Friday, August 14, 2009

A Strange Coincidence

So I'm sitting in dispatch settling in for another 12-hour night with Paula when she gets a call from a hotel receptionist on the island. She has some tourists with a problem, they don't speak English and she thinks they may be Germans. We put in a call for police assistance at the hotel and wait for officers to clear briefing so we can dispatch them to find out what's happening.
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As I sit there I start to wonder about this call, after all whoever heard of a German tourist who couldn't speak at least some English? So, with time on my hands I called the hotel back and asked to speak to the tourists. I was wondering if maybe they have an urgent problem that can't wait for briefing to clear...Perhaps they are Slavs, but lots of hotel employees in Key West are Russians or Ukrainians or Lithuanians so it would seem likely someone on scene could speak to these mysterious callers.
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"No English" The voice says immediately.

"What language do you speak?" I asked. "Huh?" she says back.

"Language?" I said, waiting for the penny to drop. "Idioma?"

She paused and said uncertainly, "...Spagnolo?" which is the Italian word for Spanish. Then the penny quickly dropped for me. Her uncertainty turned to stunned amazement and she passed the phone to another Italian woman who got over her amazement in short order and started firing off questions to me. By the time I got her reined in I had the story pretty much figured out. They had missed their tour bus, all their belongings had gone to Miami where they were staying and they were stranded and destitute in Key West. The story ends well, as evidence here by a shared lunch at Shrimp Shack the next day but it was an arduous road. Francesca is sucking on an ice cold glass of water, Lucia is hunting grouper on her plate.
They were a mess the prior evening. I called on Officer Young for help. I explained the situation and I told him the truth, this call needed someone armed with patience and persistence and he was the best officer for the job. I could interpret for him over the phone. He put down his paperwork and got ready to get on the road. His preparations consisted of rounding up Officer Wood, trained in dispatch, to take over my radio duties and stuff me in his police car for a ride to the Days Inn. "It's good to get out of the office occasionally," he said tersely. Good for him maybe but I'm a dispatcher, I like my office. The third member of the bedraggled trio lives in Milan. Rita works for the fashion house of Dolce and Gabbana. She looks rather severe in this picture:
Boy, these women were in a pickle, standing in the parking lot of the hotel with nothing but the clothes they stood up in, which included swimsuits in the place of underwear as they had been out snorkeling for the day. They misunderstood their rendezvous time, and the bus, with their cards ID and money were all on the road to Miami. They didn't know the name of the tour company or the phone number or anything useful at all. Except that it was on Collins Avenue in South Beach. Officer Young got to work figuring out who was what and where.While Officer Young was trying to put the pieces together with help from a colleague Up North a Key West man approached and said:
"I couldn't help but overhear that you are looking for a driver called Peter. My boat works sometimes with a guy called Peter. Do you need his number?" That was the breakthrough and somehow we got Peter to call another hotel where he read off one of their credit card numbers and the Radisson kindly put them up for the night and got them dinner at the restaurant. After better than two hours struggling with this intractable issue I got back to my desk and my headset. "Well" I told Paula, "that was exhausting. Who wants to be a cop?"
Officer Keohane likes being a cop and she volunteered to pose with the tourists on their visit to the Police Station next day. I dutifully lined them up and clicked once each with their three camera. Rita from Milan on the left, then Francesca and Lucia who live in Rome.
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They called and offered me lunch next day so I drove in early, picked them up and gave them a quick tour of Key West which they had never seen in all the hassle of the snorkeling and losing their ride. The reef? Well, it wasn't worth all that trouble for sure. these women are travelers and our modest little reef doesn't measure up to those they've seen in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean (a favorite Italian destination for vacations) or the reefs of Mexico. But I could have told them that.They talked to me about life in modern Italy, increasing violence they said, few options and they'd rather be living in America. Which surprised me as Italians tend to be stay-at-home kinds of people. Francesca, the youngest of the three at 37, wanted her picture taken next to the police motorcycles. She rides to work every day of the year, 20 miles each way on her scooter. I promised her a ride on the Bonneville when she comes back but I think she's a Harley kind of girl...
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None of them is married, none of them particularly wants to be. They like their independence and they enjoy their jobs working in the fashion trade. Times are a little tougher they said but no major changes have happened in their lives. They shrugged. "The government will take care of us," they said, uttering the sort of blasphemy that sends shivers down American spines. But there again the Italian unemployed don't end up living in tents without medical care...You pays your money... as the saying goes.Francesca lives at home with her parents and her German Shepherd. Not an ideal situation she said but she's at work most of the day. The other two are closer to 50 and they live in their own apartments. They were horrified to learn I get a whole three weeks vacation a year. "That's all?" They looked at me as though I were admitting to some horrid character defect. We stopped at Harpoon Harry's for cold drinks as we waited for the tour bus to show up across the street, back in Key West with another load of visitors and ready this time to take these theree back to their hotel in Miami Beach. Eventually the bus showed up and they didn't walk, they ran across Caroline Street. I opened a small window on Key West for them and though they hadn't much liked getting stranded they discovered that there is a good side to having a real adventure.
It was time to say good bye and they were profuse in their thanks for what, it had seemed to me, was just what one does. I've traveled enough and got into jams often enough to know what it's like. I lost my wallet just last June when I was in Italy and I depended on Giovanni to get me out of that pickle.
"If you hadn't been on duty," they speculated as I explained to them that there had been an excellent chance I wouldn't have been working had they pulled the same stunt last week, my short work week. The chance encounter of getting lost on the evening the only Italian speaking member of the Key West Police department happened to be working set their rational minds into gear. "It could have been really hard," they said. Reason enough I guess for one of them to learn some English before their next visit! What do I know, it's not often I've found myself in a country where none of my languages are any good at all.I should get out of the office more often.