I’ve never been a big fan of gin & tonic. Until now.

It all started when I was lost and wandering in the historic old town of a small Spanish city. Google maps aren’t particularly good in neighbourhoods where you can put your arms out and nearly touch each side of Roman-era streets that may have started as cow paths. In fact, most of my favourite places on the planet are the ones that Google has trouble finding, with or without a decent phone signal.

Anyway. I was tired. I was lost. I was hot. The outside air temperature about equaled my body temp [and that’s before the “feels like” kicked in]. 

So I substituted common sense for stubbornness and stepped into a dark cool basement bar. I explained the problem in my atrocious Spanish, showing the barman the address of the place I was staying. He looked at it, laughed and responded in perfect textbook, right-out-of-school Ingles [the kind of language that no native speaker – of any tongue – uses]. He said he’d tell me if I did one thing for him first. I nodded and he told me to take a seat at the bar. I pulled up a stool and watched him make a G&T, which he served me. It was ice-cold. It tasted wonderfully good. It relaxed me. He said I looked like I needed a drink and a break. As soon as I finished the drink, he’d tell me how to get to my bed for the night.

A bit later – after we’d spent time improving each other’s Spanglish skills, he walked me to the door and pointed down the street, to a corner about four doors away. He pulled out his phone, called the owner and told him that his tourist had arrived. He walked me around the corner, leaving the pub in the care of a few of his regulars [every good pub has them]. He made sure I was taken care of and went back to work. I got settled in, found a meal and went back for another G&T. He nodded. I nodded back. My drink was in front of me in a moment. [This time he took my money.]  

Besides having a stone-wall-chilled basement, this was also a locals’ pub, where the neighbours gathered on the street, drinks in hand, to watch tourists watching the sun set into the ocean each night. Yes, I was a tourist, doing most of the tourist things, but I also had a home with the locals and a barman who knew my drink.

Not a bad way to travel.

P.S. I ordered another G&T a week or so later after an equally hot day in another Spanish town. It wasn’t half as good. It reminded me that a good barman makes a difference. I never noticed if the first one pulled my gin from the well or the shelf. But whatever he did, it was right. And it looks like I have a research project in front of me.

It’s nice when people pay attention to you. You can usually tell when it’s their personality, not just their job. I’ve tended to live in small communities – neighbourhoods – even in large, otherwise impersonal cities. I’ve even found myself creating food and drink relationships in airports where I’ve been a regular user of particular gates. Is it good to be so predicable that the barman or barista starts your drink when they see you walking down the street? Does it mean that you can never change your order without insulting them?

Anyway, I’ve found that smiles usually beget smiles.

To borrow an old phrase attributed to many, but documented as written by Edgar Guest –

“There are no strangers, only friends we haven’t yet met.”


G&T photo by Laure Noverraz, Unsplash.com

Street photo © JP Maney