I knew it was going to be a bad day in Beirut when I got booted out of the breakfast buffet at the downtown Radisson.I had been enjoying my hummus, green olives and nan with a pot of strong coffee when I made the mistake of putting down my fork so I could turn the page in the Patrick O'Brian novel I was reading. The waiter grabbed my plate without asking if I was done, and scurried off. I figured, hey, no problem, I can always get another plate. And besides, I still got my coffee. But then the waiter came back and took those too.Now, I could've raised a fuss, but I was too tired to remember how to say, "stop," in Arabic. (I remember now: "kiff.") you see, I'm still on D.C. time so I couldn't sleep the night before. I was nearly delirious. And, on the radio, they were playing a Christmas rendition of the Macarena. (don't ask.)Anyways, I had interviews -- I'm on assignment here for Defense Technology International. So a couple hours later I hailed a cab and headed out. By 4 o'clock, I was done with my interviews, even more exhausted and, what's more, starving. I needed some kebab bad. I tried to hail a cab but they were all full. I walked down a street, hailing cabs all the while, until I came to an army checkpoint. A soldier asked me, in Arabic, where I was going. I replied in french and we had a rather muddled conversation that resulted in him pointing back the way I had come and gesturing with his rifle. So I turned around ... And got turned around. I couldn't remember which way was home.I finally got a cab. The driver spoke some french. He didn't know where the Radisson was, so it was up to me. I had no idea so I picked a direction and hoped I might eventually recognize something. But half an hour later, I decided we were going in the wrong direction. I admit, I blamed my cabbie. Beirut is his town; he should know where the Radisson is. So I told him to stop "over there" and I hopped out with a mind to walk a couple blocks then hail another cab with, hopefully, a smarter cabbie.By now I could've killed and eaten a small Lebanese person. Perhaps a baby Druze.I walked down a sketchy alleyway full of broken-down cars and greasy, dark-eyed mechanics who stared at me as I passed. I was feeling very American in a very bad way, so I waved down the first cab I saw and hopped in without looking at the driver. Then a voice said, in French, "number two?"It was the same cabbie as before. And it was too late to refuse his service. He was already speeding down the road, assuring me that he had just remembered where the Radisson was.(Lest you fail to appreciate the sheer enormity of this coincidence, let me stress: Beirut is crawling with tens of thousands of cabs, and in 10 minutes I had walked several blocks in a random direction from where I got dropped off. Hundreds of cars passed within sight, including scores of cabs. The odds of hailing the same cabbie a second time in that environment are astronomical.)Hey, Macarena!Half an hour later, I was at the Radisson and my cabbie was 20,000 livres richer. That's no fewer than eight kebab-equivalents. Speaking of which, I found the nearest kebab stand, politely refused some skewered lamb brains bobbing in olive oil and ordered two kebabs.They were the most delicious kebabs I've ever had. And they haven't even made me sick (yet).-- David Axep.s.: the Lebanese army has stationed an M-113 armored personnel carrier with a .50-caliber machine gun at the McDonald's down the street, perhaps to guard the "McArab" chicken shawarma they serve there.
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