I got back from Rome about a week ago and have been looking through my travel notes (yes, people still do that). Since I decided to enjoy my holidays away from the computer as much as possible I am just getting around to transferring some of these stories from paper to bytes.
The funny thing about Italy and Italians is their obsession with gadgets. Odd certainly for an ancient culture that still holds on passionately to quality of life over relentless innovation. And yet, despite their love affair with the latest hi-tech gadget (especially cell phones), the few times they attempt to implement technology on a larger and more practical scale the following occurs.
Imagine arriving at Rome’s Fiumicino airport after your first two-child (newborn and toddler) flight during which the toddler unexpectedly behaved the entire trip and the newborn discovered he hated flying the first seven hours of the eight hour flight. Mercifully my father-in-law has come to pick you up and things start to look up as he sweeps up the newborn in one arm and toddler in the other while you chug your first proper espresso on Italian soil after an almost 9 month absence. So what if it is drizzling outside? Three adults, two children, stroller and assorted luggage pile into the Nissan Micra (slightly larger than the new FIAT 500), which is the only size car capable of navigating the city center and parking on a dime. And just as we shut the car door the sky opens up and it starts to pour. That was close.
We pull up to the automated parking attendant to leave the lot and my father-in-law quickly sticks the parking receipt in the machine to pay. The machine chirps: “7 Euros please!”. My father-in-law inserts a 10 Euro bill only to hear the chirping voice again say, “No cash at this time. Only credit cards.” Fine. In goes the card. Silence. Again. Silence. Try another card. The first impatient honking is heard from behind. Another card and still silence. The voice suddenly chirps: “Please reinsert receipt!” As my father-in-law extends his arm towards the machine, the receipt, which is similar in flimsiness to the ones they give you in retail stores, is instantly soaked. At this point he pulls back into the lot to let other through. As we pull away we see the other two lanes are backed up with drivers stuck in the front fumbling with receipts and credit cards. Why, you must surely be asking, has my father-in-law put us in this situation instead of just waiting for us at the curb? Well, the airport has decided to eliminate curb side pick up except for taxis for arriving flights so you must park at the pay-to-park lot. Cha-ching!
We look around for a human being and I spot a sign that says (in English): “Cashier”. Good a human being. I grab the receipt from the dashboard and dash across the lot towards the sign. Thoroughly soaked I look around and notice two machines identical to the ones at the exit. What the… I walk up to the machine and comically attempt to stick the limp receipt into the slot (talk about feeling emasculated) successfully mushing it to bits and rendering (if possible) even more useless. I notice an intercom button. Nah. There is no way that there is a human being at the other end. This is Italy. Land of the beautiful, yet seldom-functioning, objects.
“Yes?” crackles a voice on the intercom.
“Agh!” I let out a small yelp of surprise. Someone is at the other end and answered immediately. I look around like in a spy movie and then slowly approach the intercom.
“Uhm… the machine at the exit is not, uhm, reading the, uhm, receipt because the rain soaked it. Uhm, what do I do now?”
“Sir, please try the other machine.”
“But the receipt is…”
“Sir, please try the other machine and if it still does not work call back.”
I actually did. I took the ball of sopping pulp that was the receipt and jammed it as best I could into the other machine. At the same time I pressed the intercom.
“I just called and…”
“It didn’t work?!” the voice sounded surprised and rather annoyed.
“Uhm, no… not really.”
The voice sighed a very exasperated sigh and continued, “What is you name, Sir?”
I gave him my wife’s last name because if I attempted to tell them my very Anglo-Saxon last name we would have been there a while.
“Sir, go back to your car. Get in. Drive back to the exit. Get out of the car. Locate the intercom button. Press it. Give your last name. I will let you through.”
I did exactly as I was told for fear that any divergence would set our escape from the parking lot back a few more hours.
I pressed the intercom under the pouring rain and drew in a deep breath.
“I am here at the exit.”
“Hello? I cannot hear you.”
“I am here at the exit.”
“Oh, it’s you.” The “Sir” had been dropped altogether. “Just a moment.”
A moment passed adding angst to what was now an experience that was lasting longer than our actual flight. Finally, the mechanical arm swung open and just like that the parking lot – like Monstro – spat us out.