"What for?" He asked.
"Well, so many things. But at the moment, it would be nice if I could read the traffic signs..."
"You would be the only one!"
I was on assignment to visit customers and offices in Rome. From my first cup of cappuccino, first drink of scorpino, to first street crossing, I was submerged into the Roman exuberance, sensory overloaded in sights and sounds.
Though it was not until my fifth and final business trip before I got a first hand experience with the Roman Taxi drivers.
Angelo had been on travel himself, so I arrived at Fiumicino to meet up with colleagues from UK, when I found out they had taken a later flight. Walking out of the terminal alone, I tried to follow the line for Taxi, but was soon stopped by a burly fellow with a toothpick sticking out the side of his mouth:
"Lady, you want Taxi?"
Apprehensive, as I did not get a good vibe about the situation I was facing, I shook my head and continued walking. He came up from behind and shouted:
"I can dispatch one for you...do you speak Italian?"
I was stuck. He's got a point. I did not want to get into discussions with the drivers one by one, negotiating rates, distance, directions, routes etc. I turned around, in time to see that brought a smile over his grayish face, full of five o'clock shadows, tobacco stained teeth, and skin badly in need of a proper cleansing regimen.
He lead me to a driver who eagerly greeted me and grabbed my bags before I could say anything. What could I say anyways, I let out a sigh as they exchanged rapid fire Italians, peppered with side way glances and grins at me, as if proving my point. Not feeling good yet not seeing a choice, I resigned to follow him and "get this over with quickly".
As I sat buckling my seat belt, the driver turned to announce the trip would cost 95 euro in perfect English. I nearly bolted from my seat. I had been warned that this trip should cost around 40 euro, 50 at most.
"How about 50 euro? My friends told me that this trip cost less than that."
His stare suddenly turned angry.
"Where is your friend? Do you want to tell him to pick you up then?"
A chill came over my spine, like a spider crawling for exploration but at times stop to inspect with his teeth. I just needed to get out of there, fast.
"I am really sorry, but you are right, can you please let me out?"
He was furious now. Marching with a purpose, he flipped open the trunk, snatched my meager procession, walked close enough to the curb to give them a toss over it, and stomped away. I watched as my luggage swayed once or twice at the force still pulsing in them, too far from rescuing efforts, teetering to maintain balance, knowing it was not to be, and finally giving into a crash landing onto the beautiful pavement I admired minutes earlier.
The evening was upon us. I shivered as I looked around for another driver when I noticed the cars behind me had all carried the universal "TAXI" sign, unlike the anger management candidate I just left. With a sigh of relief, I got into the next real TAXI pulling up beside me, finding a most peaceful driver quoting a most reasonable rate, and headed to the hotel at last.
|a look-alike of my broken screen|
Most of my luggage remained undamaged, thanks to an unlucky labtop I'd packed towards the top, for the sake of easy in and out during security screening process. It had a shattered screen marked by thick black lines zig-zagging through, with only a one fifth portion on the top right corner intact. During the evening, I had to move most of my windows and applications into this corner, one by one, depending on what I was doing, to manually switch between them. Apologizing to my colleagues in an email explaining my delays, I noted to them:
"It is my great privilege to be on this assignment in Rome, which among other things, had given me tastes not only in the world's best coffee drink, the best after dinner cocktail, but also the best story to tell among all my travels."