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"Stupid people!" cried Salvadore in his deep accent that was a cross between New Yorker and Italian. The 70-year-old taxi driver with pierced ears, gold chains and dyed-black hair oddly resembled Elvis. I also had no problem visualizing him as a member of the Mafia. "Stupid people!" he cried again, swerving his Mercedes turbo taxi on the winding roads of Amalfi, Italy. "They called the police, these stupid people. They say I don't feed my dogs! Ha! So I made a steak barbecue in my backyard.
"All my stupid neighbors stuck their heads over the fence. They say to me, 'Hey Sal, watcha cookin'?
"I tell them that it's steak and they ain't invited. I says, 'Only my dogs are invited,' and I throw a steak at the ground for my dog. The stupid people who called the police yelled at me for wastin' food, but ya know what I said to them? I say, 'My dogs eat better than you, so the next time ya call the cops, remember this, ya stupid people, and remember ta mind ya own business, or I'll bust a cap in your -'"
The car swerved again on the cliff over the ocean. Salvadore's mood swung with the car. "Why do people hate me? I'm a good person. I've never killed anybody!" cried Sal, as if it was an accomplishment.
My family of five was crammed into Salvadore's four-person taxi, heading to lunch on the narrow, winding roads of the Amalfi Coast. It felt like a steamy 90 degrees so I was waiting for a break in Salvadore's stream of words to ask my mom to roll down her window. But this man never stopped talking! So far we had heard about four ex-wives (all of whom loved Salvadore, but in the end were stupid people), the life stories of all his children and children's children, the time when his taxi had been hijacked in New York, his visits to the stupid doctors, and the horse races he had won.
"I never killed no one!" exploded Salvadore again. "I shot someone," as he said this, he reached for the glove compartment, as if the gun were inside, "but I never killed anyone!" After Salvadore thoroughly explained the time he shot the unlucky man who wouldn't pay up after losing to Salvadore in a horse race, we arrived at a tiny restaurant overlooking the ocean.
"Thank you, Salvadore," my mom managed to get in when he took a breath. He wasn't listening, though.
"The people love me here!" he cried delightfully. "The best wine ever, right here. They call me the Americano. So, if you ever need me, just call for the Americano. Everyone knows me."
To my shock, the Americano followed us inside and sat down with us to eat. Well, I knew one thing he had said was correct. He'd certainly been here before. When he entered, silence filled the room. All eyes followed us as we sat at the table Salvadore claimed was reserved for him. Waitresses ducked out of his way, and he picked up where he'd left off telling his life story. Salvadore dabbed his eye as a tear rolled down his cheek. He was describing how beautiful his black horse was when he led a parade in New York City. Then he pulled out his wallet and showed us his picture with a surprisingly beautiful blond Russian girl he had been married to. She didn't know how to clean, so that was the end of that marriage.
"I don't want anything, my stomach is small," he said patting his bulging belly. He began eagerly describing how the doctors in Verona had removed half his colon earlier that year. "I can't eat, I absolutely cannot!" Then a waitress reluctantly took our order. "See!" cried the Americano triumphantly, "The people love me here!"
When Salvadore placed his order, it seemed it would take a little more than an average person's meal to fill his "small stomach." I turned out to be correct. Plates appeared and disappeared in front of him, right before my eyes! It also seemed like this man had advice for everything and anything. Turning to my sister, Mary, he began instructing her, "Eat slowly, let the food go down. If you eat fast, the food will get stuck in your throat."
Throughout the trip with Salvadore, my little sister and I tried to contain our giggles. When I glanced at Shannon, I had to cover my face in order not to let Salvadore see my fits of laughter. I pulled myself together when the wine came. I watched my dad's face as he took a sip of the wine that Salvadore claimed to be the best ever. When the wine touched my dad's lips, a surprised expression passed his face. It wasn't the happy-Christmas-morning surprised expression, either.
During lunch, we learned what Salvadore thought about women. "Women are only made to serve men, and to wash, cook and clean." With this philosophy it was easy to understand his four divorces. What was hard to understand was how he had managed to get married in the first place, let alone four times.
After lunch, Salvadore drove us to Pompeii. He insisted that we not waste money on a tour guide, but buy a book to guide us through the city. When he was out of sight, we hired a tour guide. On the way home, we heard about a German tour bus that was driving on the tiny streets of Amalfi. Salvadore had apparently witnessed the bus wedge a woman against a wall. "Squish!" yelled Salvadore with an energetic clap of his hands. "Like a pizza! The stupid Nazis didn't even care!"
By the end of the day, this one man had exhausted our family of five. We returned to our boat, and shared the stories of the
Americano with our skipper. For the next week in Amalfi, Salvadore wouldn't let anyone else drive us anywhere.
One time we made the mistake of taking another taxi, which Salvadore couldn't stand. He found us the next day, and told us about the taxi driver we had chosen. "He's a stupid person! Once he had a heart attack while driving people up a mountain!" When Salvadore said attack, he clapped his hands. "He is a mean, bad man. Families called the police on him for overcharging for a taxi ride. I swear, I'll charge you half his amount, I swear!" He forgot that promise as soon as we got in his cab.
In fact, we learned that he was a very forgetful man. When we first met him, Salvadore almost refused to allow us in his car because we were a family of five. He told us that it was against the law, and he could not do it. But when we started to walk away, he changed his mind. My little sister had to lie across our legs while we were in town so that the policemen couldn't see her. Well, instead of avoiding the police like a normal person, what did Salvadore do? He pulled right up next to a policeman, and began a heated conversation in Italian. Luckily, the police didn't notice our extra person, but it was a close call. In a week, we had learned lifetimes of stories that we will never forget. It was very interesting to hear about the colorful world this endearing character had created for himself. Sal and Amalfi will forever be linked in our memories.