Friday, July 27

Driving in Italy? Detour Ahead.

I dedicate an entire chapter in my book to the (non) Rules of the Road of Driving in Italy.  Lots of people are afraid to drive around Italy, but I am not one of them, unless of course, I am near a woman careening around a corner in an SUV while she's texting and smoking a cigarette.  But, for the most part, if you like cat & mouse chases, it can actually be fun.  Just don't get caught in the city centers with a car, even if you're simply trying to find your hotel.  Each time you go in & out, you'll be hit with a hefty fine.
But lately, it's been widely reported that around Rome (and I imagine other cities as well), there's a new ploy around to separate you from your money.  And it involves your car.  It also tends to strike at women driving by themselves, a category in which I find myself - often.  But since I got literally hit up twice in the last month, I thought I'd share the experiences with you:  Forewarned is always forearmed.
Essentially, people are coming out of the woodwork and hitting the side mirror of your car.  This can be a person, usually someone on a scooter, and like the other night, in another car - but that's a bit more outrageous.  You hear a rather loud 'thud' and are shocked, because you swear (and you are most likely very correct) that no one was even near you a moment before.  They tend to go after women who are meandering, looking for a parking spot, so not fully paying attention to their surroundings.  But the other day I was driving - fully in my lane - when it happened.  Once they have you totally on a guilt trip, they hit you up with a "Just give me 100 euro and we'll leave it at that."  Sure beats begging 100 people for a euro coin each.
They stop and signal to you to pull over.  I do not - ever - open my windows to engage in conversations.  This, is a precautionary measure I learned from living in the USA - where people come up to you and try to chloroform you to get your car, or worse.  And after seeing The Vanishing, well, call me 'better safe than six feet under'---alive.  And besides, if they can shout through the 3 foot thick windows at the post office to complete a transaction, their voices can certainly carry thru the window of my car.
The new pocket pickers - who just stand there patiently waiting
while you give them lots of your money - voluntarily.
In scenario no. 1 - the guy, appearing straight out of nowhere (between garbage containers) shows me his smashed watch.  Looking like someone who would chloroform me in a heartbeat if he could manage to get out of bed that day, he says repeatedly, "You broke my watch." Because of his sort of drugged state and insistent behaviour, I pull out my iPhone - a modern version of a Swiss Army Knife in times of need.  I don't call the police.  I start taking pictures.  I told him I was onto his ploy, and I'm happy to call the police to settle the matter now that I have photos.  Suddenly, his watch wasn't so important.  Here he is above, with the smashed item in question.  His mug suddenly out of my camera view.  Damn that iPhone for being so slow to load.
In scenario no. 2 - I was perfectly in my lane, on a wide boulevard at that.  The thud told me our side view mirrors just made contact.  Nonetheless...I followed him as he pulled over, because I didn't want to illicit road rage.  He comes over.  I tell him I can't roll down my window (which btw is the god-honest truth, it's momentarily missing its motor, causing me endless grief on toll roads..but no matter, I wasn't going to do it anyway - see The Vanishing reference above).  He tried shouting to me that I broke his side mirror...sees my absolute look of confusion -- I told him I was rigorously in my lane, and if he hit my mirror, it's his problem.  Then, pointing to my side mirror, he motions for me to come look - "You see, your mirror was hit."  
Yeah, right, I'm really going to leave my car and 'come and have a look' - I couldn't join him on the dark road even if I had wanted to, because I was too busy replaying scenes from The Hitcher.  Besides, my car is 15 years old.  If the side mirror was hit, it probably made an improvement.  Seeing he was getting nowhere fast, and just before I unsheathed my trusty iPhone camera, he gave up.  "Never mind, bella mia..."  and he walked away.  I opened my passenger window and called after watch where he's going in the future.
I would suggest you readers do the same.

Driving away, I recalled when my purse was stolen - right out from under my car seat - while driving in traffic in Naples.  They smashed the window and in my surprise (I thought an explosion had gone off next to me), I was stunned to see my bag floating right out of it and onto the back of a scooter.  Either way, I counted my blessings that none of these incidents transpired in carjack happy USA - I'd have been separated from a lot more than just my wallet...


mmtmtb said...

very funny post but unbeleivably scary! You need one of those balloon men people put in their passenger seat!

Anonymous said...

Thank you!
from a reader in Varese...