Years ago, when I was 18 years old, at a time when cell phones and GPS systems weren’t existing, I drove all by myself from Austria down to the South of Italy. It was just me, my little car and our old farm dog -a security measure my Grandmother had insisted on.
I took the scenic route and not the tollways that I couldn’t afford anyway. I passed Bologna and Verona, had lunch on a parking bench in Pisa and enjoyed dinner in a small tavern near Rome. It was around 8 pm in the evening when I decided I would continue my trip, only 3 more hours in the car and I would arrive at my destination. I wanted to visit friends in Salerno and finally visit Pompeii, that was the goal I had in mind.
It’s hard to get lost in Italy. It’s surrounded by the ocean, as long as you keep the water on the right side, you are good to go. It had been so easy during the day, now and then I had caught a glimpse of the sea when I looked through the passenger window, but at night, I felt lost. There was darkness when I looked outside, my focus point was gone. I decided to drive closer to the shore on my way through Napoli (Naples).
The scenery outside changed. I had been driving through impressive streets with big houses and lots of streetlights, now the houses got smaller, there was not much light, and everything looked shabby; then there were no houses at all, instead, I saw containers and big ships when I looked outside.
I had driven right into the harbor in the middle of the night, a place that turns into a red light district when the sun goes down. I passed a gate, drove around the curve and found myself at a parking lot, surrounded by women who didn’t wear too many clothes. I was stuck at a dead end, a place full of prostitutes.
It took around 2 seconds, and I was terrified; I panicked and thought about the little bit of money I had with me. Surely they would rob me and who knows what else they would do to me.
I locked the car doors, grabbed my purse, sat on it and tried to wake up the watchdog beside me. A few women approached my car and looked at me through the window. That was the end of me, I was sure about it.
They knocked and I had no other choice but to roll down the glass. They asked me what I wanted, and I told them all about my plans and the rest of my life story. I really can’t recall what I said, but I remember very well how they reacted.
Some of the older ones got angry with me and scolded me for driving around in the night, others made sure I got a cup of coffee and a something to eat. I spent about an hour with them, walked my watchdog and stretched my legs under their supervision. Cars pulled in and out, nobody bothered me. I was protected and safe.
They didn’t “allow” me to drive any further, they wrote down a name of a small hotel close by and they made sure I got there. I spent the rest of the night in a nice room, with clean sheets.
The next morning I got up well rested. When I wanted to pay for the room, I heard there was no charge. A friend of a friend of a friend was friends with the owner. I thanked the owner and left a note for the ladies.
Labeling people is a dumb thing to do. The ones we fear, at first sight, are often the ones who will surprise us the most. There is a lot of labeling going on these days and I hate it from the bottom of my heart. I wish I could reach people and make them understand.
Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.” ― Patrick Rothfuss