This morning, walking towards Campo de’ Fiori, I heard the distinct crunching noise of plastic forcibly contacting more plastic. I stopped, turned, and immediately spotted the source of the sound: A car wedged partway into a parking space considerably too small for its length, its bumper pressed up firmly against the car in front of it.
My first thought was that the driver had returned to his car, which he had perhaps parked perfectly normally the night before, to find it thoroughly boxed in on either end by later arrivals. This, therefore, would give the driver little choice but to nudge at the surrounding vehicles in an attempt to escape – after all, he couldn’t possibly be sure that their drivers would return any time soon.
And then I realized: The driver was not attempting to extract himself from the space. He was actually, incredibly, attempting to fit the car into an impossibly small space, methodically lurching back and forward while plastic bumpers and metal corners crunched and scraped with those awful, expensive sounds that vehicles make when they come in contact with each other. There was no way the driver could have been oblivious as to what was happening – his windows were down, and besides, the vehicles themselves were visibly shuddering with every nudge from the bumper – he simply appeared to not care. I made eye contact with the driver, incredulous expression firmly in place, then continued on my way. It is likely that he will never, ever manage to extract his vehicle from its current position.
In Rome, parking spaces of any sort – legal, potentially legal, or blatantly, laughably illegal – are difficult to come by. In the city centre, where many of the streets are too narrow to park in, the difficulty skyrockets; finding a space is like winning the lottery. Whenever I’ve driven in the city, it hasn’t been the actual act of driving that has struck panic into my heart, but the inevitable, often lengthly process of circling in an ever-widening radius around the destination, keeping one eye on the road while hunting for a space to leave the vehicle that won’t block traffic or immediately attract the attention of the vigili urbani.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the shortage of true parking spaces, Romans have become extravagantly creative and lenient in their definition of what constitutes a reasonable space to leave a vehicle. Double-parking is a given. Triple-parking, also known as abandoning the car in the middle of the street and leaving traffic to tangle up around the obstruction, is distinctly possible. Sidewalks are less of a place to walk and more of a place to rest two wheels; crosswalks, with all those stripes pointing drivers directly towards a gap in the parked cars, are practically an invitation. Doorways and shop entrances are fair game, medians down the centre of wider streets are like grassy islands of vehicular abandonment, and I’ve even spotted a few cars parked in the middle of an intersection, forcing confused drivers to dodge and weave on their way through.
Sometimes though, despite the “open” attitude towards parking and the willingness of most drivers to turn a blind eye (or just to roll their eyes) towards the infractions of their fellow motorists, someone will park their car so ridiculously, so incredibly illogically, that it becomes too much for people to bear. Case in point:
Other than the fact that the car – which I passed while out on a run today – was spectacularly dirty, it also happened to be parked so terribly that it stuck out into traffic, blocking part of an intersection and taking up space when it could have easily been positioned right against the wall. Even for Rome, this was over-the-top; as I ran past the car, I came to a sudden stop and started laughing. The vigili urbani had clearly passed by a few times since a couple of parking tickets were jammed under the windshield wipers, fluttering in the breeze. But alongside the tickets, scrawled crudely on big sheets of paper, was a series of notes from incredulous drivers and passerby.
Like Romans themselves, the notes were less than perfectly politically correct: The first one, which ended in a happy face, read, “Who gave you a driver’s licence? Stevie Wonder?”, while the next one, which was clearly meant to be read in a strong Roman accent, translated roughly to “hey phenomenon… three parking tickets!”. The final note took a slightly more stern tone, saying, “someone who parks like this definitely isn’t normal!”
All I can say is this: I only wish I could have seen the owner’s face when they came back to their car.