I had noticed that the helicopter marked Polizia was flying low, and that I was zooming pretty fast. I’d also noticed that traffic was honking at me, in ways they usually don’t. Then there was a police car behind me. And another. Then one in front of me. There were sirens and before I knew it, I was on the side of the road, handing over my documents, my eyes still stinging from the wind, my heart pounding from all the police attention, and the fact that one cop actually unfastened the thin white leather strap on his pistol as he walked toward me.
Would you like to make a declaration, asked the police officer. You know, as Italian law dictates that everyone that is arrested can make a statement.
Arrested? I was lost, but clearly not doing anything intentionally wrong, right?
He flipped through my passport yet again as they all scanned my bicycle and my packs sitting on the gravel like a lumpy archipelago along side the road, the traffic flying by so fast that each passing car caused us each to shake and wobble at exactly the same intervals, sort of like watching the pieces move if you wiggled the base of a board game.
And although it took over two hours, here is the condensed version of conversation, all yelled over the roar of traffic:
Cop one: You can’t be on this road on a bicycle, you’ll get killed.
Me: Yeah, I see that now. I was trying to get on the auto-strada 113
Cop one: Yeah, you should have taken that one.
Me: I tried to but they are not marked. The maps aren’t clear. And there are no signs.
Cop one: Yeah, you should have read the signs. Why are you travelling by bike so far?
Me: There aren’t any signs. Last year I rode even further. Trieste to Lecce.
Cop one: Really? Well, either way. You shouldn’t be on this road with a bike. You could get killed.
Me: I see that now. I thought I was on the 113. I’m travelling the entire South of Italy to get a better understanding of the wines here in the south. And there aren’t any signs on many of the roads.
Cop one: Yeah, how come you didn’t take the 113? You could have gotten killed on this one. So are you staying in hotels or in a sleeping bag?
Me: Hotels. Eating in a lot of nice restaurants too.
Cop One: Really? My brother owns a restaurant near here. In the future, you should read the signs. You could get killed on a road like this one.
The simple fact that I was spotted by the police helicopter, dictated that I had to be given a ticket. I was fined, held for a few hours on the side of the road, chatted with the entire time, joked with and then given a police escort not only off the road, but actually up to, taken inside, and presented to the proprietor of the best local restaurant, Da Pino in the small town of Capaci. We all shook hands and then each officer took turns playfully hitting the top of my helmet, taking my business cards and planning tentative trips to Lecce to visit the wine school. They recapped, yet again, saying that I shouldn’t have been on the road, that it was dangerous to be such a road, that I could have been killed, then we all shook hands again and each car churned gravel onto the open road.
And just in case you’re wondering, I had the fish.