"Do you know where I can buy some pot?" Was the first thing I heard stepping off my train in Naples' Central Station. The disheveled traveler from whom the query originated was smart enough not to ask me, skipping right to the local standing next to me. The local shrugged, probably because he didn't speak any English and we three strangers parted ways. I shook my head in astonishment as I proceeded along the long causeway that separates the train terminals from the main building. Arriving in Naples from a city like Milan or Rome will provide an immediate shock to most people. The transportation hubs in the richer, northern cities are beautifully designed, well-ordered and clean. In Naples, they have a guy whose only job is to wander around and scare off the stray dogs that meander around inside and tend to congregate on or around the train tracks. Graffiti and filth permeate almost every square inch of space that could possibly be soiled. The ceilings were nice. The aggressiveness of the local populace also wastes no time in making itself known. Men in awesomely bad suits approach and engage every lone traveler that crosses their path, insisting that their hotel is the only one in the city with beds. And just behind them are the beggars; and even they are different than the beggars in Rome. There are two types: 1) Men will simply kneel, as if on a church pew, fold their hands in front of their noses and stare down at the upturned hat in front of them. 2) The women, "f***ing gypsies" one businessman pointed out with a great degree of scorn, usually sit in the darkest corner they can, hold small, emaciated children on their laps and openly beg for money in purposefully shrill voices. It had rained a few hours previous to my arrival, rendering the city's subway flooded and useless, so I ended up wandering outside the station, looking for a cab. Quickly, a cab found me. "Hey friend. English?" "Yeah. How much to Mergellina Station?" "50 Euro." That, straight up, is extortion. "Forget it. My map says it's only 5km from here. I'll take the bus." Hard lines usually work brilliantly in fare negotiations. "Bus drivers are on strike," the driver grinned at me happily. Economics bites me in the ass, yet again. I was walking. I was pissed about having to walk. Fortunately, the distance from Piazza Garibaldi, just outside Naples' Central Station, to the suburb of Mergellina where my hostel was provided me with my first good look at the downtown area and the delightful amount of chaos that envelopes it. After no more than 4 blocks, the sound of car horns lost all meaning to me. In Naples, random people laying on the horn can mean anything from, "Get out of my way" to "Hello" to "I've got a bunch of tomatoes in the back of my truck - would you like to buy some?". And there are also absolutely no traffic laws. Lights changing color are no more than obsequious suggestions. Lane demarcations, when there were any, served no other purpose other than as decoration. Scooters and motorcycles routinely pulled up onto the sidewalk and brushed past pedestrians in order to circumnavigate congestion. The correct etiquette for crossing the street is to simply step out into the traffic and walk, staring straight forward, showing no fear - much like you would to avoid being mauled by a bear. If done correctly the cars, carts, bikes and scooters will politely swerve around you or scream to a halt a few inches away. The difference between where I had been and where I had suddenly found myself was almost staggering. It felt like I was, yet again, in an entirely different country. The people looked different (skin tones get darker, and features decidedly more Mediterranean the further you go south), apparently everyone was insane and nothing was clean. Will Farrell's character in Zoolander kept coming to mind - "I FEEL LIKE I'M TAKING CRAZY PILLS." I reached my hostel at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon, walked in, and busied myself peeling off the many layers of packs and containers that I had strapped to my body. I'd already gotten used to the Italian concept of customer care while I was in Rome. Namely, they don't. So I figured I'd make myself comfortable for the invariably long wait. It was while waiting in line that I befriended (in a backpacker, "I'm bored, wanna grab a beer?" kind of way) a Sicilian named Anthony. Seriously his name was Anthony. But he laughed at my Sopranos joke, so I knew immediately that he was solid. He reminded me that Italy was playing Germany in a World Cup semi-final game that night. Plans were set as we shuffled our way closer to the check-in counter. He added with a wide grin just before finally stepping up to check into his room, "there's no better place in Italy to watch football than Naples." We, and two German guys we met up with, went out to dinner before the game. 3 hours before kick-off (or whatever they do in soccer) and the smoggy brown and black of the Neapolitan streets was already being replaced by green, white and red. Drivers began to step up their honking. Mock mausoleums and coffins were erected on street corners draped with German flags and pictures of the German captain. The children who roamed the street during the day, playing accordion for people trying to enjoy a meal outside, had taken out soccer balls and were busily dribbling through traffic, randomly firing them at targets of opportunity. Eating in Naples is a singularly beautiful experience -- probably the closest I've come to a spiritual awakening since Fox announced they were bringing back Family Guy. Anthony explained the root of my satisfaction as I was busily stuffing myriad forms of carbohydrate into my mouth, nodding and smiling as he spoke: "That big mountain over there?" he pointed in the distance, across the harbor, to the imposing visage of Mt. Vesuvius' black silhouette. "It blows up every couple hundred years and burns down the cities around it. There are earthquakes too. Thunderstorms. Most of Italy's fascists, Nazis [I cocked an eyebrow at this, but he didn't seem to notice] and terrorists live here in Naples." "It sounds lame," he continued, "but people who live here have adjusted to a much more immanent sense of mortality than most people are used to. It doesn't seem like something that a million people could just decide on, but if you stay long enough - just look at their driving, how they deal with one another, how they cook..." He raised a twirled fork full of pasta. He continued: "Neapolitans are fat, loud, crazy, and the nicest people you'll ever meet." "The ones I've talked to haven't seemed that nice," I managed to get out between mouthfuls. "They kind of suck at it sometimes, but they really are." Anthony picked up a pitcher of wine and filled up his glass. We were seated on the cobblestone sidewalk outside a small, poorly lit restaurant. A family name adorned the building, followed by the date '1895'. Anthony examined his wine glass a moment, thinking. "Watch this," he said as he leaned back and surveyed the pedestrians that moved past us. After about 5 seconds, he spotted a group of 3 girls that looked to be about our age. Anthony cupped his hands around his mouth, almost tipping over backward in his chair in the process, and made an odd chirping sort of noise. The girls looked over. Anthony said something in Italian. One of the girls said something back. Anthony smiled hospitably and said something else. The girls walked over, pulled chairs from neighboring tables and sat down next to us. I froze, a fistful of pizza about 3 inches from my face, as two of the Italian girls sat down on either side of me. What the hell? Anthony looked at me and nodded - a teacher just having completed a lesson. The girls were typically aggressive, but instead of trying to solicit spare change or force me to buy tomatoes, they focused their enthusiasm on babbling away in broken English about what nice guys we seemed like and how thoroughly Italy was going to crush Germany. I may still have been frozen in my seat with my pizza fist to my mouth when one of the girls finally said in Italian that they were running late. And just as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. "Weird, huh?" Anthony said, watching the girls leave. It took me a moment to gain my composure. "That was really cool." "Everyone in Naples is like that. They're f***ing crazy, but it's great." And Anthony was absolutely correct. Every person I met that night bore the same indomitable zest for conversation and engagement that I had seen in the girls at dinner. I can honestly say that I have never encountered so much goodwill in such a large group of people in my entire life. Italy did win their semi-final game that night with 2 goals scored in the last 5 minutes of play. Italians were laughing and joking throughout the game; cursing Germans and sporadically bursting into song. But as game entered the last few minutes they focused more and more of their attention on the TV screens that adorned every wall of the bar. They exploded when the first shot on goal hit the back of the net. A girl I didn't know jumped up and grabbed me by the neck and kissed me as hard as she could, not aiming, and mostly hitting me in the eye. The clamoring roar turned into a cacophony when the second goal was scored. The 4th of July, and the Italians knew they were going to the World Cup finals. I was an American standing in the cheering crowd that had spilled out into the streets. A few minutes after the final whistle, lights started to fill the sky. 6,000 miles from home and I still got my fireworks.