95% of the time, I personally know my bus drivers and they and I have worked together for many years. On this tour, when the flight itineraries changed, I had to change my bus and driver plans as well. I contacted my tour agency friend in Rome and requested bus and driver service for the tour’s duration to Barcelona. Usually, this would be no problem, as my relationship with this agency has always been a superior experience. However, somehow I was assigned the worst bus driver ever.
Michele, a native Roman, possessed very little people skills and was immediately rude and gruff to the folks on my tour. He refused to unlock the toilet, help with loading baggage, and help with anything beyond driving. In Italy, he was adequate and knew the routings into Rome, Florence and Volterra. However, once in France, he was lost. Ultimately, I had to resort to using my iPhone GPS to route him to our hotel in Nice and Carcassonne. Michele drove unbearably slow at 75 Km per hour, even on the super highways. He used his mobile phone to text, talk, and even tried to show me photos, while driving. The last straw, for me, came in Aix-en-Provence, when Michele kept the group waiting at the pickup point for over an hour. I had to call his boss in Rome to get him to leave the comfort of the bus parking he found, and come collect us!
That same day, we drove onward to Arles, a mere one hour drive for most coaches, while it took Michele almost two, because of slow driving and getting lost. Arriving in the city center, we only had time for a one hour tour of the town. I made certain to make a firm rendezvous time and location with Michele, as he insisted we should return within one hour. So, all the group assembles at the appointed time, only to have to wait on Michele to arrive twenty minutes late for our pickup. He told me later he had gone to the hotel to check to his room.
Here are couple of things to keep in mind: Michele spoke only Italian, I speak enough Italian to communicate my intent and to lead/guide him into our destinations. At the outset, the only thing he was interested in was that I provide him with 200 euro for his meals on the tour. I laughed at that, because I usually give my drivers a salary (in the form of cash payment) well over the “expected” group tip.
The next morning, I put in a call to my friend and Michele’s boss. After that, there was an immediate change in Michele’s attitude. He helped load the luggage, did not use his mobile phone, and was more friendly with the group members. Luckily, I had a friend on the tour who could mediate and help translate our conversations, and this seemed to help as well.
In the end, Michele worked out, but not before a valuable lesson on my part. Stick with drivers I know (like Peter, Alain, and Brendon), all others, give ‘em a test drive before turning them loose on my travel partners.
PHOTO: Piazza de Popolo- Rome