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!