Italy – The MINI Cooper was no more than six inches from our rear fender.
Twisting to the left on the back of our Harley-Davidson Street Glide, I fought the restriction of my heavy leather jacket to turn backward and raise my camera with a right hand over my left shoulder. Focusing on the driver of the Mini, I could see he was a forty-something Italian man with the middle finger of his right hand raised in response to my camera. In the passenger seat of his car, another man sans a seatbelt held a sleeping child in his lap.
I snapped the shot. Just to record a moment many people told me would never, ever happen in Italy. An Italian national was making an obscene gesture typically seen in the United States. So much for cultural differences.
We were sitting in an intersection with one lane on either side of our motorcycle – each lane crowded with two cars abreast. The angry driver behind us was apparently incensed we were staying within the lane lines of our middle lane. Experienced riders, we had traveled across the United States – San Diego to Washington D.C. and back – twice. We were not strangers to traffic congestion in the major cities and where it was legal, we frequently split lanes in heavy, stopped traffic.
But this was different. Horns blazing, lights flashing, voices raised yelling above the clamor; this was chaos. Everything we had heard about driving in Naples, Italy was true. It was survival of the quickest. Quickest to turn to avoid being hit from the side, most expeditious to lunge across an intersection to avoid being hit from the rear, fastest to brake when three cars at a time ran a stop sign ahead.
At the end of our first motorcycle ride in Naples, we felt the same kind of exhausted exhilaration we felt after riding across Texas for two days in 110-degree temperatures. Lucky to have survived it with no permanent scars. The next trip, our new friends in Italy, promised us, would be everything we had imagined riding in Italy would be like for two excited Americans wanting to see this beautiful country.
Their promise was kept. Our next two-wheeled journey was more than we expected – and more than they could have planned. A surprise invitation made it one of those memorable days you never forget.