Monday, October 17, 2011

Moscow Traffic

A friend posted this amazing photo of Konstantin Lakomov's on Facebook.
Ah yes, I remember it well. An American's first driving lesson in Moscow. My Ukrainian friends, writer-translator Oleg Atbashian and his cousin from Odessa were still drunk the next morning, and we had to be somewhere important at 9 AM.

They were madly popping little silver ball ginsing candies that were supposed to sober you up. Well, they didn't work. A stacatto of sugary little pellets like b-bs or cake decorations rolled across the backseat.

Since I was the only sober one in the crowd, The Cousins Karma-zov handed me the car keys to a seriously beat up rustbucket of a Chevy Nova with no shocks, bumper tied on with bailing wire. Rusted holes in the floor let wind, salt and slush in.

I was just wrapping my mind around a Nova in Moscow when...

Imagine the big Red Square circle, during rush hour: aiiii!!!!

The photo above lies— It shows lines on the road—it shows cars staying in orderly lines. It shows them patiently waiting for the babushka to cross the road.

Not when I was driving—the big roundabout was like driving like the freakin' Indianapolis 500 with bumpercars while avoiding road hazards—potholes the size of toilet bowls. 

No lines on the road—it was a free for all. I was weaving the traffic thread stomping the clutch, and grinding the gears, sliding my rear end with the best of them—just to survive.

Of course, I didn't know the driving rules—or what any of the road signs meant. I watched St Basil's onion domes and the Hippodrome whizz by me three times before I could spin out of the roundabout like so much splattered paint.

Plus, I had two howling Russian backseat drivers—Yevteshenko's favorite American idiom—backseat drivers shouting directions at me in Russian and in Ukrainian. A lotta good that did. My Russian vocabulary included nostrovia and chut-chut!

It was like a scene out of Monty Python' Ministry of Silly Walks on laughing gas. I was so shaken after driving the roundabout, I had to pull over and recover. Have a drink.

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