When courtesy and cabs collide

Posted by David on March 21, 2011

Why am I on a train in Livorno, Italy, in the first place? This summer, I’m writing for The Florentine, an English-language newspaper that caters to the expat community in Florence. My assignment is to write three to five travel articles about beaches along the Etruscan Coast. For most non-Italian travelers, these beaches are considered to be off the beaten path, and they’re certainly off the beaten path for an American like me.

My first beach: Vada. It’s a white-sand-and-crystal-blue-water beach. In short: It’s lovely.

Because the restaurants in Vada don’t open for dinner until around 7 p.m., I’m a little late getting back. I catch the last bus back to Livorno, 28 miles away, where I’m supposed to catch another train to Florence at 10:22 p.m. I bought my ticket earlier in the day.

I sit on the bench at Platform 2, reading my book, while the PA system says things like, “It is forbidden to cross the railway lines.” At 10:20 p.m.—two minutes early!—the train rolls to a stop at Platform 2. I punch the little button that makes the door open, as I’ve seen so many people do, and I hop on.

I take my seat. My first thought: Wow, there’s nobody else on here. Which is good. I can sprawl out, put my head against the window, and take a nice nap on the way back to Florence. No need to worry about moving my backpack for a little old lady. Yes, this is nice. It’s been a long day, and I’m tired.

My next thought: Gee, it’s dark in here. Is it usually this dark on the night train? Maybe they forgot to turn the light on in this compartment. It’s kind of eerie. Cinematically eerie. I think about movies like Strangers on a Train and Murder on the Orient Express. Someone really could commit a terrible crime on here and get away with it.

But the train starts to move. We’re on our way. Just me and my backpack. On a dark train.

Then the train rolls to a stop again, making that metal-scraping-metal noise, and goes completely silent. Why is the train completely silent? It’s as if it’s being parked for the night. Parked for the night in a railway yard.

I see. I’m on the wrong train. That’s okay. I’ll just get off. Now, if I could only get this door open …

All right, fine. If I can only get this other door open …

All right, fine. If I can just walk through the compartments to the front of the train, I’ll talk to the conductor. Next compartment opens. Next one opens. Then it’s locked.

I knock. “Hello?” I’m nowhere near the front of the trian.

I knock some more.


Okay, don’t panic. No need to panic. Why panic? That’s silly. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I have to spend the night on the train? Come on, worse things have happened. I just had a full meal of authentic Italian lasagne at 7 p.m. I’m not hungry. I’m not cold.

Why am I still panicking?

“Somebody help me!”

Who could I call? Let’s see. There’s the guy whose apartment I’m renting for the month: Alessio. I could call him. And tell him … tell him what? That I’m stuck on a train in Livorno? Come and get me? I’m on the train that left from Platform 2 at 10:20 instead of 10:22?

What’s the Italian number for 911?

Okay, besides the door handles, there’s another handle that I can barely see. There’s some writing that goes along with it that I can’t read. It’s above the door. Maybe that’s an emergency exit. Yeah, that’s what it is. So I pull it.

It makes an ungodly hissing sound.

Right. Yes. I wasn’t expecting that.



Okay, well, first of all, whatever you did that’s making it hiss, get out of that compartment. I think we can all agree that’s the first thing that should happen. Hard to think of a plan with that hissing noise.

I go two compartments down to be safely away from the hiss. Then I see it: the window. Why didn’t I think of this before? I’ll try the window. And the window opens. God bless you, window.


What’s the Italian word for “help”? Wonder if it’s something close to the Spanish “ayúdame”?


I think about breaking open my English-Italian dictionary, but it’s too dark to see.

The window opens wide enough for me to put my upper body through. Success. Wait. Now don’t just throw yourself out like an idiot. It’s not like the train is on fire. Things are hissing, but nothing’s on fire. At least not in this compartment.

Hmm, it’s a longer drop than I anticipated. I’m not going to break any bones or anything, but I might need to climb out backwards and then slowly loosen my grip for a more graceful fall. But I need to lower my backpack out first.

Here we go. Going to jump out the window. Looking at a dark railway yard. I can see the back of a department store. Civilization isn’t far away. Why am I nervous? In the movies, people jump out of trains all the time. At least this train isn’t moving.

Wait. Woah, what was that? We’re moving. This train is moving. And it’s moving at a pretty good clip. No warning. No warm-up. I guess there’s no need to worry about jolting the passengers when nobody’s supposed to be on board. Good thing I didn’t attempt a jump.

Now we’re back in the station.

 “Help me!”

The conductor sticks his head out the window. “What are you still doing on the train?” he says. Which, in his defense, is a reasonable question.

“I thought it was going to Florence!”

I hear a sound. He’s unlocking the cabin doors. I get out. I know I’m “forbidden to cross the railway lines,” but it looks like he’s going to make an exception for me.