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The Road to Bormio
By Craig Altschul 

Travel is a funny thing. The memories we pack away to pull out at special times are never about the usual touristy things. Look, a museum is a museum. The Mona Lisa is a painting. The Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. The memories we cherish are about the funny little things that happen along the way to wherever.

My friend Don Metivier died recently. Don was a great editor and writer and plied his trade for the Glens Falls Post Star, his hometown newspaper, for many years. If there was a Mr. Glens Falls, it was Don. But I knew him in the ski world.

Don called me one day after he had taken over as editor of Ski Racing newspaper. I was a freelance writer penning whatever I could get paid to pen. "Have you ever covered a ski race," he asked. "Nope," I said. "Well, have you ever covered a fire?" "Of course," I told him, reminding him of my impeccable newspaper credentials.

"OK, I'm sending you to Vail, Colo., and Waterville Valley, N.H., to cover World Cup ski races." I went. Never figured out his fire analogy, but I had fun.

The next winter, Don called again. "Pack your bag and your skis," he said. "You're going with me to Bormio, Italy, to help me cover the World Alpine Ski Championships." Thinking back, this was 22 years ago in 1985.

Don made the arrangements. We flew the redeye from NY to Milan. "What kind of car did you rent?" I asked. "A Panda," was his straight-faced reply. "What the hell's a Panda?" I asked. "Don't know."

We soon found out. A Panda is a Fiat, the smallest one they make. Neither Don nor I would fit in a Panda by ourselves, let alone jowl to jowl for a ride to a ski resort somewhere on top of Italy. We finally jammed ourselves, bags, camera, what passed for laptops in that prehistoric time, and ski gear into the silly little car and took off.

Don was driving. "Do you know where Bormio is?" I asked. "No, but it's north." We headed north. I was sure the little tin can had so much weight in it that we were dragging tail pipes across the boot, or wherever we were.

It soon became clear that no signs said Bormio or anything else we had heard of so Don pulled into a gas station. "I'm not proud," he said. "You go in and ask someone how to find Bormio. I'm the editor. You are supposed to gather facts."

I somehow extricated myself from the car and went inside. "Buon journo," I said, in the only two Italian words I knew other than pizza. "How do I get to Bormio?"

The quite greasy mechanic looked at me and considered killing me, I think. He pointed to the Panda. "Panda take you," he said, in lousy English. "No, that's my friend Don. Just point me to Bormio."

He glared. Then, he crossed his arms, one hand pointing north, the other south.

I thanked him, grabbed a map off the counter and shoehorned my way into the Panda again. We didn't need seat belts. We were so tightly packed, nothing would have budged us.

"Well?" Don said. I crossed my arms and pointed one hand north and the other south. I told him my best guess was the one pointing north went to Bormio, but the one pointing south was for Borneo. Don grabbed the map and went north.

Somewhere around what Don said was Lake Como (it was winter, so we didn't stop for a swim), I spotted a restaurant with a light on. The proprietor was ecstatic to see a customer.

"No menu," he said. "I bring good food." He did. I asked Don, who was an expert on all things gastronomical, why the pasta sauce was white, not red. He looked like I was embarrassing him and told me it was because we were in Northern Italy. He had no explanation as to why they only grew white tomatoes in Northern Italy.

Hours later, early in the evening, we saw the Bormio sign. Don was happy now. Me, too. There was hope of getting out of the Panda. "I'll bet that's the main street," he said, pointing to a well lit street where music was filling the air. That's where he drove.

There was a crowd. A big, festive one everywhere we turned. The street was blocked off by a police barricade, so Don, ever clever, drove around the block, entered the street and the throngs of worldly guests.

"I'll bet that's our hotel," he said, "pointing to a big hotel looming up way ahead.

He headed right down the middle of street, parting the crowds as he went.

"Uh, Don," I said. "Are you aware we are the only car on the street?" He wasn't, but said Euros like to walk a lot.

"Well, Don," I finally told him, "We're no longer the only car on the street." A police car, red lights flashing was right behind us, motioning us to stop.

Don stopped and three gendarmes rushed the car.

"Is something wrong gentlemen?" Don asked. Their English was pretty good.

"Yes sir, something is very wrong," the biggest Italian cop said. Another one kept tabs on me as I forced myself not to laugh.

"You see, sir," he said. "You are driving through the World Championship Opening Night Street Party. Do you not know what a police barricade is?"

Don looked over at me and I gave him one of those crossed arm directional signals I learned in Milan. The big cop asked where we were staying. Don was right about that. We were almost there.

We got a police escort the rest of the way. Don was impressed. "That was a pretty nice welcome we got, huh?" We parked the car, checked in went out for a pizza. But, this time, we walked.

Don's gone now. Do you suppose they shipped those Pandas to Heaven?

More from Craig Altschul



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