A Roman Taxi Ride

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Mother and I arrived, via shuttle bus, at Termini Station in the center of Rome. From there we intended to take the metro to Battistini, the northernmost stop on Line A, where our landlord, Angelo, would meet us. That was the plan, anyway. Mother took one look at the surging crowds jostling in and out of Termini and plunked down on her suitcase.

“Uh-uh,” she said. “Not with luggage.”

“You only have two bags,” I said.

“One of them weighs more than I do. Get a cab.”

A taxi meant molti euros, so I went across the street to a cash machine. The bancomat, clearly xenophobic, refused to communicate in English. After two cancelled transactions and a sizable donation to the Roman something fund, I succeeded in withdrawing enough money to purchase a used helicopter. I returned to Mother stuffing my pockets with wads of fifty-euro notes.

“You better not get robbed,” she said.

“Really?  I had us down for a mugging at 9:45. Should I cross it off the itinerary?”

I found a cab driver—a gray-haired, reliable looking fellow—and tried to tell him where we wanted to go. The discussion went something like this:

ME: Battistini?

HE: Si. Si, Si.

ME: Eccelente.

HE: Ah, momento. Battistini?

ME: Si, Battistini.

HE: Ah, Battistini. Si.

At this point he scratched his head, walked over to a fellow cabbie, and said, “Battistini?” The other driver took a puff on his cigar and shrugged elaborately.

“Battistini, uh, stazione?” I offered.

“Ah!” said our man. “Battistini Stazione. “Si!”

He slung our luggage into the trunk and opened the back door, motioning us in.

“Battistini Stazione?” I said.

“Si,” he said. “Buono.”

As soon as we were seated, he leaped behind the wheel and swerved the taxi in front of an oncoming bus. A mile later, he was shouting into his phone. The only word I recognized was “Battistini.” He spoke for a long time, then drove on in silence.

“Battistini?” I said.

“Si. Battistini.”

We passed a crumbling wall, and the driver became excited. “Aurelia! Famoso!” Next came a street of cafés and neon signs. “Via Veneto!” When we didn’t respond, he turned to us and gesticulated with his free hand. “Via Veneto!  Molto Famoso!”

“Si,” I said. “La Dolce Vita.”

“Si!  Si, si!”

In fact, the Via Veneto was sadly underpopulated and looked nothing like it did in Fellini’s film. Where were the glittering crowds spilling onto the sidewalks? The fur-draped celebrities? The relentless paparazzi? Where were the flash bulbs and decadence?

We continued on, deep into the western suburbs. Battistini is in the city’s nineteenth municipio, where architecturally depressing apartment houses predominate. The driver decreased speed and craned his neck at every sign. Girls whipped by on scooters, shouting and gesturing.

These cheeky daredevils fascinated me. I couldn’t picture any young women I knew in Pennsylvania gunning a Vespa past a speeding car, then swiveling around to give the driver a vigorous finger. To watch an insult-spewing scooter girl whiz by with her finger flying is a truly titillating experience.

Distracted by this display of feminine impudence, I failed to notice our driver’s befuddlement. He was now searching desperately for some landmark that would give him an inkling of where we were. Mother ventured a limp “Battistini?” and he responded with a stream of rambling invective.

When his outburst subsided, I suggested he call Angelo for directions. He did, and we soon found ourselves in front of the apartment complex. Angelo unlocked the gate, and I paid the driver, who sped off, considerably richer, into the Roman night.

 

Dan Morey is a freelance writer in Pennsylvania. He’s worked as a book critic, nightlife columnist, travel correspondent and outdoor journalist. His writing has appeared in HobartdecomPMcSweeney’s Quarterly and others. He was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Find him at danmorey.weebly.com.

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