Earlier this month I went to Madrid for work.
I was delighted to be asked to go, and I understood from the outset that the four days I was there would be very busy with meetings, congress and presentations. I understood that being in Madrid would be exciting, but that my expectation would be that I wouldn’t be prancing about the town, drinking Mahou and exploring the sites. This was difficult to explain to my well-meaning office mates and friends who would light up with excitement when I told them I was going to Spain for work.
It’s the business travel irony. Despite being in Madrid (or any place in the world, for that matter) I knew I would likely see very little of the town. In this case, I tried to explain to the shining envious faces of these people, it would be like being in any city in the world. I’d see the inside of the hotel, whatever I could take in on my morning run(s) and possibly a little of the city. I held onto hope that there was the small possibility I could sneak away at some point in the four days and actually take in some of Madrid.
Day three gave myself and my travel mates this opportunity. While I finished up a meeting my other two compadres hoped on the metro and headed into the thick of Madrid in Puerta del Sol. Once I finished my meeting I hoped into a taxi and requested to meet them at the same place.
We’d traveled for about ten minutes when I suspected something was amiss. It seemed to me we were going in the opposite direction of Puerta del Sol, and my iPhone confirmed it. When I asked in English where we were I drew a long, rapid fire response in Spanish. No english. Stuck in a cab. Going the wrong direction. My fury began to rise because I suspected we were intentionally going in the wrong direction, as he smirked at me in the rearview mirror.
In this moment I am so furious at myself. Furious I don’t understand Spanish, furious I didn’t bother to learn a few phrases, furious that I trapped myself in a classic I-know-better-than-this situation in a foreign place.
I try to ask, slowly in the very little Spanish I have, where we are. I get another angry, spitting response from the front seat. According to my map on my iPhone we’re far, far away from where I am supposed to be, headed in the total opposite direction, meter ticking, my own anxiety increasing with each city block.
Now I’m sweating.
Sweating because I’m under a timeline, sweating because I don’t know where I am, sweating because my iPhone is low on battery and I’m low on patience. I sit back in the seat, trying to breathe, trying to come up with a plan. Then I spot it, small and dangling from the rearview mirror. An Italian flag.
I lean forward and ask him, in Italian, to stop. He pauses for a second and finally answers a firm no, he can’t stop and he won’t stop here, in Italian.
I lean back forward and unleash my vocabulary of Italian swear words that would make a NFL lineman blush, telling him to pull the ______ car over, that I’m no _______, and that he should be ashamed of himself for taking me in the opposite direction of the ______ destination. I fume silently while he finds a place to pull over.
Bella ragazza, faccia cattiva, I hear him mutter as he pulls over. (Pretty girl, bad face).
It’s bella ragazza, bad bocca, I snarl at him in Italian, as I toss him his euro and slam my car door shut.
Pretty girl, bad mouth.
I smile as I get out of the car. Frustrated but relieved. Saved by a long ago decision to work in Italy.