Coffee and Chocolate in Spain

A month into my walk on the Camino Frances, in a small mountain town in the northwest of Spain, I stepped into my third hostel bar of the day searching for my daily fix of coffee and a napoliatana de chocolate. Finding myself in conversation with the proprietor of the establishment, Carlos*, I soon realized he was a fellow Texan born in Dallas, raised in Houston, and educated in Austin.

It was immediately and readily apparent, in this bar teeming with more patronage than his waitstaff of two could manage, that Carlos liked to talk. Rather than steam milk for coffees, plate pintxos, or even take payments from customers, Carlos went through half motions executing these tasks instead preferring friendly chit chat with anyone making eye contact. With a huge smile, quick wit, and jokes just off-color enough to stun you without being offensive, Carlos was endlessly engaging.

As it happens, his maternal grandfather was a Spaniard which afforded him a Spanish passport, a useful document when he met a girl from Málaga and decided to chase her across the Atlantic Ocean. And while the relationship technically ended, his love and affection did not — with Spain, that is.

He decided to stay in his new home of Málaga and for the next seven years he taught English as a second language in public schools before launching his own private academy. As one does while residing in Spain, he walked the Camino Frances several times, until one day, while walking through this small mountain town, he sat at a hostel bar, (in search of coffee and a napoliatana I like to think) and found himself in conversation with the proprietor of the establishment. A negotiation and Texas flag installation later, Carlos’s journey to becoming my future pastry barista was complete.

Commending his adventuresome spirit, I recounted my own backstory that included a stint of briefly moonlighting as a photographer in the nightclubs of Las Vegas some 15 years ago. What might life have had in store for me, we pondered, if I had decided to throw my career aside and pursue photography full-time instead. Who knows?

Carlos had his own story to tell.

At university, a childhood acquaintance of Carlos’, Michael, was assembling products in his dorm room and successfully peddling them to professors on campus. Without enough time to expand his own sales territory, Michael asked Carlos to go on the road as a salesperson on his behalf. Carlos, precariously balancing studying and the demands of reckless fraternity life, concluded he was too busy. Carlos politely declined.

Unfortunately for Carlos, the university was the University of Texas, those products were computers, and his childhood acquaintance was Michael Dell. Hindsight being 20/20, knowing that the Dell corporation created so many thousands of millionaires that the term “Dellionaires” was coined, Carlos has a pretty good idea what his financial situation could have been if he took the job.

So what do we take away from all of this mental meandering?

Obviously, Carlos nor I blame the college kid who chose studying and fraternizing over working for a fellow student. Who could have predicted Dell’s meteoric rise to one of the top 50 richest people in the world on the back of his dorm room hustle?

Regret is pointless. No amount of compunction is going to change the fact that you are where you are, on the current trajectory of your life, reading this brilliant piece of literature.

But, more discerning, more philosophical, and more, sagacious if I may, is that you can’t weigh any one decision in your life any more heavily than any other based on the feedback loop available to you. For every decision you make with a clear feedback loop, you make a hundred other decisions with no clear feedback loop.

Every decision is met with a windfall of variables more infinite than we could ever calculate with our feeble human brain.

A feedback loop may later give you unambiguous ideas about how your decision would have played out, but don’t forget at the moment you were simply throwing the dice in a craps game of life. Life is better spent focusing on all of the good rather than the feedback loops that tell us where we might have been.

And Carlos?

Well, free from the deadweight of being a multimillionaire he leads a simple life in a little Spanish town in the mountains. Daily, with one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever come across, he has the opportunity to cash in on his preferred currency of conversation, chatting up random strangers like myself, serving coffee and napolitanas.

*Name changed

Written by

Formerly a corporate trainer; currently 2+ years into traveling. Formerly informed I have the raw talent of a good writer; currently testing that hypothesis.

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