Are The Good Times Really Over?

3 min readOct 5, 2014


Kicking myself out of Portugal

The alarm goes off, and I lay under the covers for half an hour. It’s too cloudy outside. I’m out of clean clothes, and consider pairing thin slacks with a stretched old sweater, but the combination is jarring so I settle on a faded yoked button-down. My shaver is dead; the trimmer blade sluggishly slides back and forth and I know it will immediately lose power on my face and pull out hair and make me yelp when it does so I hastily shave with a borrowed razor instead. The taxi beeps while I’m in the bathroom and drives off before I can ask the driver for a minute. I can’t call a new one; my phone’s dead too. I walk to a nearby cafe and a tiny squinting old woman redials the taxi company three times, moving like she’s underwater, before finally getting the number right. But the call is a favor, and I appreciate it.

The cab arrives sooner than expected, and the Portuguese cabbie — here in Portugal — is listening to a Merle Haggard song. An electric, 80s-style, stare-into-your-beer sobber called Are The Good Times Really Over?. Boa música, I say, and he laughs. He gives me walking directions with hand gestures when he drops me off.

A pregnant African woman and her children are waiting in the plaza next to the immigration agency when I enter it. It’s an old building; the front marble steps sag in the middle. The receiver says Bom dia twice and repeats my name with a tongue-flapping Latin R when he asks about my appointment. The waiting room is mostly occupied by very dark Africans in brown sport coats; some are hunched over a bar filling out forms, but most are sitting. I see a Cape Verde passport on a counter. In the back of the room, a woman cares for an unhappy child, glancing up at me as I take a seat. A pair of posters on the wall bear some slogan about helping citizens “move freely” and I think, yeah, right. I wait for my number to be called and remember working for Arstotzkan border control. Papers, please.

I take my time talking to the visa agent; she gets squirrely around the ten minute mark, but I waited a month for this appointment so I hold on. I only leave when I think I’ve gotten everything I can from her. For a visa extension, I am obligated to show proof of funds for its duration: 40 euros per day, for 90 days. I don’t have nearly so much money. I don’t spend 40 euros in two weeks here.

I’m trying to hitchhike home an hour later when I receive an unexpected call from a Frenchman wanting help on a yacht to Brazil. Things start looking up anyway.