When I first arrived in Rota, Spain in the early seventies, I had never been out of the United States. In fact, I had never been out of the Southern United States. Although the base in Rota was Americanized, it was still significantly different from the base in Pensacola I had just left. For one, all the workers spoke Spanish, and the few television sets around the air terminal played Spanish programs. That evening, several newbies and I decided to go off base and hit a few of the bars. What follows is a scene from a work in progress that probably will never see the light of day and accurately captures some of the pitfalls and excitement of our first night in a foreign navy town. The characters have just left Perry's Madrid Bar, after being proposition by some rather grimy prostitutes. By the way, although an incident like this did happen my first night out in Rota, the characters, as well as the incident, are fictional.
I followed J.C. and Ernesto outside. It had started raining again, a cold misty drizzle. Randy stood on the sidewalk shaking his head. The taxi driver sped off, his tires squishing loudly on the wet cobblestone street.
"How much did you end up paying him, Randy?" J. C. asked.
"Well, I gave him a ten-dollar bill, and he was supposed to give me change, but he didn't. He drove away with my money."
We laughed at him until he reminded us about our promise to share the cost of the taxi.
"How much do we owe you?" I asked.
"Two dollars and fifty cents apiece." We gave him our share and walked through the drizzle to the Red Door Bar, whose door was painted black.
The place was lively, and the music American. Van Morrison's "Brown-eyed Girl" played on the jukebox when we walked in. Unlike Perry's Madrid Bar, the girls, three of them, stood behind the bar instead of in front of it. They served drinks and talked to the customers seated on the stools across from them. The place held six billiard tables placed in a neat row from the front of the building to the back. All six were taken. Small, fragile-looking tables surrounded by two or three chairs dotted the room. Most of them were covered with beer bottles, but no one sat at them, except for one at the rear left corner of the room, where a dark-haired girl and a sailor occupied it. They held hands over the tabletop and seemed to be having an earnest and serious conversation.
I strode over to the bar and a blond girl with dark blue eye makeup and red lipstick waited on me.
"What'll be?" she asked in a strong British accent.
"You're not Spanish," I said, a little surprised.
"I should bloody hope not," she said smiling, revealing slightly stained teeth. "I'll sit and tell you my life story some other night, when I'm not so busy. What'll you have?"
"Four beers," I said holding up four fingers.
"Spanish, American, German, or Danish/"
"Which one's better?"
"Neither, in my opinion. I don't drink the stuff."
"What do you drink?"
"Rum and Kas."
"A rum and lemon drink."
"I'll have three American beers and a rum and Kas."
"Good choice, Yank."
She walked off to get the drinks. Just then, two kids, who couldn't have been more than nine or ten, walked in, carrying shoeshine boxes over their shoulders. They looked around the room a bit and zeroed right in on Randy. One kid kneeled and placed one of Randy's feet on the box. Randy pulled his foot down, and the kid grabbed the other foot and placed it on the box. While this was going on, another kid was pulling on Randy's sleeve and yelling up at him.
"Shoe shine, GI? Good shoeshine. See face. Like mirror." Randy tried to tell the one kid no, while keeping the other one from his shoe, but already his shoes had shoe black on them and the kid was buffing.
"Here are your drinks," the barmaid told me. "If you don't shoo them away, they'll pester you all evening."
"Thanks," I said and turned to Randy. "You want a shoeshine or not?"
"Obviously not, but how do I get rid of these mad urchins?"
I leaned over and tapped the kid at Randy's feet on the shoulder. He turned to me, his rag ready to buff. I pointed to my shoe.
"I'm going shove this thing right up your rear end if you don't get the hell out of here." I pointed to the door. "Go, now."
"Okay, pal," the kid said. "No rough stuff. First, he pay me for shoeshine." He held an opened hand out to Randy.
"How much?" Randy asked reaching into his pocket for money.
"You're crazy?" J.C. said. "You're going to pay this guy for a shoeshine you didn't want in the first place?"
"Well, he did shine my shoes."
"Mil Pesetas," the kid said.
"A thousand pesetas? That's more than ten dollars."
"Mil Pesetas, firm."
"That's robbery. I'm not about to pay that much for a shoeshine."
"I call shore patrol. I send my pal to get him." He said something in Spanish to his friend. I looked at Ernesto, but he shrugged his shoulders indicating he didn't understand.
"You just do that," Randy told the kid. "I'd like to see you explain a ten-dollar shoeshine to shore patrol." Randy crossed his arms. He was standing tough.
The kid said something else to his friend. This time we caught the words Gaurdia Civil.
Randy uncrossed his arms and shuffled his freshly shined shoes.
"We see," the kid said. "My pal gone get Gaurdia Civil. We see."
We had been warned about Gaurdia Civil, Franco's personal police force. American or not, if you were on Spanish soil, you were subject to Spanish law, and the Civil Guards were vigilante in their enforcement.
Randy surrendered. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. He held it out to the kid.
"Gracias,' the kid said and snatched the bill from Randy's hand. He and his friend walked around the building once and left. Nobody else wanted a shoeshine.
Randy didn't even finish his beer. He told us all goodbye and walked out after the kids. Apparently, he did not stop walking until he reached Barracks 39.
I stayed in the Red Door until it closed, around one in the morning. I played a few games of pool with J.C. and Ernesto, but mostly, I tried to sell the blond barmaid a ten-dollar shoeshine.