If taking the buses in Rome is like trip to the circus, then the trains should be compared to a crazy day at the zoo. Especially Termini. Mamma mia. Thousands of people following the going-every-which-way arrows to get to their trains. Then lining up like cattle to be herded onto them. I don’t mind the crowds as much as I mind the freaky thought of being so far underground. The air is different down there.
I prefer the A Line to the B Line in terms of cleanliness. A Line trains are newer, seem to run more on-time, have better seats and handrails and are almost sterile looking. The B Line trains, however, are dimly lit, full of graffiti, and let out extra loud, ear-piercing screeches when they stop. The charming details of big city grit. Love it or hate it, it’s there.
Today, on the A Line, I’m shocked that this train is so orderly looking. It almost gave the illusion of an organized city transit system. But, no matter how well-kept or modern the train, when it’s packed full of people, it’s not fun. On those days when you feel like you’re gong to fall out of the train because you’re squished up against the door and you’re getting punched in the face by the backpack of the man in front of you and coughed on by the sick women beside you, and you can’t do anything but hold your breath and try not to breathe until the germs magically dissipate and it’s safe again (count to 30 with eyes closed) – on those days, trains are not my happy place.
But today, the train isn’t nearly that busy. Sitting in the seats that line both sides of the train are mostly locals. Romans. And standing in front of them – a group of tourists. Seats are a prized commodity because standing requires you to delicately balance your foot placement and hold onto a pole, a handrail, or the person next to you for dear life when the train takes off.
The tourists in front of me are in pairs. About four boy/girl couples excitedly chatting away in a foreign language. I always get excited when I see happy tourists. I feel like saying: “Hello! I’m so glad you’re enjoying Rome! It’s great isn’t it?” But that would be weird, so instead I just smile to myself.
The train takes off with a jolt. I regain my balance by holding onto the bar in front of me, but as I look up, I see the four couples toppling over, one by one, like dominoes. It’s the sort of scene where you laugh a little and don’t feel too bad about laughing because the people who are falling are laughing too. Actually, they aren’t just laughing – they are in hysterics. Like this falling down on the train business is the funniest thing that has ever happened. They get up and exchange giggles with each other and start chatting excitedly again. And posing for and taking pictures (peace signs and bunny ears included).
An older, balding man in a white shirt walks down the aisle playing an old Italian folk song on an accordion, and woman follows closely behind him collecting money. As they come through, the group of tourists part like the red sea to let them pass. One of them gives the musician’s lady a coin, and she thanks him. Another takes her picture.
Then, the train begins to slow down, preparing to stop. Instead of holding onto the handrails, which are above and beside them, the group of tourists just stand there, as if they don’t know what’s coming. As thought gravity is lost on them. As the train stops, one girl crashes into another like a bowling pin, and again they’re down for the count. Their respective boyfriends try to help them up, but with the train not yet at a complete standstill, they wobble and topple over as well. The four of them sit on the floor of the train, laughing.
Two of the male tourists that are still standing stabilize themselves as the train stops by quickly jumping with their knees bent and feet spread wide apart, and their arms stretched out to the sides – surfing the subway.
As you can probably guess, when the train takes off again, it’s the same scene. These tourists, refusing to hold onto the hand rails, try in vain to brace themselves against the forces of gravity with no luck. It’s actually starting to look like fun and a part of me wants to let go and join them.
And then I look at the Italians that surround us. Not impressed. More than not impressed, I think they are thoroughly baffled by what is going on. One man has been frowning at the scene since it started, and as it continues, his open mouth curls into a scowl. I’m kind of surprised no one else is laughing. Come on people!
I do sympathize with the Romans, though. They live in a city that attracts hoards of tourists all year round, and in the spring and summer months, they have to deal with the masses. With the masses come: the rude people, the people who litter, the people who complain that the sun is too hot, or that he cobblestone roads are hard to walk on, or that the Colosseum is too big or the piazzas are too busy, or that the pizzas are to thin (GASP!). There are those who will only eat the pasta dishes that they have seen on the menu at the Spaghetti Factory, and there are those who pronounce every single Italian word they say wrong, seemingly, if not completely, on purpose.
There are plenty of those tourists. I’ve only been in Rome for a few months, and they bug me too. However, most tourists are lovely, interesting people who just want to enjoy one of the world’s greatest cities. I guess the Romans have become wary of tourists, because there are so many, and they take over the city.
But I digress. These four couples on the train are not rude, or littering, or bastardizing the language, or complaining – they’re just having fun by falling, again and again. I still don’t know if they are playing some sort of bizarre game, or having a competition to see who can withstand the forces of Roman train gravity, or if they are all just germaphobes who didn’t want to touch the poles.
They get off at the next stop, chatting happily and just as smiley as when they first got on. Cameras around necks, a few of them with marked up legs from falling on the train floor, all ready to take on Rome.