or . . .
HOW RENTING A CAR IN ITALY TAUGHT ME TO SOLVE PROBLEMS. With my billfold.
PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – It’s a Saturday. And a civilized, but somewhat early departure. We’re spending the day with Paul and Betty. He’s an Italian wine importer back in the States. They had just blown in from Rome for two intense weeks of wining and dining their way across Italy. And on this particular day we had our tourist plates heaping full. So, chop, chop, let’s go.
We jumped in and fired up the renta-Lancia and . . . WHAT’S THAT NOISE? Better yet, what’s that eerie silence? Key goes in here, turns to the right. Still. Way too quiet. Especially in Lancia Central. No door lights, no seat belt warning ding, ding dings, no radio hum. No, nothing.
Maybe it’s jet lag but Paul’s as baffled as I am. And he has two Prima Donna Lancias he drives daily in Maine. But yet, he throws up his hands at the utter lack of logic here. Did I mention that this car is literally brand new? Exactly zero miles on it when he picked it up in Rome. Zero. Picked it up, turned it on, drove it here non-stop and parked it.
So. There we were. Standing in the shadow of the tower of the contessa’s palazzo, kicking pieces of gravel around the parking lot. And recalculating our finely tuned plans for the day. And thinking of the tone of voice we hope Paul can take with the rental company when he gets them on the phone. About that time, our neighbor Bruno drives by in his 30-year-old, used-to-be red, Fiat Panda. I wave my hi-how’s-it-going, garden-variety wave. I really couldn’t do the omg-save-us! wave. He fixed our howling mad, guest potty two days ago. Gratis. And well, I just couldn’t seem this needy, this soon. Which worked out fine. He waved and kept going, anyway.
There is a God. And he’s got his avenging angel Bruno backing up the one-way street toward us. “Che succede ragazzi?” What’s happening? Where are we off to? Since you ask: We’re headed nowhere, Bruno. Not with this rig. “Open the hood” he says. Ok, I guess we could have gone that far, maybe. He points at the battery, gives us a “What on earth did you do THAT for?” look, rolls his eyes and said “AntiFurto.” Which becomes our new fun Word of the Day and means anti-theft device. And it is what Bruno is calling that iPad sized thing hanging off to one side of the battery, just bristling with important-looking wires. Yes, I was gently nudged out of Iowa State’s Mechanical Engineering program at a young age. It is clear even to me that the idea spot for this AntiFurto to be would on the top of the battery.
So, why was it laying down there in the first place? How did that happen? Which is exactly what Bruno still wants to know as he picks it up, mounts it back on the battery, and cranks its big lever, locking it back in place. He makes that international hand motion sign for “Uh, turn the key?” We do that and it is all systems go. Thanks, Bruno. He shook his head, gave us a sympathetic “good luck” wave over one shoulder and he was gone. Before we can think of some other trouble for him.
And we were left thinking: surely we could have been so much more manly and guy-like if we’d just had coffee first? Yeah, that’s it. So off we go to GMB (in the zona industriale, Castiglione del Lago) to solve that problem. Which, if you haven’t been there, trust me, GMB is sufficient grounds for getting on a plane and curling up with that inflight magazine for a few hours. For me, it is the sweet, pastry-filled center of the known coffee-drinking world.
Happily our truculent Lancia actually got us there. Coffee’d up, there remained the one true test, can it get us back? As it turns out, no, actually. To be fair, it did start when we asked it to. And we were soon barreling up, up the twist-y turn-y hill road past Villa Le Mura when Paul swears he heard a little mechanical “THOCK.” Motivation ceased, our theater went dark. Which was an awkward moment since, as I implied, we going UP hill. Did our AntiFurto fall off again? Is there some sort of fighter jet ejection seat devise that blows this big honking device physically off the top of the battery at road speed?
Hmm. Did you know they have dayglow roadworker vests in the side pockets of these cars for just this kind of event? We figured that out well after I’d guided Paul backwards down a hill, into a farm driveway totally commando, sans light up vest. Next time, we will use the vest, I think pessimistically.
Safely off the road and parked in the tall grass, we now know enough to pop the hood and sure enough, the rascally Anti-Fur Toe has jumped ship, again. We do what Bruno did, again. It starts, again, and we were soon on the phone telling the rental company to park this one where the sun don’t – oh just get us another one. Please.
They were happy to trade us it turns out. But only if we would take life and limb in hand and drag this bad dog to Arezzo. Arezzo?! I’ve been as lost as I ever want to be in Arezzo. It’s an actual town. It may even be a city. I remember well trying to worm my way thru Arezzo to their monthly antique fair a year ago. So, I was tepid about adding this side jaunt to a program that had already taken on shades of Amazing Race reality TV show.
We got there. But only due to Paul being able to drive and coordinate with his smartphone’s nav system at the same time. The system worked. We arrived at the car rental office. We had just talked to them and now the office was securely locked? When we found the operator, and did the key swap, he said, pointing, that our car was “down by the city park.” And yes, yes it was. Right under the Circus Coming to Town billboard was the twin of the Lancia we rode in on. Same color, same model. But yet. We have ignition! The key turns AND the motor turned on.
But, so did the annoying Danger Orange light on the dash shaped like Aladdin’s Lamp. We realized this about half way back across Arezzo, headed out of town. Something new to not relax about. OK, page 22 of the manual, something about that being the Must-Change-Oil-Right-Now light. Oh, good, pop the hood. Well, it’s got oil. Full as a tick, in fact. And you know what? We are so not stopping to change the oil on this back-up rental beater.
Later that same day, by then more closely approximating midnight, we were coming back from a seven course feast at a friend’s osteria in Siena, when Paul said, “Huh, look at that. No more warning light!” To which I was able to proudly reply, “I know. I fixed it” “Where was I?” Paul said unbelieving. “How’d you do that?”
“I fixed it with my billfold,” I replied. He gives me a look. Then looks back at the dash where he notices my billfold propped up in front of the light.”
Another travel problem solved. You’re welcome.
See you in Italy!
PS: As you can see we did stop to smell the poppies in the midst of all these adventures. Worth whatever it takes to get to that sweet spot, isn’t it?