I woke up around 6 am with the head of a train breathing in my face. The conductor was looking at me. I felt pretty awkward.I got up and went back into town where I found the laundromat that I knew would be open at 6. I changed into my pants and jacket, put in my clothes, plugged in my phone and fell asleep as my clothes spun around. I woke up briefly to put them in the dryer and then went back to sleep, staying in the place until around 10 or 11 am. From there I went to the "Seaman's Center" Internet cafe (Civitiavecchia is a big port town) where I ate breakfast and did some work on the computer. Before setting out on my run, I spent a few minutes on a park bench applying sunscreen and organizing my stuff. I was beginning to emit a very serious homeless dude vibe.
I set out in the direction of Ladispoli in the mid afternoon during one of the hottest days of summer. Around 40 minutes I felt like death, but found a magical waterfountain that restored my health and allowed me to keep running until the 2 hour mark rolled around and I stopped in a town 4 km before Ladispoli. People in Civitiavecchia had told me that Ladispoli was pretty dangerous, so I decided to give where I was a shot. It was getting late, and the Marina di Cerveteri seemed like a safer stop. I went to a pastry shop and bought some Powerade and water and then had some spinach pizza thing before trying to make something happen.
I wandered around town for a while, and followed the direction of some runners towards the beach, where there was a 1 km straightaway that people were running back and forth on. I had already run about thirty kilometers to get to where I was, and I was also starting to get some serious chafing...but I decided to try the "find a runner" approach once again. I would find a runner or group of runners, run up along side them and say "This is strange but..." and tell them my story. I met a lot of runners, and covered some more kilometers running next to people, trying to let them see that I was a normal guy and hoping they might offer me a shower or a place to sleep. No dice. One guy seemed pretty nice, and was talking to me about all sorts of things...about marathons that he has run in the US, etc. I was giving him advice on form and kind of pacing him (he was panting in an attempt to finish 10 km at 5:00 pace). I jogged next to this guy for 8 km helping him through his "workout"...at the end of it, I was sure that he would be up to help me out...to let me sleep in his garage, or at least call a friend for me. Instead, he said goodbye and left me on the street. "You're welcome for the workout."
I joined another guy, who couldn't help me out. He had a wife and seemed a little bit afraid. I would also be afraid of a scrawny kid like me. He did point me in the direction of the nearby church...but it was 9 pm when I got there and everything was closed up and locked. It was a huge complex with several buildings and community gathering spaces, so I called the number on the gates to see if someone might be willing to help out. After the second time I called, a woman answered:
"Hello, I am an American who arrived here on foot from Amsterdam, and tomorrow I am running to Rome and the Vatican...but I need somewhere to rest for the night. A man told me that I could find help here. Is this true?"
"No. No. Absolutely no. Goodbye."
From there I started walking back towards the center of town. I found a girl speaking American English to her mother on a balcony, and stopped to tell her my story. She brought me back to the church to see that it was in fact closed and that nobody would help me there. She didn't have any space for me, but offered me a towel and a reclining beach chair that I could take with me to sleep in the park with. I said "Thank You" and that I would come back for it if I found nothing. I was hungry, so I went into a nearby kebab place to grab something to eat. I ordered a kebab wrap and a bottle of water. Somewhere along the line I got to talking to the guy who was working there, and he offered me what I was eating for free. He had come here from Romania and had seen some difficult times early on...he knew a little bit about how I was feeling. I said that I couldn't accept...but he wouldn't let me pay, and before I left he handed me a bag with two more kebab sandwiches and two bottles of water. Way too much food, but I ended up working my way through it before the end of the night.
I talked with so many people that night...but none of them resulted in a place to stay. There are many reasons that make Italy a difficult place to find places to stay. Many people live with their parents until very late in life, and afterwards they live with their wives. I don't know how stable these relationships are, but it seems that people and are always afraid to make them upset. The other problem for me is general fear and distrust. Here, things go wrong all the time...things break down, stores close when they like, roads are falling apart, etc. You just can't have much in terms of expectations. People lose trust in the world around them, and in turn they lose trust in others. Guys twice my size seem afraid of me. It is nuts.
Some time after midnight, after talking to around thirty people, I decided to call it a night and head towards the beach. When it gets late and I have talked with too many people, I just can't do it anymore. I feel like a broken record, and that whatever I am saying is no longer really me...that even if the person allows me into their home, that there isn't time to forge a real connection. I did pass one more group of kids before completely giving up. They ended up offering me a shower (which was very important for running the next day, considering my chafing), and I went out to sleep near the train station. I went out to the farthest bench and fell asleep. It was cold and trains kept whizzing by incredibly quickly. Around 4:30 I got up and spent some time trying to find a better place. I wish I had a record of all the places I climbed on top off, fences I hopped and places I walked through searching for a better place to sleep in the tired haze of that early morning. I didn't find much, and eventually settled for a high stone bench in a small park on the edge of town. This whole sleeping on benches thing was starting to get me down, but there was one thing that kept me smiling: I would be in Rome tomorrow.
21 August 2009