Accidental Scooter Ride In Naples
Some friends of friends from Seattle welcomed us to their home in Naples, “We’ll order pizza!” they said. “We’ll invite all our friends! Come, come….” And so, thrilled to hang out with some genuine napoletani, Jason and I took the metro to their neighborhood.
And we waited for their call.
When Umberto showed up on a scooter, we hadn’t been prepared to hop on back, one-at-a-time, and weave through the streets and the traffic to get to their apartment. It may be the stuff people dream about when they dream of Italy…’Roman Holiday’ meets the millennium.
But I was palpably terrified.
A round man with a jolly face, Umberto motioned for me to hop on back, his helmet still on like a well-tested road warrior. I pointed to the scooter, to Jason, and then back to the Jason, thinking, How will we both fit?
“Ti prenderò doppo,” Umberto said to Jason (I’ll get you later). I gave Jason that ‘What if he’s a kidnapper?’ look.
Jason lowered his gaze. “Just get on, woulda’ ya’?”
But we’d never actually met these people before. They could, for all we knew, been among the ranks of organized crime, their situation having changed since our Seattle friends last met them. I imagined my body tied to cart, wheeled down some underground tunnel as part of a human trafficking ring.
Things only got more awkward from there. Sitting on the back of the bike, I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I grabbed Umberto around his belly (just as my father and brother showed me to do on their motorcycles).
But Umberto laughed.
Had I done something wrong? Maybe he’s never had a woman on the back of his bike, before? (Which is an absurd thought, if you’ve ever been to Italy. Male bike riders live for getting a female to ride with them.)
It was only after watching other scooter riders in Naples’ streets that I learned that you’re supposed to hold onto the sides of the bike, arms straight down. And if that doesn’t work, you just put your hands on the driver’s shoulders. But bear hugging the driver like I did? Far too…touchy-feely. And safe. And American, I guess.
Awkwardness aside, that scooter ride was one of the most thrilling and memorable 15 minutes of my life. We barreled between rows of cars to circumvent traffic, then turned sharp corners I was certain would slice off my knee caps. We revved up steep, cobblestone streets, past food carts and and gaggles of children and women carrying baskets of clothes.
The buzz and hum of the city bore into me, from the tips of my fingers to the bottom of my soul. Breathing in the sickeningly sweet smell of diesel exhaust, penetrating the motion and movement of people, cars and trucks, and the harried shouts of horns and other scooters…we were road birds in flight.
And I was grinning from ear to ear for the thrill of it all.
Upon arrival at Umberto’s apartment, I took my helmet off and tossed my hair, handing it back to him. Then he sped off, returning to the metro station for Jason, this round, leaving me to alone in a narrow, scooter-filled alley, wondering if Jason would feel the same thrill I did. And despite the wan late spring light muting evidence of the city’s eternal grime — I felt it.
Awake. Vital. Alive.
What kinds of experiences have you had in your travels or day-to-day life that have left you feeling exhilarated? And how might you inject a similar adventuredom into the monotony of your 9 – 5?