Returning from La La Land to la Bella Italia

After a 24 hour trip to LA on Sunday followed by five straight days of nonstop work, it was time to head home: Italy. I continue to train myself to consider this internally as “back to the US” and “home to Italy.”

Travis and I took a cab from the hotel to LAX, which on a Friday in summer was a complete zoo. (Fare: $75.) He disembarked at domestic departures, while I stayed on until the international terminal. Once in the cool, air conditioned hangar-like ticketing counters, my check-in was another breeze, taking all of two minutes.

Security also ran very efficiently (no wonder the grumbling Yanks at the start of the week in Rome), interrupted only by an amusing K-9 sniffing up everyone’s pant leg while an American mother shrieked that the dog should not be let near her children.
“Don’t worry about it, lady! If he wasn’t fully trained he wouldn’t be doing this job!” the TSA guard snapped.

I had three hours before my flight was to leave, so I indulged in some Very American Food (fish tacos, spicy guac, Modelo draft), and got a blowout and a foot massage at the Xpress spa. Feet were seriously throbbing after a 90-hour workweek. How do medical interns do it? I ask my parallel life. My flight boarded and again I was seated next to a petite Italian woman (this one from Mantova; outbound was from Pescara) who was delighted to debrief about NAFSA and American culture with me as we waited to take off. The flight was not full (shock), so I settled into my window bunk for a long nap.

BONUS: The movies worked! Ok, so still no wifi or charger but MOVIES. Wow a LOT of movies! Yay Alitalia! Including a backlist for nostalgic old people like me – let’s re-live “Notting Hill” before Hugh Grant got creepy, or “Bridget Jones Diary”…..  when was the last time I saw a feature-length film?! I don’t even know. Something with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler wrecking a house. Lost in the fog of pregnancy and post-partum sleep deprivation of the last 6 years.

I opted for “La La Land.” At first, meh, but then I was pulled in, and by the audition scene I was crying in my seat, then reduced to complete puddle of tears by the flashback. The perfect film to cap off my week – I am still humming all the tunes. Then I watched “Manchester by the Sea,” considerably more scarring but just as good. Wow when was the last time I just got to LOOK at something that I liked for FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS. This is the perfect flight.

We landed late, and had to do the “here in Italy we do not have jet ways” rigamarole. My connection was about 45 minutes. Bus bus bus. Bus. Sweat. Sun. Crap, I picked the second bus, as I watched the first bus pull away to inch toward the terminal.

Rome, again, packed. I ran at top speed to immigration, and got bumped to the front of the line when I showed my boarding pass with its 2:15 departure. I ran ran ran to the gate. At gate, no information at all on my connecting flight. Only the fact that it existed. Boarding? Gate number? who knows? I was pouring sweat and so stood in line to buy a somewhat less warm bottle of San Pellegrino. I stood around and continued to monitor the screen for the flight update. Then I realized there was a set of stairs to the flight, behind the cafe! MERDA. I hustled down the stairs only to be informed the flight had closed.
It’s not even 2:15! I protested.
Flight closes fifteen minutes before departure, she responded. Mi dispiace. Go get rebooked. Desk is like 2 miles back.
Good thing I bought that water.
Or assumed that those German tourists were also gawking at the monitor for the Firenze flight to post a gate number or boarding status.
Sigh.
So tired.
Stanchissima.

I trudged back up the stairs and towards Senza Assistenza. The next flight was at 10 pm.
I am not waiting here for eight hours, I said. I have small children at home. I have been gone a week.
The two stylish Italians looked at me from behind the counter. Their eyes widened.
How old? one asked.
Two and six, I said.
People always miss the connection from LAX. That’s all we do here, pretty much. Rebooked missed European connections for the LAX flight. Oh yeah. All the time.
What should I do? is there no earlier flight?
Take the train.
Is Alitalia seriously telling me to take Trenitalia?
Si!
I left, and walked about 50 feet..
My bag! I have a checked bag…Where is my bag? I asked.
Go to this other Assistenza desk where they will help you.
I reported to that desk, where I was told to go to Assistenza Bagaglio. They should have your bag out in about 10 minutes, she said. Go.
I went to the third Assistenza and held up the line for a good 45 minutes with a customer service rep all to myself. I felt pretty Italian by then. I didn’t lapse into English. I am not yet at Jason levels of official sangfroid, but I am getting much, much better.
I cancelled my re-booked boarding pass, and was told to go wait for my bag.
Nastro 16. I’ll never forget it.
I sat there for two hours, in between getting to know everyone working at Assistenza Bagaglio, plus a few tour guides, and a woman from the airport who said she was conducting a customer service survey.
Please, don’t talk to me, I said. I am very dissatisfied right now. I am so upset that I cannot speak Italian, I said in Italian.
She was undeterred.
She eventually wandered off to pester other international arrivals.

I finally got my bag and purchased train tickets at the baggage claim kiosk, then ran to the airport platform. I hopped on to the airport shuttle rain seconds before it pulled out.

It was packed. Hot. Standing room only.

I got to Tiburtina and found an ATM for the Firenze taxi, then dragged my huge bag over to Binario 6. The fast train I’d reserved pulled in minutes later.

Hmm, early, I thought, checking my watch. The door popped open and an Italian conductor grabbed my bag and hauled it on to the train. I followed.
The train immediately lurched forward.
Merda, he said, wrong train.
Che!!?? I said.
This is Italotreno. Privato. You are booked on the Freccia.
Merda!
Let’s go talk to the capotreno.
Capotreno looked me over with a sad, sad face.
Got confused, huh?
Your colleague here pulled me onto the train, I said.
I waited to see what sort of official recrimination I might be subject to. A fine? New ticket? 200 euro cash? Crap, how much money did I get out. I tried to think. Not that much. By now I had been in transit for 24 hours.
Nothing. They were going to do nothing, Signore Capotreno wave
d me on to Carozzo 11. Just go there, he said. Please go. There will be a seat there. He gave his coworker a look.
So I rode Italotreno for free, in very fast, in air-conditioned, leather-upholstered comfort to Firenze.
No one ever came to ask me for my ticket, or who I was.
They have a nice magazine.

When I arrived home Jason was shocked.
Henry did that last fall, he said, and had to pay a fine plus the ticket. He eyed me curiously. What did you do?
Nothing really. Said I was sorry, and that the man had pulled my bag onto the train before verifying my ticket.

I sent about 4 customer complaints to Alitalia for all the broken movies, no wifi, delays, bad food, Rome connection, bag wait. They’re only responded to the movies so far. Maybe the other ones are getting escalated up to the capo.

I was very, very happy to be home. I had missed my tribe – this was the longest I’d ever been away from Eleanor.

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