Planes, trains, and more (non-existent) trains

After a long and uncomfortable flight, this was not what I needed.  The train from The Rome Termini station to Florence at 10:58 doesn’t exist today for some reason.

I was glad to find that on my flight from DC, I had front row seats behind a row of toilets.  This meant no one could lean back into me and I had a bit more leg room.  The bad news was that I was right, smack-dab in the middle of the plane, two people to my right and two to my left.  To my right was a young Italian who, it seemed, was returning home from studying in the US.  He had a list of odd vocabulary words that I didn’t think were that important to know in English.  His translations for some of them were strange—not what I would have expected in Italian.  Perhaps the double idioms going from English to Italian and back again weren’t making sense.  He had no sense of the concept of personal space and his knee and arm were touching mine—located well to the left of my armrest—the whole flight.  On my left were a young girl and her mother.  She was nice and quiet, but moved around a lot and ate almost constantly.  What all my row-mates had in common was a complete ignorance of the ability to turn off their overhead, reading lights.  They all fell asleep before I did and I was stuck with them on for the rest of the flight, making sleep very difficult.  The worst part of it all was, I suspect, courtesy of my sitting right behind one of the toilets.  Sometime in the middle of the flight, I felt something wet seep through my socks.  My feet had been right up against the wall in front of me, where it meets the floor of the plane.  Suddenly, I realized what was happening—water (or something far more sinister) was seeping through the bathroom floor and through the carpet under my feet.  From then on, I had to keep my feet right under the seat, fearing what sort of awful liquid I had already, and, if I was not careful, continue to soak my feet in.  Right after we landed, the girl on my left was fiddling around with her controls and turned off her light.  Her mother turned to her and said, “Oh, I had no idea we could turn those off.  To think we had them on all flight long…”

After wandering around the station for a while trying to find the platform—although numbered 1, it was, of course the furthest from the ticket booth—I arrived at a long stretch of uncovered platform suspiciously empty of people.  With 15 minutes before the train departure, I thought there would have been more people waiting around.  Finally, after reaching the very end of the platform, I spy a couple of youth hiker types with a dog sitting in the small patch of shade against the station wall.  There’s a woman here too, separate from the group, sitting on spread out newspapers.  Immediately, my mind flashes back to the crazy man who tried to talk to me on the train from the airport.  He wasn’t deterred by my reluctance to speak to him, however.  Soon after I tried to get rid of him by saying “I don’t speak Italian,” in English, he struck up a conversation with himself.  His thick Roman accent, coupled with decades of cigarette smoking, made him impossible to understand.   At least fellow passengers took pity on me and smiled when he finally left.  This woman on the newspapers is not crazy.  As I too take a seat against the wall, I notice just how dirty the floor here really is.  There are cigarette butts and pieces of gum everywhere and I gingerly choose a less dirty spot to sit and wait for the next few hours.

Soon, a group of fashionable looking women come up from the direction I had come.  They go over to where the 10:58 train to Florence is supposed to be and start looking at the printed departures board for the missing train.  “There it is,” they say, “clear as day,” pointing at the train’s listing.  A Trenitalia worker and his pal are walking along the other side of the platform from a train they just got off of.  One of the fashionable women goes up to them to inquire about the seemingly non-existent train.  The lucky one walks off, abandoning his co-worker to the throng of agitated women.  The first woman who went to ask about the train escorts the Trenitalia man to the departure board and her annoyed friends.  They all start to lay in on him asking where their train to Florence is.  “10:58, 10:58,” they say, as if repeating the time it should have left and pointing at its listing on the board will make it appear.  He doesn’t seem to get it.  He looks around to the platform it should be on and simply says, “It’s not here.”

“10:58, 10:58,” they continue; “I bought a ticket for 10:58.”  “The train is not here,” the man says in defense.  “It comes from Naples, if it does not arrive, it cannot leave for Florence.”  He walks off and the ladies wander in their own directions.  We will all have to wait an hour-and-a-half for the next train.

Pretty soon a bunch more people find their way to the platform.  Once they realize what’s happened, a few, one man in particular, get impertinent.  “What the f*** are they doing,” he asks the world in general.  “They’ve canceled everything,” cries another.  As they stand, eyes transfixed on the electronic board that—like most things in Italy—gets updated far too infrequently, Carabinieri—the military police force with fancy uniforms—ride by unnecessarily on their specialized golf carts.  This is typical Italy.  Although there is no train strike—a common enough occurrence that the Trenitalia website has a page instructing its customers on how to deal with the event—the trains not only don’t run on time, but sometimes, like today, just don’t show up.

While everyone is waiting, Trenitalia workers walk by, all in their three-piece suits and patent-leather hats, pushing empty trolleys or pulling their roller bags behind them.  They occasionally are accosted by a member of the crowd, but are skilled in brushing off complaints.  Few stop and no one among them seems interested in getting to the bottom of the problem.  Suddenly there is movement from the crowd.  The electronic board has just updated itself.  They shout, “it’s on platform 18, this way!”  I stand up from my dirty spot on the ground to look at the board myself.  It’s for another train entirely.  The crowd rushes off and I wonder if I should follow.  Upon further examination, I realize that the train they are headed for is not what I want.  As they run off to the new platform, I stay in my seat, waiting for the train I think I know is coming.  Sitting here a bit longer, I regret not having gone after them to the other platform, maybe it would have taken me to Florence after all.  I am justified after all, however, as several members of the earlier crowd return, even angrier than they were before.  That train was canceled too.

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~ by pminnig on August 29, 2011.

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