Welcome back, me!
Specifically, I’ve just returned from a quasi-cycling vacation to the northern reaches of the Italian Dolomites and then to the postcard perfect center of the country in Chianti. I’d be impressed, however, if you hadn’t yet pick up on that, because I’ve spent no shortage of time nor tweets nor other tweets nor blogs nor other blogs nor even more blogs all hinting at this escape to see some of my best friends, ride some of the finest roads on the planet, plus mangia and bevi in a manner only inGamba can. So if this is news to you, then your ability to ignore me is excellent and I tip my hat to you.
Anyway, it’s back to business (mind you, I spent this little “vacation” training my tail off for Tour of Poland, Utah, Colorado, Canadian races, and hopefully the World Championships among other races still to come) and I sped back into town approximately 12 minutes before the rental car was due at 10am. Mind you, when I rented the car I was told that I should return it “sometime around 10am” and therefore figured that I had this friendly buffer for any sort of Italian adventures that might arise.
My European home base of Lucca is a great city for a bunch of reasons, not least of which is that it doesn’t have the insane traffic issues you’ll experience in Rome or Florence or Milan. 12 minutes to spare is like a lifetime. Therefore, perfectly fittingly, there was a big traffic accident – or an “aggressive fender bender” since everyone appeared angry but perfectly alright in this seven car incident – just 300 meters from where I am due to return the car. 12 minutes pass. Then another 10, and 5, and 3, and 12 more, so that it’s now 10:30. A few more minutes tick by and around about 10:38 I ran into Hertz and tossed them my keys. I explained that I was here on time, or within 300 meters of their front door but was delayed by the accident, to which the woman freaked out thinking that I was in the accident. My response in Italian: “No no no, Lady, I’m late because there was an accident right there” (I point outside at the dozen authoritative police officers). She has no idea there was an accident, breaths a big sigh of relief… and proceeds to charge me the extra day’s car rental.
There are 1440 minutes in one day. Sitting in traffic for 38 of them costs the same as if one used 1439. Whatever.
Oh and don’t you worry, this day gets better. It’s not even 11am.
Most of my adventures in Italy take place on two wheels. Sure, the bicycle is one source of that, but I also have a sweet Vespa scooter, which needless to say is a chick magnet. From Hertz, I make the five minutes stroll to where I parked the scooter and am surprised to see that it’s covered in what appears to be morning dew, which is odd because it’s about 100 degrees and baking in the sun. On closer inspection, it’s pine pitch and it appears as though the scooter has been ridden through a fine mist of pine pitch every day for the past ten days. (sigh)
I find a plastic bag and sit on that so that my bum doesn’t get permanently attached to the seat and then as I throw a leg over this hog to drive home, I see that I have a parking ticket folded neatly in my seat.
My blood pressure was only slightly elevated because of the pine pitch issue, but it’s now doubled when I see the ticket. A quick scan around the scene and I don’t see Italian Candid Camera bursting out of the bushes, so I’m upset. When I parked here sometime last week, I went to a great deal of trouble to find the right spot. As hopefully some of you have experienced, parking in Italy is a comedy of errors since most people just put their car in park, regardless of where they are (middle of the road, middle of the highway, sidewalk, etc) and chuck on the hazard lights. Hazards in Italy translate to “don’t tow me, bro – I’ll be back before sunset.” And it works fine.
The problem being my scooter doesn’t have hazard lights. I therefore sought out what I thought was an excellent spot safely amid a dozen other scooters – although I obviously didn’t see the ominous pine tree looming above.
On closer inspection of the ticket, I noticed it was impossible to inspect the ticket closer! Seriously, click on that photo above and look closely. In the three days of sitting on my scooter, apparently the harsh Tuscan sun has rendered the friendly police officer’s pen entirely useless. Or else (s)he wrote it in invisible ink. You can’t read anything on the ticket except the faint scribbling that the license plate number matches my license plate.
I’ve been through the parking ticket process once before and was baffled to find that paying the ticket took nearly a week. Thinking that I’m now a resident pro, I was therefore less than impressed to flip the ticket over to read that the payment process is entirely different from the last time around – new location, new method, new everything. (sigh… sigh)
I not big on the idea of karma nor do I believe in fate. I do, however, believe that I am the first person in Italian history to pay a parking ticket here, so I have an equally strong belief that there is a crew of Italian officials stealthfully following me around in order to issue me more tickets. Slowly but surely Italy will rise out of the European financial crisis and I’m doing my part to help.
Thankfully friends, there is nothing but good news from here on out, so please issue a celebratory high-five to whomever is nearby.
Have you ever tried to remove pine pitch from a car? I’ve personally never been tarred and feathered, but I bet it’s equally tough to wash out. Yet, in a stunning show of magic, it turns out that Italian pine pitch comes out with mere dish soap and universal household spray cleaner. So from there, with a spiffy clean Vespa, I drove into town with the mind bending job of tackling the mysterious parking ticket issued in invisible ink. Not only did I get the location to pay the ticket correct at the first stab, but I arrived right as the post-lunch doors open and found myself third in line, which in the moments afterwards extended out to about 25 soon-to-be-bored line patrons. Best yet, not having any idea how much it would cost me with the incomprehensible ticket, and this being Italy I’m half expecting to take out a loan for four figures, I was pleased to walk out of this municipal office merely 40 euro poorer. That’s well worth the price of rinsing myself clean of further headache.
There is a moral to every story, so what’s the take home lesson here? I have no frigging idea! Maybe it’s that 40 euro is the price you pay for a clean Vespa? Or that you shouldn’t ever think you’re returning a rental car on time because you will surely run into the gnarliest fender-bender in Italian history? Again, I have no… frigging… idea. Oh, here’s a good lesson: install hazard lights on your scooter with an extra good battery to last 10 days.
Ciao. Happy 4th of July America!