Russian roulette in a car
Death by train, plane, or insane driving. I thought these were the most likely ways I may die in Russia. The airplane turbulence really shook me up, the train jolting suddenly from side to side or jerking you from sleep as you slam into the wall, which I thought must have been the result of the untimely death of a stray animal, or the passing on blind corners, high above the cliff in the rear seat of a Mercedes, barreling down the road on the way to the airport, passing garbage trucks in small villages through school zones, while barely missing pedestrians was definitely going to be the end of me and my travels and then I was introduced to Sasha. The man who would drive me, not much longer than 30 minutes I was assured, from the train station to the next camp. I steeled myself for the journey thinking I would need some inner strength to be able to cope with another crazy life-threatening car ride. My first inkling of this man’s capabilities should have been evident in his inability to open the trunk. The Volvo was borrowed, as was the Mercedes in the previous trip for my benefit. They really wanted to impress me and at the same time make sure I had a comfortable journey (I guess it didn’t matter if it was harrowing). It was one of those situations where you wanted to rip the keys out of the small, timid, man’s hand and push the button clearly marked as the trunk opening apparatus on the key fob. It was almost too much for me to control my impulses. Instead he wandered around the car looking in the back seat (WTF) for some magic button. Eventually he piled our luggage in the back seat with my colleague. As we began to back out of a regular parking spot, at the literal speed of a snail with the hazard lights on, he slammed on the brakes intermittently, maybe just to make sure I was awake since it was 12:30 am. 5 minutes later when he could clearly see around the car next to us, he pulled on the emergency brake suddenly giving me whiplash and checked his fanny pack that he had stuffed in the center console/armrest, but since it was too large to fit in this space, the lid stuck up between the seats at an angle. He threw up the lid, patted his fanny pack and squished it back down, breaking whatever valuable inside he was so concerned about. After the car coming down our aisle swerved madly, honking, and giving profane hand gestures, my mousy comrade, continued backing up and crawled out of the parking lot. I thought oh good, maybe this will be my first safe car ride in Russia. I had no idea that slow drivers could be just as maniacle. He turned onto the road going 5kph. After about ½ a mile he sped up to 20. The sign on the side of the road said 60. He drove down the middle of the two laned road with the dash lines marking the lanes going right down the center of the car. I was glad it was late because the few drivers that remained on the road, careened around us, honking and throwing gestures. I thought for sure he was lost. He would lean over the steering wheel when signs appeared and squint, cross 6 lanes of traffic, take an exit, flip a bitch in 80kph oncoming traffic and putt putt down the road, straddling the dotted line between the fast lane and the center lane. It was infuriating. I would look at him with terrified confusion on my face trying to convey emotion or understanding across the language barrier and he continued driving like a blind 2 year old. He never glanced in my direction. I wanted to drive for him. I almost asked to be let out. It wouldn’t have helped. He didn’t speak English. He was going soooo, painfully, slow, I could have jumped, but didn’t know what I would do then. We continued our journey, pulling in front of speeding semis, dump trucks, cars, and whatever other obstacles he could find. He turned left, right, left, left, right, right, right, left u-turn, lean over wheel and squint. I had to keep talking myself out of grabbing the steering wheel, opening the door, and pushing him out. Driving down the center of two full lanes was the most nerve wracking. Every time he turned on a new street the center dotted line went right down the center of the car. I smelled for alcohol several times, but didn’t even catch a whiff. Was he on some other drug? After over an hour, we finally came to a road where he stopped driving 40 on a highway marked 80 and slowed down to 15 to 20 for a km at least. Painfully, painfully slow. He turned on his blinker a full 7 minutes before we actually turned. And when he finally did turn the expectation for our arrival was about to burst from my eyeballs. As we turned, a camoflauged individual began unlocking a padlock and unwrapping a chain from an iron gate. I then had a moment of panic thinking this crazy slow man was driving me to some government operated torture facility. We were in the middle of nowhere. I hadn’t seen a house or lights for a good 45 minutes. I became a bit hysterical, but stayed in control of my outward appearance. As we drove through the gates, I caught a glimpse of the sign that marked the company I worked for and felt relief wash over me. I leaped from the car before it had stopped and thanking the driver in Russian tried to make my escape to a private place where I could scream, puke, or cry. I wasn’t sure yet which physical reaction would manifest itself, but instead of finding a quiet refuge, I was ushered into the dining hall for a late dinner/snack and had to force the crazy back into its cage.