Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A dive into a bus.

Someone asked me recently, why, if I was so depressed there, would I want to go back to Russia.

I think he was referring to my stating that I would have never made it through that time without my mp3 player. We had been watching Long Way Round, and I had commented that I don't know how they could have survived such an undertaking without music.

I explained to him, it wasn't a matter of depression. It was a matter of surviving in a new culture I was having difficulty coping with. A culture of seemingly complete disregard for your neighbor. (I say "seemingly", because I don't feel I spent enough time there to make a blanket statement.) By biggest tribulation, through my entire time in Russia, was transportation.

Transportation itself fascinates me. I love to take local transportation everywhere I go, every form of it. I like cars, buses, trains, boats...camels, get the idea. I like learning the proper etiquette for hailing a taxi or a bus. Or for haggling for a ride on a back of a moped or a hitch-hike in foreign SUV.

I detest transportation in Russia. First of all, in a new land, you rely on the kindness of strangers to get yourself on the right bus. Don't expect to find any of that in this land. I can remember every single incident of a transportation worker being nice to me in the six months I was there. Even if I forgot a few, I would still have about 5 experiences of niceness. I think I've mentioned that some of us joked about making awards to give out to people being nice. It wouldn't have cost much.

So you have the issue of zero information, and zero help finding this information. Let's say though, you know the bus you want to get on and where to find this bus. You know what, let me just describe my daily routine:

In the dark, inevitably in the wet, I trudged to the bus stop. There is a crowd of people, but not too overwhelming. Until the bus comes. And then it seems that people come out of nowhere, climbing out of the sewer, materializing out of some sort of Soviet portal whose technology died with Stalin. It's unbelievable. And you'd be surprised, how many little old ladies are desperate to get somewhere at 7am. I tried to be civilized. I tried to wait in line. Who wants to start the morning off punching an old lady? Let me tell you what being civilized got me - waiting and missing the next 3 buses. In the event that I got on one of the smaller buses, after pushing my way onto one, I then had to hunch over at the waist, as it was really just a mini-van, and stand like that for the next 40 minutes. Or perhaps punch someone else for a seat. From this hunched position, I now became part of the money passing. Bus fares are passed up from the back and tickets and change returned (unless you are in Ukraine, where you pay when you get off the bus, hey Russia, how bout that?). While unconcerned for the welfare of their neighbor, excuse me, seemingly unconcerned, they seem terribly concerned for people trying to cheat the system. No one doesn't pay. I watched. I got by with it on the big buses, but not on a mini-bus. In the midst of this crush of wet, irritable people, you have to yell up to the driver where you want to get off. I of course prayed someone else would need the same stop and do it first. Otherwise, I risk sounding like an idiot and yelling something like, "Fish Fry on a See-Saw Please!"

So I needed my mp3 player, and I dare say, don't forget yours if you choose to venture to the Great White Planet.

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