Expat Life: Near Death Experience

by missfootloose on March 11, 2012 · 26 comments

in expat stories, Italy, travel

Italian driver

Don't get in the car with him

Our Italian driver is not of the Armani suit tribe. Carlo wears comfy jeans, has long shaggy hair and an unkempt beard. He also has the fabulous Roman nose of his ancestors as made immortal in ancient statues and sculptures. He looks like a scruffy Roman god. Seems like a good beginning for an Italian vacation, don’t you think? We just got off the plane and he’s driving us to our B&B in Rome.

(I promised you stories in this post about our hedonistic jaunt to Rome and here’s one.)

No sooner has Carlo plunked himself into the driver’s seat, than he takes off like a rocket to Mars while talking on a cell phone and driving with one hand. My limited Italian only serves me to understand that he’s in a hurry and has another pickup somewhere. It’s raining lightly but his right windshield wiper is groaning in a death struggle and the one in front of him is going through rigor mortis and is not doing any wiping at all.

Cool Carlo puts the phone down on the seat next to him and I realize it’s one of a collection of four. Four cell phones, I kid you not. In front of him on the dashboard are two untidy piles of paper and file folders. The place looks like the office of a homeless bureaucrat.

We steam out of the general airport area and find ourselves on the main highway leading from the town of Fiumicino (where the airport is) to Rome proper. It’s three lanes of traffic each way, and a goat track this road is not, let me assure you. It’s raining, and the wipers are not working, or did I mention that already?

Our Roman god reaches for one of the piles of paper and puts it on his lap. He ruffles through it and takes out a sheet of paper full of indecipherable scribbles. He starts to write, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel. Minutes go by. The car is slowly drifting to the left into the other lane. I’m speechless with terror.

He rips off a small scrap of paper, opens the window a crack and pushes it out into the great wet yonder. He takes the opportunity to look at the road by leaning over to the right and glancing out of the window in front of the passenger’s seat, the part in front of him being un-look-throughable. He steers the wandering car back into its own lane.

He looks back at us and offers us a Roman god smile. “We had snow in Rome!” he says, clearly delighted. We tell him yes, we know, we saw it on TV.  Snow in Rome for the first time in 26 years! We will soon see it in real life on roofs and in dirty heaps along the sidewalks. Sadly, having dealt with snow as much as 75 cm (2.5 feet) in one go (February 2010 in the US), we are not that impressed.

Snow in Rome

Snow in Rome for the first time in 26 years

We are tearing down the road at suicidal speed. Thank the gods there is not a lot of traffic because Kamikaze Carlo reaches for another pile of paper and goes at it again: reading, writing, tossing another piece of paper out the window, and talking enthusiastic Italian on one of the four phones. The conversation concluded, he continues scribbling some more, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

I am now duly impressed by his skill in multitasking. Also I am frozen in terror as I look ahead through the window, seeing nothing because it has all fogged up on the inside and he has not noticed because he is studying for his doctoral degree in nuclear science. Looking out of the side window I see we are drifting off into the other lane again. Fortunately it has stopped raining.

He rips off another piece of paper, opens the window again, pushes it out and now leaves the window open a bit to clear the fogged-up windshield (I assume). He does not wipe it. One of the phones rings. Another discussion ensues, which gives him another opportunity to steer the car back into its own lane of traffic once he notices it’s meandering.

I did not come to Italy to die with my prince in a car crash right before Valentine’s Day. What an unromantic death! No, I came to Rome to live! To eat and drink! To gawk at old buildings! To watch Rome’s finest strutting their stuff in front of the United Colors of Benetton!

Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton

Living in Rome

I want to live here

Carlo shuffles more paper, pushes the pile back onto the dashboard and grabs the other stack of files, all the while talking on one of his four phones. Then he’s back to work — writing, reading, head down, eyes on the paper, one hand on the steering wheel.

This goes on for twenty days minutes until we enter Rome proper and then he stops reading and writing and seems to pay more attention to the traffic. However, he still talks on two of his four phones, but really, I’m not complaining. I’m too busy trying to breathe again.

Italian elevator

Safer than Carlo

We arrive at the palazzo (old apartment building) that houses our Bed & Breakfast. We’re physically unscarred but emotionally traumatized. Crazy Carlo helps carry our luggage into the poorly lit, ancient building.

I’ve never been happier to see an elevator dating from Caesar’s time.

My man hands the guy his fee of fifty euros. Carlo wishes us a good time in Italy and turns away. A moment later he turns back, waving the money in the air. “Signor! I need euros!”

Well, yes, of course. He hands over the banknote and I take it and see that it’s some mystery money I do not recognize.

My spouse offers up his sincere apologies, digs into his wallet for the real deal euro note and hands it over. Our Roman god bolts out of the building.

And what was that mystery banknote of fifty, you ask?

Ukrainian money, left over from a business trip.

The value? About 4 euros, 4.5 dollars.

There would have been a certain karmic justice in it if Kamikaze Carlo wouldn’t have noticed, don’t you think?

* * *

Do you have a story about a crazy driver?  Please hit the comment button and tell me. I’m holding my breath!

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

marja March 11, 2012 at 1:52 am

lol love your writing Yes we had a kamikaze mohammed in Turkey once. This taxidriver who was overtaking cars in the hills in a corner and we just made it. I still remember it clearly

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Walter Knight March 11, 2012 at 4:12 am

When I read about tour busses going over a cliff, or a cruise ship sinking, I always think that only happens to other people far far away, not me. Right? So I have nothing to worry about.

Unless I’m in a Volkswagon cab in Mexico. My driver explained it’s only the slow drivers that get crunched. So there you go. Your scraggly Roman God multi-tasking driver probably avoided many perils you didn’t even notice. And, you didn’t get mugged.

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Pat March 11, 2012 at 9:18 am

Hilarious! I have many crazy driver stories…I married one…a Frenchman trained on the boulevards of Paris. No, actually my man is a good, aggressive driver. I thought the Parisians were the wildest drivers until I visited Rome, where Italians took over the award. They were subsequently beat out of this honor by the Greek taxi drivers in Athens.ha

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Bianca March 11, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Taking a Tukh Tukh from Kochi, India to the coast, a less than 20 km drive. Unfortunately we stumbled upon the Craziest Tukh Tukh driver in town, who gave us Thelma & Louise moment upon Thelma & Louise moment.
We eventually made it to the coast. We politely declined his offer to wait for us until we wanted to return into town….

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Judy March 11, 2012 at 3:50 pm

The driving in Cairo was the best :) The only rule seems to be that there are no rules. The number of lanes on a road is determined by how many cars you can cram side-by-side, you can drive around roundabouts in BOTH directions and you tip the traffic policeman as you drive by so he’ll allow you to make a left turn. It is a glorious, chaotic ballet. Locals and expats told me, in all seriousness, that the key to entering a stream of traffic was to never make eye-contact. If you do, you’ve admitted you’ve seen them and therefore YOU must give way. So instead you pull into traffic without a glance and make everyone else give way by force of willpower. Needless to say, I spent most of my time there on foot and checking our insurance policies :)

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:44 am

Oh, perfect! Love your Cairo driving tale. This not-making-eye-contact technique is also employed in other places. Yerevan, Armenia comes to mind. Very dangerous there, but not as huge and chaotic a place as Cairo. Armenia is a very safe place to live in almost all respects; the most dangerous thing there is to try crossing the street. Drivers make it a sport to see who they can wipe off the face of the earth.

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Mara March 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm

When I was in Rome I learnt from Italian drivers not to pay any attention to anyone behind you: just the ones in front. Which worked fine until all those awful scooters started appearing and making my life a misery!

The worse driver I ever encountered though was a very tired driver who actually fell asleep while going at about 80 km an hour. It was an experience that’s for sure!

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Jessica March 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Great post — did you ever figure out why he kept stuffing the scraps of paper out the window? Sounded as if he was trying to make it snow himself…

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:39 am

No idea what he was doing or why he threw these scraps of paper out of the window. It was quite a show, watching him work!

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edj March 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

hahaha! LOVED this story! And yes, I do have many terrible driver stories, from Mauritania and Morocco both. I’ll just say that I found it just as effective to close my eyes and use the force to steer into incoming traffic… ;)

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Reinhardt March 12, 2012 at 10:03 am

Excellent read! I enjoyed this thoroughly! :)

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Patricia Winton March 12, 2012 at 10:19 am

Well, it wasn’t the first time in twenty-six years that it snowed in Rome. It snowed last year, but that snow lasted only about half an hour and melted almost immediately. What made this year’s snowstorms in Rome so remarkable is that the snow stuck around for quite a while.

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Badger March 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I think Carlo has relatives in Moscow. One of the taxi rides of my life was there.

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Aledys Ver March 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Do I have stories about crazy drivers… let’s see… consider that I come from a country full of Kamikaze Carlos, who might even be his distant cugino, what do you think? :)
How did you put up with it? I was going to say you should’ve asked him to take you back to the airport and get another cab, but then, it’d would’ve been Kamikaze Gianni or Luca’s turn!! :)

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:37 am

I considered telling him to pay attention to his driving, but he was so hyperactively multitasking that I thought he might get irritated and so make things worse. Once you’re on a big high way it’s not easy to turn back, either. Anyway, I survived!

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Balanced Melting Pot March 12, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I meet a Carlo at least once a week here in Caracas. The thing with taking taxis is you never know what your driver is going to be like. Most of the time they are safe and there’s not much room to speed in the center of town anyway. But every so often, I get one who thinks he can cut into lanes without using his signal, run red lights and slam on his brakes. Makes for good times…

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:34 am

Makes for good times if you survive ;)

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Turkey's For Life March 12, 2012 at 9:50 pm

I’ve had a good old chuckle at this story. Loved it…although we also land at the same airport when we got to Rome. Think we’re gonna take the bus into the city though and hopefully the driver will be a bit more sensible. Don’t even ask about Turkish drivers! You’ll see for yourself when you get here and maybe even get a blog post as good as this one out of it. :)
Julia

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

I’m hoping to get some good stories out of our Turkey vacation, but I really don’t need any more scary taxi driver adventures! Actually our guy did not run an official taxi. We’d been handed off to him by the guy who was supposed to pick us up, but we were so late that he already was dealing with his next pickup.

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Mary Katzke March 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Well, first there was the narcoleptic limo driver from the old 777-7777 service in NY who literally nodded off each time the traffic paused- terrifying. We had one driver in Saigon who added two zeros to the meter’s price and wouldn’t relent- we only got away by pulling out a camera and taking pix of his license. Then the crooked creep in Dakar, Senegal who, not pleased with complaints about not being taken where he was hired to take us, went directly past our turn off to an abandoned alley in a warehouse district, got out and went around to the trunk. That is when we ran for our lives. You just don’t think when you head out into the world that your scariest times will be in taxis.

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missfootloose March 15, 2012 at 9:28 am

Mary, I love your taxi stories! It’s a miracle you’re around to tell them!

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Welshcakes Limoncello March 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Haha! Loved the story and am glad you lived to tell it! plenty of crazy drivers down here too….

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Laurel March 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

I love your Roman god/litterbug…I think I rode with him too! The whole story made me smile and wish I was in Italy again. You write like I love to read:) Thanks. Laurel ( new follower as soon as I finish this)

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Gev March 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm

I think nearly all my Italian relatives would qualify for a dangerous driving award. What makes me laugh the most is there is an Italian driving school in London, it should be called ‘The close your eyes and hope for the best driving school’

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Cindy March 20, 2012 at 11:21 am

Oh yes Italian drivers have a mess in a car and they drive very fast and carelessly. You’re all lucky if the car is new – then they drive slowly and they keep it clean for around a month – after that it’s all the same story :)

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Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot March 23, 2012 at 6:54 am

Lol, what a shame he rumbled you over the dodgy money;)

I once sat on a Turkish bus weeping as the driver careered around hair pin bends on the wrong side of the road on a deathtrap mountain road.

Why is it that the worst drivers in the world are taxi drivers or bus drivers?!

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