Michael Bush and Alan

All photos courtesy of Michael Bush

An Improbable Meeting (Or, Playing Six Degrees of Michael Bush)

| published Date January 9, 2016 |

By Michael Bush, Thursday Review writer

Being a world traveler means you get to see some of the most amazing places imaginable, and that you get to taste the most incredible food found only in certain cities because the ingredients are too hard to source anywhere else. It also means that you miss out on a lot of stuff back home, like friends' and families' birthdays. In fact, you just downright miss your friends and families, period. But one of the other benefits of being an expat living abroad and traveling the world is the unique ability to meet and make friends with people from all over the world with fantastic stories of their own to tell. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to visit the local pub and chat up everyone—locals and visitors alike.

I have found some of the best conversations, and strangest coincidences too can often be found thousands of miles from your hometown. You just have to strap on your adventuring boots and take off to discover it all: the sights, the food, and the people.

You'd be surprised how many times I've run into someone that just so happens to be from Alabama. It's a big world, y'all: seven billion people and counting. But somehow, I seem to find Alabamians everywhere! A woman here in Penang helps run a bakery/café and she is from Mobile, Alabama. Another woman, who works at the school with my wife here in Penang, used to live in Graceville, Florida (only a stone's throw from Dothan, Alabama—my hometown). A man that worked at the school in Shanghai with my wife has a son that is attending college in Dothan…the same two-year college my wife and I attended right out of high school! The other day a man heard me speaking while ordering food in a hawker center and asked me where I was from. Wouldn't you know it? He's from Tuscaloosa, Alabama and works at another international school here in Penang.

My favorite of those Alabama links would have to be this one time when my family and I were at the fake market in Shanghai, China, shopping for souvenirs to take back to the States as gifts. While I sat outside waiting for my wife to pick out some scarves, a man overheard us talking back and forth and recognized the accent. It's not hard to miss, know wudda mean? "Where y'all from?" he said. I told him Alabama, and he slapped his knee. "I knew it! Me too!" he shouted. "Where in ‘Bama?" he then asked. When I answer, "Dothan," he leaped from the stool where was sitting and soared into the sky...well, he jumped really high, that is. He landed with a gleaming smile and said, "I graduated from Northview High School in 1985!"

My wife and I both graduated from Northview High School about 11 years after he did. I mean, what are the chances? Like I said, the Earth is vast—holding billions of people in countless places. How in the world did three people that graduated from the same little high school in a tiny town in a state not well known for breeding world travelers all end up in Shanghai, China shopping at the fake market in the same dang scarf shop?

Walt sure wasn't kidding, was he? Though, when he had that famous ride built with the infamous theme song, "It's a Small World After All," Mr. Disney probably wasn't thinking about a couple of Alabamians making connections all over the world. But the people that we meet, and the coincidences we find out here don't always have ties back to Alabama. Sometimes you just meet someone cool who with an entirely different background than you do but somehow find yourselves instant friends; talking about all the same crap you would with a buddy from back home.

These moments are important to me, as I do miss my friends and family very much. I get to see them once a year, or once every other year, but it's not enough. I know, I know, "move back home, then," you're probably saying (especially if you are my mother), but it's not that simple. We love the international lifestyle and don't want to give it up. The benefits for our children and for us are massive, and we can't let that go just yet. So, in the meantime, these instant friendships from fellow travelers are one of the keys to a happy life for me.

Recently, I met a man in the pub that was, like me, into Star Wars. Yep, that's about all I need as a conversation starter. (If you need proof, read my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Thursday Review). I've met a lot of people, and I intend to write about many of them at some point. They all tend to have those intense stories to tell that are perfectly accompanied by a few beers; quite a few beers...ok a lot of beers, to be brutally honest. But Alan—the fellow I met in the pub that day—had such cool stories, and one in particular that connected him to my wife and me in a roundabout way. I just felt the connection involved here was too unique to go untold and so here I am telling it. I won't give away his entire story because the second half deserves much more attention than I can offer in an article. I might have to write a book about it! It's that's interesting.

After meeting in the pub one night and talking Sci-Fi movies and TV shows for a bit, we decided to catch up the following evening. We did and this brought more discussions concerning my writing, my book ideas, his job as a software programmer, and his trials and tribulations with love. Our two nights at the bar consisted of talking talking talking and drinking drinking drinking; which is a great start to a long friendship, in my humble opinion.

Alan's mom is Malaysian and his father is English. He comes to Penang once a year to visit with them, and also to try and build a relationship with the many cousins he has here on the island. Alan was born and raised in London and went to college in Bristol to study Computer Science. After two good nights of laughter and beer, Alan and his parents went to Kuala Lumpur to ring in 2016. He wanted to get together and have another long night of drinking and chatting once he returned, and I was all for it.

Now, on this third night of our friendship, Alan finally drops the three big bombs that he has tucked up his sleeve. We all have those things we've done that we are proud of, but are reluctant to talk about because…well, it will just feel like bragging. So, like a good Englishman, Alan waited to tell these stories. He didn't want to brag, or to say this stuff as a way to make new friends. Instead, Alan wanted to tell these tales to an already established pal. Me! And once he discovered my love of film and my infinite desire to talk at length about movies while breaking them down bit by bit, Alan hit me with the lead-in to his first bombshell.

"I was an extra in a couple of films," he said.

Zing! I was instantly engaged. He had my full attention right there, mainly because I want to bring back the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game so bad, and this could be my chance to do so and dominate it aggressively for decades.

Alan tells me that he was looking for a job in his field sometime in 1994, but was not finding anything worth his time. One day, a friend mentioned to Alan that they were looking for extras for Richard Gere's First Knight. As luck would have it, Alan was into ballroom dancing in the 90's and had been taking classes to build up his skills in that area, and the extras they needed were meant to be used in a dancing scene. Perfect fit, right?

He didn't get the gig, unfortunately.

They did, however, offer Alan a part in a Sci-Fi movie. Zing! If you turn on the 1995 film Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone, Max von Sydow, and Rob Schneider, during the opening sequence Alan can be found walking behind Robbie Schneider and then sitting beside him in the flying taxi. Though, Alan said it was just the body of a flying taxi and that people just stood outside of it shaking the hell out of the thing to give the feeling of flying through the air. Not a real flying taxi? WTF Stallone, you cheapskate! (Note: I fully understand that Stallone did not fund the movie. And that flying taxis don't exist.) Alan in Judge Dredd

Alan even has a speaking part in Judge Dredd, but they said an American accent would be dubbed over his own British voice in the film release, and it was. But his mouth still moves! Although, Alan admits something went wonky with the sync, and so it looks a bit odd. But nevertheless, my homeboy Alan is right there in the opening sequence with Mr. You-Can-Do-It himself, Rob Schneider. To me, that is "frickin' awesome."

On his last day, Alan wanted to take home his prison tag prop he was wearing during his scene. Being an honest lad, Alan didn't just swipe it. Instead, he asked permission and was told, in not so many words, no bloody way. Having overheard this conversation, none other than Rob "A Shark Bit Me" Schneider walks over to Alan and says, "I was going to keep mine, but here. You take it." And he hands over his own prison tag that says, Rob Schneider on it. "For FREEEEEEE!"

But the story doesn't end there. In 2007, 12 years after Judge Dredd premiered in theaters, Alan was in Norway… or Iceland. Well, technically he was in both countries that year, but I can't remember in which one this story continues. Just know that it's either one or the other. So, he hears a rumor that Rob Schneider is in town. Thinking it would be cool to see his old co-worker (yes, I'm going to say they were colleagues) Alan decides to visit a swanky bar. Lo and behold, Robbie "The Animal" is there.

Again, Alan is a nice man and would never just barge into Rob's personal space and say, "Remember me? Let's be pals!" It would go against his British upbringing to stoop so low as that. Luckily, he didn't even have to consider it. Rob saw Alan at the bar and wandered over. "You look familiar," Rob said. "Don't tell me…Judge Dredd, in the taxi, right?"

Rightfully so, Alan was flabbergasted. How on Earth could Rob remember him from twelve years and one million Adam Sandler movies ago? All I can say is that he must be good with faces. So, Alan tells Rob that he still has the prison tag Mr. Schneider had given to him 12 years before, and also says it was a really nice gesture that Alan still remembers fondly. Rob offered to buy Alan a drink, but my friend refused and insisted on buying a round for the two of them. All I can think at this point is that Alan bought Rob Schneider a beer…and he bought me a few as well. I can feel the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon sizzling down to three or four.

"What was the other movie you were an extra in?" I asked my new friend Alan.

Hold that thought. In May of 1996, I found out that my best friend in the world was in a college class with the hottest girl I'd ever seen. I had met her a year before and was in shock with her curly red hair and pink glitter platforms. She was breathtaking. Chris and my dream girl were both a year ahead of me and were freshmen at college. I was still attending Northview High School and thought I would never have a chance with her. But she was in Chris's class, and I knew that was my in.

"Invite her to band practice," I begged Chris. "Chicks did dudes in bands." And so he did. Merissa came to band practice that night at Bobby's house. We practiced our garage infused poppy punk music in a shed behind his house. Merissa watched the whole practice, politely clapping even though we were dog turds terrible back then. She thought at the time that Chris had invited her for the two of them to possibly go on a date. But she discovered the truth when the practice was over and everyone disappeared except for me. I walked Merissa to her car and asked—the girl who would one day become my wife and give birth to my two sons—on our first date.

"Would you like to go see a movie with me?" I probably said. "Sure, which one?" she most likely replied.

Alan sipped his beer and said, "Mission: Impossible."

I looked at the hottest girl in school, who was voted Most Original at Northview High School in her senior year, and said, "How about Mission: Impossible?"
Alan in Mission Impossible

The details of his time on set are a blur to me. The sheer cosmic wonder of this unusual circumstance overwhelmed me at the bar that night. I heard him say it was only one day on the shoot though they paid him for seven, he told me it was the train scene he was in, Alan said Vanessa Redgrave was a cow and Ving Rhames was very cool, and someone wore big pink fuzzy slippers in all of their scenes. Not Tom Cruise, unfortunately, but I can't recall who it actually was.

None of that matters, though. Here is a man that was in the movie from the first date I ever had with my wife. Sure, he was just in the background of one scene, and only briefly, but still…there are a lot of people in the world…there are a lot of places in the world to have a drink…there are a lot of movies that have been made. For all of these to connect and intertwine to put Alan and me in the same bar on the same night is just mind-blowing.

The world may be really freaking big, but it's also pretty small at times. If you're ever worried about traveling because you'll be lonely or feel out of place, please take my advice. Stop at the local watering hole and just start talking. You'll be amazed at the stories you'll hear and the people you'll meet.

P.S. Another time I'll write about Alan's third bombshell. It's a doozy.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; December 26, 2015.

Bugging Out: The Value of Trying Creepy Things to Eat; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; November 21, 2015.

Ice & Beer: The Frozen North; Michael Bush; Thursday Review; December 13, 2015.