Learning through Laughter

Bob Owen, Humorist

It dawned on me 45 minutes after we drove out of Rome for our next Italian destination that I would be not be able to drive back into the city the same way when we returned. One-way streets in every direction.

A week later, the day before our return, I went to Avis, our rental agency, in Spoleto, for directions. The man on duty spoke four words of English. I was more fluent, knowing 14 words of Italian. The man held up his forefinger, to say “wait a minute,” was gone ten, and returned with the manager, who said he had a GPS unit to be returned to Avis in Rome and would let us use it.

I got on the Italian version of the interstate driving 6,000 mph (slow for them.) Our new toy was set so that the woman’s voice was English. Things went very well – at first. We entered the city, and I knew we were close to Avis. Brenda recognized landmarks from when we walked throughout the city. Our destination was probably 10 minutes away at that point. It did, however, take me an hour and 15 minutes to get there.

As we approached one major intersection, our English guide said, “Stay right. Stay right.” Guess what. In this old city, we were approaching a bridge and there were TWO RIGHTS! An up right and a down right. I took the up right. Shouldn’t have. By this time the woman was annoyed and snapped, “turn around as quickly as possible and go back 20 kilometers.” That was an excellent concept, but for the fact that we were then on a one-way street. In the States, I would have been arrested for going back the wrong way. I now realize no one in Rome would have noticed. But, I stayed the course, which meant I turned left on the wrong street and went the opposite direction from where I should have. As we passed the Coliseum, Brenda commented, “This might be a good time to tell you we’re several miles from where we need to be.“

We picked an approximate direction. When we careened through the middle of the Trevi Fountain, we knew we were close. Brenda said go two blocks and look for the shell fountain on the left with a sculpture of a bee. I did. Looked left. The bee was there! We were two blocks away.

I drove one and a half blocks and stopped. There was a car parked on the right side of this narrow street, another one on the left OF THIS NARROW STREET, and another car double-parked. Did I mention it was a NARROW STREET? I couldn’t get through.

Brenda said, “You have to go.” “I can’t. I’ll scrape the car and have to pay for damages.” By this time, a “gentleman” behind me was honking for this sissy American to drive like he was in Rome. Then the man who had doubled parked came out shouting something about my heritage.

Brenda simply said, “BOB.” I closed my eyes and pressed the gas pedal. I made it! I opened my eyes and listened to our English friend proclaim, “Your destination is on the left.” After two hours getting to Rome and one more hour driving in Rome, I was thrilled.

There it was! Avis. There wasn’t a parking place anywhere, so I pulled up on the sidewalk in front of the store. A clerk came out and said, “You can’t park there.” Brenda tried to stick her fist in my mouth, but she was slow.

“M’am,” I explained, “I am through driving. This car is yours.” I got our luggage, gave her the keys, and walked inside the store.

I don’t have a clue what she said, but I’m quite thankful it wasn’t included in the 14 words I knew.

Date of Blog Story: 
January 19, 2010

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