The Train to Naples: On Waiting and Running

This is a story of when to wait, and when to run.

I’ve learned the hard way that taxis are expensive in Rome. It’s not that I’m lazy — I’ve walked miles and miles every day I’ve been in Europe — I just keep putting myself in positions to need a taxi.

Like yesterday. I had to catch a train from Rome’s Tiburtina station to Naples where I would see some friends. The check-in process for my Airbnb room had taken a bit longer than I planned. The host (a great guy, actually) wanted to show and tell me everything about the place. How to use the air conditioner. The condensation that sometimes builds up underneath it because of the change in temperature. The TV I won’t use and how it “only has ten English channels.” The strange wizardry of European door locks. The 10% discount on scooters I get (thank you, because as of right now, I am the proud one-day renter of an all-white 125-cc Vespa).

In hindsight, I appreciate all the tips now, especially the one about how the toilet uses a pump when it flushes and sometimes makes a loud noise even when I’m using the sink. Without that knowledge, I’m pretty sure I would have thought there was a bomb in the pipes when I used the sink for the first time at 1 in the morning.

But by the time I could escape the gracious clutches of my host, I had eighteen minutes to get to the station. It was a fifteen-minute drive, not including traffic. And there was traffic.

When I hopped in the Rome-standard white taxi, the way I said my desired destination (“CiaoTiburtinaperfavore!”) let the driver know I needed to get there. Fast. He nodded, stepped on the gas, sped around the corner, and…stopped. A wall of cars. You can’t drive around Rome mid-day and not stop every twenty seconds. I looked at my GPS, at the little blue dot that was me in the taxi, and the maze of red- and yellow-labeled streets in between us and the Tiburtina station. I sighed.

Probably not going to make it, I thought. One thing I’ve learned over the years about being in this situation — there’s nothing I can do. The taxi will get there when the taxi gets there. I would deal with the fallout when we showed up at the station.

I decided to stop watching the GPS — the painful crawl of our blue dot did nothing but mock me and my helplessness. Is there any worse feeling than waiting on something you can’t control? I couldn’t put myself through the torture, so I opened up some notes I had been meaning to read on my phone. They made me think of some things I had to write down, so I started writing.

I didn’t notice what must have been some ace driving because when I finally looked up from my notes, we were only a couple of blocks from the Tiburtina station. I checked the time. We still had three minutes. I stared in wonder at this superhuman being posing as a taxi driver.

To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, he did it. The crazy son of a b****, he did it.

Somehow, almost miraculously, he beat the traffic. Meanwhile, I’d been in a blissful state of ignorance. Isn’t that how it goes, though? The watched pot never boils, and traffic never lets up when you try and will it to. Might as well do something productive while you wait.

I had kept an eye on the taxi’s toll meter — it had just crept over eleven euros. I had a ten, I had a five, and I had a bunch of small change. I was hoping we could arrive with the meter under eleven euros. I had the change to cover that. Now I’d either have to give him fifteen euros or wait for him to give me change.

I had distracted myself pretty well during the ride, but now, the time for waiting was over.

I handed him the ten and the five, and thanks to my Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book, I told him, “Tenga il resto!” (“Keep the change.”) I wanted to tack on “you beautiful, beautiful man!” but I thought it’d make it weird. Plus, I had no time.

I darted from the car, across the street, and into the station.

The Departures screen hung above the stairs that led to the train platforms. The thirty seconds or so I stood there are a blur to me — I deciphered my ticket, all in Italian, figured out that binari meant platforms, found my train at Platform 17…and then I took off.

I became a hybrid of Usain Bolt and the McAlister family in both Home Alonemovies. I ran up the stairs, three at a time, and weaved and dodged and sprinted my way past platforms one and two, and three and four, and — why did mine have to be at seven-freaking-teen?

As I passed sixteen, I rounded the corner and down the steps to platform seventeen, my feet blurring down the stairs like hummingbird wings.

The second my foot hit the concrete of platform seventeen, my train pulled in. In that moment, nothing felt as rewarding as making the train I thought I’d miss. I wanted to high-five the people on board, but I don’t think they were feeling it. I found my seat, plopped myself down, and let my heartbeat settle. The particular carriage I was in smelled a touch like b.o. already, and with the sweat dripping down my forehead and over my nose, I’m sure I was about to add my own contribution to the mixture. But I didn’t care. I made it. I was on the train.

This is the ebb and flow of traveling and of life. Sometimes, we have to wait. Sometimes, we have to run. I’ve done my fair share of going when I should have waited, or trying to force the issue when there was nothing I could do. I’ve also hesitated, held back, and sat on my hands when the situation needed me to move, to run.

On the train to Naples, I could rest in the fact that I finally waited patiently and ran at the right times.

May we all have plenty of chances to learn how to do both better.


Originally published on Medium on July 16, 2015