Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Oct. 2002

Busses & Bus Drivers

The following items appeared separately in the original version of the Around Naples Encyclopedia on the dates indicated and have been consolidated onto a single page here.

entry Oct. 2002
1. Busses

I saw an item on the internet this morning about the psychological profile of astronauts and the mental toughness (if that is the proper term) it will take to put up with even 5 or 6 people you generally get along with when that "getting along" has to occur on a 3-year mission to Mars in a cramped space not much bigger than a few rooms in your house. One Russian space veteran said that conditions like that "are a recipe for homicide". One of the abilities required will be that of "alert withdrawal" into someplace inside your own head —turn off the outside world for a while, including the presence of that flight-engineer with the annoyingly nasal voice— yet remain tuned in to potential problems that might arise. 

The other solution is to learn to redirect your hostilities to Mission Control. Get your anger off the space-craft and aim it back where it belongs, at the incompetent puppet-master nincompoops who sent you up here in the first place. So, (1) meditative calm, and (2) blame everything on people who are far way.

The best candidates for such a task are Neapolitan bus-drivers. I have never seen "road rage" in a bus-driver here. Believe me, it is frustrating at times to realize that you are the only person in this city who really knows how to drive, and that you are surrounded by maniacs, most of whom are out to get you. When you are stuck in a traffic jam here (which is much of the time), you feel like a lobster trapped in that  tank in the restaurant, tapping your tied-shut little crustacean pincers uselessly against the inside of  the glass, just waiting for that fat guy at the corner table to point at you and say to the waiter, "That's him. That's the one I want. Kill him!

At that point, you look up to the front of the bus and the driver has a "ho-hum" expression on his face. He is on some inner Elysian field, idling his mind and engine at the same time. No rage. No beating on the horn. Nothing. Just alert withdrawal, accompanied, no doubt, by thoughts of those really responsible for all this —the city government or perhaps the mechanic who forgot to fix the brakes on the bus last night. 

entry Feb. 2003
2. busses

Busses in Naples are still as rare as a good metaphor to describe the rareness of busses in Naples. In the Vomero section of the city, citizens huddle around rusted markers called "bus stops", left there by some forgotten race of Palaeolithic optimists, and talk about the return of bus number 134 like astronomy students pondering the periodic appearance of the Ikeya-Seki comet. "I think we have a sighting! She's somewhere between the orbit of Saturn and Piazza Vanvitelli!" Their collars are turned up against the wind, their eyes dart nervously around, and they speak in reverent whispers as if they feared their words might conjure up the object of their thoughts. This is the Flying Dutchman Syndrome: it's something you've been waiting for, yes! something you would like to see, yes! —and are in awe of, yes!— but Holy Mackerel, that's a Ghost Ship! Do you really want to be there when she heaves into view?! They converse: "Old One, tell me again how it was when you saw The Bus.” “Hush, child, don't encourage him; he's been telling that same tale since the Crusades.” 

And what of the peasants down on Corso Vittorio Emanuele who await the C16 quaintly known as The Twins? The C16 always runs in pairs. The first one comes along, packed to the gunwales. (The gunwales on a bus are on the roof, where they keep the spare sardines). A few yards behind comes bus number two, empty, travelling in its own parallel universe, a happy place, uncluttered by passengers —yea, the fabled abode of smiling bus drivers.) 

It is not widely known, but bus schedules in Naples do exist. And handy things they are, indeed, since drivers use schedules to set their watches by. Let's say you are a driver idling your engine waiting to leave on your 2.45 run. Now that the first half of the ball game is finished you can put the radio away and start to think about pulling out. You glance at your watch: 3.05. Click. Snap. Beep. Not any more! It's now 2.45, and away you go! If you are a gambler, there is a bonus in this schedule stuff. You are a passenger aboard the number 12 at the end–of–the–line, waiting for the bus to start its 2.50 p.m. run. You look at your watch; 2.50, and vrooooooom!—the bus actually leaves on time! Here, let me spell that out for you: l–e–a–v–e–s  o–n  t–i–m–e.  Only a rationalist fool would fail to see the hand of Providence in this. Get off at the next stop and run into the nearest lottery shop and play the bus number plus the two components of the time: 12, 2, 50. (If you try this and it works, you owe me.) 

You can, of course, do what most people do: forget the bus and drive your car. The city of Naples, however, now has "green" days. On these days, you may not drive your car unless it is equipped with a catalytic converter, thus making it clean and “green”— the color of trees, meadows, grass, youth, life and the color of  bile, the fluid secreted by the liver in moments of anger or great bitterness of the spirit brought on by waiting for a bus. If you drive anyway, you risk fines and conversation with a traffic cop, a vigile

Vigile: You're not allowed to drive your car today. 

Motorist: Oh, I didn't know that. 

Vigile: It's been in the papers. Besides, ignorance of the law is no excuse. 

Motorist (sensing the shaky philosophical underpinnings of the vigile's argument): Of course ignorance of the law is an excuse! If ignorance of the law were no excuse, we wouldn't even need laws! We would all be guided by an internal ethical code. We are not so guided, ergo ignorance of the law is an excuse. I was ignorant of the law and, double ergo, may not be punished. Quod erat demonstrandum, copper. 

Vigile: You are going to get fined real good, buddy. 

Motorist: And besides, I have…uh…a caterpillar contorter. 

Vigile: You mean a catalytic converter? 

Motorist: Whatever. 

Vigile: You’re driving a 1975 Fiat that looks like it just went 12 rounds with Theodoric the Ostrogoth, and you have a catalytic converter? Let's have a look. 

Motorist: Well, I'm not sure it's hooked up properly. 

Vigile: I'd be happy to check it for you. 

Motorist: It's at home. 

Vigile: The law says it has to be attached to the car. 

Motorist: You mean like a seat belt? 

Vigile: Exactly. 

Motorist: Oh, I didn't know that. 

Vigile: It's been in the papers. Besides, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Say, where is your seat belt? 

And so on. Eventually, since the fine would have had to come out of the money that the unemployed war–decorated motorist was saving up to send his leukemia–ridden daughter to Lourdes, things worked out. The vigile let him off with a warning, and the motorist chugged away, happily generating lots of hydrocarbons and promising on the soul of his sainted grandmother— who once pulled a vigile from a burning vehicle— to take the bus next time.

Oct 2007

New Busses—I don't know if they are red green buses or green red buses—they are painted red and run on ecologically friendly fuel such as methane and moose-chips. In any event, there are 1,250 of these spanking new marvels of mass transit destined to replace the clunkers currently prowling the streets of the Campania region of Italy, the city of Naples included. They cost 290 million euros and were presented to the region in June. They are still sitting up in Rome waiting to be delivered. I don't know why, and I'm afraid to ask.

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