It was summer. My husband and I left Rome after a pick-pocketing experience on the subway convinced us to spend the rest of our vacation somewhere with fewer people. We had been to Rapallo several times before, so that’s where we headed in our rental car.
We switched the navigator on and asked it for the back roads only. My husband does this partly to avoid paying highway tolls, but partly because he loves the life and character of the small towns. It is amazing to see how people live. There are clues about reality lurking in the layout of towns and the structures of buildings.
Or so he likes to say.
They didn’t have amber lights where we were traveling, so when my husband suddenly hit the brakes in order to avoid cruising through a red light, he didn’t expect the driver behind him wouldn’t follow suit.
But a great wham! told us otherwise.
In shock, my husband kept apologizing as he creaked the ruined rental car to the side of the road. He felt that he had destroyed our entire vacation. I kept my calm. I love adventure, and as I spied the young driver who had hit us walking up to our car, my heart skipped a beat.
Could it really be?
No, unfortunately not. But the driver sure did look a lot like Tom Cruise.
My husband tried talking with him while I called our car rental company. Something was wrong with the cell phone connection, so we wound up drawing diagrams on the back of our rental agreement.
Our Tom Cruise, we were finally able to fathom, wanted to guide us to the police station. Moreover, to secure our trust, he gave us his driver’s license.
And so he did. We drove slowly, following his every move. My husband kept talking about keeping our eyes open. You never know where he might be guiding us, he kept saying. It could be a trap.
If it was a trap, I told him, it was a very unusual way of getting people to enter it. And costly.
Eventually, we came to a large parking lot with a police station built into a shopping mall. We saw Tom Cruise drive by and point at the door. We assumed he was going to park his car and would be joining us, but then he disappeared!
With nothing else to do, we went into the station.
No one spoke English.
Luckily, the woman at reception had the brilliant idea of using the Internet to find a translator. It was slow, clunky and sometimes led to more confusion than our hand gestures alone, but eventually we helped the police piece together the details.
But where was our Tom Cruise?
In the bluster of trying to explain ourselves, my husband and I both forgot that the Italian driver had given us his license. At least an hour went by before I remembered and produced it from my purse.
As it turned out, the receptionist at the police station recognized the man immediately. He was a taxi driver who had been in so many accidents that his license was in fact expired. He was going to be in big trouble.
I’m not sure exactly what transpired after that in terms of police logistics, but eventually an officer came to the station with Tom Cruise in tow. We identified the person as the driver who had hit us and given us his license. He smiled at me sheepishly, as if to say that his illogical gesture of giving us his license and guiding us to the police before running away had been worth a try.
Eventually, we headed back to Rome in our bruised and dented car. The rental company gave us a new vehicle and we set off for Rapallo. It was evening by then. We had lost almost an entire day to the inside of a police station.
In many ways, that rare experience has made it one of the most memorable vacations I have ever had. Yet by the same token, I never want to have occasion to visit a foreign police station again.