Figs of Steel: 24 Hours in La Mancha 6

4:40 p.m.

          “How long have you been living in Madrid?” asked Laura exasperated. “You’re making me want to go back to smoking.”

          “Long enough to know that this is not the way out of the city,” I replied annoyed. “I’ve never even seen these streets before in my life. This is like the goddamn Twilight Zone. Where the hell are we? We’ve been driving around the Complutense for hours. It’s killing my eyes!” Madrid’s largest public university, built largely in the post-war period with the sole purpose, in my humble opinion, of trying to round up the country’s seven worst architects and chain them to a desk until they produced the most hideous collection of functional and utilitarian design ever to be constructed in one place on the planet. Unfortunately for future generations, they achieved their goal, assembling so many eye sores at once, they made state buildings from communist east Europe appear ornate. Almost twee. Nothing about them imbues academic excellence or inspires higher order thinking. One gets the feeling that the masterminds behind the works wanted to equate higher education with living in a basement cell with a lidless toilet. Its only redeeming quality was maybe, and I mean maybe, its open space, which permitted the buildings to be built so far apart, you didn’t have to look at too many and any one time. Rumor has it, Franco wanted this setup so that his tanks could roll in and quell uprisings if the college students got too feisty. God knows he had his chance to blow the whole place to smithereens but didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. So, unfortunately, except for the help of a major seismic catastrophe forcing the state to raze them and start over, there is nothing you can do about it.  

          “Give me the phone,” insisted Laura. “And we’ll use Google maps.” Hearing those words is like sticking a knife in man’s heart. The ultimate emasculator. In today’s high-octane feminine charged society, with all that was fun about being male has been deemed worthy of public scorn, spatial orientation when driving remains one of our last bastions of manhood. Until Google came around.

          “I’m not Ok with that. But if you use it without my consent, I won’t stop you. ‘Cause if I drive by the Medical School building one more time, I’m going to get out and donate my internal organs. I am losing my will to live.”

          I knew how to get through the Complutense to the A-6 highway, mainly because I had assigned several hundred neurons to learning the route by heart, so as to avoid the obvious inconveniences of playing it by ear. But this time, I was trying to get on the M-30 beltway and was making it up as I went, using basically the sun as my only point of reference. There are some signs theoretically pointing you in the right direction, but more often than not, you get the feeling that the Department of Traffic seems to encourage you go it on your own. It’s then when you try to improvise and quickly realize how futile improvising is. 

          “We’re not far at all. Just follow my instructions.”

          “I refuse to. But if you say it out loud, it’s not my fault. Got it?”

          “Got it.”

          “Just promise me you’ll tell me when to turn before we’ve actually passed the street.”

          “Calm down. We’re on vacation, remember? We’re in no rush.”

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