OVER THE HUMP
Others read fiction books, we read the Italian newspaper. It offers inspiration and suspense. I read today about a bus driver from the metropolitan transport company who sometimes stayed home sick (with the blessing of the doctor) and then went working as a singer. The employer started a lawsuit against him for unlawful default.
We are now five years further and the last has not yet been said. But that should not surprise anyone in a country where an average process takes seven years. I also read that the singing driver does not just act between the sliding doors but has a thriving business. He is asked to perform in clubs in and around Rome. He has also made it to national television.
The man owes his fame to the fact that he resembles Franco Califano, world famous in Rome (expired playboy with glasses and photochromic glasses). He also has his bronzy voice. The singing driver dominates the empire, since the “original” died a few years ago. Whether that offers sufficient guarantees for the future remains to be seen. On Califano’s gravestone you can read: “Non escludo il ritorno” (“I don’t exclude my return”), after one of his famous songs.
Despite his success behind the microphone, he does not want to give up his job behind the wheel. Fixed contracts are scarce, you know. You would have to give up your pension and ibenefits! What about the free annual public transport subscription! The Italian Matt Monro (“the singing bus driver from London”) has therefore brought in a strong lawyer.
The lawyer argued time and time again in the courtroom: of course, our client called himself sick and started singing, but that was to get better. Johnnie Cochran could not have made a more brilliant plea: singing as therapy! Come on. In Italy there is a great respect for alternative medicine. Of course, the court did not get a pin in between. Investigating judge one immediately agreed. For investigating judge two, who had to intervene at the insistence of the Supreme Court, it was also a foregone conclusion: acquittal.
The stubborn prosecutor has no peace with it. The doctor’s note actually stated that the driver was suffering from “colica addominale” and “ipertensione nervosa”. If you read that out loud, it sounds like you are on your last hour, even if it means no more than having stomach ache and increased blood pressure. In any case, the prosecutor does have a point: how did those complaints reconcile with the stress that the driver, sorry: singer, would incur during a performance? Well, the next judge will rule on that. To be continued.
In the meantime, the driver continues singing and talking snow days. The driver sticks with his motto. “At the wheel I am an increased risk for others, when I sing I only harm myself.” There is something true in it. The drivers in Rome have no image to write home about. How often is the driver not calling with his cell phone, while overtaking three rows of cars in Piazza Venezia. Every year a few people die, either in blind spots or frontally.
Many drivers are also on the blunt side and cannot stand criticism. The other day – I also read in an Italian newspaper – a driver suddenly stopped his bus to get a pizza. He left the passengers bewildered. A bus driver who was accused by a passenger of being half an hour behind schedule turned off his engine in protest. Obstinately, the driver left his bus at the stop for an extra 15 minutes.
That is the last thing we need. The total fleet of the local bus company consists of 2,300 buses, six hundred of which are permanently in the garage. Due to breakdown. And that is also good somewhere. After all, out of a total of 6,500 employed drivers, almost a thousand call in sick every day.
Our “fake” Califano is therefore not the only one. They would do well to cherish him. Fifty years ago, Matt Monro enchanted hundreds of thousands of boys (and possibly a single girl) with his songs from behind the wheel. Make a few short films with the singing driver in his cabin, I would say, and the transport company is completely over the hump. That is quite necessary. The company now has 1.35 billion euros in debt and a bad image.