The 5 AM Crowd

Playa Barceloneta

Jesus, Elvis, and the Pope are standing about twenty feet away from me, staggeringly drunk and on the verge of crushing an elderly woman nearby—God knows why she is awake at this hour—when the bus comes to an abrupt halt two blocks from the suburban apartment where I will be couchsurfing the next few days. Tonight—or technically, last night—is Halloween, and everyone is finally starting to head home; after all, tomorrow is Friday, and some people do have to work.

“Wacky,” “tragic,” and “fortunate” are all words floating around in my slightly-inebriated mind as I try to come up with a proper description of the events that have taken place over the past several hours. Within a minute or so of hitting the pillow I will be fast asleep on a mattress in Jerson’s living room, earplugs snugly in place to block out the sound of traffic below and the heavy breathing coming from Alina, a German girl with bright red dyed hair, and her friend Taj from India, along for a weekend of revelry in Barcelona.

But before I fall asleep I revisit the night, savoring being safe, sound, and lying in a real bed.

I have only met Jerson earlier in the evening. He is originally from Santiago, Chile, has a ton of energy, and studied as a psychologist before finding a job in a pizza restaurant to help make ends meet. In that sense, his story is not unique—he is one of millions who had the rug pulled out from beneath him. But rather than face his fortune—or lack thereof—with a scowl, he has embraced the simplicity that this new life offers, and like others I met on the Camino de Santiago, he lives a happy life with relatively little in the way of material things.

Jerson tells me that a bar near the waterfront is hosting a couchsurfing meetup as well as a planned Michael Jackson-themed flashmob, presumably to “Thriller.” Not being a huge fan of the King of Pop—my generation is too young to remember him in his prime, but old enough to remember the scandals that plagued him later in life—I’m mostly enticed by the prospect of meeting other couchsurfers. The other reason for going into the city is because we will be meeting Alina and Taj and taking them back with us to the apartment, since they only just arrived.

After a 45 minute train ride, we arrive in Plaza Catalunya and soon find my fellow couchsurfers among the Halloween mob descended upon Barcelona. Then it’s off to the bar in question, a hipster hole-in-the-wall near Barrio Gotico called Polaroid. Once there, we do what normal people do in bars, although we have the advantage of Jerson’s bottomless satchel filled with cans of beer to save us a ton of money.

I wander outside to get some fresh air and end up talking to a Norwegian girl dressed in a variety of clothing that is best described as 80s and early 90s aerobic exercise chic. She tells me that the only relatives she has living in the USA are from Texas, but just as I am about to apologize on behalf of sane Americans, she says her cousins live in Austin.

Meanwhile, the bouncer has been telling the assorted revelers to be quiet or go back inside, because the bar is in a narrow alleyway with rows of apartments stacked on either side. Voices echo profusely here, and it’s no surprise that after failing to shut people up for the past few hours, someone from one of the apartments above snaps.

Not more than fifteen feet away from me comes a cascade of water, soaking two zombie girls and splashing numerous others. “SHUT UP!” comes the cry from above. For the sake of any children reading this blog, I won’t repeat what came out of the mouths of those girls. Suffice it to say, people are starting to get a bit unruly.

A muscular and heavily tattooed man deliberately knocks over the can of beer Jerson had set aside for a moment during the commotion, and threatens to punch out his teeth. This despite the fact we did nothing to provoke him—unless he lives in the neighborhood, but I doubt it. A woman nearby threatens to call the police, and meanwhile I put myself between the thug and my much scrawnier host, telling Mr. Muscles that we won’t pollute the neighborhood but that he should probably calm down. Either Mr. Muscles notices the nearby drunks and decides to put a stop to their fun, or he decides that attempting to punch out Jerson and the smooth-talking Californian is too much violence for one night. One second he’s in my face, the next, he’s gone.

Only slightly shaken, we re-enter the bar, expecting the flashmob any minute. The planned time for the flashmob comes and goes, but no Thriller in sight. Jerson asks the manager what gives, to which she replies that for safety reasons they decided against it. This doesn’t go over well with Jerson, who up until now has been completely easy-going and rational. Again, for the sake of children I won’t transcribe the exact words used, but you can guess what he has to say. He’s not the only one who’s upset that there will be no flashmob tonight, as a bunch of belligerent Michael Jackson-loving zombies stomp out of the bar with us.

I’ve had enough, and so have Alina and Taj, so we make our way up a long boulevard before finally coming to the bus stop that will get us back to the suburb where Jerson’s apartment is. After waiting almost an hour for the bus to arrive, the most colorful assortment of humanity I’ve seen in a while crams on for the ride, most of them intoxicated (except for the old lady).

Jesus, Elvis, and the Pope are only the tip of the iceberg. John the Baptist makes a cameo, hanging onto a beautiful wooden staff and staring at the floor in a drunken stupor. Two slightly overweight brunette girls who made the daring decision to dress as ladybug strippers shiver together on a seat. Jerson bumps into a guy who lives down the street from him, a parking attendant named Xavier who whistles everytime he pronounces a word ending in “s.” A well-dressed couple behind me is busy engaging in the first stage of foreplay, while a balding man sitting across from them stares longingly. Jerson tells me that the ride from the city center is only 35 minutes, but I find that hard to believe. It isn’t until an hour later that we finally exit the bus and walk in the pre-dawn light to the apartment.

Finally in my bed, as I teeter on the brink of unconsciousness I can’t help but smile to myself, picturing Jesus and company rambling off forever more into the growing light of day, looking for the next party to be had. Now it’s Friday, so they shouldn’t have to look too hard. Then I close my eyes and fall asleep.

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