It was just another stunning morning in Madrid. Blue sky. Perfect temperature. Bars filled with people drinking their café and eating pan con tomate and croissant a la plancha. I was headed to work on a Monday and I didn’t even care that the weekend was over because, my god, I live in Spain and it is like one long beautiful vacation.
And suddenly my body reacts, before I even see him. Before my brain even computes the sound traveling down the street, I break into a cold sweat. Coming towards me is a barrel of a man, booming some deep song of a word that I cannot understand.
Muscle memory is a powerful thing and people who live, or have lived, in Boston are trained for this sort of thing. Some expats may have been worried to cross paths with someone slightly unhinged or still drunk from the night before and ready for a fight. But not me. I start checking my pockets. Where are my keys?
You see, in Boston (ahem, Cambridge/Somerville) one is ever prepared to leap out of bed and into the snowsleetrain at the first sound of a man’s voice from a car loudspeaker. Speed is of the essence and the goal is to move one’s vehicle to the other side of the street or to the next block or to a friend’s house cross town before the army of trucks rumble around the corner to tow away or throw a boot on any car that dares exist on the second Tuesday or last Friday of the month.
Of course, this particular morning I was in Madrid. No one else seemed to be paying much mind to this man and his circus leader voice; so, I pulled myself together and stopped frantically rummaging around my bag for keys to a car I no longer drive.
And here’s the lovely Spanish bit. This man is no vagrant nor does he drive a truck. He is a chatarrero – one of the oldest professions in Spain. A collector of metal and scraps, he walks from barrio to barrio, yelling out “Chatarrero! El Chataaaaaarrero!” so that people will gather up all the scrap in their home or shop and give it to him to take away. Recycling, old world style.