the good story project 2019
volume 1

This story was submitted by Jessa Barniol and printed with permission. You can find more of Jessa’s writing at and

It was January 2009, and I was standing in an obscenely long customs line at a Mexican airport. I was worried about making my connecting flight, and so I alternated between the equally helpful actions of rubbing the toe of one sneaker against the instep of the other, frowning at my watch, and nervously picking at the blue polka-dotted shoelace I had tied to the handle of my black suitcase to differentiate it from the hundreds of other black suitcases up for grabs. 

My first flight had arrived late.



I was going to have to run to my gate. 


I was so absorbed in this cycle that I almost didn’t notice the people in line around me. In a fleeting moment, I glanced at the man directly in front of me, or at least, at the back of his head. 


He was a short, nondescript man with brown hair and glasses, and he was already holding his American passport open to the photo page. Rookie, I thought to myself. We hadn’t even turned the last corner of the line, and I, for one, always kept my passport tucked away until the last possible moment. 


The man’s traveling companion, another nondescript man in ratty gray sweats with unbrushed brown curls, leaned over and murmured something in his ear. I couldn’t see either of their faces. I glanced at the man’s open passport. Buffalo? No, Ruffalo, I thought to myself. And the first name: Mark. 

Mark Ruffalo.

Oh, man, this poor guy, I thought. It must really suck to have the exact same name as a famous person. 

I absentmindedly reached for the shoelace on my suitcase, and my hand froze in midair.

I turned my head to look again at the man’s passport picture, then slowly looked up and caught a glimpse of his face. It was the Mark Ruffalo. 

The other man leaned over to murmur something in his ear again, and I gasped. 

Gray sweats and unbrushed curls was Orlando Bloom. 

This was 2009, and Orlando Bloom was larger than life. Every girl had a thing for Orlando Bloom, whether it was pirate Orlando Bloom, long-haired archer elf Orlando Bloom, or suffering Elizabethtown romantic Orlando Bloom. 

No one ever told me about nondescript gray sweats and unbrushed curls Orlando Bloom.

We were almost to the front of the line now, and it took me a few minutes to muster up the courage to ask for their autographs. With tight-lipped, polite smiles, they both obliged. And then, as the people in line around us watched Orlando Bloom hand my notebook back to me, everyone suddenly realized who they were. A crush of people pressed in for autographs. (This was still slightly before the time of camera phones and selfies.)

Suddenly I felt bad for having started this avalanche. They both kept the same polite, tight-lipped smiles as they wrote their names again and again for the crush of strangers.

You know what might suck even worse than sharing a famous person’s name? I thought to myself. Actually being a famous person and having to write that name over and over for people who think they love you, even though they don’t know you. 

Finally, mercifully, Mark Ruffalo and Orlando Bloom reached the front of the line. 

The grand punchline of a Mexican customs line is the “fiscal stoplight,” an actual stoplight with a large button underneath it. You push the button, and you are given either a green or a red light, presumably at random. A green light means go. A red light means a secondary search. Mark Ruffalo got the green light and quickly shuffled through to the other side. But Orlando Bloom got the red light, and all his bags were hauled aside for a secondary search. The officials pulled a plastic box of fruit salad from his backpack and told him in halting English that the fruit could not come into the country. And so he stood there in his gray sweats, shoveling the last of his breakfast into his mouth beside a metal table onto which his belongings were being unceremoniously flung from his suitcase. 

As I reached the stoplight myself, an official pulled a pair of gray boxer briefs from his suitcase and flung it on top of the pile of his belongings. Orlando Bloom’s underwear. Orlando Bloom shoved a large cube of cantaloupe in his mouth and chewed quickly, awkwardly. The green light flashed before me, and it was then I realized that famous people are just people too. Even Orlando Bloom.

So I picked up my suitcase and ran to my connecting gate without ever looking back. 

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