It was the early morning of Thursday the 6th of February –the day we were going to Florence. I was up at 6:45am for an 8:50 train and I was feeling proactive and therefore, leisurely. Packing up my bag, eating breakfast, and even having time to tidy up a bit, we locked up and left the apartment at a more than reasonable 7:30. I breathed in the cold, diesel-smelling air feeling excited and optimistic.
The plan was to take the Roman bus system, the “H”, direct to Termini Train Station. But after waiting for awhile, and remembering previous experiences with Roman Public Transit, such as the ‘Orvieto Ordeal’ (another story entirely), the “H” seemed to me like an urban legend. When we saw the tram approach the stop across the street, we clamored over with our heavy bags and backpacks only to have our plan B was quickly crossed out when the doors open to a wall of crowded people sneering at us, as if to say ‘don’t you dare even try to get on here.’ So, accepting defeat, we lumbered back over to the bleak bus stop. And finally, the mythical “H” appears around the curve. We pushed our way on the already packed bus in desperation. Everyone was twisted awkwardly around handrails, and inadvertently molesting their neighbors, and I, personally, stood pressed belly to belly with a middle aged Italian woman with one heck of a uni-brow.
The doors closed, and the suffocating humidity of 95 bodies crammed in a rickety metal box immediately consumed you.
(Sorry for the google searched image, but I couldn’t document the experience with photos. Let alone, move at all, really)
The bus painstakingly crawled down the bumpy cobblestone road. The traffic outside was just as crowded and confused as we were on the inside the bus. The temperature and humidity levels continue to increase with each exhale, and though the awkward lurches forward and backward provide a little relief, the gravity of standing with heavy backpacks on for 40 minutes straight tends to make the feet ache a bit.
Clenching our bags and looking around awkwardly we endured this for about 15 minutes when I thought that I could maybe manage unzipping my coat a little to help with the unbearable humidity. I let go of the overhead bar and reach for my zipper. I bump something near my waist and hear a little snort. I look and realize that I just elbowed a woman in the head. And not just a woman. The SHORTEST senior citizen I have ever seen in my life. She couldn’t be a hair over 4 feet (Oops! Excuse me, I meant 1.2 meters). I just sort of stared in disbelief when she swore at me in Italian, and I noticed that her friend next to her was just as short. When I finally snapped out of tunnel vision looking at the two of them, I muttered sorry and reached up for the bar again so they could resume their happy residences underneath my right armpit.
After an hour or so of unintentional bumping and grinding with strangers on this sweltering hot hell wagon, we screech to dead stop, providing one final awkward lurch forward to seal the experience. As people begin to trickle off the bus, it’s like the release of the arm cuff when you get your blood pressure taken. With no time to waste, we start running across the parking lot having somehow become 10 minutes late past the meet up time.
I am happy to report that we did, indeed make it to the train on time. But I will never forget that “H” bus, and the discomfort, flashbacks, and nightmares it’s inspired.