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Let's Go Crazy

A case of mistaken identity on a Greyhound bus was the closest I ever got to Prince

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today 2 get through this thing called "that time I was mistaken for Prince's girlfriend."

I was a college student, headed home for the weekend. Something happened to my car—a Buick that drove like a cement mixer—because something was always happening with my car. So I was forced to ride the bus, which turned a 3-hour drive into a 7-hour exercise in tedium.

My route originated in the gentle, green hills of Athens, Ohio. As we headed north, the road stretched into a thin, gray line through rectangles of farmland, where long rows of dirt cradled the tiniest whispers of sprouts. Those plants weren't quite crops yet, more like the potential for crops. Corn, soybeans, squash—as far as any of us could see.

The air was goopy and heavy, the kind of Midwestern day where spring was about to mosey into summer. Everyone on the bus was slick with sweat and stink, and I made an effort to maintain my personal space. It was too hot for conversation, so nobody said a word, not the tweakers nor the farmers nor the mother with her mess of kids. Nobody except for a man seated a couple rows behind me.

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"Pssst," he said.

I heard the guy, but I didn't turn around.

"Pssst." It was louder this time. More insistent.

Still, I didn't acknowledge him, though a few people turned their heads.

"Pssst. Hey, Apollonia," he said.

That's when I looked back.

As anyone who came of age in the 1980s knows, Apollonia Kotero is an actual angel, hewn from rose petals, glitter and lacy black lingerie. You might remember her from the background vocals of the Prince song, "Take Me With U," or as the frontwoman of the band Apollonia 6. (Their biggest single was "Sex Shooter," shooting love in your direction.) But chances are you are most familiar with Apollonia from "Purple Rain," in which she played the love interest to Prince's bad boy character.

"Purple Rain" was one of those films I watched when I was far too young, so I couldn't process any of its nuances, but it did ignite a fire in me for Prince. I didn't even know what sex was then, but I saw the looks that smoldered between Prince and Apollonia, and I understood magic existed there.

"Yeah, you," the guy jabbed a finger in my direction. "Apollonia."

He slid from his row, then crouched in the aisle next to my seat. His limbs were slender, like spaghetti, and he appeared to be sober. His graying hair was neatly cropped, though his clothes had seen better days.

"I loved you in 'Purple Rain,'" he said.

I explained that I wasn't in "Purple Rain"—or any rock musical, for that matter. I was a journalism student at Ohio University.

The man peered at me. He examined every centimeter of my face, holding my gaze until I blushed and shifted my eyes down to the grimy bus floor. There was a long pause, and neither one of us said anything.

For the record, I don't look anything like Apollonia. I have curly, reddish hair and skin the color of mayonnaise. Apollonia, on the other hand, is a literal goddess who walks the earth, leaving unicorn tears in her wake.

The man asked for an autograph. I refused.

"I know times is hard, Apollonia," he whispered. "I won't tell nobody you're on the Greyhound."

I thought that was charming, actually. Respectful. This guy was so sincere in his appreciation for Apollonia, he vowed to protect her reputation.

The man held his bus ticket up in cupped palms, like an offering. I took it and pulled a pen from my backpack.

"Love," I wrote. Then I scrawled "Apollonia" in big, bubbly cursive, the way I imagined she would write it, with a heart above the i. I was confident I spelled her name incorrectly.

The man carefully folded the autograph into his wallet, then grabbed my right hand and kissed it.

"You have no idea how happy you made me," he said. The man returned to his seat. He didn't say another word, even after switching busses, all the way to my stop in Dayton.

At first, I felt guilty. I had no right to mislead this guy during what he thought was a celebrity encounter. But the guilt soon passed and made way for joy.

As long as I've been aware of music to love, I've loved Prince. I collected albums and eagerly read every interview. I attended Prince concerts, sitting as close as I could afford. When Prince played Coachella in 2008, I squeezed my way through the dense crowd to stand front and center.

But in all these years, the closest I've ever felt to the Purple One was on that wheezy Greyhound bus. The notion that I could be the woman to catch Prince's eye, even for a second, thrilled me. It whisked me away from the world of corn, soybeans and squash, and slipped me into the "Purple Rain" universe, among people who were sexy, vibrant, bold and defiant.

Maybe the man was crazy. Maybe he was nuts. But I certainly wasn't going to be the elevator to bring him down. Oh no.

   
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