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Italy: Day Six, Part 2

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Ciao, everyone. I’ve moved 150 miles northwest from Grandma’s to my cousin’s place on my grand tour of the southern U.S., so I’m just gonna dive right into part two of my story. Enjoy! --------------------------- After relaying the story of my harrowing morning to everyone, I got down to work. I had made plans earlier in the week to meet up with a guy I met at work, so he could take me into Milan for some sight-seeing. I went to his office around 2pm, where he informed me that he was going to have to work late, and that if I waited for him, I wouldn’t be able to get into Il Duomo, the ancient cathedral that dominates the city. His plan was for me to go into Milan ahead of him, and to meet him at Il Duomo. I told him about my money woes, and he told me that instead of taking a taxi or a bus, I could take the train there for a mere 5 Euros. Given my earlier exploits, I was doubtful that things would go as smoothly as he made out, but I had little choice if I wanted to see the cathedral. At 4pm, I gathered my things, raided my bank account again for 30 Euros (I was willing to take the ass-whipping at this point – I needed cash), and jumped in Paolo’s car for the ride to the train station. Paolo thoughtfully offered to keep my suitcase for me so I wouldn’t have to drag it all over Milan. This turned out to be a very good idea. Paolo took me to the train station, bought my ticket for me (with my money), and told me which platform to stand on. I was beyond thrilled, because this meant I didn’t have to speak Italian, and by then I wanted to speak Italian about as much as I wanted to tongue-kiss a ceiling fan. We agreed to meet at 6pm. Yeah, right. The train came, I boarded it after making sure it was going to Milan, and I settled in for the trip. Trains that run through metropolitan areas almost always transect the poorest urban sections of cities. What I saw along the way would’ve been perfectly aligned with slum neighborhoods in Detroit, Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, or any other major American city. Honestly, the only difference was that the graffiti was Italian, but I imagine the message was the same. I looked around at the other passengers on their way to Milan. Without fail, every one of them held a ticket that was about 8” long by 5” wide. Mine was 5” long by 2” wide. Mine was shorter than everyone else’s. That was a first. I thought it was weird, but I figured these were daily commuters, and therefore their tickets were different from the single riders like me. That thought lasted approximately 1.5 minutes, when the ticket taker came into our car to get the tickets. When he got to me, I handed him my compact ticket. He just stared at it. Then began this lovely conversation. Him: “Spoeflkia nlvo drowtietti? Me: “Um, non capisco. Non parlo l’italiano.” Him (in English): “Where are you from?” Me (realizing something’s wrong): “*sigh* I’m from the U.S.” Him: “The U.S., huh?” Me: “Yes. America. The U.S.” (pause) Him: “Have you ridden the train before?” Me: “Not in Italy.” (pause) Him: “Did you know you’re supposed to put this little ticket into the yellow machine at the station to get a big ticket?” He points to the other passengers’ tickets. Me (getting sick of this shit): “Obviously not.” Him: “And do you know the penalty for not having a ticket?” Me: “Again, obviously not.” Him: “It’s 25 Euros.” I started sweating. Counting the 30 Euros I had gotten from the ATM, I only had 45 Euros total, and I didn’t want that amount to drop by 25 just because I wasn’t aware of some dumb rule about double ticketing. So I just sat there, cursing the plane that brought me to this godforsaken place. I started reaching for my wallet. Him: “Are you sure you’ve never ridden the train before?” Me: “Yes. I’m sure.” (pause) Him: “Make sure you remember that next time, ok?” Holy shit. He let me off the hook! That was by far the best luck I’d had that day. I thanked him profusely, the same way OJ thanks the heavens for white women. The train pulled into Central Station, and I disembarked with a new spring in my step. Paolo had given me instructions on what to do next: buy a ticket for the subway (called the metro there), and go to the proper station to get my money. AmEx, after listening to me bitch and scream at them, had called a location in Milan to confirm that the money was indeed available to me. This location was accessible by metro, and Paolo told me which station to go to. When I got into Central, I got the metro ticket no problem, and went to get on the metro. That would’ve been an awesome plan, but I couldn’t find the metro entrance anywhere. I looked all over the damn station, but I couldn’t even find a sign for the damn train. Finally, I went to a cash exchange kiosk and asked the man inside where the metro was. Thankfully, he spoke English, and he directed me outside (where I had failed to look). Once I got outside, I went down into the metro, found the correct line, and got on the incredibly crowded train. Two stops later, I jumped off and immediately set about finding the Western Union inside the train station. Oh, what a huge surprise it was when I discovered this: It wasn’t there. I looked all over the station, and even ascended to the street to circle the block. Nothing. No Western Union anywhere. At this point, I truly started to despair. I was in a foreign city, running out of money, and no one spoke my language. It was like a scene from a movie – you know, the scene where the main character is standing on the street, lost, looking in every direction for guidance, with the camera swinging around him in a wide circle, symbolizing the disorientation he’s feeling at the moment. That was me. I was truly at a loss. At this point, I was even running late for meeting Paolo at Il Duomo, meaning I might miss him and my freakin’ suitcase. For 10 minutes, I stood there in the cold, singing “I’m Proud To Be An American” by Lee Greenwood over and over in my head. Suddenly, I remembered: the guy I asked for metro directions had a tiny Western Union sticker on the window of his cash exchange business. I jumped back on the metro, went back to Central, and found the guy. I asked him if he had any money for me, and handed over my passport. After what seemed like a couple of decades, he found it. My sigh of relief was audible for 100 yards. I thanked him profusely (a theme, that day) and ran back to the metro to go meet Paolo. More to come. Peace.


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