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Battle Stations on a Roman Subway


I’ve brought you here to open your eyes to a world most American’s choose not to acknowledge.  I know the platform is packed and you feel as though you could be pushed onto the tracks at any moment by swinging arms and grudging shoulders, but plant yourself.  Don’t budge for a soul.  Where you are on the platform is crucial for the ride to come.  Breathe through your nose-your mouth is worse.  Your tongue will actually retract as the filth permeates your mouth.  It’s a wretched filth that your clothes, shoes and hair absorb in seconds.  Beer, dirt, sweat, stale breath and cigarette smoke combined with a tinge of rancid rottenness. You may think the smell and taste are the worst parts, you’re wrong. 

Oops, you forgot what I told you about your purse.  That’s right; make sure it’s close to your body and grip onto both the bag and its straps.  Keep an eye on the zipper too.  A lot of friends have been robbed down here.  You never know whom to suspect.  I’ve seen thieves skillfully mold themselves into children, members of the clergy, businessmen and crippled old women-really its quite amazing.  Kids are the worst though.  An entire pack will charge you, and in the process of bouncing off one, another slices your purse.  There goes your entire identity to a twelve-year old. 

Oh!  I feel it coming.  The times when it is empty down here (the times girls like us would be safer walking) you can shield the wind by standing behind those pillars.  There’s no chance of that at this time of day though, we need to push toward that yellow “caution” mark painted near the tracks.  You’ll get used to the “wind blown” look.  Ok, the trick is to pinpoint exactly where a set of doors is going to stop.  I’ve gotten pretty good, but the Italians are better.  Sometimes the platform people form two lines on either side of each door, at least that is the courteous method, but usually the people getting off at a stop have to fight just as hard as those of us getting on.  You have your battle face on?  Ha ha, you think I’m joking.  “Parmesso, paremesso, meso!”  You still behind me?  Here grab my hand.  You have to get on! Push, or you’ll get caught in the door!  There are no warnings here like in London’s Tube; Italians just shut the door on you, and if you aren’t in or lose a limb in the process, well you can remedy that at the next stop.  I know you can’t reach the pole; you don’t have to hold on.  That’s the beauty of it, we’re all so packed-like a bag of cotton balls-that you stabilize yourself by leaning on other people.  And you’ll have to.  Stabilize I mean.  The Italian metro is not known as a smooth ride.  Umph!  See what I mean?  Oh don’t apologize.  First off, they don’t understand a word you are saying and secondly, its not your fault Rome only has two damn metro lines in the entire city!  There are over two million people living in Rome-not to mention the tourists-and only two metro lines.  Yeah, it’s something about not wanting to disturb the foundation of all the monuments and ruins.  I know, I know, it makes sense, but that won’t keep me from complaining.  You wouldn’t either if you found yourself here every single day.  Pushing your way to the front of the platform, throwing elbows to make it on the already packed car, keeping your head outside the doors until the last possible moment so you can breathe, just to be late to class.  Again!  Do you know how many battle wounds I have from this poor excuse for a metro?  Well, too many to count.  

Don’t turn around.  I know he’s touching you, but eye contact will only make it worse.  He’ll take it as flirting, believe me.  Oh, don’t be scared, hun.  Here try to shift in front of me, I can handle the pervert.  I was the same way my first couple rides.  Oh god, do you smell that?  Anyway, it’s a rare occasion when I ride this thing and that I don’t endure a wandering hand.  Its uncomfortable, but you’ll get used to it.  I know that’s awful to say, but what are you going to do?  We’re crammed in here, and we’re Americans.  You’ll never see them pull that crap with Italian women.  Italian women wouldn’t stand for it.  Too tough.  Their expressions represent the perfect combination of hostility and indifference.  We call it the “City Face.” American’s totally can’t pull it off.  That’s why I always try to find a spot near one of them.  Safety in numbers or something like that.  

Brace yourself; we’re about to make a stop. When you hear, “Messo” or “Scusata” that means “Get out of the way, I’m trying to get out”.  It’s a great time to shift, but don’t let yourself be moved too much.  The mob has taken me right out the door with them before, and once you are out, it’s hell trying to get yourself back in.  Impossible.  And you will fall on people.  The metro jerks when braking and everyone bounces off one another.  A free fall of cotton balls.  Bend your knees, it helps with the jolt.  That, of course, won’t be enough to save you from a crushed toe or two.  Mere battle wounds my friend. 

You see how everyone stares at us?  It is because we’re not parading in Prada.  They don’t really enjoy North Face in this country.  I always feel like a freakish sideshow act on this thing.  “Hey everyone look, I’m not covered in black leather!”  Oh, a few people can understand you, but they find it amusing when we get frustrated.

Another stop. One, two, three BRACE!  I actually think riding this has toned my body.  You know having to squeeze everything together to stay standing?  My girlfriends and I like to pretend something beneficial has come from our metro riding.  We’ll see if the boyfriend notices next time he sees me. 

Ok, the next stop is us.  “San Giovanni” is your home for the next week, and make sure you don’t forget it.  Getting off at the wrong stop is traumatic for the beginners.  Italians don’t sympathize with lost Americans.  It would be entirely up to you make sense of this metro maze, not an easy task for the novice. 

Push! Push! Push!  Now make your way toward the escalators.  Hold your breath until we’re half way up if you can.  You made it!  I know, I dread having to be caught in that hole.  What did you say?  A Band-Aid?  Sure, help yourself. They are right next to the antibacterial stuff in my purse.  Metro necessities. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Rome.  The American in me just can’t get used to the combination of stares, smells and herds of people Italy transports underground.  Why do I ride it?  You’ll find out at the top of this escalator.  One thing it does consistently well is deliver you to Rome’s finest treasures.  At that point, transportation glitches don’t mean a thing. 

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