Walked to the Pantheon recently. Rome does a lousy job of signage – there isn’t any, and in the labyrinth of unmarked streets, there were scores of bewildered tourists staring at inadequate maps or trying to get Google Maps Voice to be helpful, which it wasn’t.
Then it started to rain and wife was tired and the swell of people was incredible. After ten tries, I managed to flag an empty taxi.
For the next twenty some minutes sudden death seemed imminent. Harrowing is an understatement. Tony the Terror was our driver. He was about thirty, with a mop of untidy black hair, wore wild sunglasses on the end of his Roman nose, and gesticulated twice for every word out of his mouth.
His English was poor but he had “shit” and “crazy” down pat.. He was mad at the police because they closed a major thoroughfare for ten hours after a metropolitan bus caught on fire in the morning. “No one died,” Tony yelled at no one in particular. “Close for ten hours. Shit.”
He pulled up next to a female cop directing traffic and I thought he knew her and was exchanging pleasantries. No, he gave her hell based on his body language and her reddening face. Before she could react, we were off.
The street was gridlock the direction we were headed. “Shit.” Tony swerved into the oncoming traffic lane and cut back in before the stoplight while cutting off other cars who laid on their horns. “Crazy, no police, I looked,” Tony, said gleefully.
He didn’t stop there, block after block, we sped in wrong way lanes, oncoming traffic gliding inches from our vehicle. I had the sudden premonition the cops might mistake us for terrorists looking to mow down pedestrians and take us out with a volley of machine gun fire.
Our hotel was nearing but it was on a one way street. Tony cut across three lanes of oncoming traffic into an alley so he wouldn’t have to circle the block. “Shit, wrong street,” he said. But instead of pulling into the alley and turning around, he backed up and headed for the next side street except we were on curb side of three lanes of oncoming traffic. That’s when wife put her head between her knees and braced for impact. Cars flew by, pedestrians ran towards shop doors, horns blared from every direction. Shit indeed.
Miraculously, we made it back to the St. Regis.
I paid Tony the Terror extra, either out of appreciation of the thrill, or gratitude we were still breathing, albeit, in labored gasps. He said the trip was about forty minutes but he had made it in twenty-eight. “Sorry,” he said, “I should make in twenty-six. Shit.” Crazy.