We slip down the steps of the Parthenon, running across the crisp sunny lawn and into the dark shade of nearby oak trees, back toward the access road leading to the car retrieval.
That’s when we hear the music. The unmistakable jingle that announces the arrival of happiness and compels Nashvillians of all ages to fling themselves outside with their signing fingers held high in the air, ready to buy.
“Let’s stop for a minute,” I suggest, retracting my respirator collar and raising both eyebrows to signal our interest to the approaching vendor.
“Aren’t we supposed to be evading arrest for inciting a riot?” asks Monsieur M.
A bright red autonomous bus adorned with a massive acrylic bubble dome filled with bright yellow sparkles rounds the corner, its tinkling soprano siren call winding down to a slurred bass as it comes to rest beside us.
“Hi there!” says Cheesebus in a perfectly accented drawl. “I’m Cheesebus.”
“Hi, Cheesebus!” I reply, far more loudly than necessary.
“Does somebody here want some cheese?” asks Cheesebus giddily.
“Can we see the menu?” asks Monsieur M.
“Menus are so impersonal. Cheesebus prefers to help each person make curated selections. Are y’all planning a meal tonight? Or would you like to consider a wine pairing based on a completely unscientific personality profile test? Or based on your horoscope? Or you could just tell me how you’re feeling right now. Cheesebus is a great listener.”
“Or you could just show us the tasting menu,” quips Monsieur M.
“Well, Retsina and Époisses for this one,” proclaims Cheesebus. “And for you? Feeling saucy as well?”
“Malbec and whatever goes with Malbec, please.”
“Sure, darlin’, Malbec and a nice Granny White & Bleu for you.”
Two of the three glowing portals on the side of the bus illuminate and open to reveal small serving trays, each with a large sake cup of wine accompanying a modest plate of cheese.
“Oh, nihongo wa hanasemasu ka?” asks Monsieur M.
“Ja, Ich kanne,” replies Cheesebus.
“I asked if you spoke Japanese,” retorts Monsieur M, switching back to English.
“I know,” snorts Cheesebus, “but you asked in a German accent, so I’m being helpful.”
“I’m not sure that’s actually helpful,” says Monsieur M.
“Chotto matte kudasai, chotto matte kudasai,” interrupts Cheesebus. “I’m detecting a problem with my payment system.”
“Well, we’re kind of running from the police, so if you could hurry up,” sighs Monsieur M.
“A repair is on the way, though. And I can accept barter in the meantime.”
“Um, I have a can of beans and an avocado,” says Monsieur M, fishing out a somber green orb from his trouser pocket.
“You have a used avocado,” insists Cheesebus.
“It’s not used. It’s just been in my pocket. It’s perfectly fine.”
“Would you eat an avocado I just handed you from my pocket?”
“You don’t have pockets. You’re a food truck.”
“Well I don’t actually eat either, but I do have feelings.”
Cheesebus suddenly shudders as a Fifty Fourteenths Bank drone plops atop the bubble dome and plays its own ear-wormy “We Get Dat Money 4 U” jingle, made popular in a long series of witty social media posts created for the bank last year by precocious tweens on another continent far away from this one.
“Hi, I’m Cashy!” says the banking drone.
“Hi, I’m Cheesebus!” says Cheesebus.
“I’m sorting out your network issues now. We’ll have you back up and running in no time. Can’t sell cheese without a payment system!” barks Cashy cloyingly.
“This is kind of weird for a semi-socialist society, isn’t it?” remarks Monsieur M to no one in particular.
I feel a priority notification tingle on my right wrist and display it. “Think we can stop running and just enjoy our cheese,” I announce, reading a bank debit receipt from the metro government — three thousand revolutionary credits automatically liberated from my account for temple floor cleaning and mourner counseling.
“All up and running again! See ya later!” says Cashy, unlatching itself from Cheesebus and hovering skyward.
“So all of these items are produced by some nudist cheesemaker collective?” asks Monsieur M.
“We’re not just a bunch of oversexed raclette machine enthusiasts, hon,” exclaims Cheesebus, “we’re a movement of curd warriors and dairy artisans unafraid to expose — ”
“ — Ok, Cheesebus, how much do we owe you?” I cut in, while sanitizing the crumbs from my face with a complimentary wipe.
“Three thousand revolutionary credits.” I produce my signing finger and complete the transaction.
“This experience was not good,” asserts Monsieur M, detersively brushing off his hands and floating away.
“But you didn’t even try yours. Where can you find a better street cheese experience in Nashville than this?” whines Cheesebus anxiously.
“Sorry, Cheesebus,” I say, chasing after my guest.