hours, he felt a special connection with him.

After a beat, Anthony felt it was his turn to talk, just for a little while.

“Are you curious why I’m driving a school bus with the words ‘Deport the Mexicans’ written on the side, to Texas?”

“No,” Antwon responded.

“Oh,” Anthony said, shrugging.

“But tell me anyway,” Antwon said after a beat.

“Yesterday, my girlfriend broke up with me, my father died, and my childhood best friend went into a coma and wants me to look after his cat. I guess I snapped because I quit my job and bought a school bus. I feel free for the first time in my life. I’m making an adventure. I have no idea what tomorrow holds. Every day is new; different. It’s a different feeling than I’ve ever experienced and I’m loving every second of it. Some kids vandalized my bus while I was in a diner eating chicken and waffles for the first time, so that’s why it says ‘deport the Mexicans’ on the side. You know what though, I don’t really care! Oh, and the reason I’m going to Texas is because the waitress at the diner said that they have really good chicken and waffles in the south! I’m living impulsively. Who knows how long I can support myself like this, but I’m going to find out! This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life! You know what’s sad though, is nobody cares that I’m not in Cincinnati, Ohio anymore. I’m not close to anyone, really. I’m too boring for a fun job, too boring for a girlfriend, too boring for life. So screw Ohio! I’m going to Texas, baby!”

It was the first time Anthony had vocalized his feelings and boy, did it feel good! 

Antwon didn’t say anything. He may have had things to say about Anthony’s story, but he didn’t vocalize them. He was mentally and emotionally exhausted from his own story. They rode in silence for a long time, Anthony deep in thought. He thought about his life; how he had such a hard time connecting with people. His childhood friend that went into a coma wasn’t even his friend. They had had a falling out early in high school. Anthony hadn’t spoken to that friend in decades! Why did they reach out to him, he wondered?

The sun dropped lower and lower in the sky, leaving behind beautiful pink and orange streaks. Anthony imagined a giant holding massive paintbrushes and using the sky as a canvas. It was truly breathtaking. Anthony thought with dismay that he couldn’t remember a time in his life when he had sat and enjoyed a beautiful sunset. A tragedy to be sure! 

They decided to stop for dinner at a restaurant called The Hungry Hamster. It looked pretty trashy but with a name like that, they couldn’t pass it up. They were chuckling as they sat down.

“Welcome to The Hungry Hamster, my name’s Rachel, I’ll be your waitress tonight.” She said it in monotone kind of like the waitress in The Emperor’s New Groove. (If you’ve never seen that movie, I implore you to stop reading this riveting story and go watch that movie immediately. It is quite literally the best.) 

“What do you suggest, Rachel?” Anthony asked.

“The chicken and waffles are pretty good.” Rachel’s eyes batted boredly.

Anthony’s mind was blown. It was the second time in two days that somebody had mentioned chicken and waffles. It was a sign from heaven that Anthony was doing what he was always meant to do. Anthony’s face lit up with excitement and it took Rachel by surprise.

“What, do you really like chicken and waffles or something?” Rachel asked, still bored.

“Rachel —your name’s Rachel isn’t it?— you have no idea what I’ve been through in the past 48 hours and the central role that chicken and waffles has played in my story!” 

“Wow… that’s weird,” she replied, “So one chicken and waffles, and what would you like, sir?”

Antwon ordered a pizza. While they ate, Anthony kept an eye on Rachel. She truly had a sad existence. She seemed to hate her job, coworkers, even her life. She never smiled and never looked anyone in the eye. 

“I wonder what has happened to her to make her so grumpy,” Anthony said. Antwon just shrugged and stuffed more pizza in his mouth. 

Rachel came back with the tab at the end of the meal and before she could leave, Anthony decided to speak up. He couldn’t bear to see her so sad. Since his liberation from his own misery the previous day, he had a soft spot for other people’s happiness.

“Rachel,” he said, “Why do you look so angry all the time?”

The question caught Rachel by surprise. For the first time, she looked into his eyes, maybe to discern whether he was sincerely caring or just faking it. He was sincere. After an awkward silence, she shrugged and said, “there’s not much to be happy about.”

Antwon stopped stuffing his face, not because he was interested in this turn of conversation but because he had finally finished his pizza. Anthony remained silent, beckoning Rachel further into the conversation. His gaze remained unwavering; expectant. Finally, she caved.

“I’m gonna quit. This job sucks. I’m overworked and underpaid. I don’t have a family or friends. My life is meaningless. The only thing that brings me joy is my cat Penelope. If it weren’t for her, I might consider suicide.” 

Rachel said all these things with no emotion. One might expect her to be on the verge of tears, yet she remained steadfast in her apathy. It concerned Anthony immensely. In fact, he was on the verge of tears. 

“Rachel, my friend Antwon and I are on a journey of self discovery and downright adventure. That’s my bus outside. We’re road-tripping across the country to learn who we really are and also to find the best chicken and waffles in the south. Would you like to join us? My bus is quite big enough and Antwon isn’t much of a conversationalist. We’re good company for someone who has no company. I think we might do you a lot of good. What do you say?”

To Anthony’s surprise, she said “okay”, then walked to the back, loudly screeched at her manager that she quit, and walked back out to Anthony and Antwon and they all walked outside to the bus. They drove to Rachel’s house and picked up some of her belongings (including Penelope) and hit the road again.

Spirits were high that evening as they drove slowly in the right lane of the highway with 2 new bus members. Rachel actually seemed sort of happy (I say sort of because she was still a grumpy old grouch, but she seemed less salty; less like the Dead Sea and more like the Atlantic Ocean). 

Anthony was happier than ever. He had formed a little band of misfits and he could tell they would be friends. He had already found an odd companion in Antwon and he hoped he could say the same about Rachel. She seemed to him a little more intimidating than Antwon, though he couldn’t discern why, but he was optimistic about her. He was a man of hunches and his hunch told him that she needed them for some reason. Only time would tell if his hunch was true, he decided. 

“We should name the bus,” Rachel said in her usual monotone.

“What should we name it?”

There was a pause where nobody spoke. You know that moment with your group of friends when you have to decide where to eat but nobody wants to take charge because they’re scared the others won’t want to eat there? This was that kind of situation. Maybe everybody had a clever name for the bus, but nobody spoke up. But finally, Antwon did.

“Chicken and Waffles.” 

Anthony and Rachel thought it was hysterical and laughed together for the first time. It was quite raucous. From that moment forward, the bus was dubbed Chicken and Waffles. 

“When we get the chance, we’ll get rid of ‘deport the Mexicans’ and put ‘Chicken and Waffles’ on there instead.”

Everyone agreed it was a good idea.