27 Jul, 2010 | Posted by: bswenson

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My Story

# 28

Madrid -- 5K
The sign said.

We had almost arrived back in civilization!

“Feels different, doesn’t it?” I yelled to Rudi as we drove through what might be called the suburbs.
He nodded and managed a smile. I sensed through his goggles he was worried that we might run out of gas. At least now there were human beings around. Even a truck or two, some bicycles and a motor scooter or two.
The Vespa sputtered, faltered, and lost power. I let it coast onto a grassy plot along the street.

“What happened?” I said.

“Nothing a good drink of gasoline won’t fix,” he said, as he peered seriously into the empty tank. It was bone dry as the saying goes.

Rudi continued, “I was hoping we would be able to fill it before this happened. There’s always some sediment in the tank from the dust and grit from the roads here in Spain that can get sucked through the gas line into the carburetor. Then we’d have trouble.
He took hold of the handlebars and steered it back onto the street and started pushing. “What’re you doing?” I asked.

“Which way is Madrid?” He asked.

“That way” I pointed.
“Let’s go, then, start pushing.”

He was right. We couldn’t just sit there and wait for something to happen. We had to attract attention and something would happen.

Trucks and buses and cars and people on bicycles and motor scooters were passing us. Bystanders on the street would stop and watch us pass by. One yelled, “Guitar!” when he spotted the guitar strapped on my sweating back.
After about a mile of this, a Vespa motor scooter swerved in front of us and stopped our progress. Other vehicles swerved around it, honking as they passed. Two girls were on the Vespa. The driver yelled in the traffic, “I saw your American flag on your suitcase. Are you Americans,?”
I pulled over to the side. “Pull up to that parking place and we’ll tell you all about us.”

It turned out the driver, Rosa, and her rider, Consuela, lived nearby. Rosa was a former foreign exchange student (1955) in Milwukee and spoke good English. Both were good-looking Spanish girls in their early twenties.
“Touring the world?” Rosa asked.
Rudi became his charming self again. It always happened when girls were involved.
“And you’re pushing the Vespa around the world,?” Consuela joined in smiling.
“Only to the next gas station.” Rudi said.
“We can help with that!” Consuela said. “My brother works at a gas station down about a kilometer. “We’ll get some for you.”
“Thanks!.” I said.
“Here, take this gas can,” Rudi said.
Rosa drove off with Consuela holding the gas can.
“Hope we didn’t just lose a gas can,” Rudi snickered.
But the girls were back in a few minutes.
We filled the tank with the mixture of gas and oil that our two-cycle motor needed.
“How much do we owe you?” I asked.
“Nothing, nothing, de nada, Rosa said.”
Jeeze, that was close, because we didn’t have one peseta, nothing, to give her.
“I’m just repaying you for all the help you Americans gave me when I was a high school student in Milwaukee, ” Rosa said.
Rudi asked her, “Where’s the camping place in Madrid for tourists? We heard there was a good one on the west side of town.”
“Come!” We’ll show you,” Rosa said. She was a very friendly girl. You ride with me, Rudi, and Consuela can ride with you, Rohn.”
We switched passengers. It was a new world suddenly. Only an hour ago we were out on the arid wastelands of Spain, fighting grit and gravel, trying to protect ourselves from the tortuous Spanish sun, hoping our gasoline would hold out.

Now we were driving down the wide boulevards of Madrid, the regal capital of Spain, past its massive neo-classic administrative buildings, baroque monuments, and spacious gardens. Wow! And as co-travelers we had two lovely senoritas.
I think Rosa was taking the long route to the camping grounds, just to show off her beautiful city to these foreign boys.

There’s something about entering a new town or city on a trip like this world trip. I don’t know about Rudi, but for me, there’s always a feeling of loneliness that comes over me whenever we entered any new town. It’s the unfamiliar faces and strange street names and signs and buildings. So much to learn! But today, with Consuela hugging my waist and other places as we drove along, I felt comfortable, and in good hands, especially her hands.

“Is that the Madrid main Post Office?” I shouted back to Consuela, pointing to a large white granite building.
“Yes,” she said and I rode ahead to Rosa and shouted that I wanted to stop at the Post Office.

“O.K.” she said, as we turned back around.
I was anxious to learn if my articles about our trip had pleased the editors of the Baltimore Sun. If they had, maybe the newspaper had sent a check! And we would be able to eat again! And maybe even take the girls out to lunch!
Rudi entertained the girls on the Post Office steps and I went inside.
Sure enough, a banner of Franco was hanging on the wall behind the clerk, watching his every operation. It must’ve been two yards long. The clerk was issuing a customer a stamp with Franco’s picture on it. It was 2” long.
“Yes, we have one letter for you, young man. That will be a charge of one peseta please.” the clerk said.
“One peseta?” I pleaded. “I don’t even have one centime.” I looked at the return address of the letter; it was from the Sun. A cent and a half, and I didn’t have it to pay for a general delivery letter that might contain a check for twenty-five dollars!
I went over to a group of middle-aged men and asked the first man I saw for the peseta. Maybe it was my expression, or maybe my intensity. He could see I looked like an American and by my faulty Spanish accent was sure. American tourists are always rich, he probably thought. “What’s this all about?” Some kind of trick?? He thought. He looked at his friends, reached in his pocket and parceled out in his hand the equivalent of a peseta in coins and dumped them into my cupped hands.

“Thank you, sir, if you wait right there I’ll pay you back ten-fold!” and I went over and waited in line at the window again. I got the letter. I nervously tore open the thick envelope. My five installments that I had written for them fell to the floor along with a letter that ended, “- - and furthermore, Mr. Engh, our office does not feel at present that your trip has taken on the flavor of a travelogue necessary to please our readers. We welcome correspondence from you at such time that you feel your trip has progressed to a point where it will appeal to our reader interest.”
There are no back doors to Post Offices worldwide; otherwise I sure would’ve taken one that day. The man from whom I had borrowed the peseta was still waiting for me with his friends.
“I’m sorry, mister; I made a mistake.” I felt like giving him the letter; it was of no more use to me - - besides, he had paid for it. He just looked at me as if I had played a good joke on him. He and his friends turned and walked off without saying a thing, just shaking their heads.

I went outside and took Rudi aside and whispered, “It’s no go, Rudi, they don’t want to buy anything right now. I guess you and I haven’t seen enough of the world.”
“Did they say they like your work?”
“They said it would do.”
“Well, keep trying. ”
“Ah, the hell with it! I’m not going to write for anybody anymore. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to wire home and tell my folks to send me some emergency money. I’ll stay right here in Madrid at the American Express office and wait for it. This is no way to live. I feel like a dog. And besides, we’re not having the good time like we used to have back in France when everything was going our way.”
“Well, what the hell did you bargain for when you started out on this trip?” Rudi challenged me.
“I didn’t think it was going to end up anything like this!” I said.
“That’s the easy way out, Engh! You’re just yielding to the temptation of writing home for money. Even if it’s your own money. Anybody could do that!”

But I was hoping we could take the girls out to dinner.” Rudi shouted, “No! Engh! We don’t take anyone out to dinner. We’d never survive taking people out to dinner. In a couple of days, you’ll think of something. You always have. Now turn around and smile at the girls. We don’t want to let them know the predicament we’re in.
He slapped his hand on my drooped shoulder. “Let’s see what happens. We’ve got a good thing going here. Two nice girls to show us around the city. What could be better?
My stomach started to growl. I was hungry!
“I feel lucky,” Rudi said.

“O.K.” I said. “There you go! If Rudi feels lucky, everything’s going to go our way!”
I think Rudi was trying to pep me up. I followed his decree. It made me feel good again. I waved at the girls, smiling. They probably thought we were cooking up something to do with then, like a movie or something. With no money, we couldn’t do anything. It was hard to smile.
I felt a little ashamed that I had to show Rudi I was unconfident, even frightened, but hunger does strange things to men, and the thought that I could have the money just for the asking had weakened me. I thought over his proposition, and decided he was right. “You’re right, pal. Let’s try it and see what comes up. I’ll think of something!”
The girls were relieved when I told them everything was fine and tucking the letter into my saddlebag, I told them I received a contract from a travel promotion syndicate in the USA and they were going to publish my travel story when I got back home, even make a movie out of it.
“Do they have a television station here in Madrid?” I asked Rosa.
She shrugged her shoulders
“I know what it is, TV they call it.” Consuela said. “No we don’t have TV. But they have it in France and broadcast it from the Eiffel Tower. But no one has the TV sets here in Spain. They’re expensive. But it’s coming to Portugal. They’re getting it before us!”
Now there was an idea. Maybe they’ll have it set up before we get to Portugal.
We arrived at the Casa de Campo, a large park at the west end of Madrid. “Can we help you set up your tent?” Rosa asked.
“Sure,” I said. “Help us set up our beds.”

We had learned to always accept help from people. It made them feel good that they were part of what we were doing. Their help usually resulted in taking twice as much time to do it. But it was always worth it. Especially if they were two nice girls like Rosa and Consuela. Gosh! It was fun being with them. They were always smiling. They really brightened up our spirits. Especially since they were making our beds for us,- so to speak.

“Gotta go!” Rosa smiled. Consuela agreed.
“When will we see you again?” I asked.
“We know where you live,” Rosa laughed. “Here’s our phone number. We both live together in our own apartment. How long will you be in Madrid.?”

“Don’t know,” Rudi said. “Depends on if we like Madrid.”
“We like it,” I said, looking over at Consuela. “We’ll be here for awhile.
We waved goodbye to the girls and set about finalizing our space at the camping site registration office. We still didn’t have any money. Luckily, you were allowed to leave your passports if you didn’t immediately have the money or didn’t know how long you would be staying. We learned later on the trip that’s not a good idea. The thieves like passports, especially American passports.

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