Station To Station

Entry by: MONARCHB

24th July 2015
Station to Station--July, 1995

"Venice to Rome. We'll just take the train from Venice to Rome and all our problems will be solved," he insisted.

He was her husband. The problems he was referring to were the maddening airline strikes that paralyzed all domestic flights in Italy. International flights were not affected--that is, all flights in and out of the country were still on schedule. But for anyone needing a flight from one Italian city to another--for example, from Venice to Rome--they were stuck. Unless, of course, they took the trains.

For three weeks, Frank and Sue had enjoyed their vacation in Italy: a guided bus tour with 20 other Americans that started in Rome and continued to Nettuno, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Perugia, Assisi, Pisa, Florence, and finally Venice.

Venice. Where they now found themselves. Stuck with the canals, humid weather, and no way to fly to Rome (thanks to the airline strike) to catch their international flight back to New York City (which was still on schedule owing to some crazy union deal).

Sue didn't want to leave Venice. Her unwillingness had nothing to do with the beauty of San Marco and everything to do with the frustration with her husband. He needed to be back in New York in two days for a major business meeting which fit perfectly into their original travel plans. But then, the strike hit unexpectedly the day before their scheduled departure out of Rome. So they were stuck in Venice (all the international flights out of the city were booked) but Frank was determined to get to Rome the next morning to board their flight. Hence, his mantra "Venice to Rome, Venice to Rome." Sue began to think he sounded like a locomotive slowly leaving a train station.

They said good-bye to the tour guide and the rest of the people they met on the trip; wonderful people that the couple had bonded with over the past several weeks. But, onward, Frank insisted as they went back to their room to pack for the 10:00 PM train to Rome.

Fortunately, the Santa Lucia station at the west end of the Grand Canal was a few blocks from their hotel. They got their tickets and climbed aboard with their luggage in tow.

Although the train was certainly not the Orient Express, it was clean and air-conditioned (unlike their small hotel where opening the windows invited a hardy contingent of mosquitoes). They were able to secure a private spot where Frank immediately fell asleep as the train pulled out into the warm air of their last night in Italy.

Sue couldn't sleep at all. As the landscape of northern Italy flew past the window, she was still upset with her husband. Upset with the damn business meeting in New York. Upset with having to leave the tour--the safety in numbers with familiar faces. Upset that Frank could sleep and she couldn't. She also had a sinking feeling that they may not get to the Rome airport in time for their 10:00 AM flight. What if something went wrong? Then what, then what? The questions in her head were beginning to echo the sound of the tracks.

During the night, there were times when the train slowed down to a crawl or stopped moving all together. And when the sky changed from black to the faintest gray, she noticed they were still in the countryside, not even near the outskirts of Rome. She saw a sign that read "Spoleto."

"Spoleto," Sue said in such an alarming voice that it woke Frank from a deep sleep. "It's after 6:00 AM and we're only approaching Spoleto!?!"

After conferring with a Danish businessman--the only person in their immediate vicinity who spoke English--they discovered that near Bologna the train was diverted because of a railroad workers' strike. "Another strike?" was all that Frank could say. It appeared the railroad union was in solidarity with the domestic airline strike and caused their train to be two hours behind schedule. Frank still believed they could make their flight IF nothing else happened.

Well, something else did happen. On the outskirts of Rome, just ten minutes from the Tibertuna station, the train's engine died. Yes, it died. Stopped working, kaput, finished. "No go."

At this point, Sue was beginning to believe her premonition that they'd never make it to the airport on time. At this point, Frank was beginning to worry. At this point, the Italians on board were beginning to yell at the porters and conductors as the train had to wait for another engine to be delivered and put into place.

And, at this point, quite a few Italians decided to hop off the train, crawl up the embankment, and try flagging down taxis. Men in their Gucci shoes and women with their Dior handbags. Sue thought she had somehow left the real world and entered a surreal version of The Twilight Zone, complete with comic subtitles and Italian fashion statements. Frank seemed to forget all about his "important meeting" as he took out his camera and began snapping photos of the chaos. "They won't believe this back home," he said in resignation. At this point, he knew it was hopeless. Why try to fight fate. There was no doubt in his mind that they would miss their flight to New York. "Oh, well," he smiled at Sue. "Better just roll with it and enjoy the scene. Even Fellini couldn't dream this up!!" He took more pictures. It was the first time Sue had seen him smile since last evening's dinner in Venice.

An hour later, the train (with another engine) was finally able to crawl into the Tibertuna station. Frank and Sue were able to transfer to an express train that whisked them to the Leonardo da Vinci Airport.

At 11:00 AM, when they checked in at the Alitalia desk, they had the shock of their lives.

"Mr. and Mrs. Dunning, we've been expecting you. This must be your lucky day. Your flight to New York was delayed and is now due to depart in 50 minutes. Let me print your boarding passes."

At first, Frank and Sue looked incredulous. Then they did the only thing they could do. They laughed, they laughed.