Sunday, June 21, 2015

Extra Credit

Jerry, Barb, Ed, Nan, and Kathy near the train

"I get by with a little help from my friends..."  ~ Paul McCartney & John Lennon

 "That woman looks terrified," I whispered to Nancy last week as our train headed toward Rome's Termini Station.  Nancy nodded, and we started talking about something else.  Ten minutes later, as we pulled to a stop at a platform on the east side of the station, I stood and warned the group to keep their eyes on their own bags.  "Do not let anyone help you," I told them. "Keep your hands on your bags at all times, and really don't let anyone help you."  I knew I sounded like a broken record, but accepting help in Termini (or any other train station, for that matter) can mean parting with your belongings or money because every "helper" needs a few euros for coffee or smokes or something.

"I need help," the terrified-looking woman said. "I'm all alone."  She was probably in her late 70s, well-dressed, and American.

"What do you need help with?" I asked her.

"I have no idea where I am or where I'm going.  I don't speak Italian, and I need to get another train."  She pointed at a suitcase that was about as tall as I was. "And that's my suitcase."

"I can probably help you," I told her, and all of group 2 agreed.  Ed and Jerry helped get her bags off of the train, and the women helped the lady down.  "Where are you going?" I asked her.

"Naples," she told me.   I winced.

Knowing where you're going is only half the battle

 (Let me step out of the story for a minute to explain that Roma Termini is not only Rome's main station, but it's also one of the largest in Europe.  It has 29 rail platforms, service for both of Rome's subway lines, restaurants, cafes, a grocery store, an indoor mall, and bus service outside.  In other words, Termini is huge, and it's a zoo.

To know why I winced when the lady mentioned Naples, you have to know where we were in the station and where she was going. If you imagine the main part of the terminal as being a "U" with the bottom being the main hall and the two arms being the eastern-and-western-most platforms, you'll have some idea of the shape of the place.  The platforms that serve the inter-city regional and urban trains come on the left tip of that "U," and the high speed platforms are on the other side.)

Bologna Centrale
  The woman walked very slowly—shuffled, really—so I ran ahead to see if I could find from which platform her train would depart.  As luck would have it, there were two or three trains leaving for Naples around the same time, and they were all different platforms, of course.  I ran back and asked her for her train ticket.  She handed me the one for Rome.

"I need the one for Naples," I said, and she fumbled with her envelope.

"The people in Assisi told me to ask the police for help."  Assisi Station is about the size of my iPhone, and someone there probably told her that to get her on the train and out of their hair.  She finally found her train ticket, and I got the number.  I ran back down the hall to the departure board and found her train's number.  There was, of course, no platform assigned at that time.  I ran back.

By the time I got back to the group and the lady, they were nearing the Termini police station.  I pulled on the door, and it didn't open.  I pulled harder.  The thing was locked.

"They're at lunch," a man sitting across from the door said to me.  I looked at him.  He shrugged.

"How can the police close an entire office in a busy train station?" I asked Kathy as she caught up with me.  "I guess nothing is supposed to happen to anyone during their lunch hour." By then, everyone but Ed and the woman had caught up.  "Let's wait for them for a minute," I said. "Maybe they'll assign the platform by the time they get here.

At that point, a guy driving one of those cart things headed in our direction. He had an older woman in the passenger seat.  I flagged him down.

"We have a woman who needs help getting to her train," I told him.  "I'm sorry to bother you, but she really could use a ride."  I pointed down the hallway at the woman and Ed who were almost up to us by that time.

"Where is she going?" he asked me, and I answered.  "Five minutes," he replied. "I'll be back."

I explained everything to the woman when she, Ed, and the honking big suitcase joined us, and she mentioned that she didn't want to stand there alone.  "We'll stay with you," we all told her.  She smiled at us.

Five minutes later, the man in the cart arrived, and I handed him her train ticket.  He asked me if we were all going with her.

"No," I said. "We don't know her. We were just helping."  He lifted the honking suitcase on the seat in back, helped her into the passenger seat, and waved to us as they took off.

"Thank you," she called back. We waved.

A platform at Bologna Centrale

 "I think we just earned five million extra credit points," Ed said to me, and we continued our long journey through Termini.

(PS  I have no photos of Roma Termini, so I subbed. )

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