[From my travelogue archives, the re-mastered and absurdified confession of how I patronized a Hard Rock Cafe twice in the same week while suffering an epic hamburger craving in Lisbon, Portugal in the fall of 2003.]
Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It has been never since my last confession, but I feel compelled to speak to thou now, for I needeth a little something we of my generation like to call “closure”.
Today I went out into the streets of Lisbon with the full intention of going into a McDonald’s of my own free will to ingest a Big Mac and fries. Obviously this was not ideal on many levels, but I had little say in the matter after having suffered a weeks-long, debilitating hamburger craving and discovering at great length that finding even a vague approximation of a non-fast food hamburger in southern Europe is about as likely as finding Bigfoot’s wallet.
But then I think thou already knoweth this and, indeed, all the details of my blasphemy and suffering. I can only assume that it was due to thine intervention that when I skulked out into the streets in my accursed search for a McDonald’s, for the first time in four months of traveling Europe, I could not effing find a thou-damned McDonald’s.
I see now that sensing my impending, unholy crime against hamburgers, thou intervened and for the purposes of thy entertainment delayed the peak of my hamburger craving until I arrived in Lisbon, seemingly the only metropolitan area in all of Europe that hilariously doesn’t have a McDonald’s on every third block. I imagine that the nose-spewed coffee and mascara streaks in heaven must have been copious that day.
I walked for 30 thou-forsaken minutes, cursing my lack of willpower while desperately squinting off into the distance in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Golden Arches. Finally, as I was about to drop to my knees and sob uncontrollably in mine own wretchedness, a familiar sign across the street caught my eye: “Hard Rock Cafe.” My nemesis. My savior. (Present company notwithstanding.)
I looked around cautiously. My credibility as a veteran traveler and travel writer were in jeopardy if the next few minutes didn’t go perfectly. Someone like me being spotted entering a Hard Rock Cafe in Europe is the equivalent character suicide of John Malkovich being spotted at a Vegas wedding chapel with a toothless eunuch.
Surveying the area, there didn’t appear to be any Americans in sight. (Thank thou for making us easy to spot, Father.) As I approached the door, I assumed the standard International Inconspicuous Guy affectations: hands in pockets, looking absentmindedly at the sky, whistling the theme song to the Andy Griffith Show.
As I passed the entrance, I took one last subtle look around, then I made my move. In one swift blur of motion, I spun around through the door, darted between two potted trees and performed a somersault leap into the safe anonymity of the bar.
Keeping my head down, I made a beeline for the darkest corner of the room where I could binge unnoticed, but a pack of Portuguese teenagers had claimed that part of the restaurant for their own. I nervously accepted a server’s offer of help, then to my horror he proceeded to perp walk me straight to a tall table perfectly framed by a floor-to-ceiling window facing the sidewalk. My lunch shame would be staged as a perverse performance art scene for passersby.
I skootched my chair around the table, putting my back to my audience who I couldn’t help but notice almost unanimously broke stride as they passed the window so as to take a long, lingering look into the restaurant. They stared, pointed and laughed at the brainwashed, dumb-ass tourist who had traveled all the way to Lisbon only to eat this horribly overpriced, faux-American cuisine, something I had similarly done to other tourists many times in the past.
My bacon cheeseburger finally arrived and Father I am not ashamed to say that it was the burger equivalent of Salma Hayek in a bustier. Like a patron at any cheap porn theater, I quickly took care of business and left without making eye contact with anyone.
Two days later I sinned again. With extra bacon.
I will say 93 “Our Fathers” and 187 “Hail Marys,” in addition to running five miles as soon as I finish typing this paragraph and eat nothing but fruits and vegetables for the next 24 hours. Thy will be done.