I have a generally good sense of direction, but there have been a few times where I’ve gotten extravagantly lost. Back in 2008 I had a stint studying abroad in Siena, Italy. Around the beginning of the semester, I had noticed that my laptop battery never held a charge anymore. Now I’ve gone through about 4 batteries in my computer’s lifetime, but since I was still on the first one I had no idea what was causing it. Maybe the frequent blown fuses we had been having had fried its innards? I was worried, so I asked our weird program director (long story there) how to get it fixed.
I needed to take it to a certified Apple repair place in Sesto Fiorentino, which was outside of Florence. So I set out the next morning to take the Siena-Florence express bus. This was the last part of the trip that went as planned.
When I arrived in Florence, the next thing I had to do was take a different bus to Sesto Fiorentino. However, I could not find it. After an extended period of asking around and getting nowhere (bear in mind that my Italian was still very rusty this early in the semester), I eventually found the bus stop behind a construction site. “Well, that was a lot harder than it should have been,” I thought to myself, “but it’s smooth sailing from here on out.”
It was not smooth sailing from there on out, because once I had boarded the bus, I had become painfully aware of the fact that I had no idea where to get off. I knew the address of the destination but I knew nothing of the route. The last thing I wanted was to take it too far and end up in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. So I eventually (and arbitrarily) decided “this seems like a good place to get off!” and ended up in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.
I disembarked the bus near one of those signs that pointed in all directions in a rather sparsely populated area. Thanks to the sign, I did know what direction to walk, but had no idea how far. I came across someone to ask if I was on the right track.
This person seemed to feel genuinely sorry for me.
“Can I get to this address by foot?” I asked in broken Italian.
“Yeah, eventually…” he replied.
So I walked, for quite some time. It was around the time I had to cross a graffiti-covered highway bridge when I admitted to myself that this couldn’t be right. So I made my way to the nearest establishment (a tabaccheria) and asked the locals for directions. Fortunately there was a bus that stopped nearby that would take me where I needed to go. So I got on this bus and asked the driver where I needed to get off. I don’t know why this hadn’t crossed my mind the first time.
The driver let me off in an industrial area, and I had to walk some more. But I was almost there! Along the way I asked some people working at a Chinese food truck if I was on the right track. I was, and after crossing some unpaved patches, I finally found it–an extremely random, free-standing, new-looking building. It would have looked more at home in Austin.
I went inside and asked the receptionist if I was in the right place, and she told me that yes, I was, and I had to go around to the back for repairs. On my way around I saw a coffee vending machine, and after all that journeying, nothing seemed more refreshing than a plastic cup of machine-brewed cappuccino. All the change I had on me was a 2 Euro coin, and predictably, the machine ate my 2 Euro coin.
Now, this was a time in my life when 2 Euros was a lot of money, and I went back to the receptionist to try and set this problem right. She was the second Italian who seemed to feel genuine pity for the poor, confused, travel-worn American and compensated my 2 Euros–in 10 cent coins. For the rest of my journey, that heavy jangling in my pocket would serve as a reminder of my poor judgment.
I went around to the back where I saw the familiar certified Apple logo and walked in to find… one of my American housemates and her friend, talking to the repair guy.
It turned out that they had made the same journey, because her computer was having the same problem, and that the first bus I took from Florence would have dropped me off right in front of that building.
We dropped off our computers and all took the correct bus back to Florence as the sun set. Before making the return trip to Siena, we stopped for pizza near the bus station. I felt like this could be a nice bonding experience with my roommate, since we had never really bonded before.
Nope! You see, of the 5 roommates I had at the time, she was the one who had always been rather cold and shut off, and this return trip turned out to be one of the only times we ever spent any time together. We were more or less silent for the entire night time bus ride back to Siena.
One last thing I should mention: there was a valuable piece of information we all learned from the repair guys at the shop. They actually had a pick up and drop off location in Siena.