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Busses & Bus Drivers
entry Oct. 2002Busses (1)
I saw an item on the internet this morning about the psychological profile of astronauts and the mental toughness (if that is the proper term) it will take to put up with even 5 or 6 people you generally get along with—when that "getting along" has to occur on a 3-year mission to Mars in a cramped space not much bigger than a few rooms in your house. One Russian space veteran said that conditions like that "are a recipe for homicide". One of the abilities required will be that of "alert withdrawal" into someplace inside your own head—turn off the outside world for a while, including the presence of that flight-engineer with the annoyingly nasal voice—yet remain tuned in to potential problems that might arise.
The other solution is to learn to redirect your hostilities to Mission Control. Get your anger off the space-craft and aim it back where it belongs, at the incompetent puppet-master nincompoops who sent you up here in the first place. So, (1) meditative calm, and (2) blame everything on people who are far way.
The best candidates for such a task are Neapolitan bus-drivers. I have never seen "road rage" in a bus-driver here. Believe me, it is frustrating at times to realize that you are the only person in this city who really knows how to drive, and that you are surrounded by maniacs, most of whom are out to get you. When you are stuck in a traffic jam here (which is much of the time), you feel like a lobster trapped in that tank in the restaurant, tapping your tied-shut little crustacean pincers uselessly against the inside of the glass, just waiting for that fat guy at the corner table to point at you and say to the waiter, "That's him. That's the one I want. Kill him!"
At that point, you look up
to the front of the bus and the driver has a "ho-hum"
expression on his face. He is on some inner Elysian
field, idling his mind and engine at the same time. No
rage. No beating on the horn. Nothing. Just alert
withdrawal, accompanied, no doubt, by thoughts of
those really responsible for all this—the city
government or perhaps the mechanic who forgot to fix
the brakes on the bus last night.
entry Feb. 2003busses (2)
Busses in Naples are still as rare as a good metaphor to describe the rareness of busses in Naples. In the Vomero section of the city, citizens huddle around rusted markers called "bus stops"—left there by some forgotten race of Palaeolithic optimists—and talk about the return of bus number 134 like astronomy students pondering the periodic appearance of the Ikeya-Seki comet. "I think we have a sighting! She's somewhere between the orbit of Saturn and Piazza Vanvitelli!" Their collars are turned up against the wind, their eyes dart nervously around, and they speak in reverent whispers as if they feared their words might conjure up the object of their thoughts. This is the Flying Dutchman Syndrome: it's something you've been waiting for, yes! something you would like to see, yes!—and are in awe of, yes!—but Holy Mackerel, that's a Ghost Ship! Do you really want to be there when she heaves into view?! They converse: "Old One, tell me again how it was when you saw The Bus.” “Hush, child, don't encourage him; he's been telling that same tale since the Crusades.”
And what of the peasants down on Corso Vittorio Emanuele who await the C16 quaintly known as The Twins? The C16 always runs in pairs. The first one comes along, packed to the gunwales. (The gunwales on a bus are on the roof, where they keep the spare sardines). A few yards behind comes bus number two, empty, travelling in its own parallel universe, a happy place, uncluttered by passengers —yea, the fabled abode of smiling bus drivers.)
It is not widely known, but bus schedules in Naples do exist. And handy things they are, indeed, since drivers use schedules to set their watches by. Let's say you are a driver idling your engine waiting to leave on your 2.45 run. Now that the first half of the ball game is finished you can put the radio away and start to think about pulling out. You glance at your watch: 3.05. Click. Snap. Beep. Not any more! It's now 2.45, and away you go! If you are a gambler, there is a bonus in this schedule stuff. You are a passenger aboard the number 12 at the end–of–the–line, waiting for the bus to start its 2.50 p.m. run. You look at your watch; 2.50, and vrooooooom!—the bus actually leaves on time! Here, let me spell that out for you: l–e–a–v–e–s o–n t–i–m–e. Only a rationalist fool would fail to see the hand of Providence in this. Get off at the next stop and run into the nearest lottery shop and play the bus number plus the two components of the time: 12, 2, 50. (If you try this and it works, you owe me.)
You can, of course, do what
most people do: forget the bus and drive your car. The
city of Naples, however, now has "green" days. On
these days, you may not drive your car unless it is
equipped with a catalytic converter, thus making it
clean and “green”— the color of trees, meadows, grass,
youth, life—and the color of bile, the fluid
secreted by the liver in moments of anger or great
bitterness of the spirit brought on by waiting for a
bus. If you drive anyway, you risk fines and
conversation with a traffic cop, a vigile:
Vigile: You're not allowed to drive your car today.And so on. Eventually, since the fine would have had to come out of the money that the unemployed war–decorated motorist was saving up to send his leukemia–ridden daughter to Lourdes, things worked out. The vigile let him off with a warning, and the motorist chugged away, happily generating lots of hydrocarbons and promising on the soul of his sainted grandmother— who once pulled a vigile from a burning vehicle—to take the bus next time.
New Busses—I don't know if they are red green busses or green red busses—they are painted red and run on ecologically friendly fuel such as methane and moose-chips. In any event, there are 1,250 of these spanking new marvels of mass transit destined to replace the clunkers currently prowling the streets of the Campania region of Italy, the city of Naples included. They cost 290 million euros and were presented to the region in June. They are still sitting up in Rome waiting to be delivered. I don't know why, and I'm afraid to ask.