In college, I turned down a Tucson Weekly internship. As a result, five years later, I became a paperboy in Barcelona.
Fortunately, that half-decade in between wasn't filled with regret-fueled bouts of depression or desperate emails begging for a second chance. I somehow managed to avoid that slippery slope and work my way into an enjoyable copywriter job in New York City.
That was, until one day, bored at work, I chased an e-rabbit down a hole of Internet links. I eventually landed on TucsonWeekly.com, the catalyst for 20 minutes of daydreaming about what my life might be like if I had accepted the Weekly's internship offer. Moments later, I was certain that I needed to become an altweekly reporter.
From there, I could have applied to any of the various alternative publications that published within a few miles of my East Village apartment. But I figured it made more sense to quit my job and move to Barcelona. There, I could freely write at my own leisure and become a kind of modern-day George Orwell—without that whole bother of serving in the Spanish Civil War.
Yet more than a month into my Catalan adventure, I hadn't found the motivation to write a tweet, let alone pen anything of substance. So naturally, I decided to search for ambition in a pile of empanadas. Luckily enough, the antidote to writer's block was baked into the carne-loaded pastries, which led me to the most-fascinating man in Barcelona's Raval barrio: Mario.
Massive in size and personality, Mario not only spent 12 hours a day baking a dozen varieties of empanadas, but he also found the time to author five novels with topics ranging from Pythagoras to the Voynich manuscript to Freemasonry.
Four empanadas down, and 10 pages into a collection of his surrealist essays, I realized I could check off my write-for-an-altweekly goal with a profile piece on Mario, so I pitched the story to the local paper BCN Mes.
The editors shot my idea down, but requested alternate alternative ideas. Soon after, I was in their office refining article concepts.
At the end of our meeting, I spit out half of my question regarding compensation before the editor cut me off: "No, we have no money. The only people we pay are the people who distribute the paper. Let me know if you're interested."
I put the paperboy option on the backburner and wrote an article on the unlicensed whistle vendors who swarm Barcelona's central tourist-loaded strip, La Rambla, with an incessant, obnoxious sound. My article kept a humorous tone, while completely ignoring the larger, real issue—that almost every whistle-peddler is an illegal immigrant just doing whatever he can to earn a euro.
Then in a fit of instant irony, I—technically speaking, an illegal immigrant since that pesky tourist visa expired—signed up to deliver the latest edition of BCN Mes in an effort to do whatever I could to make those same euros.
When I told my younger brother I would be delivering papers, he laughed and asked if I was 8 years old. I laughed at him, because Barcelona's Old City is a mess of intertwined streets whose names change every 30 feet—all of which would be far too complex for an 8-year-old.
Once D(elivery)-Day arrived, I was instantly overwhelmed. I struggled to navigate a Google map printout as I lugged two fully loaded carts to hipster-clothing shops, indie-pendiente teatros and other locales that earned the distinction of having alt-paper-reading clientele.
The second day was far better, because my route was in the familiar confines of my home barrio. My carts rolled smoothly; my route was direct; and the La Ribera shop owners were kinder about having their counters cluttered with newspaper stacks dropped off by a guy who spoke broken Castilian and nine words of Catalan.
After delivering 3,200 papers, I had enough euros to fund my empanada addiction and bolster my collection of surrealist literature, but I'd also gained much more: When I sipped an Estrella Damm from my local bar, I got the pleasure of reading a paper that I personally delivered—a sweet satisfaction that almost made up for 48 hours of post-route sore legs.
Better yet, I'd made it. In a country with an unemployment rate more than twice the rate in the States—and within the famished print-journalism industry—I had found a paying job.