Saturday, January 12, 2013

My secret Italian dream-job

Perugia, April 2005
I have a secret dream, dear bloglings. A deep, burning desire that comes upon me strongly almost every time I walk down a busy street in Rome, and often when I'm walking down a quiet one.

I want to be a vigilessa. A lady traffic-cop.

Now I don't mean that I actually think that it could happen, or that I would ever go through with such a thing--even if it were possible.

But every time I see someone double- or triple-parked, I long to flip out a ticket pad and write them a big fat multa, right on the spot. Or better yet, get their oversized (and completely unnecessary) SUV towed far, far away. Every time I see some unprincipled maniac swerve to avoid a tottering old lady on the crosswalk, coming perilously close to knocking her to the ground, my blood starts to boil and I wish I had the power to stop them. To make them see that what they are doing is not only a violation but a reckless endangerment of their fellow citizen. Every time I see someone riding in the front passenger seat with a baby in their lap, I want to shout, "You won't take your baby out on a sweltering summer day without a woolen undershirt, but you're fine with letting her fly through a windshield? For shame!" Every time an ambulance is blaring down the street, only to be held up in traffic because no one will pull over to let it pass, I wish I could make them imagine it was someone they loved in that ambulance, in desperate need of a doctor.

I know there are much more terrible atrocities in the world, but what bothers me is that these things are done with such complacence, such indifference, and so often. I see at least one of these things happen every single day. And no one seems to bat an eye; it is so utterly accepted.

How I long to bring these reprobates to justice. How I yearn to show these vile degenerates that there are consequences for their shameless, selfish behavior. How I would delight in their sputtering, indignant outrage at being expected to obey their city's laws, laws that were only designed to protect them and their community, their shock at being make to recognize that their convenience should not come at the cost of another person's safety and peace of mind.

I would write so many tickets I would get carpal tunnel and tendinitis. I would have the tow truck company on speed dial. I would be the nightmare of every double-parking, red-light-running, texting-while-driving, child-endangering person who dared to get behind the wheel of a car. I would inspire terror in every last rione.

But, no. It is not to be. I can do nothing.

Sure, I can glare at them until my eyes are sore. I can throw them a few local gestures so maybe they'll understand. I can even shout obscenities that they'll never hear. A friend of mine will happily testify that I once slammed my hands down on the hood of a car as I was crossing a sidewalk when the driver thought it was okay to inch so close to me that her bumper was actually touching my knees. I might even scribble down a license plate number when I see something truly heinous, but even if I reported it what good would it do?

As I walked from my bus stop back to my apartment yesterday, I witnessed a well-dressed businessman on a scooter with a small boy on the back and a toddler on the front. The toddler had no helmet. Maybe daddy's reasoning is that the smaller the head, the less it will be damaged if it smashes into asphalt. Mere seconds later I saw a man texting with his phone inches from his face as he sped down the street. And as if this wasn't enough to start me seething, the next car that passed had a friendly-looking mother and her little girl standing up in the back seat, leaning through the two front seats to chat with her mom. As I stared wide-eyed at the little girl, I noticed the mother smile at me. She probably thought I was admiring her child. This all happened in less than a minute.

As I turned to walk onto my own street, I could barely make it onto the sidewalk. My street has one of those imaginary sidewalks, where there is no actual curb, nothing to separate the pedestrian from the homicidal drivers but a faded blue line of paint. Nothing to stop those drivers from parking right on the narrow path we pedestrians rely on to avoid getting mowed down. Nothing to stop them from inventing parking spots that don't exist, blocking the end of the sidewalk so that anything thicker than the legs of Kate Moss would never be able to fit through, God forbid a parent with a baby carriage or someone in a wheelchair. Nothing to stop them, when their car won't fit in the parallel parking spot, from parking diagonally, with the nose of their car virtually touching the wall of the building, so that even Kate Moss would have to walk out into the street to get around it. Nothing, that is, except...


I see myself flying in to save the day, with a navy blue cape, white leather gloves, and a white, cone-shaped helmet (see photo above). With a flick of my whip I can yank cell phones out of drivers' hands, disintegrating them with a twinkle of my eye. I blow my whistle and drivers' brakes are instantly hit, so the little old lady can make it safely across the street without having to fear for her life. Any cars parked irresponsibly will be crushed with a single glace. I would have to wear a mask, because the percentage of villains (bad parkers/drivers) in this city is so extremely high, my life would be in constant danger. But I would be brave, and fight traffic crime to my dying breath. I would be the hero of every pedestrian whose only dream is to be able to use a crosswalk without getting crushed, or to open their front door without finding a parked car blocking it. Ah, I can see it all so clearly.

But it'll never happen. Because in Italy, the only thing more important that doing your job...let me rephrase of several things more important than doing your job is looking good while you're doing your job. So in Italy, when traffic cops are not posing for photographs in a sunny square in Perugia (see photo above) they are doing this.

It's lovely. Don't get me wrong. Very picturesque. That's why I took a picture of it. But it doesn't actually accomplish anything. It doesn't make me, a pedestrian, feel any safer.

I have to cross Via Ostiense at least twice a day, and every time I step onto those zebra stripes, I take my life in my hands. Or rather, I put my life into the hands of unscrupulous lunatics who, at best, don't give a damn how close they get to me as long as they manage to swerve around me as quickly as possible, and at worst, figure that even if they do hit me, they'll probably be able to get away, and if not, the consequences won't be too bad. It's not like they'll do jail time, maybe just a little fine.

And that's the root of the problem: no consequences. My staunchly law-abiding Maritino will often grumble about the double-parked cars on a street we often take, as it causes major back-ups because, although it's a two-way street, only one lane of cars at a time can fit down it, due to all the double-parkers. It makes him almost as angry as it makes me. This is when I smugly inform him that if his country's laws were actually ENFORCED, certainly not everybody, but most people would stop breaking them.

But that will never happen, will it?

Italy needs a Super-Vigilessa.... why can't it be me?

All photos by author
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