I had a series of increasingly unhelpful encounters with “Information” kiosks in the Madrid airport. One particularly surly señorita, complete with über-Spanish, “I-don’t-give-a-shit-but-I-actually-do” coiffure, told me the regional buses left from “over there”, signaling in a cardinal direction that included at least half of the airport.
Eventually, I found the bus depot. I helped an gracious, old Spanish man use the touchscreen ticket machine, which marked my second positive interaction with a native Spaniard in the two-ish hours I had been in the country. The first was with the customs officer who talked more about the book I had in my hand – Don Miguel Ruiz’s “Los cuatro acuerdos” – than about my reasons for entering the Kingdom of Spain.
On the bus to Valladolid, I met another one of my fellow future comrades in English-assisstant-teacher-dom, the venerable Don Dave Palmer of Newton, Massachussetts. The two of us were both delirious with sleep-deprivation and new country-ation. Dave had been to Spain before so he told me a lot of what to expect, and he was with me on that hallmark first-time of being fucked over by a broken Spanish vending machine which stole my money. This was only a portent of future pilferings inflicted through the false promises of false-prophet Spanish vending machines. More on this later.
Alas, Dave and I did not sit next to each other due to our far-flung seat assignments, which they apparently take pretty seriously on the Spanish ALSA bus. My seatmate was a stoic-looking young Spanish woman, who made sure to be looking out the window any time I glanced over at here. However, about halfway through our two-and-a-half hour bus ride, I decided to try and talk to this Spanish lady. This would be my first attempt at a real conversation with a native speaker. I had not slept in many, many hours. My body and my brain were both very confused.
“I haven’t slept in hours. I’m American,” I blurted out in Spanish. These were my carefully chosen opening lines. “I’m very tired.”
And again, much like my compañero on the flight over from the U.S., my seatmate on this bus livened up and immediately became very nice and helpful. She felt bad for me, el pobrecito gringo who hadn’t slept in a long time. She said I could sleep when I got to Valladolid, but that unfortunately for my tired-ass self, this happened to be the week of the Festival de la Virgen de San Lorenzo, and that sleep would neither be appropriate, nor possible, upon my arrival. This festival, she said, was the most important one of the year in Valladolid and that I had no choice but to partake once I arrived. There would be food carts aplenty, loosened-to-nonexistent public drinking and drunkenness laws for the few days, and that bars would not close.
As I’ve come to understand since, Spaniards firmly believe that our legally-enforced “closing times” at bars are a relic of antiquated Anglican Puritanism, a sure-sign of incipient fascism and the erosion of civil liberties. How, they ask, can the government mandate that bars stop serving drinks? How is this allowed? They’d imagine that in a country that still executes its citizens by firing squad (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronnie_Lee_Gardner) that you could at least get a drink at 4:30 AM if you wanted to. They speak in hushed tones about our enforced stop-drinking time. They can understand the firing squad, they can understand paying thousands of dollars for health care and college, but they can’t understand bars closing at 2 AM.
Isn’t there an international treaty against that?