Did you know that almost all pro athletes use visualization techniques to mentally rehearse their winning strategy? Well, I had visualized walking out of the airport in Rome, turning left and walking to the bus depot where I would get on the white bus with Terravision on the side. That bus would take me directly (no stops) to the Southwestern side of the Terminal. There I would get off the bus, walk down the length of the terminal and directly in front of me would be the street on which I would find the hotel reception. I'd walk one block down until I see a yellow wall with a black gate. Inside that gate I'd find my mother and sister waiting for me with open arms. I even looked at my route through Google street view. My strategy was golden. Getting on the blue bus threw my whole game.
So there I am sitting on the bus, right at the front because that's the way I roll and I have a sweeping view of the road ahead. Mistake numero uno! In Rome the rules of the road are more like casual suggestions. This I expected. I expected to see skinny men on little scooters talking on their cell phones, madly gesturing with both hands, correcting the set of the handle bars only at the last possible moment, not a second before he would be sent careening in to the semi-sized bus just inches away. Cars dashing in and out of traffic with no consideration for their relativity to other vehicles; Some cars going twenty miles and hour, some doing a hundred and twenty. I think I could have handled seeing it all... if only... Oh, if only!.... my bus driver were to actually look at the road, on occasion. Instead he looked left (for a few minutes), then right (for a few minutes), only catching sight of the road as his head turned from one side to the other. Sometimes he drove in the left lane, sometimes in the right, mostly somewhere in between. At one point he became so preoccupied with a lady in the car beside us I was able to count to sixty without seeing him so much as glance at the road in front of him. I didn't see much of the long stretching fields and farms of the Italian countryside on the way in to Rome. I had my eyes closed.
Note: On my drive in to Rome and actually on the flight in to Fumicino I was shocked to see that the area was almost all rural. Even just outside of the city limits of Rome the land turns to agricultural farms with no buffer of suburbs in between.
When I next dared to look we were traveling through the sprawl of the working man's Rome: tired and worn with sagging apartment buildings, crammed together cheek for jowl, their terracotta walls, tall and narrow shuttered windows and cute little balconies stripped of beauty by artless graffiti, air conditioning units and stacks of random junk. Car dealerships, gas stations, small neighborhood grocers- familiar businesses in a foreign landscape- stray dogs and cats lounging in the shadows, garbage in the gutters and not so much as a shrub for landscaping. Mid morning and there were men gathered outside their little shops, gossiping; Dark haired woman, sternly dressed, regally smoking on cafe patios. Unlike London, this city felt far from home. I loved it.
As we drove on, the city rose up around us. The buildings became taller, sturdier, wearing their age like a beautiful patina. I became so enamored with the changing landscape I almost didn't notice at first that the bus had come to a stop where there was no light or stop sign (which is not to say that the driver had actually stopped at such previous signs). The bus driver picked up the intercom handset. I am pretty sure he said"Santa initiliani lebititalian... Mario Botali". At least that is what I got. To my horror about 6 of the 20 people on the bus stood up. They picked up their luggage. They got off the bus. Amongst them, the American couple. My heart immediately started pounding and I looked frantically to the streets on either side of me for some familiar landmark. Is this my stop? Should I get off? No one mentioned a stop! When is my stop? What the hell did that bus driver just say? I stand up. Panicked. I intend to ask someone what the HELL is going on!!! but just then the bus lunges forward and I'm thrown back in to my seat. My mind races. I convince myself that when the time comes to get off I will recognize the Termini... after all it is a huge busy building and I've seen it on Google dammit!
The bus seems to grow in size as the streets become narrower and narrower. I hold my breath every time we squeeze between a parked car and a person who has laid themselves flat against it to avoid being squashed; Every time we whiz by a pedestrian just a split second after they step clear of our path; Everytime we squeek by... okay you get the point. The good news is that my bus driver is now actively driving. The bad news is that he's getting cranky. His window came down. He begins to yell and madly gesture at the cars in front of him, at the people that we've passed. They are uneffected by his anger. They yell back. Somehow the streets become even narrower. Next we passed a rally or protest of some kind. People fill the street. I am convinced we're going to run over them all. We turned a corner and I notice that the bus driver is reaching for his intercom again. My heart begins to pick up that lerching pounding beat. I search the street for anything familiar. He says, "Sanitinirinalinibadina" in the time it takes me to say, "Bo!". People get off. This time I stay seated. My new strategy is that I'm gonna sit right there in my seat until he drags me off the bus kicking and screaming. We drive on. Two stops later I need a Prozac and a bottle of wine. Stat. There are only four people left besides me and the driver.
I look down at my map and try to find some familiar landmark. When I look up again we are rounding the corner next to a tall brick colored wall. This wall stretches on and on, winding with the street. It is twice as high as the bus, it's surface is smooth and solid. No windows. No doors. Finally we turn a corner and ahead a line of people stand before a gate. I see a sign. It's the Vatican.
Now I know where I am but I cant take my eyes off of the window long enough to look at the map. With every block there is another gorgeous fountain, ancient church or statue. This time, when my heart begins to pound, it's because I cant believe I'm finally here, in Rome. I dont think I will ever forget the moment I looked from my side window to the road ahead and saw the Colosseum standing right there in front of us. I couldn't even breath. You always think these things will be less than you imagined. But it wasn't. It was pink and crumbling and fantastically immense, right there on the side of the road.
We drove on. When we next came to a stop the four remaining people get off. I sit still. I look left. I like right. I look ahead. This... This is not the termini. Not one thing is recognizable. Not a street, a building. Not a sign saying "Termini". Nothing. I dont have a clue where I am. The bus driver gets up and off the bus. I am forced to follow. My heart isn't pounding. It has stopped altogether.