Thursday, October 23, 2008

Believe it or not I’ve been too busy to spend much time on the Rome Bus Project lately. But over the past few weeks, I have ridden nine more lines (52, 62, 38, 40, 61, 80, 95, 116, and 630), mostly for short rips around the city. One of the rides, however, does merit special mention. With my friend Neil, I rode the No. 40 from the main train station to the big mall in the northern suburbs. (Neil took the photo above while we were waiting for the bus to leave.) The ride took nearly an hour, and our seatmate for much of the trip was a teenaged Bangladeshi girl who, with her parents, was returning to Rome from a trip back home. She was none too happy to be back in Rome, a city she hates. But she was very excited to be seated with fellow English speakers, and she peppered us with questions.

Her father was curious about us, too, especially when we told him that we had no jobs – i.e., our wives work but we don’t. Kept men. He had a hard time understanding that, I think.

At the mall I was finally able to buy a couple things we needed (slippers, a small radio) but couldn’t find in our neighborhood, where the shops cater almost entirely to tourists. (If we ever run out of postcards or mildly obscene underwear, however, we’re in luck.) I also did some bookshelf recon at the Ikea for Allyson.

The ride home was interesting, too. It was rush hour, and the bus was packed. It was also very hot, until one courageous passenger asked the driver to turn on the air conditioning. (Until then, I hadn’t even been sure the buses in Rome were equipped with air conditioning.) Soon cool air was blowing down on a grateful me. For that alone, the No. 40 merits a grade of B+.

So far I have ridden 15 of Rome’s 251 regular bus routes – nearly six percent.
You may remember me telling you about the piece of glass that was stuck in my right heel for nearly a month before somehow working itself out. Well, the few people I’ve shown it to haven’t been very impressed (though they were all a little grossed out). This reaction has disappointed me, for, as far as I’m concerned, the size of the piece of glass that was stuck in my heel is irrelevant. The very fact that it was in there for nearly a month is the remarkable thing. Anyway, after many, many attempts, I have finally managed to (sort of) photograph said shard, visual evidence I submit herewith, leaving it to you, dear reader, to determine whether you would feel comfortable walking around with this in your heel for NEARLY A MONTH:

Incidentally, I’m thinking about auctioning off this shard on eBay, to raise awareness of the problem of people walking around with small bits of glass lodged in their feet.
Rome Bus Project, Update No. 2

Trip No. 4, Bus No. 53
Centro Storico to Piazza Antonio Mancini, October 2, 2008
Grade D-

My worst ride so far. After waiting in vain at the stop for 30 minutes, a bus company employee came over and told us that the stop had been moved to the one usually used by No. 715. So we walked over there and got on the 53.

My seat was broken. It was missing a piece of plastic right where my right butt cheek went, so I had to sort of lean left the whole ride to compensate. Gave me a cramp and may have aggravated my sciatica.

About 30 minutes into the ride, a guy two rows ahead of me suddenly looked up from his newspaper and began scanning the passing landscape, apparently looking for familiar features. Seeing none, he was bemused. Not amused. Bemused. He asked an old woman sitting across the row if this was Bus No. 715. No, she said, this is No. 53. I later checked and discovered that the 715 goes in the exact opposite direction of the 53. Wherever that guy was headed, he was gonna be very late (and not in a very good mood, either).

The route itself was nice: it wound through Villa Borghese (a big park) and past several embassies before ending near the site of the 1960 Olympics. Still, you give me a late bus with a broken seat, you’re getting a D-. In fact, this bus is lucky I’m not giving it my first F.

Trip No. 5, Bus No. 911
Piazza Antonio Mancini to Monte Mario, October 2, 2008
Grade C-

A quiet, not very crowded bus from one suburb to another. My only quibble: It was lunchtime, and several passengers were eating sandwiches and pizza. This just grosses me out. I don’t know whether there’s a law against eating on buses in Rome, but that’s beside the point, the point being: Who in their right mind would WANT TO eat on a city bus (or any form of mass transit for that matter)? Seriously, is it that much different than taking lunch in a public restroom? It’s the kind of thing there shouldn’t need to be a law against.

Wait, turns out that’s not my only quibble: Also on the bus were two teenage girls with studs in their faces and jeans that sank a little too far south of the crack line who kept spraying themselves – and, this being a confined space, everybody else on board – with perfume. Not as bad as the No. 53, but close.

Trip No. 6, Bus No. 46
Monte Mario to Centro Storico, October 2, 2008
Grade C

A very crowded bus from the suburbs to the city center. Nearly an hour-long ride through some heavy city traffic. A pretty boring ride, actually, but we did pass St. Peter’s Basilica, which, as is often the case with these things, was much smaller than I’d imagined.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sorry the updates have been infrequent, but we still don’t have Internet access at home. I have also been busy planning my book tour! My publisher has generously agreed to underwrite a promotional tour when Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure is released next May. I will be re-tracing Harry and Bess’s route, so if anybody has any media contacts in Kansas City, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, Wheeling, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, New York, or Washington (or points in between), please pass them along. And if you live along that route, you are hereby warned: I may be “visiting” for a day or two!

(By the way, the book is already listed on Never too early to pre-order!)

In other news…

Last weekend Allyson and I ran a 5K. Here we are with our friend Laura, who ran it with us:

(Thanks to Laura’s husband, Neil, who took the picture. He would’ve run it too, but he had to mind their dogs. At least that was his excuse.) I finished in about 34:15 (since it was “non-competitive” there was no official timing). Slower than my last 5K, but not too bad considering I hadn’t run at all since we got here. As usual, Allyson beat me.

What was really amazing, though, was the course: we ran past Circo Massimo (where they used to hold chariot races), the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum. At the Colosseum, tourists were lining both sides of the street, cheering us on. It was very cool…

I know I have fallen way behind on the Rome Bus Project, but more updates are coming soon, I promise…

For the next few days I will be living the life of a Phillies fan in Rome, either staying up very late (or getting up very early) to watch the World Series. Exactly where, I don’t know – we don’t have any TV reception yet, either…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

With the Phillies one win away from the World Series, I am pleased to present the following photograph, which was taken exactly 25 years ago yesterday.

With my friends Jeff Benner (center) and Greg Seip (right), I am preparing to go to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia to see the Phillies play the Baltimore Orioles in Game 3 of the 1983 World Series. We were seniors in high school. The brown car in the background is, I believe, my parents’ 1975 Ford Maverick – my high school ride.

I have almost no recollection of the event, probably because the Phillies lost (and would go on to lose the Series). In fact, until Greg e-mailed me the photo this week, if somebody had asked me whether I’d ever been to a World Series game, I would have answered no.

I do, however, very much remember that Phillies jersey I’m wearing. A powder blue pullover, 1,000 percent polyester, possibly the itchiest article of clothing ever manufactured. And a terrible knockoff, to boot, what with the red and white trim on the V-neck collar. I wonder what I’m wearing underneath it. Probably a Yes concert T-shirt…

Incidentally, our household effects – well, most of them – finally arrived on Monday. It was not an uncomplicated process. To avoid traffic congestion, the movers arrived before five in the morning. And the moving truck was too big to negotiate the narrow streets of central Rome, so they had to park it outside the old city walls and ferry everything to our apartment building in a van.

We have gone from living in a barren apartment to the exact opposite. Once everything is in order, I’ll post some pictures.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Around September 10, while we were in Maine, Allyson accidentally dropped a wine glass in our condo. It broke into a trillion pieces. Literally. OK, not literally, but it really did pretty much disintegrate. We thought we’d swept it all up, but the next morning I stepped on a shard and cut my heel. The cut never really healed, so I went to see the doctor at the embassy when we got to Rome. She advised me to wait it out. Well, earlier this week I was in the shower when I noticed a piece of glass sticking out of my heel! It took nearly four weeks, but that shard had finally worked its way out. It was surprisingly big too, a couple millimeters across, and very sharp. I was able to extract it with tweezers and tape it to an index card. I’m thinking about getting it framed.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rome Bus Project, Update No. 1

Trip No. 1, Bus No. 85
Centro Storico to Colli Albani, October 1, 2008
Grade: C

The RBP got off to a rocky start when I get on the bus and try to validate my pass in the ticket-selling machine instead of the ticket-validating machine. Poor ticket-selling machine: I really tried to jam my pass in there. A friendly fellow passenger finally steered me straight.

The route passed the Colosseum, giving me my first glimpse at the world’s oldest surviving taxpayer-financed stadium (though it was a lot cheaper when the heavy lifting was done by slaves). By the way (speaking of slave labor), the bus was packed with German tourists. Once we moved into the suburbs, however, the Germans were replaced by a contingent of girls from a Catholic high school.

Teenage girls notwithstanding, there’s wasn’t anything extraordinary about my first ride, so I’m giving it a C.

Trip No. 2, Bus No. 671
Colli Albani to E.U.R., October 1, 2008
Grade: B

This was actually a pretty cool ride. The route goes through Esposizione Universale di Roma, or E.U.R., a neighborhood that was built by Mussolini for a sort of World’s Fair in 1942. The world being otherwise occupied at the time, the fair never happened, but that didn’t stop Il Duce, who went ahead and built E.U.R. anyway.

E.U.R. is a fascist dictator’s idea of the perfect city: humungous columned buildings separated by impossibly wide boulevards that resist all manner of pedestrianism.

Today E.U.R. is mostly government offices, museums, and apartment buildings. Mussolini fancied it a “New Rome,” with architecture meant to echo that of the Roman Empire. Instead it feels like a cross between Epcot Center and Pyongyang. But it’s still interesting to see, in a whew-I-am-REALLY-glad-we-won-the-war kind of way.

The bus wasn’t very crowded either. A solid B.

Trip No. 3, Bus No. 780
E.U.R. to Centro Storico, October 1, 2008
Grade: B-

The traffic on the ride back into the city was heavy, but I didn’t mind since I was neither driving nor in a hurry. The route passed through Trastevere, a funky neighborhood on the west bank of the Tiber River. A pleasant but not especially memorable ride.

In an effort to get to know Rome (and to practice my Italian), and with a lot – a lot – of free time on my hands, I have decided that I will attempt to ride each and every one of the city’s 251 regular bus routes at least once while we are here.

Rome has a subway system, but it’s relatively small, and expanding it is difficult due to archeological considerations. So, more than in most major cities, residents of Rome rely primarily on buses for public transportation.

For six euros I purchased a Rome bus schedule and map, and for another 30 euros, I bought a monthly pass that gives me unlimited trips. (At the end of October I will reassess this grand experiment.)

It’s often said that a city is best appreciated by visitors when they live as the natives do. So that’s what I will be doing. I’ll be riding buses all day. Just like a real Roman. A real unemployed Roman.

Besides giving me a chance to explore the Eternal City from top to bottom, this exercise – the Rome Bus Project – will also supply badly needed material for the blog. Periodic updates will chronicle my progress and I will grade each route. Good news for you, dear reader! Stay tuned!