FOXY GRANDPA GETS HIS KICKS ON ROUTE 66
ISCHIA PORTO, Italy A minor riot's juddering the pontoon-platform. The ferries are overbooked, the hydrofoils are hours late. People bellow for tickets, but no tickets can be had.
The credit card machine's broken, which should be expected on a national holiday, really... Nevertheless, angry Mastercard patrons are shouting and gesticulating and otherwise hampering customers, like me, with cash in hand.
My suitcase is not making the crowd maneuverable. Short of abandoning it a bad idea in proximity of Naples I have no option but to wrangle the beast through the press.
Finally I surrender and kvetch in my best helpless-blonde Italian: "how am I supposed to get on the hydrofoil? I have an international train to catch soon."
And the gentleman targeted whom we'll call Foxy Grandpa (with apologies to Kurt Vonnegut) makes it all better. Soon we have tickets. We somehow skirt the angry mob and wait in the calm pocket around the crew. And when the 1.15pm aliscafo bellies up to the dock at 3.40pm, we are among the first to shove onboard.
The fog dissolves the line between the sea and sky. Foxy Grandpa reveals he was on the rival company's hydrofoil that sank a few years back. Two old women pitched into the drink and died. After 30 months, he received a small compensation check for his ruined suit.
In the litigious US, he'd be a made man, I observe.
"Ah, America," he sighs, then brightens. "Can you name all the states that Route 66 runs through?"
"I worked in the Antarctic, cooking for a base station," he explains. "The only decoration was a map of America. Eventually I memorized it. Now when the ambassador comes to my restaurant in Naples, not even he knows these facts, like all the states whose capitals contain their names!"
The Geography Pop Quiz makes the trip rather a long one. Then again, I would not be here without Foxy: I would be roadkill, a mere stain on the Ischia Porto dock.
I sidetrack him with the election: this week Prodi the Cat and his center-left coalition defeated the media-mogul prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Even politics are preferable to a foreign-language interrogation about Bismarck, North Dakota.
Naples heaves into view. "Let me buy you a coffee," he announces. We down espresso. He hands me a bus ticket. And I'm braced for the sleaze...
Which never comes.
Foxy Grandpa tucks me onto a train-station-bound bus. I thank him effusively and peck both cheeks. And then I'm left staring out the window, sad that anxiety ruins so many moments.