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The Little Yellow Box


Today, I was a criminal. And I was caught.

I had a bus ticket, but I hadn’t validated it, and I’d been carrying it with me, since two days before. I was only doing what I’d seen a majority of passengers do since arriving in Italy. Get on the orange bus, sit down, and ignore that little yellow box that said “convalidata.”

When the inspectors came on the bus, I didn’t realize it at first. But then I noticed everyone heading for that little yellow box, as though it had the same holy power as a confessional. Upon boarding, though, the inspectors immediately did something to turn off the electric stamper, and I quickly realized the stampede was useless. There were no other stops on the way to the station and the only way out was to throw yourself through the window. I was trapped. I sat back down and tried to look innocent.

When the inspector got to me, I handed him my invalidated ticket. He said something in Italian and I gave him my best “confused” look. He pointed to the yellow box and repeated himself. I tried to act like I didn’t know. My performance may well have been worthy of an oscar, but he wasn’t too interested in dramatics, because without listening to my excuses, he said “Cinquente Lira.”

In other words, $25. The drama of the situation, and my futile protests, suddenly went up about ten notches. My hand gestures took on an Italian flare and my voice had a healthy mix of innocent shock and rising outrage.

“50,000 Lira?! But I didn’t know! Look, I have a ticket! Isn’t that good enough?!”

He repeated his sentence of cinquente lira, except now he added a new word to the end.

“Cinquente lira or polizia.”

It’s funny how so many Italian words have such a lovely rhyming quality to them.

I protested a little more and thought about my odds of protesting to the police, but figured in the end, I didn’t have the time, since I was supposed to catch the ferry to Sardinia in a couple of hours. I took out the money with mumbling reluctance and then tore up the bus ticket to show how frustrated I was. A great performance to the very end.

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