Unexpectations

I finished my last business call of the day and found myself at a fork in the night. I could start on my non-client project which was going to take a least a couple of hours or I could go grab a quick bite to eat. It was 10:30 PM which meant I was just on the late side of dinner in Spain but I decided to venture out anyway. I had no expectations, I just knew I was hungry. It was clearly not the best use of my time but as I have learned many times in my life, my stomach doesn’t carry a watch.

This post almost was about the hamburger I ate that night (the burger was called the ‘delicious burger’ and it was made with veal and goat cheese) but luckily for me and you, my night got a lot more interesting.

As I sat at the bar and joked with the bartender while trying to explain to him in broken Spanglish how to make an Old Fashioned, I overheard some Irishmen at the table next to me.

From overhearing their conversation, I found out that they were six brothers and an “almost brother-in-law” who were celebrating the stag (bachelor) party of the youngest brother. I smiled as I realized the situation around me was getting more interesting.

I struck up a conversation with the brother sitting closest to me. He was a large guy who had obviously finished his fare share of Guinness’ in his life. He had a thick Irish accent and smiled through disheveled teeth. He made fun of me for being American and I made fun of him for talking to the only other non-related male in a bar full of women. We instantly realized we were going to get along.

“Where you from American?” he said as he finished his beer.

“Seattle… its north of California”.

“Oh yes, Nirvana and Kurt Cobain”.

It never fails.

Despite what economists might say, I am convinced that the United State’s biggest export is pop culture. No matter where I travel, I hear the same Adele song playing on the radio and see the same Hollywood movies being advertised (Los Juegos del Hambre).

“Yup, Nirvana and Pearl Jam too!”. No one cares when I try to explain that Seattle is also home to Microsoft, Amazon Boeing and Starbucks. Trust me, I’ve tried.

The Irish brother got really close to me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked “You want to come out with us tonight? It will be fun for a strapping lad like you!”

“Hmm.. Let me think about it”, I replied hesitantly. I pushed around the lettuce that was left on my plate after inhaling the hamburger. If I had any expectations, they were not good.

Another fork in my night.

I had a lot of work to do and it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with these guys in drinking. At the same time, something inside me wanted to roll the dice. It was either more coding up in my room or joining in on a stranger’s stag party.

Right then, one of the brothers went to the bar, got the bartenders attention and ordered 25 beers. I looked over to see if I had heard that correctly. Who orders 25 beers at once?! The bartender looked confused and held up two and five on his hands.

“Yup, 25 barman!”

I laughed out loud. There were only 6 of them. 25 didn’t even divide evenly.

That was my cue to join.

I helped them solve their beer problem and we all packed in to some taxis. We were heading to Las Ramblas, the party district of Barcelona.

All of the other tourists I have met love Las Ramblas. It has clubs, bars and a bunch of restaurants. I, on the other hand, think it is the butt hole of Barcelona. It is full to the brim with pickpockets, prostitutes and high cover charges. The first time I went there, I was with two Kiwi girls that I had randomly met. Even with our golden ratio (two girls to one guy) each of us still had to pay 15 euro to get into clubs. Twice during the night, I had to push pick-pocketers away when I caught their hands in my back pocket. And that is just inside the clubs.

Outside, you can’t walk more than a few meters without getting stopped by someone aggressively trying to sell you either cocaine or themselves. (Going rate is about 40 Euro in case you are interested.)

It is my least favorite part of this otherwise fantastic city.

Regardless of my destination bitterness, I found myself sitting in a cab squeezed between a drunk Irish cage fighter (complete with the broken nose and bruised knuckles) and an overweight Irish accountant as we headed to Barcelona’s nether regions. There was not going to be any code written that night.

The brothers and I regrouped after exiting the cabs and immediately started our search for more beer. The first place we passed had a sign in the window for 2.50 euro beers. Without saying a word, we all walked in. It was immediately evident to me that we had just walked into a gay bar but I don’t think any of the brothers realized the context of the situation. The bar was called Cosmic and served eight different flavors of mojitos (including a mojito with no mint).

I ordered a round of beers and we got into a discussion about the “almost brother-in-law”. It turned out that he was engaged to the Irish brothers’ little sister. Their family consisted of five brothers ranging from age 30 to 45 and one sister who was 29. I looked over at the brother-in-law who was joining for the stag party. I then looked over at the cage fighter and his four brothers. The almost brother-in-law noticed me understanding the situation and nodded with a gulp. I think it was the most precarious situation I have ever seen. Wow.

The conversation then changed to a discussion of who was the greatest leader of all time.

“Mahatma Gandhi”, I chimed in with a contemplative smirk.

I was immediately lambasted with interjections that he was only a social leader, not a political leader. (They made a very good point.)

“Did you all get dumber with each additional brother? Whoever controls a civilization socially, controls it politically just by virtue of being able to create action! You are thinking like amateurs!”

(I was officially drunk.)

They paused and eventually the youngest brother added:

“Believe you me, Clinton was the best leader in recent history!”

The group came to a pseudo-consensus and someone made a joke about expensive black dresses. The conversation then meandered to Scottish and Irish politics, the origin of fighting, places that were better than Amsterdam and whether or not Brad Pit was a good actor or just a really big tool. We all agreed that he was both.

We left Cosmic and were immediately rushed by peddlers. Within a six block walk, we were offered blow, weed, sex, expensive beer and even more expensive shots. This is by no means the first time I have been in this situation (Cancun, Cairo, Amsterdam, Cusco, Montreal, Los Angeles, London…) but it was the first time I have actually been with people who said yes. One by one the brothers ventured on to partake in their various vices.

Our group was now down to three and we entered the second pub. By this time I had become an honorary brother and started getting unsolicited (but quite entertaining) advice from the family.

“Lad, travel now, not because you are young but because inflation is always rising!”

“Believe you me, when I was your age, women weren’t as good looking as they be now.”

“Beer will solve every problem you will encounter. EVERY PROBLEM!”

The “almost brother-in-law” changed the conversation to the subject of everyone’s favorite beers.

He interrupted himself and asked “now, are we talking beer or are we talking lager here?”

The oldest brother who hadn’t said more than two sentences the whole night, smiled and wisely noted “Now, that be the best question all’night.”

We eventually headed out and I smiled as I noticed the sun was starting to come up. We had been out all night and I hadn’t even realized it. The metro wasn’t running yet so the remaining of us hopped in a cab back to our hotel.

I woke up the next morning and headed to the hotel lobby to see if I could figure out my next step. I passed the second oldest brother in the hallway. He had a newly broken nose and was a light shade of green. He nodded at me and death-walked to his room.

I was curious about what had happened but didn’t have time to ask him for details. I had to get to the airport. I had some more unexpectations to unravel, this time in Amsterdam.

My takeaway from the night was gaining a little more insight into the hidden dangers of expectations. Had I allowed myself to play out the rest of the night in my head when I was invited to join the group, I wouldn’t have been able to actually experience the events of the night. My present would have been dictated by my past.

I once heard someone explain the primary difference between humans and animals as the ability to predict the future based on past experiences. While I agree that this is one of our most powerful skills, I also think it is one our biggest blinders. Sometimes it is better to set aside expectations and let the world surprise us. In this way, it has taken me a journey around the world to understand some of the limitations in my head. By realizing their existence, it makes it that much easier to step above them. It is not easy, but it is important.


Chronologically I owe all of you a post on Rome. That post will go up on Friday. Cheers!

14 comments… add one

  • Grady Pruitt May 2, 2012

    Sometimes, it’s those things that are unexpected that might turn out to have the most profound influence in our lives or be the best memories. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tim May 2, 2012

    Haha, quite an experience I’ll say. Awesome as always!

  • Jeffrey May 2, 2012

    I agree, Las Ramblas is awful! I got talked into going to a club down there, and it was easily the worst part of my otherwise fantastic Barcelona experience.

    I’ve found that I’m usually wrong when trying to predict what will happen or if I’ll enjoy these types of adventures like you’ve described. Sometimes it’s best just to make a snap decision without all the analysis.

    • Danny Dover May 3, 2012

      Yes! At least someone agrees with me! :-)

      “Sometimes it’s best just to make a snap decision without all the analysis.” Very true. In most situations you can always back out early if it is turning out poorly.

  • Nick May 2, 2012

    “Lad, travel now, not because you are young but because inflation is always rising!”

    great quote!
    forget quoting mark twain and kurt vonnegut, Irish brawlers are now the go-to.

  • Lori May 2, 2012

    When I was a kid my family traveled a LOT (picture me on the Great Wall of China at age 12) and it never failed…whenever we said we were from Chicago, people’s hands went into classic machine gun posture and they said “Ah yes, Al Capone!”

    However in the mid to late 80’s that changed, and “Chicago” got us a jump shot move along with “Ah yes, Michael Jordan!” Having not been out of the country recently I don’t really know what people associate Chicago with these days, but since organized crime lasted 50 years, maybe they’re still talking about MJ.

    You are right, saying “yes” to opportunities can get you all sorts of cool experiences, as long as you really do know when to say “no”. It sounds like you do!

    I visited Europe at age 18 with my dad (I had been there before but this time it was just me and my dad). We had a chance to walk through Amsterdam’s Red Light district and we said “yes”. I mean, can you imagine? My dad is a well-known pastor. But my parents never kept me from the truth about human nature and I learned a lot from my experiences.

    Keep posting!

    • Danny Dover May 3, 2012

      That made me smile :-) It is good to hear from you. I didn’t know that you had travelled so much but given your outlook on life, it makes a lot of sense. I should have connected the pieces.

      My guess would be that the world still associates Chicago with Michael Jordan but now includes some people who have seen the musical.

      “But my parents never kept me from the truth about human nature and I learned a lot from my experiences.”

      I like how you worded that. I made me believe you had really learned a lot as you didn’t state it in a judging way. Just “human nature”. I also got a great visual of your dad walking around dressed like a pastor. I am not sure if that is how it happened, but that is the visual I am sticking with!

  • Cody Wheeler May 2, 2012

    Pretty cool insights dude. It definitely takes some balls to roll with a group of strangers nearly halfway around the world. Kudos for experiencing life. Sounds like you’re truly seeing the world.

    BTW, 7 doesn’t go into 25 either :) How did you guys sort that one out?

    Keep living buddy. Be safe, but not too safe!

    • Danny Dover May 3, 2012

      BTW, 7 doesn’t go into 25 either :) How did you guys sort that one out?

      lol! After 24, no one cared about the math :-p

  • mike vallano May 3, 2012

    Sounds like quite the evening! I try to view things without preconceptions, but I still struggle with things like going out with a group of heavy drinkers to a part of town that I don’t like.

    Kudos for choosing the fork with adventure and an open mind. Predictability doesn’t lend itself to this kind of story telling :)

  • Lori May 9, 2012

    Well in the Red Light District my dad looked like a typical tourist…no suit & tie, but LOL on that visual for sure!

    One of my favorite things in life is to go against people’s preconceived notions, and one of the big ones I encountered again and again growing up was what people thought a pastor’s kid should be like (really prissy and perfectly behaved seemed to be the general consensus).

    Kudos to my parents for letting me and my sisters be unique individuals and letting us think for ourselves (with their wise shoulders to lean on).

  • Jon Dec 13, 2012

    Adele is from England!

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