Döner Kebab

Though I complain about it, there are many cool things about my job. One of those things is that it causes me to occasionally find myself in, say, Spain at 10:30 PM local time on a Sunday and starving after waking up from a jet-lag-induced crash. You may be looking for the good part, and so was I.

I went down to the front desk and asked about the food prospects. It’s Sunday in Madrid and I don’t speak the language. The desk clerk was not optimistic. A man’s gotta eat, so I’m off into the raining night.

I should mention parenthetically that not only is it raining, but I have no umbrella and no jacket; I’m dressed for Los Angeles. It’s nice to live in a place with only nice weather, but it does encourage one to forget to plan for the weather. My continuing inability to learn this lesson is a source of great amusement to my friends.

I walk 100 yards and there’s McDonald’s. It’s nice that I won’t starve, but eating at McDonald’s in Madrid seems to be admitting defeat. I’ll explore further before returning to the golden arches.

By this point, I’m actually getting into the adventure of looking for late night food. It’s always fun to wander around some part of a city that isn’t full of tourists. You get off the beaten path and get to see the people who live here going about their lives. Almost inevitably the most fun I have when traveling are those times.

So I’m pushing along through the cold and I pass a little something or other. I think they call them snack bars in France; it’s a little lunch counter kind of thing. It’s also packed to the gills, like a local bar on a Wisconsin football weekend. There’s a soccer match on. Now if I spoke any Spanish at all, I’d probably go for this, but I’m not excited at nodding and pointing at a bartender in a crowd to try to get a frozen pizza. It’s on the list above the McDonald’s, though, so things are looking up.

The landscape’s getting less promising, though. There are more apartments and small offices and fewer storefronts. There’s a closed bar – “Bar Chappeau” – and some restaurants that are wisely closed. And there’s some small nook that’s selling kebabs. I’m wondering whether this is worth a try, when I see the name of the place – Döner Kebab.

A week ago that wouldn’t have meant anything to me, but sometime in that week – it may have been this afternoon – I saw that name in my friend Phil’s IM status. Phil lives in Geneva, working for Google, and the sort of guy that I’m happy to follow into adventure. So if Döner Kebab is good enough for Phil, it’s good enough for me.

It was pretty much perfect. A made some half-assed attempt to order the special off the menu (and here you want to think sandwich shop menu), and failed miserably. I do not have wonderful pronunciation of languages I allegedly speak, much less ones I don’t. It wasn’t any great leap to figure out that I wasn’t from around here. But the fellow behind the counter replied to me in pretty good English that he was out of fries, but would be happy to cut me a deal on a kebab and a drink. He made the food while conversing with a few folks who were obviously regulars, and I watched Spanish TV on a grainy set and took in the atmosphere.

The kebab was fair. Nothing very tasty, but I was pretty hungry. While I was eating a few more customers came through, including a Japanese woman who was even more lost than I was. He flirted with her a bit and got her on her way with a late night meal. I paid up, and we chatted for a few minutes about the US economy. No, really. This is the kind of small joint magic I love.

Anyway, that’s how the Internet made my life better today. A small association nudged me into a vibrant Spanish slice of life.

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