Polizia dei trasporti

I was on the train home today, and I sat somewhere in the center of the semi-empty car. As I was getting comfortable, four African guys came and sat in the seats a little ahead of me, and started talking boisterously in their native language(s) as the train got moving.

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In a couple of minutes, a couple of burly looking police officers started approaching from the far end of the car with a conductor in tow, and the African guys quieted down. One of them started looking particularly worried. The police officers passed the Africans and came into my section of the car. They stopped there, and waited. The conductor asked for the tickets of everyone in turn on the far side of the car. I pulled mine out in preparation, but as the conductor approached the African guys, the police officers jumped up to lean on the seats just behind them.

The conductor asked for their tickets, and someone of them pulled some out for the conductor to examine, saying they were going to Verona; however, something was wrong. The conductor glanced at the police officers every now and then as he patiently explained that the tickets weren’t valid. I couldn’t tell if he was emboldened by their presence, or if he was made uneasy by it. The guys started protesting, asking why the tickets weren’t valid, and the conductor explained it once again, slowly. He asked them if they could produce valid tickets. When it was clear that they couldn’t, he asked them to pay.

They protested again at being asked to pay, insisting that their tickets should be valid. “It’s always like this,” replied the conductor, explaining the normal procedure for buying tickets. “Now you don’t have tickets, so you need to pay for the ride to Rovereto. Then you can get off and buy your tickets to Verona.”

Again the protests: “But we will be late if we get off at Rovereto to change trains!”

“You being late is not our problem. That’s your problem, because you don’t even have the tickets to Rovereto. Now you need to buy them. You’ll have to get off at Rovereto. You need to pay for the tickets. It’s 7 euro.”

“7 euro! Why 7 euro? It’s 4.50 at the train station!”

“It’s more when you pay on the train. So you need to pay 7 euro.”

Now the protests began in full. Some of the guys raised their voice to each other, either asking each other for money, or formulating some sort of other plan to get around the fee. Others continued arguing with the conductor about the cost. Five minutes or so passed, and the police officers were getting visibly annoyed.

“Alright, if you pay 4.50, I will sell you the tickets,” said the conductor, finally, seeing that there was no way he was going to get the 7 euro out of them.

“What about 2 euro,” asked one of the guys.

“The cost is 4.50 per person,” insisted the conductor.

“Hurry up!” yelled one of the police officers. “Are you going to pay?”

One of the guys started rifling for some change, but it was clear he didn’t have enough, or wasn’t going to offer enough. So the conductor asked for the guys’ identification.

Once again protests, once again asking for the price, haggling on the price, pretending not to understand. The one guy who had looked particularly worried before supplied his I.D. card. The others continued talking loudly.

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“Enough!” yelled the police officer, “I need to see your I.D. now.”

The guy he had addressed pulled out his card. The police office came to the seats right in front of me, and took a phone picture of it before handing it back, and asking the second guy.

“Alright, wait, wait,” said the second guy.

“Don’t you tell me to wait! I wait for nothing. Let’s go. Your I.D., right now!”

The guy handed him a card. The police officer took a picture of it, and then came right back over to the guy, and yelled, “I said give me your I.D! Are you trying to make a fool out of me? You know I will take you to the station.”

The guy seemed scared enough now, and pulled out a paper document with his information. The police officer took a picture of that one too.

The other guys seemed to realize that this was serious now. One of them started asking the conductor again about the validity of the ticket he had, either feigning or actually showing his misunderstanding. Another said he was getting the money; he would pay.

At this point, the train started approaching Rovereto, and I had to get to the doors to get off. As I exited the train, I heard some commotion behind me. The guy who had paid was running towards his friend, who had exited the train from a different car, explaining what had happened. Two of the other guys seemed to be leaving without more incident. The last guy– the one who had tried to “make a fool” of the police officer– was being flanked by the two officers, perhaps being lead away to the station.

In the end, I was never asked for any tickets.


It’s rather blatant racial profiling. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen it. Last time it also happened to an African guy and a Middle Eastern guy. The police officers come in, and trap the guys between them and the conductor. The rest of the people on the train never get asked for tickets, as long as they look white enough.

On the other hand, it is true that a lot of the Africans are the ones without the tickets. They are also the ones that are boisterous on the trains and in the streets. They are the ones that try to force cheap bracelets and selfie-sticks on unsuspecting tourists, and who follow you around until you walk far enough away, or yell at them, or give in. Possibly, the Africans try to weasel out of buying tickets so hard, because they don’t have the money to afford them. I think the whole train tickets thing might be a ruse to try to rustle out the illegal immigrants– those who came here through some sort of pyramid scheme created by the distributors of the cheap trinkets.

But the police mainly only target the Africans.

The Drive

 

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View of a road from the train through Austria.

I loved taking long road trips around the US, both seeing new destinations, as well as driving there. We’d gather up all our things– our clothes, our food, our tents, our games– and we’d head off towards the forest of huge Sequoias in the North, or the vast deserts to the East. Even when we just took day trips to the hills nearby or the beach an hour away, I never minded driving. When we left in the morning (or let’s be real, in the early afternoon, since we never got out on time), the car trip meant that the fun was all ahead. When we started on our way home, usually long after the sun had set, it meant our comfy beds were waiting for us. On dark stretches of road, we could see the stars outside the car window.

Sometimes, later, when I was the one behind the wheel, driving in the car felt like both my adventure and my home. Often, I felt like I could easily skip my exit on the freeway, and just keep going into the sunset, to find whatever waited for me at the edge of the world.

But I never did keep going. I always took the exit. Why did I do that? The world is so vast and there’s so much to see. Why not just let the moment take you away? I guess there was always a reason: work in the morning, people waiting at home, laziness to make the trip back, discomfort at the thought of facing the unknown. Maybe the reasons made sense, or maybe they were just excuses. In any case, I never answered the call of the road.

Now, I don’t have a car, and I don’t have the same chance. Taking the train is just not the same. I don’t know if it’s the other people chatting nearby, or if it’s just the constant foreignness of everything around me, but there is neither the excitement of adventure, nor the anticipation of homecoming. Rather, there is a feeling of constant displacement, like my trip is anchored between nowhere and nowhere else.

On the train, I can’t just skip my exit, and let the rails carry me away– the conductors don’t take a liking to that. On the train, I can’t let my mind wander as I become a part of the vehicle, controlling its motions over the smooth asphalt as easily as I control the motion of my own body. On the train, I can’t stop to grab a bite at an interesting hole-in-the-wall, or to explore a little-traveled corner of the world.

Instead, I must submit to the vehicle and the system propelling it onwards. I must agree with the system on my intentions ahead of time, and accept its plan for me. I must fight the timetables, and struggle through the crowds, and all my things must fit in a handy bag. Oftentimes, I don’t even get the window seat.

Of all things, I never thought I would miss the drive.