The train from Rome to Naples arrived at Rome’s Termini Station at 6:45 in the evening. My parents and I got to the station at five. We got our tickets easily, but we weren’t sure where to go from there. Termini has about thirty platforms, or binarios, at which the trains arrive. Each binario is a hundred meters long and runs parallel to a train track. Just like at an airport, there are big electronic boards labeled “Departures” that display train times, destinations, and platforms numbers. It seems simple enough: You go to the Departures board, match your train number up with a binario, and go wait on the binario for your train. There was just one rule we forgot: Never trust the Board.
We went to the big Departures board at the front of the station. It said our train was due to arrive on platform 11. So we walked down platform 11, set our luggage on a bench about halfway down, and waited for our train. Nobody sat next to us. In fact, nobody sat on the platform at all. They all bunched up at the end of the platform, staring up at the Departures board. It seemed odd to me. The board said the train would arrive at platform 11. Why didn’t they just grab a seat and wait for the train to arrive? Why keep staring at the board?
At 6:40 our train hadn’t arrived, so I got up and checked the board again. It said the same thing: 18:45 to Napoli, Binario 11. I got a snack at the cafe and went back down the platform and sat next to my parents. Trains pulled in and out of the station, but no train showed up on our platform. At five ’till seven, I got nervous and walked back up to the board. Our train wasn’t listed. It was off the board. I skipped over to platform 12. The departure sign for 12 listed our train! I ran up to the conductor and in a mix of English, Spanish, and Italian, asked “Essa tren a Napoli now?” He said “Si” and something else in Italian. He tapped his watch and pointed at the train. I got the message. I sprinted back up platform 12 and down platform 11. My parents saw me running and grabbed the bags. I came to a skidding halt next to them and almost crashed into my dad. They started to say something, but I jabbed my finger at the next train over and said, “That’s our train!” While we ran back up platform 11, the station announcer said something about Eurostar Napoli, and the train’s engine revved up. We crossed over to platform 12 and bolted down the lane. The conductor was waving and yelling at us in Italian but we ran down the platform anyway. Just as I reached the second-class car, the door closed. I pounded on the green “Open” button, but the train started to pull out. I threw my bags on the ground and sat on my suitcase. My parents caught up with me. I said, “We missed our fucking train,” and for once, my mom didn’t ask me not to curse. I looked around. On the other platforms, people were boarding or disembarking. Nobody was standing in an empty platform waiting for a train. They were all at the front of the platforms and looking at the board.
The Board is evil. We depend on it to tell us where to go and when to go there. But it doesn’t list our trains until half an hour before our train arrives. And it doesn’t list our trains’ platforms until fifteen minutes prior. Even then, we don’t dare go to our platforms. Because sometimes, the Board changes platforms just a few minutes before the train arrives. If you leave the Board before your train arrives, like we did, you might miss it. You might have to buy new tickets, and you might end up back at the front of the platform, looking up at the Board. The Board giveth, and the Board taketh away.