At 3 a.m., we exited the fog and, in search of toilets, pulled into a truckstop whose sign said “Open 24 Hours.” The doors were locked, however, but in a restaurant next door there was a happening that looked like a cross between scenes in “Apocalypse Now” and Fellini’s “8 1/2”. Through misted windows, we could see about 50 people—the men in white shirts, the women in floral dresses, their faces gleaming with sweat—line dancing to thumping rock music. The dancers seemed in perpetual motion, as if driven relentlessly by an unknown force. Was this a marathon dance? The remnants of a destination wedding? Or some modern tribal gathering triggered by a call through the textosphere?
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While we marveled at the scene, we were miffed that the truck-stop bathrooms were closed. With trepidation, we went behind some big rigs to do our business, trying to stay out of sight of the dancers. When a police car drove up, we hurried back into the van to forge on to Madrid, wondering what secret ritual we had come upon.
As one of the van riders said, we were approaching an asymptote. Salvatore was near exhaustion and started to go more and more slowly. After all, he had been driving 15 hours at that point, but we were near our destination in a part of Madrid that looks like Los Angeles. Our spirits soared when we saw a sign that said “Aeropuerto,” indicating the city’s Barajas Airport.
At Terminal 1, my wife and I got out and said goodbye to our friends, wishing them good luck on their trip home. Having been warned of villainous pickpockets in Madrid, I moved my wallet from my back pocket to a safer spot. (In case pickpockets are reading, I am not going to disclose my secret hiding place, but you could get an idea from the TravelSmith catalog.) It was 6 a.m., and we chose to camp out at the US Airways desk to see if we could change our ticket and get on the Sunday flight instead of waiting until Monday. My body ached from sitting in one place for 16 hours, and a fierce fatigue pressed on my eyes. These were fibromyalgia symptoms, genuine 9-out-of-10 stuff.
Not knowing when the ticket counter would open, my wife and I decided to get some sleep and curled up on adjacent conveyor belts where the luggage goes off. I was very tired and worried that, fast asleep, I would get tagged and sent off to the cargo hold of a plane, sticking some poor passenger with a $20 fee for an overweight piece of baggage.