Tales of a wandering lesbian


You know those reflective vests that road workers and inmates wear?  The orange or green ones?  Italians carry those in their cars like Americans carry tire gages, or toolkits.  Our first day in Italy, we found out why…

My parents had rented a car – a nice alfa romeo sedan.  It had a good amount of trunk space for our luggage, a sleek body style, and a shitty turning radius.

We were lost almost immediately after we picked up the rental car, turning the wrong way on the highway leading away from the airport.  After about an hour of driving, stopping, asking directions, figuring out where we were, where we were going, and driving again, we were back at the airport going the right direction – toward Pisa, toward Lucca and toward Pieve Fosciana.  All we needed to do was get onto the Italian Autobahn, the Autostrada.

Signage in Italy isn’t always that great – especially if you don’t know what the little sign symbols mean.  Somehow, we ended up heading the wrong way – again – this time onto the Autostrada.  We realized this as we were on the on-ramp to the east-bound lanes.  Fortunately, there were no cars anywhere near us, and the off-ramp was right next to us.  We decided to pull a u-turn.  Yes, a u-turn on the on/off-ramp to the Autostrada.  This seemed like a good idea at the time.  Then again, we’d been traveling for about 20 hours at that point, and were pretty desperate not to have to backtrack again.

This is when we discovered several things in quick succession.

1.  The alfa romeo has a shitty turning radius.

2.  It is not that easy to put an alfa romeo into reverse.

3.  Italian motorists are INCREDIBLY patient.

As the car came to a stop about 6 inches from the guard rail, my dad tried to put the car into reverse.  After about 30 seconds of increasingly frantic attempts to force the shifter into reverse, it became clear that there was some kind of release switch.  It also became clear that we weren’t going to figure it out on the on-ramp.

At this point, our car was perpendicular to the ramps, blocking both directions.  Cars on both sides of us were beginning to pile up.  I looked at my mom and aunt in the back of the car who were packed in with our luggage, turned to my dad and said “I guess I’m pushing!”

When I got out, the car was resting on the guard rail.  I put my hands on the hood, my feet on the rail, and pushed.  it must have been an awesome sight to see me suspended between the two like a cartoon figure.  I can’t imagine why my family didn’t have the camera out.  The only way it could have been better is if I’d had the reflective vest on.  After a couple fits of pushing and driving forward, pushing and driving forward (thanks to the shitty turning radius), I was able to waive to the other motorists who were patiently watching us like we were a mildly amusing tv program, jump in the car, and we were on our way.

What was amazing to us was that the entire time, nobody honked.  Nobody flipped us the bird, nobody hollered out the window.  We were on the frickin’ ramp to the Autostrada, blocking both directions.  People calmly queued up and waited with the expression of someone sitting at a rather long traffic light.  If we’d been in the US, I might have been shot, run down, or at least cursed loudly at.  In Italy, I was entertainment.

Before the trip, my dad and sister had done some work to learn the Italian language.  For some reason, my dad had happened across the word for “carbomb” and decided to teach it to all of us.  (Yes, I know it’s totally inapropriate.)  Although he didn’t get it quite right (it’s really” autobomba” I found out later), we still used “autobombo” pretty much constantly in the lead-up to the trip.  We even started calling my mom “automombo,” and my sister convinced her coworker that the Autostrada was really called the “Autobombo.”   But, after our first day in Italy, for the rest of the trip, and beyond, our awesome u-turn on the Autostrada was referred to as the “autobombo.”  I really wish I’d worn the vest.

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July 27, 2009   3 Comments