Todos los viernes, CasinoBeats está pensando en voz alta*
THE rickshaw driver, a source of endless athleticism moments before, stood on the now stationary vehicle’s footplate and leaned heavily against the handlebars. He seemed unexpectedly weary, as if unsure if he could support his own weight.
“You’ve earned your twenty,” said CB, handing over a €20 note, despite having bartered the fare down to €15 not 20 minutes previously.
CB had, alongside many from the online and land-based casino sector, made the annual pilgrimage to Barcelona and the World Gaming Executive Summit at the spectacular W hotel. The unexpected and unpredictable rickshaw ride was the bookend to a day that began with a 4am pre-flight alarm.
The 22 or so hours in between had been filled mostly with the first day of the summit and an associated networking party, both held in the crisp, cool surroundings of the W. The conference content had been well received, old friends reunited, faces put to names and new contacts established. Delegates had been fed, watered and afforded adequate sunlight on the two outdoor terraces adjacent to the conference suite.
At around 7pm, one such terrace was transformed into a shaded amphitheatre to which sponsor Red Tiger welcomed any delegates wishing to watch the World Cup second-round clash between Colombia and England. The terrace was bustling by the time the match kicked off at 8pm.
If you are interested in football, you will know what happened next. If you are not, then why not? You’re missing all the fun. A classic knock-out tie concluded with England midfielder Eric Dier rifling a winning penalty past the unfortunate David Ospina and capping a monumental effort from a young England team. CB decided it was time to attempt to escape the extraordinarily low-slung deck chair into which it had gratefully slumped around two hours before.
Two unsettling knee-clicks later, CB rejoined the crowd in networking the night away. Before long it was past 1am, the stylish decks of the W were all but cleared and a few hardcore networkers were bedding in and lining up the shots.
Outside, the taxi rank – by day filled with eager W staff clicking their fingers and making taxis appear as if by some terrible magic – was deserted. A few hopefuls loitered as an intermittent stream of cabs circled by, interested only in lucrative fares to the airport.
CB was seeking carriage to the old town, specifically to the tall, narrow Carrer de la Princesa and the cool embrace of Hotel Ciutat de Barcelona. An unwitting accomplice in his own downfall, the rickshaw driver, let’s call him Rick – in fact let’s call him Richard – squeaked to a halt nearby. “We go,” said Richard, with ill-deserved confidence.
“How much?” ventured CB, warming to the role of Englishman Abroad.
“Twenty euro,” said Richard.
“Fifteen?” and the deal was done, CB immediately regretting not going lower. If you have never taken a rickshaw through a darkened European seaside city on a summer night, you should do so at the first opportunity. Hotel bound, Richard eased the vehicle – which upon closer inspection he may have made himself – along the back of the beach that stretches from the W to Barceloneta, the resorty bit of the great city.
With barely a thrum, the shaky metal beast cruised past dog walkers, street cleaners and lovers before turning west and in land towards Barcelona’s Gothic old town. The serenity of the beach front was not to last. Away from the sand, Richard became edgy. He glanced about and, at the sight of a police car – blue lights on but not flashing – Richard executed a dramatic right turn.
He pedalled furiously down a back street and then shuddered to a halt in the eye of a silent side-street crossroads. Without speaking, he glanced left and waited. The police car edged past the end of the street, some 50 metres or more way. Richard set off and repeated this manoeuvre two or three times more before throwing caution to the wind, firing up his mighty calves and powering us past the Museu d’Història de Catalunya.
“Everything alright, Richard?,” inquired CB. “Are you on the run or something?”
“NO BEACH,” he explained.
“No beach. Only allowed on beach, not here. Police will come. Very bad.” Another teeth-rattling halt signalled that silence was required. The police car continued its rounds of Port Vell, the link between Barceloneta and the city proper, before easing past again. Richard seemed to hold his breath.
Ready to exercise the not inconsiderable heft of Her Majesty’s Commonwealth and wishing it was wearing a hat befitting the occasion, CB decided to bring a sense of fair play to proceedings. Standing up on the rickshaw and preparing to launch into an indignant protestation about things “not being on,” and the like, CB had barely drawn breath before the blue-and-white Seat Leon eased off and Richard, now sweating profusely, went for gold, exploding towards El Barri Gotic with startling power.
Despite his apparent disregard for the bye-laws of Barceloneta, Richard remained reluctant to mount pedestrian-free pavements or venture against the direction of empty one-way streets, electing instead to circle the hotel on recognised cycle ways and, now in uncharted territory, miles from his beach and using CB’s phone map for navigation, pausing for all passing cars. Just as the two erstwhile strangers were beginning to work together, as driver and navigator, Richard took the unexpected decision to slam on the brakes one last time as the bicycle path ended abruptly at the T of a quiet backstreet junction.
“No bici,” he advised, urgently, glancing this way and that, perhaps seeing imaginary police cars in his delirium. Not understanding much Spanish, CB took ‘no bici’ to mean “GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE AND RUN”.
And that is what CB did. Well, not so much run but walk briskly. If you run you might fall over, and then what? CB did also pause to pay Richard his €20, a fare he took silently, as if in a dream, frozen in space and time at the end of the bici route.
“You’ve earned your twenty,” said CB, handing him the note and adding: “Good luck, Richard.”
Richard’s dedication to his business was admirable, his sense of fair play patchy but honourable. Whether he made it back to the beach without being picked up by the police, who can say. Perhaps he remains at the end of the bici lane, unable to advance or retreat thanks to his insistence on observing the highway code.
CB really hopes that Richard made it and that he continues to elude Barcelona’s finest as he does what he can to earn a living. Not because breaking bye-laws should be encouraged but simply because those who are prepared to work hard should be rewarded for doing so.
*Every Friday, CasinoBeats is thinking out loud