One Night Under The Golden Arches
If ever the health food brigade tries to enlist my support to give the thumbs down to fast food chains, I will toss my curls and flatly refuse to oblige. I hold no brief for cheeseburgers or French fries nor admiration for the assembly line efficiency of these concerns. But I do owe an enormous debt of gratitude to one such establishment that offered me shelter, and a rich, gooey chocolate sundae, when I was desperate for the same. The shelter, I mean, not the sundae.
My adventure began soon after I straightened myself after examining the Leaning Tower in Pisa, Italy. Once we had verified that the Tower was leaning at precisely the same inclination mentioned in the brochure and confirmed that Il Duomo had not budged from its appointed place, we returned to the station to catch the next train out of town. Along with two American girls who had also ‘done’ Pisa with the same clinical efficiency, we decided to head for Florence, moving on subsequently to Venice.
It was almost midnight when we reached Florence. Alighting, we went to examine the Departures notices to check the timing of the Venice-bound train. A shock was in store for us. The next trip was scheduled only at 7:00 a.m. Like it or not, we had to spend the night in the City of Museums. Shrugging our shoulders (budget travelers learn quickly to take the rough with the smooth) we decided to settle for a night at the station. The waiting room looked comfortable, the shadier punks had called it a day and a couple of police officers, resplendent in their uniforms, hung around, providing just the kind of reassurance we needed.
It was 1:00 a.m. when I felt April, my American co-traveler, tapping my shoulder. An officious looking gentleman had just advised her that the waiting room was being closed for the night. Groggy-eyed we stumbled out onto the platform. We were joined by a backpacker from Australia who, too, had misjudged train timings and found himself stranded. Twenty minutes later, another equally officious type confronted us. The station was shutting shop till 4:30 a.m., we were informed tersely. Would we kindly move out please? Where to, we demanded aghast? An eloquent shrug of the shoulders was his only answer.
1:30 a.m. and we had been cast out in the big, bad world of Italy by night. Visions of muggings by the Mafiosi rose before our eyes. Till Mark, the Australian remembered seeing a 24-hour MacDonald outlet just outside the station. Maybe, just maybe, we could seek refuge under the Golden Arches.
We could and we did. My lasting memory of that night is us, five pieces of human tourist wreckage washed from across the world on Italian shores, drooping over the counter, taking turns to order coffee and chocolate sundaes all through the night. The place was clean, the company, when we could prise our eyes open, entertaining, and, most important of all, a respectable distance existed between us and the leading lights of the Italian underworld.
It is not the mouth-watering pizzas or gelatti whose taste lingers on my tongue following my Roman holiday. It is a sugary sweet chocolate milk sundae you would probably get anywhere in the world. It was not even particularly appetizing at that. But it hit the right spot when needed, the one tucked just between recklessness and desperation.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.