Saturday, July 18, 2015

Planes, Trains, & Autobuses, Part II

Sunflower fields in Emilia-Romagna

 "I woke up early and took the first train to take me away from the city. The noise and all its people. I was alone on the train and had no idea where I was going..."   ― Charlotte Eriksson

The problem with using public transportation of any kind is that there are so many things that are out of your control—on-time departures/arrivals, fellow passengers, noise level, temperature, delays, and so much more.  While I like to travel by plane or train (or even bus or subway), I also hate to travel those same ways because of the wayward things that can happen.

"You are too Type-A," a pilot friend once told me. "The reason all that bothers you is that you can't be in control."  Exactly.  Once we pay for the ticket and put our butts in the seats, we are at the mercy of the public transportation gods, and they most certainly do like to play with us at last Friday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Let's start from the beginning.....


Since we were traveling from Bologna to Sulmona, I'd booked a fast train from Bologna-to-Rome where we were supposed to pick up a rental car for our drive to Sulmona. It's another story, but we ended up not being able to rent, so we had to transfer in Rome to a regional train (aka slowwww train) bound for Sulmona.  As I've mentioned before, everyone has a seat assignment on the fast trains, and they're overly more comfortable.  (NOTE: Train seats are configured so that four seats face each other.  Seats 1 A and B face seats 2 A and B, and across the aisle, seats 1 C and D face seats 2 C and D.  On the high-speed trains, there is a small table between the facing seats.)

From the train window

Mike and I had seats in Coach 11, and we yanked our luggage down the aisle to seats 9D and 10D only to find someone already sitting in 10D, my seat.  Pietro Antonio (Guess how I know his name.) had his head glued to the window and was jamming to the music on his iPhone.

"Excuse me," I said to him, "but you're in my seat."  Nothing.  I tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked at me.  "That's my seat."  I pointed to the seat, to myself, and to my ticket. He shook his head, took out his own ticket, and examined it.  He looked at the seat number pasted above his head and looed at his ticket again.  Oops. He should have been in the aisle seat.

Huffing, he slid across the two seats, stood in the aisle—barely giving me enough room to slide past him—and waited while I struggled to sit as the train started to move.  I'd barely gotten into place when he slammed his body into the aisle seat, claimed the middle armrest, and sighed.  Oh, joy.  As evidenced by his breath, he'd had a highly spiced breakfast.

Once the train took off, Pietro Antonio dialed a number on his phone.

"Ciao," he said it loud enough that everyone between France and Greece could hear him.  "It's Pietro Antonio Balboni. I'm on my way to Rome."  He went on to explain that he was arriving at Roma Termini at 10:35 and that he would pick up a rental car and make his way to wherever he was going to meet the person on the other end.  The conversation continued for about 5 minutes, and he ended it with, "Ciao. Ciao. Ciao, ciao, ciao, ciao."

(Side note: Italians answer the phone by saying, "Pronto," and they usually end with,  "Ciao. Ciao. Ciao, ciao, ciao."  If they only get two of the "ciaos" out, they are not finished with the conversation. I've heard conversations go on five minutes after the first set of "Ciao. Ciaos." Another story for another day.)

Pietro Antonio shifted in his seat and again took over the armrest.  He plugged in his earphones and watched me "paint" on my iPad. He shifted again, and his leg moved over to my space. I shifted and roughly moved my leg. He got the message and moved his back into his own territory. I shut the iPad and stared out of the window, my left arm in my lap since he had control of the armrest we "shared."

"PRONTO."  Someone had obviously called him.  The conversation was much the same as the first—loud and animated—although it ended more quickly.  He dialed another number.

"Ciao. It's Pietro Antonio Balboni. I'm in Firenze on my way to Rome."  The train's only stop between Bologna and Rome was Florence, so he was updating the other person as to the status of the train. He again explained that he was arriving at Roma Termini, but that he was going to be late since the train was five minutes behind schedule. He again talked about getting the rental car, but apparently the person on the other end thought he should take the Metro.  They discussed the benefits of the Metro vs. a rental car.  During the entire 10-minute conversation, he moved in his seat, shuffled his feet and kept his arm on our shared armrest.  Believe it or not, he had yet a third conversation with someone about his arrival in Rome, the rental car, and the Metro.

From the train window

He got up to go to the restroom, and I claimed the armrest.  I hoped that he perhaps locked himself in the restroom when he didn't return for more than 10 minutes, but suddenly the coach door popped open, and he trounced down the aisle.  Oh, joy.

He slammed into the seat, sighed again (Garlic breath did not become him.), and tried to claim the armrest. I held my breath and kept my arm firmly in place. He pushed. I didn't budge. He pushed more. I didn't budge. He shifted and pushed, and I finally moved a "little" bit so that we could share.  He did one more shift and, because I had given in to be polite, shoved my elbow from the armrest and claimed it.

As we arrived at Rome Tiburtina (one of two major stations in Rome), I said, "Excuse me. This is my stop."

"You're getting off *now*?" he sighed.

"No, I said this was my station just for the hell of it,"  I thought. I rolled my eyes at him so he'd see my irritation and answered, "Yes, this is my stop."  He stood up but instead of moving out of the way, he stood in front of where my bag was and where I was heading.  "SCUUUUSAAAA MIIII."  I was loud and aggravated at that point.  Instead of sitting back in his seat, he moved to the side so I had to climb over him to leave. I'd had it.

As I tripped over him to get up the aisle, I accidentally stomped stepped on his foot and whacked him in the back with carry-on.  Game. Set. Match.

Tomorrow:  Friday fun continues with a ride on the regional train...a LONG ride.....

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