Hustlers On Speed Dial
First there was the young guy waving an empty gas can in the parking lot of the Lisbon airport, asking me for 10 Euros. Good story, nice prop – I believe he was the same guy who stung me last time.
Moving on to the Alfama, the only part of Lisbon not levelled by the monster earthquake of 1755, I mentioned to the waitress at an outside cafe how much I was enjoying the CD music. “Esta minha musica,” she said of the sad but lively Fado music drifting from the outdoor speakers. Fado tells stories of the heartbreak and dashed dreams of Portugal in a muscular voice with a sharp guitar’s refrain and loud stomping feet.
“Minha” means “my” and it really was her song. She fetched a CD boasting her photograph convincing me she was a star Fado singer in her younger days. Then she tried to sell me her CD for 15 Euros. I then requested a photo with her and something got lost in translation because I ended up with a picture of me and a once-famous Fado singer’s mildlydrunk husband who got everybody’s orders all screwed up.
But the prize in the bottom of the Portuguese Cracker Jack box was Adrian Robson. I was walking down a cliff in the Algarve and onto the beach at Albufeira when a skinny, leathery, middle-aged Brit was waiting for me at the bottom.
“Could I have just two minutes of yer time, mate?”
“Well, I ...”
“Of course you’ve got two minutes, mate, yer on bloody holiday!”
That’s when I spotted his display, a blanket with several paperbacks, all the same book.
“Thank you for coming today,” he began. Yeah, like I was a delegate at a Vinyl siding convention and he was the guest speaker beginning a onehour presentation on Termite Detection And Protection.
“I have written this here book. I never had any assertations (I swear he said assertations!) of ever writin’ a book, but I did jest that because I had to.” A crude, self-published copy of South East Asia - In Yer Face was now in my face.
Adrian Robson proceeded to tell me the story of how he miraculously survived the November 2, 2003 flash flood in Bukit Lawang in North Sumatra whereas the village and 239 residents did not. A backpacker, he managed to climb a tree and watch the Bohorok River below his feet destroy 400 houses, 3 mosques, 8 beaches and 35 guest houses.
Left with little more than the jeans and Doc Martens he was wearing and with his travel documents tied around his neck, Adrian Robson had cheated death and lived to tell his harrowing tale.
“I should be dead, mate,” he said, gesturing wildly at about the 15-minute mark of his reading. I should be shot, I thought for getting myself into this debacle.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buy a book.”
“Of course you will, mate. But I ain’t done yet.” Adrian went on … and on … and on. Even while standing there on the beach waving money in my hand, he wouldn’t give me a book until he finished his sales pitch.
The scene was classically absurd: Adrian the author, me the audience, three sand crabs looking for holes to hide in and a guy from Africa selling wooden carvings walking between us. And I thought my last book tour was a disaster.
“I want you to read these here two pages, mate.”
I took the book, looked around nervously and asked: “You mean out loud?”
At some point I convinced him my travel visa would expire before the end of his presentation so he eventually let me go. But not before I pulled a pen from my pack and had him autograph my book.
After which, while making change from my 20 Euro note, he deftly stole my pen. I must admit it was a very good read with a poignant ending: The F%%!ing End. Portugal - the land of pleasant surprises and lovable hustlers.