Jaywalking in front of speeding Italian buses

Published 5:25 pm Friday, July 8, 2011

Jaywalking in front of speeding buses

Italians drive the strangest autos.

Never have I witnessed such a variety of design of vehicles than from our three-week visit in Italy in June.

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Of all the variety of vehicles from European manufacturers, I only noted three foreign vehicles (American) on their streets: two Chrysler 300s, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and a compact Ford of which model escapes me. The Fords were used mostly as taxis.

Vehicles are small because the streets are narrow. The streets in most Italian cities and towns follow medieval paths, twisting and winding through narrow corridors. Scooter-like vehicles do much better and that’s why there are thousands of them. Did I say thousands?

The design of the vehicles too is quite unique. Design is everything, and interior roominess as well, which makes for strange appearing vehicles. You’ll see lots of electric vehicles, the Smart Car for example, a two seater that is much in vogue.

Now that you have your vehicle, where the heck do you park it?

Answer: Just about anywhere you can find an open spot, no matter how small or inconvenient. In the city of Rome, for example, cars are parked along the curb bumper to bumper. Forget it if you want to jump into your car for a short errand. There is absolutely no maneuvering room to get your car away from the curb and go on your journey. Take the bus or the metro.

Can’t find a place to park your car on one of the Roman backstreets? Simple. Just pull alongside those already parked, put your cell phone number on the dash. If someone needs to get out of their parking spot, and your car is in the way, they’ll call you to come move your car.

Those little Smart Cars can fit into the tiniest of spaces. You will see them nose first into the curb, while all other vehicles are parked correctly at the curb. Don’t leave any space between your vehicle and the next one. If you do, when you return, there will be a scooter parking in that space.

In the popular, touristy small towns in the country, parking rules are strictly enforced. White lines means free parking, and there are few white-line parking spaces. Yellow lines means restricted permit parking only.

Blue lines means you pay, put some coins in the main meter box, stick the receipt on your dash, and be sure you get back in time when the time runs out. Small-town cops look for parking violators so they can hit you with a big fine. Don’t be surprised that when you return home and you get a letter from Italy that you owe a certain town $120 parking fine.

Italian drivers love to tailgate.

No matter how fast I drove, every time I glanced in the rear-view mirror, there was a demon on my bumper, just waiting for an opportunity to pass so they could go faster. The object of the Italian driver is not to be second to anyone, but always in front pushing the cars suspension to the limit around constant hairpin turns.

In road building, Italians believe in following the terrain. If the land goes up hill, the road goes up hill. Here in America, if the land goes uphill, we level it.

If the land in Italy means the road must follow the path of the terrain, twisting and turning, up and down, then the road follows a similar path.

Here in America, road builders look at Point A and Point B, then level the terrain so the road goes straight or with little deviation from A to B. Which means that driving in Italy, it’s another good reason to have a smaller vehicle to handle the winding twisting roads. And I mean, they wind and they twist.

In the narrowest of roads in the hilliest of towns, people dominate the thoroughfares. There’s always someone in a tiny vehicle that wants to go in same direction that a crowd of people is headed. Just drive slowly, and everyone gets out of the way.

In Rome, if you want to cross a busy street, it’s simple. You just step out in front of the traffic, and everyone stops to let you pass. The unwritten rule is, pedestrians have the right of way. After you try it a few times, you get into the rhythm of stepping in front of speeding buses. Don’t hesitate to let traffic pass. Just step off the curb and keep going.

The largest variety of vehicle models I noticed came from the Italian automaker Fiat. That’s the same company which is now running Chrysler. Perhaps that’s why I saw those Chrysler 300s. Fiats were neat, really unique designs, very different.

Maybe we can get Reggie Dean to get in a few models. I’d bet they’d sell like Ram trucks.

Jim Smith can be reached through his email at: bainbooknook@yahoo.com or his cell at 229-254-2753.