It’s the summer of 1973. After a long, hot day in a black Peugeot 403 from 1957, a cold beer felt earned. The main road from Ceuta to Alger meandered along stretches edging the Sahara, and sometimes disappeared under the wind-drifted sand. The scalding air in the car was not air-conditioned and we had already been on the road for a couple of weeks. In the last two days we had covered almost 700 miles, subsisting on watermelon, bread and Evian bottled water. Conveniently, there was a rust hole in the floor on the front passenger’s side, through which one could spit the watermelon seeds. In the back seat were our back-packs and a tent.
Before we found the town square with many outdoor restaurants and cafés, we had driven around lost in Alger, capital of Algeria. Night was falling, but we had finally reached our day’s goal, and tomorrow we would cross the border to Tunisia. We bloody well deserved a cold beer!
A shaggy looking young man with long, red, hair – this was in the 1970’s, remember? – and an uncovered girl in tight jeans and a spaghetti-strapped pink top and a blond mane down to her waist, made huge eyes around the square. Some struggled not to stare, other patrons didn’t bother to hide their curiosity as we walked from the car and plunked down at an empty table, rather beat from the journey.
The server was so obviously happy to have us land at his restaurant, courteous and polite and how nice to have you here and all smiles, fully well knowing how hundreds of eyes were watching him from the tables at his and nearby restaurants.
My French was good enough to discuss the menu, and then, finally: ‘may we please have two beers, very cold, thank you?’
In a split second, the smile was gone, his posture changed, his napkin-covered forearm retracted and very slowly he sort of spitted out, with obvious disgust that ‘alcohol is served at that restaurant’, pointing a long ways away down the avenue.
We were too tired, and too nervous to leave our car out of our sight. Ah, well, a cold Coke ain’t nothing to sneeze at, either!