THE BLOG
03/28/2014 04:02 pm ET Updated May 27, 2014

Observations From the Roman Bus

The Roman bus and metro system is (usually) awesome. Now that I am (sort of) settled in my apartment (note: Maria is at this minute scouring the kitchen to get rid of the dust and whatever left behind....), I can get almost anywhere by public transportation. Indeed, the bus and tram stops are almost directly in front of my apartment building, so the convenience is really fabulous.

In fact, I depend on the bus to give my day structure, since I have imposed a daily (unless, of course, another reason intercedes) need to go to the across-town gym I joined. I have found some great classes there, including a hatha yoga class, in Italian, with Marta, and a "postural training" class with some tall, gorgeous Italian youngster. I know that going to the gym will help my day go better so I try hard to get there each morning by taking the bus to the neighborhood of Termini, the very busy train and bus station. The bus comes often, and often comes just before I am ready to catch it. The bus is just about always full and full of life, and each trip begins to have its own personality in a way. This morning, a herd of teenagers accompanied, I think, by an adult of some power, had taken over one ride, and the din was pretty incredible. The adults on the ride, including me, didn't seem to be too much bothered by the kids, although I did find myself wondering where the lady with the power to ask them to be a bit quieter really was. I hate that crabbiness that appears in me sometimes, but so be it; I think my tolerance for rudeness is minimal, so I notice snippets of rudeness.

I observe a lot on the bus.

Seated folks of all ages don't give up their seat easily, even for a disabled person.

The disabled man from the above observation, while standing, reached for the supports and did a series of yoga stretches while the bus was moving.

Women of all ages wear dyed bright red hair proudly and beautifully.

The view out the window is really really cool. First of all, this is Rome; everywhere is a ruin of times past or a museum or a gorgeous building or a fabulous fountain or church or beautiful people walking by on their way to the shops that entice with their incredible window displays.

Even on a crowded bus, there is always room for one or two more, apparently.

And then there are the motor-scooters and motor-bikes and foot-pedaled bikes outside, darting in and out of Roman traffic. I have been told that this is really the only way for Romans to maneuver the streets and that having a car in Rome is a disastrous situation. Most importantly, car parking is really really limited, and parking tickets and fines are a big problem. Also, the scooters and bikes really do weave precariously in front of and behind and beside the buses and cars, so getting to work on time is possible. Women are everywhere on the scooters and bikes -- often talking on the phone while weaving (and also wearing fashionable high heels). The good news is that everyone seems to wear a helmet, at least on the motorized vehicles.

Romans talk loudly on their cell phones while riding the bus. Even the loud kids didn't seem to interrupt many calls.

Some traveling kids, on a budget (I assume) and with large suitcases, enter the crowded bus and dump their bags in the middle of the aisle. The final stop of the bus I most regularly take is Termini, so suitcases do abound.

And baby carriages are everywhere, too, on the bus. Getting them up and down the stairs is an issue but many people seem to help.

The bus and tram rides I take are quite lovely, especially because of the scenery outside. Rome is so big (about 2 million people) and so beautiful and so full of history (both living and dead) that the views out the windows are just overwhelming; every block seems to have some ruin of past glory, sometimes highlighted and sometimes just sitting there.

My landlady, Ama, told me that the buses are running less frequently than before, and that the cut-back of service is intentional. Because of the bureaucracy and lack of accountability (she says) inherent in the Roman/Italian way of life, the finances of public transportation are sketchy, at best. The ticketing system is quite interesting and also quite complicated in many ways; you buy a ticket (for one ride, one day, three days, etc) at a tobacco shop (really a neighborhood convenience store) and then supposedly you must validate your ticket on the bus to start activating it. Italians don't ever seem to use the validating machines, and I think they all have some kind of bus pass or residency documents that would relieve them of the obligation to validate. And sometimes, even for those of us who have a ticket to be validated, the crowds on the bus make that impossible (although I have seen tickets passed down the standing crowd to the machine, and back to the owner). Thus, in this maze of ticketing requirements, not all of which I can understand, many folks probably don't pay, and, according to Ama, no one really knows about or manages this problem well so the economy suffers and buses get canceled.

Walking is still provides the best view of Rome, of course, and choosing a neighborhood and meandering is still my favorite agenda. Even with crowds or demonstrating students on the sidewalk, walking is always interesting. Public transportation sure is a close second, though. I haven't driven a car since August, and I am actually liking being a pedestrian or a passenger.

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