Rome was having another general strike, this time of the transportation workers, and we were scheduled to leave on an early afternoon Alitalia flight for Barcelona. At Leonardo da Vinci, angry travelers crowded around the ticket counters. In the restive crowd we met a young former Army officer who recently had been released from active duty and was slowly working his way back to St. Louis.
It seemed hopeless. I was certain it was going to be a long day, when our new friend came over to us. He had discovered a special flight Iberia was scheduling that day and had managed to make reservations for the three of us.
After a long afternoon and a bumpy flight on the small French Caravel, we arrived at the Iberia terminal in downtown Barcelona. Helpful clerks were trying to find hotels, but there wasn't much available. We finally agreed to go to a hotel that was more expensive than we wanted. But at the hotel we were greeted by a clerk who had said the room wasn't at this hotel.
We were having difficulties understanding the clerk and he us, but he was saying something about a brother-in-law who had a hotel nearby. He would take us there. We crowded into the back seat of a disreputable car. It was now after midnight.
As we drove through the dark, deserted streets it was soon evident that we were leaving the city limits. The three of us looked nervously at each other as we started to climb a narrow, steep, winding road.
"Barcelona? Barcelona?" I shouted to the two men in th front seat.
"Si, Barcelona, si," he responded, gesturing at the dark, empty-looking landscape outside the car. All I could see now were twinkling lights in the distance.
Finally after nearly an hour, we pulled into the parking area of a small inn built into the side of a mountain. We were then informed that the ride would cost us $15 and another $15 to bring us back into the city the following morning. We balked and argued, our friend shouting a few of the Spanish swear words he knew. But we paid, and with a bravado we didn't feel, said we would find our own way into the city.
Inside we were greeted by a sinister-looking clerk -- I remember he reminded me of Peter Lorre -- standing behind a desk that blocked a narrow alcove. There were a dozen or so mailboxes with keys behind him. He demanded our passports, and we lost that argument, too. To the left was a doorway with hanging beads and a dark hallway. He had rooms. In fact, we had our choice of any room in the place.
I spent a restless night. The room had all the comforts of a cave, but it also had a shower, and in the morning I washed away the clammy discomfort of the night. The three of us welked out into the morning sunlight, to see if we could find a way into Barcelona. We were in the mountains and except for the inn could not see any other houses. Toward Barcelona we could make out the flamboyant spires of the Gaudi Cathedral. Across the road was a steep precipice looking into a long, narrow valley.
We were sitting on the guardrail looking at the inn when I noticed a bus stop sign. That was how we would get back to Barcelona. We rushed back to check out and were coming out of the inn, only to see the bus drove by without stopping.
Time to hitchhike, over the protestations of my female companion. Only a few cars had come by during the next half hour, when a large black Siat drove past, braked quickly and then backed up to where we were standing.
"Good morning do you need a ride into Barcelona?" There was only the race of a Spanish accent. As we rode into the city we told our distinguished, well-dressed benefactor our plight. He was the publisher of a Barcelona newspaper and for the past 20 years had been married to an Englishwoman. Then he started to laugh:
"I never pick up hitchhikers, but the three of you looked so forlorn and despondent, I made an exception this time."