A week or so before we left for Sicily, a couple friends of mine took me karting as a kind of going-away activity. They had gas-powered karts, so not a whole lot of power, and the track was indoors, so the course was very close in and had plenty of tight corners. There were lots of other drivers, so it was very difficult to get around without running into anybody. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that outing was the perfect preparation for this:
The Fiat 500. (Cinquecento en Italiano)
I’ve covered driving in Sicily pretty extensively in the past, but those observations were all experienced in real cars, with real mass, and real engines. Until this week, I had never experienced driving in a crowded Sicilian city in a 5-speed go-kart before. Wow, what a difference! No longer do I have to drive with my right foot switching indecisively between the gas and the brake. No longer do I have to drive far behind so I have enough time to avoid obstacles in, on, or around the road. No longer must I be concerned about whether or not I will be able to fit down that alley, or make it around that tight corner. No, for now, I am on OFFENSE!!!
In San Diego, I see these dumb little Fiats all the time. And in America, this car is truly dumb. It’s slow, it’s twitchy, the cup holders are wayyyy too small, and there is so little trunk space that the back of the car has collapsed in on itself. It’s like driving a Jelly Belly.
However, in Europe, and especially in Catania, this car is in its element. A quick flick of the wheel and you don’t hit that scooter. There’s no structure around you to obscure your vision, so it’s no problem to cut in front of that other car. Four corners of the car? Four wheels in the corners. The car doesn’t extend beyond that, so wherever your wheels fit, your car fits. Get to the end of a narrow alley and you realize it’s a dead end? That’s okay, just back up that half kilometer (at speed, no less); the car looks the same coming as going and nobody will be able to tell the difference. The Italian equivalent to a ninja must be a cinquecento, because one of these might just drop out of the ceiling when you’re not looking.
The quick steering is very helpful in the city, where potholes are wide enough and large enough that I worry one of those hamster things from Super Mario Kart might jump out and grab onto the front of my car, slowing me down. If I owned one, I would paint it like a green shell and drive it like I was bouncing, wall-to-wall, all the way to my destination.
Even its slowness is an advantage. No, the engine is not very powerful, but that’s the beauty of it, right? Every shift is a victory… Yes!!! I’ve made it to second gear! It’s going to take more than that to get me to give up this speed, for I will not admit defeat!
Seriously, this is the kind of activity that requires a helmet cam. And for passengers, maybe a helmet.