Waiting for the Bus

Any time you get on a local bus in a small Italian town, there is no telling where you’ll wind up. The articles you read in Rick Steves books and online travel sites will claim otherwise. They will assure you that the bus and the train in Italy run precisely and reliably. I have written some of those articles myself and I’m beginning to think we lied.

Well, we don’t always lie. Trains are superb. In places like Rome and Florence and even smaller cities like Perugia and Lucca, there are standing bus stations and printed schedules that are predictable and trustworthy.

In Barga, there are three or four bus stops with times and destinations listed that mean nothing. Sometimes the bus won’t come at all. Sometimes the one that’s allegedly going to Lucca goes in the opposite direction. Sometimes you change buses mid-route for no apparent reason.

But I deeply love every single bus driver I have ever sat behind. I do, I love them.

They are always pissed off. They are liberal with their cartoonish horns. They gesture like psychotics at other drivers. They complain to passengers who try to buy a ticket on board. Of course there is a sign posted in several languages on the bus that tells you it’s acceptable to buy a ticket from the driver. Don’t do it. The driver will lose his shit and annihilate you in front of everyone else on the bus and we will all watch with great interest. If you don’t have a ticket, best to take a seat and pretend that you do.

I love the drivers not for their ability to be open and in touch with their emotions. It’s not even their impeccable grooming or their fondness for wearing crop pants and tennis shoes while they drive. I love them for their surgeon-like precision and skill. What they do is amazing.

The mountains in Barga are reason enough to live here. They’re magnificent. You do not get in or out of town without ascending or descending astonishing hills. The roads are hilariously narrow and the mountain happens to be falling down around those roads. Rocks, branches, dirt and debris – it’s all cascading down the hillside and threatening anyone driving by. The way bus drivers navigate the huge Mercedes buses is nothing short of artistry. I usually require a five-point turn just to park a car. Our bus drivers seem not to notice they are on a roller coaster and that our lives are in their hands.

I’m not that good, and their work inspires me never, ever to drive around here. I’m perfectly happy trying to decipher bus schedules that must have some kind of special code I’m not reading correctly. Instead of getting behind the wheel of anything, I’ll stand around at the bus stop all day long.

Here’s a little poetry I found scrawled across the window of a bus I took last week:

bus sign

It means: “It’s hard to love someone who loves another.” I wonder if the scribbler was talking about a bus driver.