The day began like any other, I suppose, get out of bed, shower, shave — errrr, crash! For some inexplicable reason (though carelessness is probably at the top of the list), I cut myself shaving. But it wasn’t just any cut you see, this one had me lying down, with pressure on it for over an hour. I went through countless tissues trying to soak up the blood but regardless of what I did to attempt to stem the flow of blood, it just wasn’t happening. All the while the clock is ticking – it’s time to depart Asti and head to Torino, where I’d catch my flight to Sicily for my 10 day trip there – before flying back to Turin/Piemonte.
After a doctor/friend (of radiology, but whatever, still worked) patched me up with several bandages and I applied ice for half an hour, the bleeding seemed to have stopped, but by this time I was already at Turin airport getting dropped off.
The morning hadn’t gone quite as planned, but I figured it didn’t really matter – the bleeding stopped, I was on time for my flight, had already paid for my rental car, had my bags (clothes, camera), my hat (I went prepared for sun, but mostly got clouds and LOTS of cold wind) and a great attitude despite the morning’s challenges of time/readiness.
This was it, a dream (for me) come true, a trip to Sicily and I’d have the time to see virtually the whole island as I’d be driving from the extreme west coast, to the east coast (via the southern route) and back again (via the northern route). I had already lined up my winery appointments, my places to stay, etc., before I had even left the USA, so I felt ready, I was prepared.
My flight, one which I’d kind of dreaded when booking it weeks ago while I was still in the States, on Ryan Air was a good one, just 90 minutes and smooth. If there’s one thing Ryan Air has figured out, it’s that you’re a captive audience. They sell you food, then they sell you perfume, then they sell you lottery tickets. I passed on everything, I just wanted to land, get my car and find my digs in Marsala, about a 25 minute drive from Trapani airport. Sadly I’d have just one night in Marsala, but I’d have time for two quality appointments before I had to hit the road and make the drive to Vittoria/Ragusa – something I had guessed was on the order of 3 hours or so.
When I say the flight from Turin to Trapani was a smooth one, I mean it. I had the entire second row to myself. On top of that there was no one in the row in front of me (not that it really matters as the seats on Ryan air flights don’t recline). I was the second person on the plane, and the first one off of it. Great stuff! But the smooth part of everything began to unravel pretty quickly after that.
Exiting the plane is different from most experiences in the USA – people board and de-plane via the stairs that are built into the plane, versus a covered jetway, and walk to/from the airport terminal to the plane – usually 400-600 feet away. I mention this because when we arrived at Trapani it was pouring down rain and cold, and VERY windy, which of course made it even colder. And while I was very glad to have had my rainproof/sun hat on, I’d have traded it for dry, sunny, non-windy conditions in a second.
After walking inside the terminal and retrieving the bag I had checked (it cost more for the checked bag than it did for my seat), a process that took about 20 minutes, I walked downstairs to the Hertz rental car desk, handed them my passport and credit card (for a ‘deposit’, even though I’d already fully paid for the rental car). The person at the counter cheerfully took my documents and began to process the paperwork. At this point I was anxious to find my lodging (my first AirBnB experience) in Marsala, despite the less than favorable weather conditions.
To be clear, I didn’t book through Hertz, but through a great company based in Maine, USA, called AutoEurope. They buy in bulk from the rental car companies and pass the savings (pretty considerable) on to the consumer, so my rental was booked with AutoEurope, but they had contracted a Hertz rental car. No worries, what do I care who they book through, so long as the car is fit and runs fine.
Several weeks earlier, while still in the USA, I had gone online and made all of my arrangements with AutoEurope – gave them my passport information, my driver’s license information, and my payment information. I was all set to get my small-ish (ok, tiny, but whatever), but perfectly serviceable rental.
After a few minutes, the clerk at the rental car desk looked up and said we’ve got everything ready, we just need your driving license. I wasn’t sure why they needed to see it, I had already done all of that through AutoEurope, but whatever, so I pulled up a picture of my license – front and back – on my cell phone, and handed it to her. She looked down, or away, or whatever, but she was no longer looking at me. She explained that she had to have the original in her hand, a copy would not do. Bothered by the ‘red tape’, I reached into my small bag that I keep travel documents in and fished for my license – but it wasn’t there. In my rush to get out of the house in the morning (not really a rush, but at this point you understand), I had not grabbed my license. I guess, mentally, I was all set anyway as I had credit cards and a passport and had already taken care of the driving license part, and the payment part, weeks before — so just copy the (damn!) license number down from the phone picture and finish the paperwork. Sheesh. But she was having none of it, just said that it was company policy that they had to have the license in hand, and without it, there would be no car rental. At all.
My world came crashing down. All of it, in a single second. I was far away from my license, far away from my lodging for the night (and there are no taxis that go to Marsala, only to Trapani), and it was Sunday. That’s right, it was Sunday, a day of no mail in Italy, which meant (it was only 2pm at this point) I could not ask my friend back in Piemonte to ‘overnight’ me my license, that would have to wait till tomorrow, which meant I wouldn’t be on the road until Tuesday. But that would be too easy. You see Sicily is an island, which is tantamount to saying it’s in rural Uzbekistan. There is NO overnight mail service to Sicily, not with FedEx, not with UPS, not with DHL, not with Airborne, not with anybody. The fastest it could happen was 2-day delivery, which meant I’d have the license on Wednesday…at the earliest.
This was one of those moments where I just say to myself that I’m not in the USA anymore, and there is no such things as ‘overnight’ mail to some places. OK, I can live with that. But still, that left me with the prospect of living/sleeping inside the airport for the next several days (not that they would have let me, mind you). And that’s not to mention the problems that I was going to have rescheduling the next 9 days’ worth of winery visits and accommodations – most of which were non-cancellable/payment forfeited.
After a few minutes of pleading (read: begging) the woman at the Hertz counter to use the copy of my license for her paperwork (no one would have been any the wiser, and in a few years our licenses will probably just be on our phones anyway), the stark, cold reality of it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was f***ed.
She must have taken pity on me, that or maybe it was the bone-white color my face had turned to that scared the hell out of her and she just wanted me to go away, because she offered one last thing, “maybe someone else will rent you a car, someone local”. “Someone local?”, what in the hell could that mean, someone in a back alley that’ll rent you a car for a hundred bucks an hour and break your legs if it comes back with a bug on the windshield? At this point the bone-white color of my face surely turned to green, I felt sick to my stomach.
(to be continued…)