November 5, 2017. Rome, Italy.
I tried the slowing down thing, and the results were predictably disastrous. It’s probably something you get better at with practice, like literally every other thing in life.
My first stop was the coliseum. I was chomping at the bit to get up there, considering my nigh-Aspergarian fixation on ancient Rome. It runs so deep, I’ve even watched a whole battery of awful Netflix originals about gladiatin’.
It’s swarming with people, of course, like noisy little cockroaches with selfie-sticks. Not a dealbreaker. I loosened the ol’ vertebrae and swayed through ’em, but not quick enough.
A horrible little man in a vest covered in stickers approached me and proceeded to shout, over and over again, that he worked for the Coliseum for free information. If this was intended to put me at ease, his shtick needs work. He kept advocating that I “skip the line”, and I kept saying I didn’t want a tour, to which he would tell me, “I show you the line. I show you the line for single entry, and then you decide.” Like I was some sort of stupid child.
I saw the line. It didn’t look that bad. I’d waited in longer lines for stupider things; the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios comes to mind.
It’s literally just a fake train car with a TV screen where the window should be. THREE HOURS I lost in that line. I don’t even like Harry Potter. Wizards ruin whatever they’re a part of, you gotta stab ’em as soon as possible. Best wizard is a stabbed wizard.
I digress. The horrible man paused his insulting my intelligence and extended a special offer to me that will allow me to skip a line, right now! A mere $40 for the cheapest ticket $80 for the deluxe round-the-world squeaky clean underground tour with happy ending!
“Jesus Christ,” I said, which I imagine translated fairly cleanly into Italian, or Moroccan, or whatever his mother tongue was.
“Is very cheap price,” he explained.
“This is the cheap price, huh?”
“Or you can wait in the entry line,” he said. “Up to you.”
“See, the third option is, I’m gonna come back later,” I said. “Ciao.”
“You can skip line right now!” he called after me, and that was probably true, but I was far too salty to find out.
I made my way through the tourists taking existence-validation selfies, deciding instead to see if I could get up to the Roman forum. Halfway up the hill, a man clasped my hand for way too long and started asking a lot of questions about where I was from. I answered him quickly with a hand on my wallet, because he seemed to be occupying a whole lot of my attention/field of vision and, in another life, that’s definitely the hustle I would use when having my co-conspirator pick pockets. Then he started repeating, “A gift, from me to you” and shoving quarter-store jewelry onto my wrists, little cheap-o leather friendship wristbands and hideous aluminum wrap-around bracelets “for your wife”, which I told him I didn’t have. I didn’t want him tying up my hands at all, so I took the first bracelet from him and put it on myself, then he started slam-dunking more of them into my hands while I tried to walk away.
“This is way too much,” I said, taking them off and trying to hand them back. “I can’t accept this. I don’t even have a place for these. Thank you, but I can’t.”
“Is a gift,” he chanted.
“I know, and I appreciate it, but it’s too much,” I said, still watching over my shoulder.
“Can I just get something for my daughter?” he said. “My daughter, back in *unintelligible*, she very sick, my daughter and mother, can I just get something for them, 2 euro?”
“That’s not a gift,” I said, successfully removing all the bracelets and putting them back in his hands, “What you’re describing is a transaction. I didn’t agree to one of those. Here.”
“Is a gift, just something for my daughter, please.”
“No. Thanks. Good luck.”
I slipped away from him, pulled my wallet into my front pocket, and made it maybe fifteen paces before a much larger, thicker man, obviously from the same point of origin as the previous man and his sick family, emerged from the crowd and clasped me by the hand, screaming, “HEYYYY NEW YORK!”
“Hey. Scranton, actually. No thanks.”
“I have bracelets!” he said. “For unity! Black or white, it doesn’t matter!”
“Agreed,” I said, “But I’m really not interested in bracelets.”
I tried to pull away, but he was actually holding me there by my hand, physically preventing my withdrawal. He had a grip on him, that one.
“Where you from?” he asked again.
I wrapped my left hand around his thumb and twisted his hand off, repeating, “No. Thanks.” He yelled something after me but I can’t imagine it was important.
I can’t stand grifters, man. That’s one of my berserk buttons. It’s bad enough that they’re trying to get their little grabby hands on things that belong to you, but when they add an insult to your intelligence into the mix, I get a little feral.
Even the internet in Rome got in on it; my one attempt to connect to the city Wi-Fi was met with a splash page that said, “We’ll need your credit card number for a one-time activation charge of $0.75! It is literally our law. After that, your credit card will be stored by the city and never, ever used again, ever, we promise.”
On the way up the slope to the Roman Forum, a pioneering young Italian with a teeth that looked like a rockslide slithered up to me and asked, “Are you against hard drugs?”
“I guess that depends,” I said.
“I have a petition here. Oh, no, don’t be mad, sir. I have a petition here, against hard drugs. Just I am looking for signatures.”
“Yeah, all right. I’m conceptually against hard drugs. This is just a petition?”
“Yes, just a petition.”
I took the clipboard from him and started signing fake information. The final box was “Donations”, and all of them were 20 euros.
“We ask a small donation,” he said, “Most people give about 20 euros.”
“A donation. To your petition. Against hard drugs.”
“It is for the children, sir,” he said.
I wrote a big ol’ 0 in the fraudulent box and handed it back to him.
“Thanks so much for this,” he said. “It is important to me, because I am actually a recovering drug addict myself.”
“Are you, now.”
“Yes, I was addicted to cocaine.”
“Are you sure? That’s not physically addictive.”
“I am recovered now.”
“Oh, well, good for you.”
I stuffed the petition into his hand and decided to come back to the coliseum when there were fewer vultures. My blood was boiling, and although I appreciated the irony that would be inherent in my getting arrested for decapitating Romans right outside the coliseum, I didn’t want my bastard travels to end on such a down note.
To be continued later today. I need to get as much sightseeing in as I can if I’m going to make it to Florence and back before my flight to Athens.