My trip to Russia in 2007 was the hardest trip I’ve taken in my life. Between dealing with pickpocketers and the guillotine doors of death on the Moscow subway I also got to bribe train conductors and get harassed by police. I spent most of my time lost, waiting or confused. Most days I was able to walk 20 or 30 km but most of what I saw was more of the same crumbing infrastucture and a total lack or respect for nature. In some ways it seemed almost like there was just downright contempt for anything involving the environment. For most Russians drinking seems to be the national pastime. Everywhere you look people were drinking, on the trains, in the streets, in line at the grocery store. Since cigarettes were less than a buck a pack almost everyone everywhere seemed to smoke. You begin to realize how far the US has come with advancement in non-smoker rights. In Russia the nonsmoker has no rights and people seem to smoke most everywhere.
When I was in St Petersburg I was walking along the main street Nikinsky Prospect when someone went for my wallet in my right side. I managed to stop him but another man went into my other pocket on the left side and grabbed my camera. Before I knew what happened he had my camera and I had him in a headlock. What I didn’t realize that he was a huge guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger and he had no shirt on. To say the least it was an awkward moment for both of us. I grabbed his shirt and got my camera out of it. He kept saying ‘mine’, ‘mine’ like it was the only English he knew. I laughed a hearty laugh and said “no, no, no”. I took my camera back and considered throwing his shirt in the canal or finding a cop. Since the cops are so corrupt in Russia they would be just as likely to shake me down for money as they would be to arrest the perpetrator. I yelled at them in English and by then a crowd had gathered around. I pushed both of them a couple of times then they both disappeared and so did I. In a way I had a strange sense of satisfaction that I had managed to outsmart these crooks and gotten away scott-free. Because I’m so big and rather intimidating no one had really messed with me before so it was even refreshing to be picked on in a way.
In Moscow I was being indecisive about getting on the subway and at the last-minute I tried to leap through the doors. I didn’t make it and got crunched in the doors. I expected them to open up again so I could get through but they just closed on me, leaving my shoulder bag with all my important stuff on the outside of the train car. I pulled really hard on the bag and the strap broke and I fell onto the floor of the subway car. By then everyone was looking at me and I was starting to panic as my bag was still mostly stuck in the door. I held onto the very corner of my bag as hard as I could as the train went barreling through the tunnel. It was flapping back and forth and threatening to spill all my worldly possessions all over the tunnel. As a train passed in the opposite direction the bad really flapped like crazy and I was sure it would fly out. The door held that bag tight and I was thankful that it wasn’t my arm or leg stuck in the door. Something of a safety problem to have the train barreling along with stuff stuck in the door.
One of the many nights I slept overnight on the train between cities I had a particularly intense dream where I was sitting and talking to Jocelyn like nothing had ever happened. When I awoke in a train full of strangers on the other side of the planet from my home I felt so intensely isolated and alone it was overwhelming. I laid there facing the wall and cried for what seemed like a good long time. In so many ways it felt like my constant traveling was more of a penance for past sins than a vacation. More often than not I feel like I need to go home and work to recover from my vacations.
The best part of traveling was coming home. It felt so good to see Marlo and Orion and their family and my parents and my family. In so many ways people tend to take each other for granted and when you leave it all behind to embark on some crazy trip on the other side of the world you really realize what is most important in your life. In the future I’ll be taking less trips by myself and more trips in the United States with Orion and my friends. Although this country has a hard time from time to time it really is a great place to live and whenever things get out of balance, somehow it always seems to correct itself in the end. Although I’m ashamed of current US foreign policy I’m proud to be an American and I have to believe that in the end Americans can do more good than harm in the world.