My truck was acting up, so I had to take the Greyhound bus to Vegas. I wasn’t too happy about this. For one, I would have to dish out some cash to heal whatever ailment (s) my truck was suffering from. And two, the haul to Vegas wasn’t for fun. No hanging out with old friends. No extra-spicy chicken fingers at Danny’s. No wine or whiskey. I was going to town to see my attorney where at the end of our meeting she would tell me that I was officially and financially screwed. Yay for me! How neat! Such a wonderful way to start off the New Year!

But this was on me. This is what happens when you make poor personal and professional decisions. So, I had to eat it. And I had to take the damn bus to get this delightful news. I haven’t taken the bus since my high school days, but I remember it being an ugly combination of dingy people, screaming babies, and the pungent stench of decaying homemade food. This bus ride would be no different. Right when I stepped on the bus, I was hit with smudged faces, pissed off babies, and rotting food.

I found a seat next to this girl whose name turned out to be Jessica. We chatted for a bit. She’d been living in Vegas only for a few months. A transplant from L.A. Vegas was a new start for her. L.A was a bust. She liked Vegas—was taken in by the buzzing neon, the dusty red stone of Red Rock Canyon.

I turned on my iPod that I got from Santa (thanks, Tori) and settled in as we cut through the pale tones of the desert. I moved to the desert in 1981 and was immediately smitten by its perfect silence, its hard dirt, the spiny joshua trees—spooky and beautiful—sprouting out of the ground in ancient desert shapes. I was born in L.A, but it was the desert that wired and built me. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow” filled my ears, the lyrics a timely narrative.

Come to decide that the things I tried

Were in my life just to get high on

When I sit alone come get a little known

But I need more than myself this time

The bus weaved over I-15 and my mind tumbled through the past year: leaving my house with two bags full of books and clothes knowing I wasn’t going to return to the woman that was living inside. Befriending a chihuahua named Duke that would sing on cue. Seeing a giant rainbow in Thousand Palms rising from behind the San Gorgonio Mountains. Being holed-up and depressed in a smoke-infested hotel room on Boulder Highway with a fridge full of beer and a large pepperoni pizza. A handful of poems I wrote for a dear friend whom I love from head to toe. Driving through the desert in the middle of the night with an eccentric 70 year-old man who goes to law school and rides his Triumph motorcycle through the desert between Lucerne Valley and Barstow. Not being able to sleep for weeks on end and having late night conversations with Zara Potts. “Get some sleep,” she’d type and send over the wire. Writing a telling song in Woodland, California, that would eerily predict my future. A reading I gave in Hollywood, meeting some great folk for the first time, and in the company of a beautiful woman. The time I was having dinner with a buddy in Vegas and some woman walked up to the table and said, “Excuse me. But are you Reno Romero? I’ve been reading your stuff for years. I’m a big fan of The Nervous Breakdown.” Sleeping in my truck for two days in Stockton while rain and bad thoughts pelted the windshield. A gay pride festival I went to with my friend Trish where the boys were far prettier than the girls. Dancing to Al Green with my aunt and cousin buzzing on cheap beer and howling into the night like a pack of wild dogs. The countless nights I thought about my grandmother and wished she was still around. Jogging on the cracked streets of Hesperia—my hometown—not believing I was back after all these years, but feeling a sense of peace in the jagged shadows of some joshua trees that graced a vacant lot.

I was talking to Megan DiLullo one morning and we talked about the past year. I told her that 2009 was a bad year—that I could never have imagined the unforeseen circumstances that rolled my way in heavy waves.

“I don’t know if it was so much a bad year,” she said, in her charming punk rock style. “But it was a hard year.”

A hard year.

She was right.

It was a hard year.

* * *

After my attorney gave me the predicted news, I headed back to my grandmother’s house. It was over. I signed the needed papers and was free. Free to roam. Free to stay put. Free to do whatever I wanted. I was both sad and relieved. I slipped the key in the lock, opened the door, and smelled my grandmother. Her scent hasn’t left the house. I walked into her room and looked at her bed. She died in her room among crucifixes, paintings of Jesus, family pictures, and some books I bought her. I stepped into her closet and brushed my hands over her clothes that we refuse to put in boxes. I tuned her guitar and played it long into the night.

The next morning I went for a jog, taking my old route. Hacienda to Nellis, Nellis to Russell, Russell to Mountain Vista and back down to Hacienda. Just like old times. After a five-star lunch that consisted of Jack In The Box’s dog food tacos and Vegas tap water, my aunt dropped me off at the bus station that was littered with action: two Hispanic dudes smoking a joint in the parking lot. A batch of disheveled Chinese tourists with swollen I-didn’t-get-any-sleep-last-night eyes guarding their luggage. A pissed off American with greasy dirt-blond hair making a scene because he missed his bus to Albuquerque. A pretty brunette staring at a wall of casinos in the distance. Some black dude dancing in front of the terminal dressed in a stained wife-beater and wearing shorts that sat just below his nuts. A young woman peppered with zits nervously smoking a cigarette and checking her cell phone.

And then to make things even more entertaining, the bus was running late. Not one hour, but two hours. Curses and moans filled the room. Faces were twisted and long. Some people walked up to the counter and bitched. The dude behind me—who reeked of booze and cigarettes—sat on the floor Indian-style and watched porn on his laptop. I looked down and saw two chicks eating each other out. Now, I realize there are a lot of men (and women for that matter) that enjoy watching girl-on-girl action, but I’m not one of them. I’d rather eat a trough of liver and onions and then mow fifty acres of crabgrass. I text a friend who’s a big fan of seeing girls fuck each other.

“In Vegas. The bus is late. Too bad you’re not here with me, vato. I’m watching two chicks munching each other.”

“Shut up! In person?” he immediately fired back.

“No. Sorry. On some asshole’s laptop.”


The bus finally arrived and as fate would have it, Mr. Porn sat next to me and cranked up the sticky show once again. I couldn’t do anything, but laugh to myself. What a crazy life, I thought. Truly crazy. Attorneys with bad, yet good news. Memories of men and women. Rainbows and rain. Poems and cheap beer. An unscripted future up ahead. Paul Simon’s “Graceland” came through the earphones as the bus passed Bell Mountain and dipped into the Mojave Narrows where years ago I used to catch snakes and scorpions and kissed Julie Newland on a warm desert night.

There’s a girl in New York City, calls herself the human trampoline

And sometimes when I’m falling, flying, tumbling in turmoil

Well, I say so this is what she means

She means we’re bouncing into Graceland

I got off the bus in Victorville and met a man that just got out of the prison that’s down the road on the outskirts of town. He was kind, was going back home to Seattle where he said he was going to stay out of trouble, do the right thing.

“Good luck out there, man,” I told him with sincerity and shook his hand.

“Hey, you too,” he said, and boarded his bus.

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RENO J. ROMERO was born in the badlands of El Sereno, California. A bona fide Las Vegan, he also lived in the dirty South for three miserable years, where he was introduced to depression, grits, humidity, and sweet tea. A graduate of UNLV, the Southern Nevada Writing Project, and seedy bars, he enjoys Chinese food, Tamron Hall, the Trickster, and football. He currently writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction from the California desert, living among rattlesnakes, old bones, and biker speed. He's been published in various publications including Falling From the Sky (short story anthology), Celebrity Poets, and Central Speak. He can be reached at [email protected]

52 responses to “Drive (Going to Graceland)”

  1. Gloria says:

    Wow, Reno. This is beautiful and struck a chord with me on multiple levels. I, too, was made from desert stuff – and that is where my roots are, even though my branches now live in the Pacific Northwest. I spent years in Vegas – and Barstow.

    The long paragraph that begins “The bus weaved over I-15 and my mind tumbled through the past year…” is magic.

    And Graceland. That song is magic too. I’ve quoted the “girl who calls herself a human trampoline” part many times in the last years.

    The Chili Peppers lyrics are also great. Have you read Kiedis’s book Scar Tissue? It’s not high lit, but is absolutely engaging.

    I loved reading this. You engaged all of my senses – sight, sound, touch, smell, hearing, and taste (loved the dogfood tacos bit – that is what they taste like!)


    • Reno J. Romero says:

      say, gloria. thank you so much for reading. so you come from the desert, too? small world. desert folk, are, well, desert folk. the sun does something to us, the wind racing down the san bernardino mountains does something to us. “graceland” is one of my favorite songs. i simply love it. the imagery, the message is perfect. i haven’t read kiedis’ book, but i will. i find him (and his band) kickass, so california. his lyrics are right on. “snow” is a perfect example. if there’s an L.A band it’s RHCP. do take care, gloria, and thanks again.

      reno romero

      • Gloria says:

        I like to say that I’m solar-powered. This is why I make a yearly trek to L.A. I need my suntime and I start wilting up here in all this rain. I won’t be able to go this spring; I have to put it off until early June. Which is fine, actually. Even though the rest of the Northern Hemisphere experiences signs of summer by June, we in the NW do not (well, not always anyway.)

        You take care, too, sir.

  2. Irene Zion says:

    Reno, I just read your bio at the end and I read too fast and I thought you said you were a bona fide Vegan!
    I would NOT have come to LA to get vegan burritos with you!

    I think you have to think of the whole trip as simply a visit to your grandmother’s memory.
    Forget all the rest of it. What good does it do?
    I know it’s hard to do, but you’re a big tough guy.
    Give it a good try.
    Visiting your precious grandmother’s memory again.
    It was worth it.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      hey. thanks for the kind words. and NO i’m not a vegan, but i have been known to eat veggie burgers (just got some yesterday and will devour them promptly). when you come to CA we will gorge ourselves with all things meaty and greasy. we don’t have time to keep things lean. so here’s to 2010! i’m sure it’ll be a hell of a lot better.


  3. Matt says:

    A well-told tale, Reno, and I’ve felt this way many a time. 2009 was a bad, hard year for all of us, I think.

    I’m very sorry about your Grandmother. The line about her scent not leaving the house just killed me.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      thanks for reading. 2009 was a muthertrucker. but i learned a few things (good and bad) about myself that i’m sure will be handy in the days to come. this year, despite, the news i got from my attorney is already looking and feeling better. hell, anything will be better than the mike tyson beating i received in 2009. cheers.

  4. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    Beautiful, moody piece, Reno. And yes, 2009 wasn’t bad, but it did seem like constant battle. And the economy was only a small part of that.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      you’re right, stefan: in the end it probably wasn’t too bad. in fact it can be argued that it was just another year. but it was hard and i’m thrilled to have it all behind me. well…

      thanks for reading, sir. now remember: keep IT clean.


  5. sarah says:

    my eyes got misty for you while reading this. you sir know how to tap into that wide range of human emotions. I know exactly what you’ve described about your grandmother’s house via my experience with my mother’s death. it’s hard hard stuff when you have big awful changes in your life and the only person you can think of that could ever possibly comfort isn’t there anymore.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      thanks, sarah. losing my grandmother (who i called mom) was tough. still is everytime “layla” comes over the radio, everytime i step into her house. but we had a blast together. she was a doll and a dear friend to me. do take care, sarah, and i’ll do the same.


  6. Richard Cox says:

    I’m with Gloria. I loved that long paragraph, the details that are quirky on their own but together paint a picture. Good stuff.

    Funny that someone recognized you because of TNB. That happened to me a couple of times when I had a decent following on MySpace blogs. Weird.

    Your mood and atmosphere of your writing paints a picture of the desert more than just a few of your descriptions. It evokes a desolate and human feeling that is hard to describe, but totally works.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      hey, sir. can you believe that someone recognized me from TNB? it was weird. i thought it was a set-up. i looked around for a camera…

      the desert is a special place to me. no matter where i go i will always be a desert guy. i know it. i’ve spent years in its shadows, its wind, and the still days of summer. it’s not for everyone, but when it works, it works.

      thanks for reading, richard. i truly appreciate you taking out the time. take care, man.

      all right,

  7. Zara Potts says:

    Ah, Reno.
    2009 was a shit year. She was ruthless.
    I too, recall those nights when we couldn’t sleep, both on opposite sides of the world, I am grateful I had you across the ocean to keep me company. Love songs after midnight were never more enjoyable!
    Beautiful piece, my friend. Evocative and haunting.
    Here’s to twenty ten – May she be merciful!

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      oh, we treaded that fucker…

      thank YOU for keeping me company. so many nights i saw the sun coming up. it was crazy and when i look back at those weird days it feels like they didn’t happen to me, but somebody else. but it was me. and you. and there we were burning the midnight oil. cheers to IM! thanks, my friend. 2010 better be nice to us. after all: don’t we deserve a nicer party?

      kia ora,
      reno j. romero

  8. Amanda says:

    I agree with your friend–not a bad year but a hard one. A tough one. A supermean bastard. That was indeed 2009. What epithet gets laid on 2010 remains T.B.D.

    First, you get rid of things, then you fill that space with something new. The “new” doesn’t have to be perfect, so long as it’s at least a little better.

    • Reno J. Romero says:


      a supermean bastard. you nailed. that’s what it was. but i think you’re right: fill up the place with something new. this year already feels better. it better, damn…

      thanks, amanda. three days until the super bowl. it’s gonna be a dandy.


      • Amanda says:

        In David Attenborough’s bird documentary series, there is an episode about male birds sweeping their “display areas” with branches and twigs, making little circles on the jungle floor all tidy, in which they can then do nice dances to attract female birds, or just show off to the jungle population in general that they are nicely plumed and having a great day. There’s footage of this one particular bird holding a twig in its beak and using it like a broom then kicking up its feet and singing like mad.

        2010 is your jungle display area, haha, and perhaps you can incorporate some celebratory steps if your favoured NFL team wins on Sunday. (or, blow off steam after getting jacked on tins of beer and sacks of salty pork rinds).

        : )

        • reno romero says:

          ha! amanda your replies are always the best. this one is a keeper! too funny. i have seen some bird docs and have seen some of these dudes getting down, doing their thing. trust me: this year i will be doing some dancing. wild jigs, some soft shoe. that –along with some hearty veggie burgers–will make everything all right. it’s my duty. it’s a must! have a great day, amanda. thanks for putting a smile on my face.

          reno romero

  9. Jim Lyons says:

    Reno J,
    You, my friend went through what no one wishes, and I commend you for battling through, like the true mexican desert man you are. You are bruised, but not broken. The bruises will heal, and I already know you are healing and will come out of this stronger than before.

    You are a good man, a great friend, and I love you.

    • reno romero says:


      well, it was a wild ride. geez. but all is well and grooving. despite my attorney’s gruesome news the month of january was mellow with a solid dose of coolness (is that even a word?). i love you, brudda. hey, fuck all this mawkish yap! we have one more game! i want to hear that you ate like a king, screamed like a banshee, and got blind drunk and kissed some betty! do it! all right, sir. you da man. later, gator.

      crank maiden,
      reno romero

  10. Becky says:

    “Desert Road from Vegas to nowhere, someplace better than where we’ve been…”

    Though I suppose it’s technically a Desert road To Vegas from nowhere, and it’s important for my street cred to mention that in my head, I sing the Jeff Buckley version, not the Streisand one.

    That’s about all I have to add, but that’s what started playing in my head when I read the blurb on the home page, so I had to follow the song and click through.

  11. Meg says:

    I miss you and my heart hurts from across the way. I hope good things for 2010 – for both of us. 🙂

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      hey, meg. all is well. perhaps, one day we’ll meet in vegas for blue moons and other wild desert tomfoolery. take care, my friend. here’s to 2010! yay!


  12. D.R. Haney says:

    I can so hear you saying those words at the end to the ex-con.

    As you may or may not have read here at TNB, I took a Greyhound recently. It’s got to be the worst way to travel. At the same time, that trip, and those taken on public transportation, bring me into contact with people I would never get to meet, or in any case observe, otherwise.

    As for Zara, she’s a great one for late-night talks–or talks at any hour, of course, but it’s really soothing to hear her admonitions to get some sleep. Meanwhile, if it’s any consolation, 2009 was a rough year for me also, though it would seem to have been worse for you. Better times lie ahead. They have to.

    Excuse me, but are you Reno Romero? I’ve been reading your stuff for years. I’m a big fan of The Nervous Breakdown, and this is one of my favorite pieces by you.

    • Zara Potts says:

      Get some sleep.

      • Reno J. Romero says:

        everybody get some sleep! for the love of god.

        (let it be known that reno has been sleeping like a baby, hitting the pillow around 9:30 on a nightly basis. now, that’s one good sign…)

    • Reno J. Romero says:


      good morning, sir. well, the greyhound sucks period. if i can avoid that damn dog then i will. i didn’t even tell the whole story which involved some dude almost getting arrested, a batch of folk cussing like maniacs, etc. the bus driver pulled a couple of these dudes out of the bus and threatened to leave them in vivtorville (they were going to san bernardino). it was wild and perfectly sick.

      we’ll catch up soon, handsome. i’m working on my truck this weekend and will be panning a trip to L.A. we’ll go on a date. what do you want me to wear?

      scorpions and snakes,

  13. jmblaine says:

    You know man every time I read one of your stories
    I have to wait awhile before I comment because there’s so much there
    you got layers you know?
    Maybe you don’t know.
    Life is crazy and wonderful and heartbreaking and beautiful
    and chaotic and there’s so much humanity in all your stories
    that it just fills me up and gives me hope and makes me sad.
    I got a lotta love for you Reno Romero
    you are an incredibly likable character because you are so real
    & I hope one day we meet face to face.

  14. Reno J. Romero says:


    well, what can i say? but thank you. really. you’re right about life. it is all those things and even though i’ve seen and felt some real bad stuff over the years it wasn’t until this year that i really understood lose. real lose. lose of self. lose of dear people. it was a real eye-opener that had me in the ring everyDAY. even though the days had splashes of good light, they were followed by dread, uneasiness, and uncertainty. but as the year went on things got a little better. it’s the small graces, they say. so i’ll take them. and i have. we will meet one day. in fact, we already have. but in person will be a delight. some day. take care, 11, and i’ll do the same.

    them small graces,
    reno j. romero

    PS- i downloaded some maiden i my iPod. oh, how rock and roll is that. now, maiden is part of the beauty in this life. aces high!

    • jmblaine says:

      You know it’s usually the music that gets us through no?

      I heard Dio had cancer and it just made me kinda
      sad & nostalgic
      so I’ve been going back and listening to
      all his solo stuff and Sabbath’s Heaven & Hell
      and I thought of how much good stuff that guy has
      brought to my life.

      Take care my brother,
      Troop on

      • Reno J. Romero says:

        no! dio! i also downloaded “long live rock and roll” to my iPod. that dude has a glorious voice. so rock and roll. i’ve seen him a handful of times and he never disappointed. a pure artist. metal artist, i should say. anyhow, music is a dream. a sweet dream. we need it.

        take care, 11. thanks for the kind words. you make my day. have for years now.

  15. Greg Olear says:

    Awesome piece, Reno.

    When the economy is in the toilet worldwide, as it is, it does tend to put a damper on things. It oozes into everything. I think Megan nailed it — 2009 was tough.

    As I’ve said to Simon, Zara, Matt, and the many other 2009 haters, this is a new year, and a new decade (it’s not really a new decade, but colloquially it’s considered one), and things can only go up. I think one year from now, all of us will be in better places.



    • Reno J. Romero says:


      hey, sir. hey, you know, it is a new year and i plan on owning this fucker. i’m sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. enough is enough. this month, despite my lovely attorney’s news (can’t blame her, she’s a doll), there’s a sense of relieve, choice, and freedom roaming around. and that, my friend, is not too shabby. so here’s to 2010. let’s beat it up and get the belt back. cheers, greg. thanks for reading.

      peace x10,

  16. I’m reading part of this to the Random Writers Workshop tonight… I’ll comment more later, bro.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      hey, bro. i hope all is well and the reading (very cool of you) goes well. take care, homes.


      btw: how’s your son’s band doing?

      • Ah man, Landen is in his room tearing it up on the guitar and singing as I type. He’s recording an album. He recently remade “The Streets Of Bakersfield” for the ECHL Bakersfield Condors Jumbotron that plays before every game. (I love a good hockey fight).

        The reading went well. I read the first three paragraphs as we discussed POV. Going to go post the link on our Random Writers Workshop Facebook page.

        Your piece resonated with me. I left Las Vegas on Sept. 12, 2001. I was going to take a bus on Sept. 11, 2001. The buses were a 3 day wait. So I waited a day and got a ride from a friend. I was downtown at The Plaza. You should have seen the damn line for the bus. I was leaving a 6-year relationship behind. I had a bag of clothes and $100. Enough said.

        • Reno J. Romero says:


          that’s very cool for you reading my stuff in your class. much appreciation. vegas is our town and perhaps one day we can meet up there and see what we can find. i’m not kidding, either. douse ourselves in glitter and hit the town.

          being a musician is probably one of the coolest experiences in this world. you’re son is one lucky dude. good for him. i love being able to play guitar. it has brought me hours, years, of enjoyment. for lack of a better word, it’s been a blessing. tell him to keep rocking. for all of us. and you keep rocking too, belardes. later.

          in tune,

  17. Oh, Reno. This post was soooooooo Reno that I’m really glad you wrote it. I’d hate to think that someone was trying to out-Reno you, brother. Peace.

  18. Reno J. Romero says:


    hey, good sir. three words my guru: band of horses. oh, lord, these guys are heaven sent and i CANNOT get enough of their CD. much appreciation, brother. i adore you. thanks for reading my junk.

    reno jess romero

  19. I love you, man!

    Yeah, I’m fucking drunk and tired as shit, but it doesn’t negate the “I love you, man!”

    Let’s go kick Sisyphus in the sack and have some taco’s.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      ha. i love YOU, man. and i’m NOT drunk, but partaking in a scruptous Cactus Cooler. this morning i had one egg and then ran for two miles. eggs and tennis shoes.

      piss on sisylopogolousness. he’s a punk and needs to get the brains to just walk off the damn mountain or find a giant hammer or some sticks of dynamite and blow that stone to bits. oh, well. thanks, sis. you rock. and roll.

      kick her in the taco,

  20. Ducky Wilson says:

    Really like this. So full of soul.

    “I remember it being an ugly combination of dingy people, screaming babies, and the pungent stench of decaying homemade food” – this is exactly why I love bus rides. Am I the only one?

    2009 was tough for all, indeed, but I fully believe that it was preparing us for all the good to come now. So we’ll be grateful.

    (If I’m wrong, let me cling to my delusions.)

  21. Reno J. Romero says:

    say, ducky. how are you? you know, i’m a vegas local and that city got rocked hard when the economy hit the shitter. of course, all cities felt this and are still suffering, but vegas–a city unto itself–got knocked on its ass. when other cities weren’t growing vegas was. when other cities could make a dime in profit vegas made bucket loads. now: foreclosures, no jobs, few jobs, part0time work, etc. i’ve had many friends who were making good money and experiencing good lives see it all go away. very sad indeed.

    but enough of that. bus rides can be all right, i guess. i guess i didn’t meditate enough that morning. maybe i would have seen the splender in it all. maybe next time…

    well, let’s hope 2010 is a good one. personally, i think it’s goona be all right. i have faith. take care, ducky. thanks for reading.


  22. Hey Reno – sorry it took a while for me to get to this; I’ve read and re-read it a couple times now and love it all the more with each repeat.

    Here’s to 2010 amigo.

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      simon! hey, sir. thanks for reading. and you’re right: here’s to 2010! let’s own that fucker…right? take care.

  23. reno romero says:

    Reno. . . Reno. . . Reno. . .
    2010 WILL be a much better year for you, I have seen in the last few months you re-inventing your fire and desire. The Snow above Silverwood is is feeding the folly upon which we shall prey. You are doing well my friend, keep it up, and keep it on TNB.

    Cold and Silent is the Death of Winter ! 🙂

    • Reno J. Romero says:

      ah, steve. next time i won’t mess up your pc. looks like me writing to me. wait! don’t i do this anyhow? right. it’s all about reinventing. and it’s on. new wires here. new wires there. some new paint. perhaps a new motor. it’s in the works. this weekend: oil changes and hail marys. love that. see you at the 50-yard line.

      reno romero

  24. Sasha says:

    Hey there Stranger.

    It has been a while. I am sorry to hear that the rest of the year was not kind to you…to be honest it has not been easy on many of us…including myself. So…back in CA. Call me next time you’re in Vegas. You still owe me a beer and not to mention my book. Read it…it may give you some insight…it sure did so for me. You have my love.

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