ROME’S TURBULENT TRAFFIC By Stan Scislowski

July 11, 2009

No sooner had we entered the outskirts of Rome when it became quite evident to all of us that we were coming onto something that would be almost beyond our comprehension. We would learn, before we had gone only a few blocks, that the traffic situation in this great and historic city was unlike anything any of us had ever seen before, anywhere, any place, anytime. Not even Times Square in New York or the expressways of Los Angeles or the corner of Yonge and Bloor at rush hour could come remotely close to matching the hair-raising qualities of Rome’s tumultuous traffic. It has to be seen to be believed. And then, of course, one would have to survive it in order
to tell someone all about it.
Parking? No problem! They park double. They park triple. They
park on sidewalks, on cathedral steps. You’ll probably even find cars parked smack dab right in front of cinema ticket booths. The drivers of Rome park wherever a few feet of open space presents itself, even if it means shoe-horning their little buggies into the space. Parking lots are so jam-packed you can’t help but wonder how on earth anyone manages to get their car out. I pondered this problem for three city blocks and gave it up as unsolvable.
Fire hydrants are not something drivers in this city give much
thought to. As a matter of fact hydrants don’t seem to mean a damn thing to them. It’s as though they weren’t there at all. I know this to be true because everyone on my side of the bus stared with open mouths when they saw a hydrant with four Fiats (about the only makes you see over here) parked in a tight circle around it and there wasn’t a one of them with a ticket under the windshield wiper blade. One can’t help but wonder what the heck the police in this city do to earn their pay.
Our driver, in a miraculous display of handling the wheel,
threaded his way through Rome’s traffic jungle, and at each intersection ran into a crisis of sorts. Who had the right of way? From what we could see, they all did. It got so you had to close your eyes and say a quick prayer or three “Hail Marys!” We were transfixed in our seats, faces frozen in the attitude of abject fear. As for our bus driver, it was like there was nothing to it,
nothing at all to get worked up over. He simply tromped on the gas and more or less bulled his way through the teeming and honking mass of cars, an almost impenetrable wall of exhaust emitting machinery. How we emerged out of the maelstrom without even a scratch will forever remain a mystery. All I
know is that you could hear our collective breath whistling through tight clenched jaws when we came out on the other side safe and sound. A miracle in every sense of the word. How did he pull it off? Search me!
If I had the inclination and the time, I’m pretty sure I could
write a fair-sized volume describing in fine detail the hilarious, the outrageous, the down-and-out incredible traffic of Rome. Whether it would sell in the bookstores or not I wouldn’t know. It would, however, be a study in something, but what that some-thing is I couldn’t even begin to say, only that it is definitely something. Driving skills of the average Italian motorist? Possibly. Courtesy of the road? No way! Recklessness? You
could bet your bottom dollar on that! Could it even have been a tendency towards highway suicide? Who knows? It would, however, appear that way after what we had just seen. Yes, we could go on and on in this vein and we’d barely scratch the surface regarding the adventures and the comedy of errors,
intentional and unintentional that are part and parcel and a minute by minute occurrence on the wild and woolly streets of Rome.
‘U’ turns are considered quite normal over here and rarely gets a nod or sidewise glance from the passing throng of jaywalkers and sidewalk gawkers. A ‘W’ turn is a quite recent innovation and will draw some casual interest from pedestrians, only because they’re probably fleeing for their lives. However, as our gal Sharon so informs us, only a few drivers seem to have developed a knack for this desperate maneuver and once in awhile give it a ‘try’. One wrong move in this intricate handling of the wheel usually results in a wide swath of strollers being swept away. Like Sharon puts it, “There isn’t a turn you can think of that drivers in this cosmopolitan city haven’t already experimented with, or executed with some varying degrees of skill.
The drivers are, without a doubt, a most dangerous force to be
reckoned with. But the pedestrians aren’t all that innocent either. They usually aid and abet the hairy situations by completely ignoring the rush of traffic whizzing by all around them. I couldn’t get over it! They just don’t seem to give one hoot in bloody hell about the traffic, and they show it with an utter disdain that Canadians like ourselves can do little but marvel at. By the time our bus arrived at the Valadier Hotel on the Via del
Fontanella we’d been reduced to a state of near gibbering idiots.
The only time we took our eyes off the road and the speeding
traffic while on our hectic way to the hotel was to read the proliferation of scrawls covering the walls of buildings. Scarcely a building escaped the crude handiwork of Rome’s graffiti artists. Strangely enough, though, none of the ugly messages were of the porno type as adorn the walls of hotel and gas station washrooms back home. In Italy, the big thing seems to be messages, mainly in the form of a death threats aimed either at the right or left wing of the country’s political scene. Anyway, I know one thing for sure, and that is that the guy who owns the franchise selling those little cans of spray paint must be doing a land office business in this country. He’s landed a gold mine, no less!

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