When in Rome....er, Lisbon....
I learned the hard way that some things are just relative.
I was running a video crew in Portugal in 2000. We were shooting a 30-minute travelogue for U.S. television.
We flew into Lisbon on the first day and drove north 200 miles to Oporto. Our schedule had us shooting in Oporto the next day and then working our way back south to Lisbon. We shot in several villages and towns on the way back -- places like Coimbra, Figueira Da Foz and Leiria.
Portugal's department of tourism assigned a driver to us for the five-day shoot. His name was Carlos. I have no clue what his last name was and probably couldn't have spelled it correctly even if I did remember.
You would think with Portugal sharing the same chunk of land as Spain that their languages would be at least somewhat similar. Well, you would be wrong. Absolutely nothing alike. Fortunately a healthy slice of the population speaks English. In fact, you stand a better chance of someone speaking English in the Lisbon airport than you do Miami's airport. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much.
I exchanged several e-mails with Carlos in the weeks leading up to our visit and had a phone conversation or two with him. I no longer remember how many times we had contact about the vehicle he would be renting for us, but it was several. We never discussed the vehicle that I didn't tell him that we needed something big.
We traveled with several over-sized cases of gear. There were three of us in the crew with luggage enough for a week. Plus there was Carlos and his bag. The conversations went something like this:
"Carlos, just a reminder that we have to have a very big van for this trip."
"Yes, yes, I know; big van, yes, big van, Mr. Russ."
"We have lots of gear -- many big cases. We need lots of space; understand?"
"Oh, yes, yes, big van, lots of space."
"Remember that we will have to make do with this van for nearly a week. It must be big enough."
"Yes, yes, I understand, Mr. Russ. We need a big van."
So we landed in Lisbon after two plane changes and ten hours or so of traveling. Carlos met us in customs, got us to curbside at arrivals and then fetched the van.
He pulled up with a flourish and a tinny beep, beep of a horn that sounded like it had been highjacked from a Huffy tricycle. Four of us and our suitcases would have been cramped in this thing. Where in the hell were we supposed to put the video gear?
It was a Ford Galaxy Minivan. Smaller than a Mazda5, it was the "Speck" of minivans.
My videographer, who I had worked with for seven or eight years, looked at me, looked at the Speck, looked back at me and just started laughing. I was somewhat less amused.
I dragged Carlos over to the side and had a little come-to-Jesus discussion with him.
"Do you remember, Carlos, our talks about a big van?"
"Yes, yes, I do. This is a big van, Mr. Russ."
"Ah, no it's not."
"Yes, yes it is. They had to bring it in special."
"Well, it's not nearly big enough."
"Yes, yes, I see that now. I will fix. I will fix."
It was a contrite Carlos who helped squeeze everything into the Speck and then drove us to the Budget rental store to exchange the van.
Well, the idea was to exchange the van, but Budget had other ideas. They had nothing larger to replace the Speck, but assured us they would have something the following morning at their facility in Coimbra -- about 100 miles from Oporto. We put a hold on the replacement and loaded up in the Speck for the 3.5 hour drive to Oporto.
Everyone but the driver was holding either a piece of luggage or a case of gear. I was resting my feet on a small suitcase on the floor, while balancing another on my knees. That's how I rode for the three plus hours the trip required.
Arriving at the hotel in Oporto, we had spent about 14 hours traveling -- the last three I spent twisted like a pretzel.
Our first location the following day was at the Sandeman Port wine facility. It isn't where they make the Port, but where they age it in big wooden casks. We were scheduled to be there about 90 minutes. Knowing it would throw us behind right out of the chute, I sent Carlos off to exchange the Speck.
The glass-is-half-full part of this story is that after we were done shooting, we had about 90 minutes to kill waiting for Carlos. The general manager of the facility asked if I might like a private tasting of Sandeman's several styles of Port. "Why, yes I would!" I responded.
He took me to a sitting room near the facility's offices, set up about eight bottles of Port, and gave me a little tutorial and tasting. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
In the meantime Carlos returned with a larger van. I don't remember what it was, but it was big enough.
Yep, I learned that when it comes to Europeans, my idea of big and their idea of big -- at least where vehicles are concerned -- is different.