A Russian Journey
*For those that don't know, this is what an on-line diary, live journal, web log, or blog is supposed to look like.*
Noon - 9.3.04 - Chicago - 62 degrees - Overcast and muggy
The trip to the airport (Ohare) this morning was uneventful. It's already warm and muggy here in Chicago and for some god awful reason I'm sweating like a pig. It could be the anxiety of dealing with flying... or because its warm and muggy out. DOH! Who the hell knows. I got a foreboding hug and a kiss from my roommate Steven this morning as I headed off to the other side of the world. Steven said, "Be careful," As always I reply with, "of course I will." I felt the slight tension of his body as he hugged me. He had a bit of a concern about my trip as did I. In the last eight days two commercial passenger jets crashed as the result of a bomb from Chechen rebels. All passengers on both airplanes died. In another incident, less than five days ago, a Chechen suicide bomber blew herself up on a crowded street in downtown Moscow. And less than forty-eight hours ago, Chechen rebels took a school of five hundred children, teachers, and parents hostage and threaten to blow themselves and the people in the school up if demands weren't met. As of today, Moscow's Kremlin decided to invade the school. This would mean heavy casualties. I guess that's why I am a bit apprehensive about this trip to Moscow. But I've got the attitude that life is an adventure.
The flight to Cincinnati went off with out a hitch. I was concerned that my travel bag wouldn't fit in the overhead bin but it did... woohoo. No checking in of luggage on this trip to Moscow. I forgot about what a bitch it is to go through the metal detectors at the airport, empty the pockets, take off the belt, remove the shoes... And to think I have to do this two more times on the way to Russia.
4:00 p.m. - Cincinnati
I met this humorous guy on the plane ride from Cincinnati to New York (JFK). His name is Cyril or "Cereal" as his friends from the University of Kansas-Lawrence like to call him. He is on his way back to Prague after traveling for the last two months around the U.S. He spent a semester here in the states studying Computer Science on an exchange program. Cyril is 20 years old, tall, blonde, pretty thin, and a real looker. He had on this white trash gaudy but colorful shirt on...something a trailer park big bellied beer swilling straight man would wear. I guess he doesn't know better since he is European... *giggle* Cyril asks me if I know where Prague is, I tell him it's somewhere in Europe, and I also tell him that they make good porn over there... he laughs and says, "yes we do don't we." Cyril tell me a bit about his life. He's been with the same girl for two years, she has been visiting with him for the last two months and things haven't been going that well. He doesn't think he loves her anymore. He would rather date her sister at this point he tells me. Right now his girlfriend is on another plane heading to Paris. She didn't want to take the flight back to Prague with him.. Sucks to be him right now. But he seems happy about the ordeal. I get the feeling he wants to break up with her. Cyril has a quick wit I notice. He is very jolly. When I asked about his life in Prague, he tells me about how he lives in this old mansion with several bedrooms. I ask if he has a butler, maid, or man-servant, he says, "we don't have many Mexicans in Prague." *chuckle* To earn a living in Prague, Cyril creates web pages for businesses. Before we land I grab Cyril's email address and told him, "you never know when I want to exploit cheap Czech labor to do web pages for me." Cyril laughs really hard. Cyril told me more about his life, His mom is a nurse in Prague, and his dad used to be in the military. He hasn't seen his dad in years and doesn't care too since his dad left his family when Cyril was younger and never came back. Cyril also has another brother and sister who are older and they still live at home. As we are talking, both Cyril and I take notice of the beautiful older woman sitting in the seat in front of us. She has been fixing her face for a majority of the trip (1 1/2 hours). We are not sure why she has been fixing her face all this time. There is only so much make-up one can put on a face. She is wearing this slinky black dress that shows off her silicone breasts well and her really tight body. Cyril and I think she is either an escort or some married man's mistress. Cyril and I just make fun of her for the rest of the flight. Anyway, Cyril and I have to part ways since he is going to Prague and I am going to Kiev. We say goodbye at JFK and head on to our next destination.
9:00 p.m. - New York (JFK) to Kiev (Ukraine)
I haven't been to JFK in a long time. It has changed a lot. The new monorail is cool. Shame, not too many passengers use it I notice. It's warm and muggy here in New York and I am sweating again since I had to make some time by running from the Delta Terminal to the International Terminal to board my plane. By the time I get to the AeroSvit gate the plane is already boarding. Lucky me. So far everything is going seamlessly.
The flight to Kiev is full. No room anywhere. Not many student travelers just mostly seniors, and young families. Just my luck I am sitting next to a woman who doesn't speak a lick of English. On her right is an American woman who is visiting her son and daughter-in-law in Kiev. I notice that the flight crew is young and beautiful. The male flight attendants can pass for models as well as the women. (Yes I did hit on one of the more femmie male flight attendants... ever hear of the mile high club... never know who would like to join the club on an eight hour flight) I find the flight crew's beauty interesting to say the least. Just my luck, I have a family with a baby on my left side and a family with a baby on my right side. The old lady that is sitting next to me notices the same thing. We both look at each other and shake our heads. I can envision screaming babies in stereo. And just as I think this, the babies go at it with the damn crying. I can see it's going to be one of those flights.
It's a bit tight on the plane. I'm surrounded by fat people. The guy in front of me is this older bearish guy who can barely fit in his fucking seat. I'm glad he doesn't know how to use the seat recliner button because my knees are already touching the back of his seat. There is an older fat couple on my left and two fat older women in front of them. Thank god the two people next to me aren't porkers.
The plane has a computerized GPS tracking system set up as a desktop image on the plasma screens in front of us. The plane is flying at 595 mph at an altitude of 33,000 feet. Right now we are flying over Nova Scotia. The display shows us the flight route of where we are flying over and the deepness of the Atlantic ocean. I don't think I want to see what happens on the display if the plane has a sudden major malfunction.
Food and liquor are free on the flight. Of course it's Ukrainian liquor. I drink some Ukrainian cognac which seems to make me sleepy (which I want) since I will have extreme jet lag in Moscow if I don't sleep. The plane's in-flight movie is Forest Gump and Clueless. Both I've seen many times before. I just keep reading my book, Sex and the City, by Candace Bushnell. The book isn't bad. It actually has a lot of humorous passages. The book brings back memories of my past life in New York. Young, adventurous, meeting and partying with the fun crowd I used to hang with. What ever happened to that person... I seem to have lost the eye of the tiger. I'm still the golden boy but the fight is being knocked out of me.
The book differs from the cable show in that Bushnell writes from her perspective while the characters like Samantha, Carrie, and Mister Big give Candace a story or personal view on life. Candace relays their stories to us - the readers, but they are commentaries. I plan on finishing the book by the time the plane ride is over so that I can give it to Vonya, Sasha's boyfriend. Vonya loves the show and likes to read about it. I figure it will be a good present.
6:00 a.m. - Kiev Time - 9.4.04
I CAN'T SLEEP! I CAN'T SLEEP! I CAN'T SLEEP!!!!! First I'm listening to world music on the plane's in-house stereo system. Since when did Britney Spears become "World Music" with her song "Toxic"??? I'm also watching an old Charlie Chaplin movie. I've seen if before. The old Ukrainian women like it. They laugh at Chaplin's antics. The couple across from me have their window shade open. The same with the people in back of them. The sun is coming up and its glaring through the windows. It's annoying. I want to scream, "SHUT THE FUCKING SHADE!!! I WANT TO SLEEP!!!" But that would be rude. It's like the fuckers never saw the rising sun before. I'm tired and I'm cranky and we have three fucking hours to go yet... at 33,000 feet, 598 mph, and -54 degrees outside per the GPS tracking system. Oh, we are over Dublin now. I've chewed eight pieces of nicorette gum since I started this flight. It's starting to bother my throat. I hope I am not getting a cold. Do I sound like a whiney little kid yet???
Noon - 9.4.04 - Kiev, Ukraine - 61 degrees - Warm and muggy
Two screaming babies and 8.5 hours later I am in Kiev. But before I say anything about Kiev, I have two rules of international travel on an airplane that I should mention. Rule #1. Don't take a beefy, smelly fart and let loose on a crowded plane of three hundred people. Maybe I shouldn't have had those two pitchers of beer at Spin the night before, or maybe it was the Mexican food I had after the beer... Anyway, I am standing in line on the plane to try and take a dump or something but I couldn't so I am farting all the way to Kiev. Well, while waiting on line to use the bathroom on the plane, I let a fart loose. Boy did it stink. It was so bad it woke a passenger up. The look on her face and on her husband's face when they smelled it was a Kodak moment. The wife, thinking she may have shit herself while she was sleeping, woke up quickly and looked towards the floor to see if anything dropped out of her ass. She then started to chuckle and covered her nose. I started to laugh uncontrollably but I pointed to the old Ukrainian woman in front of me and made a signal that it was her. The woman's husband turned beet red since he was closest to her. The passenger to my left looked back towards the bathrooms to see if maybe the toilet exploded or something from the stench he was smelling. I thought the incident was really funny...
Rule #2. Wear shoes when walking into a lavatory on a plane. 3 hours into the flight I needed to pee. So I decided to walk to the bathroom in my socks since I had taken my shoes off for the long flight. Once I walked into the lavatory...big mistake. Looks like the fat Ukrainian women can't aim their pee hole into the plane's bathroom toilet. Instead they aimed for the fucking floor. Well that was a quick wake up call. Stepping in piss in my socks is not a great feeling. It also seems that people like puking into those tiny little lavatory sinks. Not cool for the next person that has to use the sink. It's not like we want to see puke chunks for 8 hours on a flight in a lavatory bathroom. Common courtesy says that when on an eight hour flight, with 300 people on board and with 4 out of the 6 bathrooms usable, try using a barf bag when puking, and aim your pee into the toilet not on the floor.
So, I'm in Kiev. The airport has this very 70s look to it from it's decor. The area they placed me in (for transit passengers) wasn't crowded but I couldn't really go anywhere since I don't have a visa to step out of the airport. I am a transit passenger so I have to stay inside the airport. I hang out in the terminal and speak with this cute Israeli boy with bad teeth for a while. I smoke a cigarette with him and talk about life. He is heading to Israel on a flight that leaves at 10:00 p.m. -- he has a 10 hour wait. Sucks for him. Anyway, he's been back and forth from the U.S. five times this year already. Don't know why. But he's living on the ritzy upper east side of Manhattan with his brother. We chat for a bit and part ways... he sort of bores me and I'm too cranky to talk. For some reason the flight to Moscow doesn't have a gate yet. I'm tired, bitchy, sweaty, and I have to shit. I buy some mineral water because I'm parched. I gather the plane is late, that's why there is no gate.
2:30 p.m. - 9.4.04 - somewhere over Russia
We finally board the plane and I get a window seat... woohoo. The plane is also hot and muggy inside, I guess they forgot to turn on the air in the plane. We had to be bussed to the plane and board from the outside - no gateway. We are run through a metal detector again outside the plane. As soon as I get into my seat I fall asleep. I finally hit REM when all of a sudden this drunk Russian nudges me and yells, "FOOD!" I so want to hit him. I grab my food and the drunk Russian starts speaking to me in Russian. After I tell him I don't speak Russian he starts talking to me in broken drunken English. He introduces himself as Andre. He is a technician in a popular Russian rock band. (In fact, they were the ones that held up the fucking plane) Andre tells me in broken English about the tour they just came off in in Kiev and that they were heading back to Moscow to rest up for the next gig. Andre then pulls out a bottle of Russian whiskey and pours me a hefty glass. We clink glasses and drink to life...Whatever that means. When that drink is done he pours me another one. He also tells me that he and the band is playing in New York sometime in the Fall and he wants me to come see the band when they play. I tell him why not, so I give him my email address. An hour into the flight, Andre and I are still drinking. I'm getting a deep buzz going and he's smashed. I crack my plastic cup so he can't pour me anymore whiskey. He then gives me the bottle and holds it up to my lips so I can chug a shot. I pretend to chug, when he's not looking I spit the whiskey back into the bottle. Later on, I have take another chug, I couldn't avoid it, he was watching. The more times I said no, the more times he shoved that fucking bottle to my lips. Andre is now speaking to me in Russian and I can't understand a god damn word. So I just keep nodding yes to him.
The plane arrives in Moscow and I have to wait to get my carry-on luggage which is five seats in back in an overhead compartment. Andre held me up in the plane because he wanted to get his band mates together to chat with me in Russian no less. Once again, I have no fucking clue as to what they are saying, I just smile and nod yes in some sort of drunken fashion till I get off the plane. When I get off the plane I head for immigration, I have to get on a bus again so it can bring me from the tarmac to the main terminal. I am lucky because there are no people waiting on line at immigration... As I try to get the passport stamped to get into Russia, the immigration clerk gives me a piece of paper in Russian and tells me in broken English to fill it out. I have no clue as to what the paper states since it's in fucking Russian. I have some woman translate for me what I need to write so I can fill it out and get out of immigration.
Sasha is waiting for me in baggage claim when I get out of immigration. He doesn't have his car with him so he negotiates for a cab with this taxi dispatcher woman so we can get back to my hotel. Sasha tells me later that the cost of the cab from the airport to my hotel costs $65.00. I guess my hotel is out of the way.
5:30 p.m. - 9.4.04 - Moscow - Sunny - 49 degrees
I'm jet lagged, beat, warm, and sweaty. The hotel looks nice from the front lobby. Lots of knickknack shops, a bar in the lobby, a sushi place, a bowling alley, pool hall, casino, 4 other ethnic restaurants, pharmacy, internet cafe, and a sauna. The room though, I wasn't really impressed with, neither was Sasha, but hey it's a place to crash for $52.00 a night. Think of it as a high rise Motel 6. After I drop my bags, I take a shower and get changed so Sasha and I can head out and start my Moscow vacation.
The Izamaylovsky Park subway station is about 2 blocks away from my hotel, so Sasha and I head for it. The Izmaylovsky Park subway station we leave from is a major hub because down the street there is a bazaar/market place. Many tourists and Russian city people come here during the week to go shopping. When we get to the ticket counter, Sasha buys me a metro pass good for five rides. The subway system costs 30 cents to ride or 5 rubles. The subway system in Moscow seems to be really old and subway cars look old also. The subway cars look as if they were from the 1950s. They are clean, graffiti free, but they have no air conditioning or heat. The benches, which are lined in brown leather, are lined up against the wall of the subway car wall for maximum efficiency. The Russians sure know how to fill up a subway car really fast. Every subway car I get on is packed with people, you can barely move around. The only air or breeze you get is from the open windows at the top of the subway car or some beer swilling Muscovite breathing on you . So even though you are down deep in a subway tunnel, and there is a breeze circulating through the car from the open window, it can still get stifling hot in a subway car from the amount of people packed into the car.
At each station we leave and arrive at there is a lot of military and police present. It sort of bothers me because I feel like I'm in a military state, and because there is a lot of the military guys around I don't get that warm and cozy feeling.
Sasha and I get off the subway at Ploshchad Revolyutsii station (Red Square) so we can meet Vonya in the bohemian section of Moscow. Red Square is packed full of people. There is supposed to be a big celebration marking Moscow's 857th birthday but it was canceled due to terrorist threats and the unresolved situation at the school with the hostages in the suburbs of Russia. Instead there are just a lot of people milling about drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. There is a big military presence here which is guarding the entrance that leads to Red Square and the Kremlin. The military have both areas closed to the public because of the terrorist threats. I will check out Red Square on Monday when it opens back up. Sasha and I head past the Kremlin and head to the bohemian section of Moscow. We walk past a bunch of high end stores like Prada, Dolce and Gabbana, Gap, Levi, and other stores. It seems like this is Moscow's version of the Miracle Mile in Chicago. The stores are all packed, and yes a lot of the stuff has the same high end price tag as if we were in New York or Chicago. After doing a little shopping, Sasha and I head over to a Greek bistro to have a bite to eat and wait for Vonya.
After Vonya arrives, Sasha and I finish our dinner and Long Island Ice Teas. We head over back to their place in the Northern section of Moscow. Two subway cars later we end up at the Altufievo subway station. The area seems very ghetto to me. When we get to their apartment, a studio with a dividing wall, I notice that it's not very well decorated. Vonya and Sasha just moved into the place about a week ago, they haven't had time to sort things out, unpack and decorate. It's cozy, a tad messy, but comfortable. I can see where Vonya spends his money, the closet is filled with Prada shoes and Dolce and Gabbana clothes. Vonya shows me a new club toy he just bought today that everyone is raving about. It's a Prada metal figurine that you hang off your belt buckle. It's made out of metal pipe fittings that people would use to hook up oil or gas lines too in your car. It's molded into the shape of a robot figure. Vonya told me he paid 300 euros for it (about $310.00). He told me he will be wearing this to the clubs later on this evening.
Sasha steps out for a little while and heads to the grocery store. Vonya turns on a movie for me and makes some calls. He wants me to watch the movie "Blow" with Johnny Depp. I've never seen it before so I watch it while Vonya makes his calls. I can sort of feel the jet lag setting in so I doze off from time to time during the movie. But from what I've seen of the movie I like. It has a good story and Johnny Depp does a wonderful job acting in it. When Sasha comes back he lays out a spread of salmon, crackers, cheese, and turkey breast so we can have a snack. Vonya breaks out some Olmec tequila and Russian vodka so we can do shots.
We finish watching the movie "Blow" and Vonya throws on a DVD of Madonna's last concert so he can get dressed and get ready to go out. Vonya steps outside for a little bit to meet a "friend" so he can get his "party favors." After he and Sasha take care of some "business" we head over to a gay club called 3 Monkeys. We leave the apartment and walk across the street to three thuggy looking guys who have cars (it seems they are taxi drivers). Vonya negotiates a cab fare and we hop into one of the driver's cab. It seems to take forever but I am drunk and jet lagged so I can't tell if time is moving slowly or not. When we get to the club we have to show our ID and pay 300 rubles to get in (10 bucks). With the 10 dollar admission you get a free drink.
The bar itself is kind of small. It's about the same size as my apartment in Chicago, about 900 sq. feet. On stage for the evening are two strippers in thongs with glitter all over their body dancing to euro-dance music. The bar is dark and very smoky. I guess they don't believe in ventilation systems in Russia. The euro-dance music is very trance-like... a lot of bass, a lot of thumping, a lot of foreign sounds. I feel the buzz kicking in again as I have another drink at the bar. Getting a drink is a pain in the ass for me since I don't speak Russian and the bartenders don't understand when I ask for a vodka and soda. Vonya has to order my drinks for me a few times since the bare-chested, beautiful bartenders can't figure out what I want. A vodka soda by the way is two ice cubes in a tall glass, half the glass filled with vodka, and a bottle of "gas" water on the side. Eh... it takes some getting used to. I want to keep the buzz going so I don't pass out from jet lag... so I keep drinking for the night. I notice I start running out of rubles since the drinks cost 150 rubles a piece (5 bucks). I only brought 600 rubles with me. So, I start handing out 20 dollar bills to the bartender. One bartender leaves with my twenty and comes back with rubles exchanged. I am too sloshed to figure out if I am getting ripped off or not, plus I am still not up on the exchange rate just yet. I know it's 30 rubles to $1.00 but I think I'm to drunk to count. As long as the guy hands me back something that fills my palm with a lot of paper that looks like money I'm fine.
As I look around the bar I notice this pretty boy waving to me from the other side of the bar. I don't give him eye contact because I'm not in the mood to initiate something. Vonya and Sasha are next to a pillar 10 feet away from me talking about something as I look over the bar and its patrons. The bar is very crowded and you have barely enough room to move around in. There is a sitting area with leather couches and chairs in the back of the bar, but that's all filled up also. I mistakenly make eye contact with one of the guys standing next to Vonya and Sasha. He's about 21 years old, 6'1 sandy blonde hair, bubble butt, about 160 lbs, he's thin but has a nice upper body. He is very, very attractive. He's wearing this black and white Prada t-shirt that outlines his torso pretty well and he's wearing these light tan tweed like pants that accentuates his ass. Hmmmm... very yummy. Anyway, I make I contact with him by mistake and he winks at me and walks over. He introduces himself as Alexander (Sasha in Russian). Okay, it seems like everyone is named Sasha in Russia. He grabs my hand and starts rubbing it then he rubs his hand against my chest and says something to me in Russian. I try to explain that I'm an American and don't speak Russian. He proceeds to tell me that he doesn't understand English well and if I know any Russian. I said, "no I don't." He then grabs the back of my head and pulls my lips towards him and shoves his tongue down my throat.
Vonya and Sasha are watching my molestation. They laugh and walk away. Alexander starts rubbing his hand up and down my chest again and grabs my neck and starts biting it, he then moves his tongue up to my ear lobe and starts biting on it. I push him away slightly and motion to him that I have to go to the bathroom, but I would buy him a beer before I go. So I buy him a Miller and head off to the bathroom. After peeing I decide to head out to the dance floor but I go through the wrong door and walk into a backroom area of the bar that is pitch black. Inside the pitch black room people are rubbing and feeling each other up. I can also hear the sounds of cock sucking going on. As I try to feel my way around in the dark, I trip over some guy on his knees giving head to someone. I knock him over and he falls down. I think he sort of took a chunk out of the guy's dick he was sucking because the guy he was blowing yelled something out. I decided to head back the way I came... towards the light Carol Ann.... I get back into the bar and look for Sasha and Vonya. They are both talking with Alexander. Alexander sees me and smiles. I smile back.
Alexander asks me if Sasha and Vonya are my "boys" for the night. I tell him, "no." He then smiles and grabbed my crotch and starts making out with me. Vonya and Sasha start laughing again and walk away, but before they leave, Sasha mutters something to Alexander in Russian which makes him smile and he kisses me passionately again. I find a spot overlooking the dance floor and head over to it. Alexander follows me. I sort of want to get rid of Alexander since I have a feeling I know what he is and what he is looking for. As I lean over the ledge to look over at the dancers, Alexander grabs my chest and tweaks my nipples, he then grinds his crotch into my ass. He rubs my neck a little and bites my neck. When he's done, he whispers in my ear, "you like sex, nyet?" I say, "I dunno..." Alexander keeps biting my neck and rubbing my ass. Vonya and Sasha come back and I lean over to talk to Vonya. I ask Vonya to ask Alexander if he is an escort or hooker. Vonya says, "that's rude. I can't ask that." So, I ask Sasha to do it. Sasha doesn't even have to ask, he tells me, "yes he is an escort and he charges." I ask Sasha, "out of curiosity, ask him how much he costs." Sasha laughs and says, "that's rude, I'm not going to ask that." So I break my grip from Alexander and head up to the bar to get myself another drink. Again, I have problems communicating with the bartenders. On my right someone starts muttering something in English to me. I ask if he's an American, he says "yes" and introduces himself as Cody.
Cody is about 25 years old, 5'11, about 140lbs, dark hair, and dressed in a flannel shirt. He's very good looking and speaks Russian well. Cody is from Houston, Texas and has been living in Russia for about 2 years. He's hanging out with some really beautiful blonde Russian woman, more than likely it's his fag hag (he waves to a lot of the cute Russian boys in the bar). Cody asks if I like Moscow so far. I tell him I just got here and really haven't seen much. He orders my drink for me and says "enjoy your time in Russia." Then he walks off with the Russian woman. After Cody leaves, this middle-eastern looking guy comes up to me and asks if I speak any English. I tell him, "yes." He introduces himself, his name is Sergei and he tells me he is also American. He tells me he's been living in Russia for about 2 years but he came from New York City. (I'm not sure what the thing is with this 2 year scenario) I then strike up a conversation about the guys in the bar. He asks if the friends I'm with are my boys for the evening. I tell him, "no." Sergei is not a bad looking guy, he's tall, maybe about 6'1 or 6'2, with dark olive skin, dark hair, and a good body. He's a bit muscular. As we talk about the boys in the bar he warns me to watch out. He lets me know that a lot of them are escorts or hookers. As I look over Sergei's shoulder for a second, the young guy on the other side of the bar is waving frantically at me again. Again, I don't make eye contact.
Alexander walks up to me and grabs my crotch while Sergei and I are talking. Sergei says, "so, I see you found your boy for the night." I tell him, "no, he's like this little puppy that won't go away." Sergei just laughs. One of Alexander's friends stops by and starts talking to him for a minute. He introduces himself to me, his name is Hans. He's an older bloke and is from Germany. Hamburg to be exact. Hans speaks English and Russian and asks me if Alexander is my boy for the night. I tell him, "no." I ask Hans how long has he's known Alexander. Hans tells me that he's never been with him but know of people who have. He lets me know that Alexander is a good boy and great sex and wishes that Alexander would give him the time of day but he doesn't. Hans warns me about the boys in the bar and tells me to be careful. He lets me know that most of the boys in the bar are homeless, need a place to sleep, have no money, and may steal from me. Sergei tells me the same thing later on. I ask Hans to translate some questions for me in Russian to ask Alexander so I can find out more about him. This is what Hans tells me, "Alexander is twenty years old and lives with his mother a few miles outside of Moscow. They both live in a one bedroom flat and he is looking to make some money this evening." Well doh, I already knew that part. Alexander grabs my crotch and whispers in my ear, "100 dollars, we have sex. We go to back room?" I say, "Nyet." I tell him, "me go to hotel and sleep." Then I clasp my hands and rest my head on them. Alexander smiles and grinds his ass into my crotch again. He then says, "I go to hotel with you to have sex." I say, "Nyet." Alexander is not letting up on the grinding and the kissing.
I tell Alexander to hold on a minute and push him away. Hans grabs him for a moment and gets his attention. I then make my elusive departure out of the bar. It's 3:45 in the morning. I'm tired, jet lagged, hot, sweaty, and just downright cranky. I walk outside and reach into my wallet to get a piece of paper that Sasha gave me at the beginning of the night. It has the address of the metro station next to my hotel in Russian. Sasha told me earlier in the evening to negotiate my cab fare back if I wanted to go home. He told me not to pay more than 10 dollars. So, I hold up the piece of paper and yell to the three cabbies outside the bar, "who wants to take me the fuck home!" The three cabbies look at the paper and start negotiating with me. No one wanted to take me home for less than 20 bucks. I keep saying, "no, 10 dollars that's it." This goes on for a good 5 minutes when a kid that was standing outside the bar, barely able to stand up, comes up to me and says, "you American?" I say, "da." He then grabs the paper from my hand and motions for me to follow him. After we walk away from the cab drivers he starts blabbering in Russian. I try to grab the piece of paper from him but he wont give it back. Since I have no clue where I am, and I don't know the address of the hotel, that piece of paper is like my bible so I can get home. This blabbering continues on as I try to snatch the paper from him. He blabbers on for about 10 minutes. I finally grab the paper from him and a cab driver walks up to me and tells me, "10.50." I say, "no, 10 dollars." This negotiation goes on for a few more seconds when I finally agree to give him 10 dollars and 100 rubles (total of $13.00). I hop in the cab and he brings me home. I finally get home around 5:30 a.m. (the driver got lost). When I get back to the hotel room I turn on the TV and pass out watching EuroNews.
4:00 p.m. - 9.5.04 - Moscow - Sunny - 51 degrees
No hangover. No headache. No jet lag. I'm still tired and my legs and feet hurt. Sasha and I did a lot of walking yesterday, almost 2 miles around Moscow. My Italian loafers are not going to make it on this trip with all this walking I can tell you right now. They weren't meant for long distances. I noticed that most of the guys in Russia who were wearing shoes, and the style of shoes in the Prada store are all designed like elf shoes for this season. Last year's style was squared tipped, this year, the shoes look like you have pointy elf feet. My feet are not going to fit in those. Today is the day I go shopping for trinkets and souvenirs. I decide to finally get up, shower, get dressed, and hit the bazaar near the hotel. More walking for me.
There are two bazaars next to the hotel. One is an arts and crafts bazaar that has Siberian and Mongolian folk art and crafts. The other is like a big flea market. The Siberian and Mongolian arts and craft section is set up as an old wooden village like a Mongolian town. There's no smoking in this area since the damn thing may go up in flames. The Siberian/Mongolian arts and crafts village is nice, there are a lot of hand made items like tapestries, clothing, hand painted china, carved wood products, and other knickknacks. The unfortunate thing is that the prices are not so reasonable as one would imagine. I wanted to buy a hand carved, hand painted wooden drum but the price was too steep for my taste ($100.00). It was pretty and I liked the sound, but I didn't think it was worth a $100.00. I bought my roommate a hand made woven tapestry of a church in Moscow. The little old woman that made it was actually making another one in the booth, her hands show signs of heavy wear from all the sewing she's done, but she did a beautiful job with the piece I bought. My roommate has some tapestry hanging in his room so I thought he would appreciate this. After some more shopping I decide to head out of the Siberian/Mongolian village area and head over to the big flea market. On the way over I step past some leather coats for sale that this Arabian man is selling. I try on a few coats and get one that fits nicely. The guy tells me that the coat costs $300.00. I tell him no and walk away. He grabs me by the shoulder and writes down on a piece of paper 280. I wave my hand and say no again. As I walk away, an older gentleman comes by and gives me the piece of paper and pen. He says, "gimme price." So, I write down, 100. He says, "okay," "American dollars?" I say, "yes." He then wraps the jacket in plastic and we exchange goods. The younger guy who tried to sell me the jacket seemed a bit pissed. But, he'll get over it. I could buy the same jacket at Wilson Leather for about 150 to 200 dollars easy. The leather is from China, and it's very soft. It's somewhat better than Italian leather. But now I have something nice to wear back in Chicago for the Fall.
I head over to the bazaar to buy more trinkets. There is a heavy military presence here. I have to go through a metal detector in order to get in and I get patted down to check to see if I have a gun. The military guys have a somber face on. The death toll from hostage crisis in southern Russia is up to 300 and 200 people are still missing. Earlier, as I was leaving the hotel, I caught Putin's address to the nation. He was sad and he apologized to the people. He didn't expect this kind of terrorism in his country and he had harsh words for the rebels that killed the children. European world leaders were denouncing Putin's way of handling the crisis because of the heavy death toll and since many of them were children. The mood of the soldiers and the security guards showed me that these guys were not only frightened but also on edge, since a terrorist attack can strike anywhere and at anytime.
The bazaar is filled with things like old Soviet uniforms, Karl Marx books, local folk art, clothes, tapestry, food, pirated American & European DVDs and music, and a lot more. I bought a hand carved Christmas ornament for my co-worker Dan since he requested it. It's signed by the artist and yes I had to negotiate on the price for this piece also. I got a good deal on it. From 20 bucks down to 8 bucks. Not bad.
The shopping day ends for me around 6 p.m. I've gotten enough trinkets and souvenirs and I've spent about $150 bucks so far. I decide to drop my stuff off and head out into the neighborhood for a walk to see what the area is like outside the hotel. For some reason in Moscow, there are packs of dogs everywhere. They just run wild in the street. They don't bother anyone, they are just all around. On my little walking tour, which was only supposed to be about an hour or so, I get lost. Instead of backtracking, I say to myself, "well, I'm walking in this like big block type of box, how lost could I get..." Big fucking mistake. Plus it got dark out, so that made matters worse and there are no street signs. I walked in some dark alleyways behind some buildings because there are no sidewalks around this area. There are no street lights either, which didn't help matters much. When I got to a busy intersection, I decided to ask an older lady with her two daughters for some help. The two young girls didn't know English, but the mother knew a little bit to help me out. The mother understood that I was lost. The older woman asks me to follow her and her daughters and she would take me to the metro. When we get there, the old woman tells one of her daughters to get on the subway with me to the next stop so I got off by my hotel. By the time it was all over, I had walked 8 miles out of my way and was one subway stop from where I was supposed to be. When I got back to the hotel, my doorman asked me if I wanted a beautiful Russian woman for the night. I said, "nah... I'm not in mood for fish tonight, thanks anyway," and I walk to my room.
11:00 a.m. - 9.6.04 - Moscow - Sunny - 50 degrees
I couldn't sleep last night. I was up at 4:30 in the morning. Must have been the jet lag. There was nothing really to do except watch EuroMTV, EuroNews, and some BBC programming. I like Britney Spears' new song, "Everytime" - it shows a different side of her, though it looks to me like she has a bit of a violent streak to her since she and her boyfriend are smashing shit up in their hotel room. Anyway, I stay up so I can enjoy my free Russian buffet breakfast here at the hotel. The food wasn't really that enticing though, runny, watery eggs, borscht, deep fried salmon, sausages that look like hot dogs, tons of vegetables, weak coffee, and watered down orange juice. The food is somewhat tasteless and if you mix the food with the other food like say, eat a bite of watery eggs and sausage, the taste in your mouth is not what you expect. The only thing that is tasty was the desserts. The restaurant is filled with Japanese tourists who don't like the food either from the expressions I notice on their faces. Anyway, enough about breakfast, I need to find stamps for my postcards.
The woman at the store that I bought the stamps from cheated me out of money. She knew god damn well what she was doing also. The stamps cost 10 rubles. I bought 13 of them. The price is supposed to be 130 rubles. She charged me 310 rubles. Now, I thought there was a surcharge, since in the U.S., a UPS store would charge me an extra dollar for a book of stamps. But, I caught on to this woman's little game, because when I went to drop the post cards off to her, a woman who needed to buy stamps who was in front of me, was charged 20 rubles for 2 stamps. No surcharge for her. If I knew the Russian word for scam artist I would be screaming it at the top of my lungs now. Fucking bitch of a thief she is. Last time I buy something from that bitch.
After I put stamps on my postcards I head out to the subway to do some touristy stuff. My goal is to go to the Kremlin, Red Square, see some cathedrals, and check out some other stuff. On my way to the subway I notice some guy following me. He follows me all the way to the subway and he hangs out while I try to buy a subway ticket from the ticket machine. I turn around and introduce myself. He tells me his name is Ronald and he's from Amsterdam. He's in Moscow for the next three days. I tell him that I'm heading to Red Square and if he would like to come with me. He says he would love to. I'm glad he speaks fluent English. On the subway I ask him what he's doing here in Russia. Ronald tells me that he's on holiday for three months and he's only going to be in Moscow for three days till he can catch the trans-Siberian express to Mongolia and Beijing. He asks if I wouldn't mind if he hung out with me for the day, I said sure why not.
Ronald and I miss our subway stop for the Kremlin, so we have to double back and catch the next subway going to the Kremlin. When we get to the correct stop, we go upstairs and start checking out the sites. We take pictures in front of Lenin's tomb, Red Square, the Kremlin, all the different cathedrals in the area, and some other monuments. The Kremlin is closed to visitors today, as well as a lot of the other public sites like Lenin's tomb. President Putin declared two days of mourning for the victims of the school tragedy. Flags were at half staff, and most government offices were closed. Again, in Red Square and around the Kremlin, there is a heavy military presence around the buildings. They are also military people stationed at the subway stations. On Sunday, a female terrorist was acting a bit erratically as she was heading down into the subway station. She had several bombs strapped to her, and some of the military people stationed by the subway must have caught her acting weird, so they chased after her. She blew herself up on the crowded street next to the subway entrance. She took out 10 people with her when she blew up. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, is all this bloodshed and death worth the struggle or even your life? Can't Putin negotiate with the rebels and put an end to this war?
Ronald and I walk the length of the Kremlin. It's one hell of a walk I tell you. The damn thing takes up almost six city blocks. One woman tried to scam us with an inside tour of the Kremlin. She told us that if we got a group of 5 other people she would charge us 800 rubles for a personalized tour, but if wanted to only go together she could charge us 1200 rubles each for the tour. The tour, if it was open, costs 350 rubles with no guide. Ronald and I say no and move on. I find the bohemian section of Moscow and I stop off at Vonya's restaurant to give him the stuff that I brought for he and Sasha. He isn't at work yet, so I leave it with one of his waiters to give to him.
Ronald wants to sit for a while and have a beer at one of the cafes down here, so we stop off at an Arabian cafe and order up 2 Russian tap beers. Before we sit down, I hear English being spoken on the street. I see two older men trying to find a place to eat. One has a thick East coast accent and the other guy has a Southern drawl. I walk up to them and introduce myself. We shake hands and both men talk to me for a few minutes. Both are Americans who have been here for two years (again with the two year stint). The one who does most of the talking, Cal, is from Ohio. Both men are in Russia on a contract to help the Russians close two nuclear power plants in Siberia. Once those are shut down, they will turn up a new one that the Russians are building next two the other two. Both men work for the U.S. government under a contracting agency. I ask both of them about places that are worth while to see and what they recommended. They tell me what to see and what is a waste of time. I ask them if they found it hard to pick up the language in Russia. They said they never learned it. I find it fascinating that after living and working in Russia for 2 years, that you can't speak the language or read it. They both tell me that they know enough Russian to get around. I shake hands with both men and we part so Ronald and I can go have some drinks.
As we are drinking I ask Ronald about his life. He's 32 years old and an accountant in a big Dutch firm, he plays futbol on the weekends and is single. He is on holiday for three months because his boss said that it wasn't a problem. (I've got 4 weeks of vacation left and my boss would tell me it was a problem if I left for 4 weeks) He decided to go on a three month journey from Moscow to China for three months via train. He had no particular reason as to why he was going on a lengthy holiday. He wasn't trying to find himself, nor was he running from any trouble. He just wanted a lengthy vacation. To be honest, I don't think a 10 day holiday is enough for me either. In fact, I know it's not. He's got a nice 1 bedroom flat outside of Amsterdam, he owns a Peugeot, and he likes traveling around in the U.S. He was in the U.S. last year on holiday with friends. He preferred to travel alone this year, as did I. Ronald is not a bad looking guy at all. He actually reminds me of someone I hung out with in high school years ago. Ronald is 6'3, about 200 lbs, red hair and green eyes, he's got a small belly, a baby face, and he's really cool to hang with. As we are talking I overhear a conversation in English at the table to my right in the Greek cafe. I excuse myself and interrupt their conversations to ask if they are Americans. All three say yes. It's two women and a guy who are eating lunch at the Greek cafe next to us. I ask where they are from, they hesitate a bit and say Washington D.C. They live in town and work for the U.S. Embassy in Russia. They are off today because of the national day of mourning plus, I forgot, it's also Labor Day. For some reason the embassy people are a bit elusive when they speak with me. They don't answer many of my directed questions. So I decide to change my topic of conversation to something general to get out of the conversation. I also did the same with Ronald until the Americans left or we left.
After the Americans leave, I let Ronald know that my paranoia kicked in and that I didn't like the elusive talk that the other Americans were giving me. I told him something didn't feel right for some reason and that's why I switched the topic. Ronald understood. Ronald and I walked up and down Moscow's shopping district for hours. We finally decided to grab a bite to eat. I wanted to use my credit card so I needed to find a place that took Visa. TGI Fridays and Pizza Hut were still closed. A lot of the other food places didn't take Visa either. During our walk to find a restaurant, Ronald and I got lost and wound up in an area where all the embassies of the world stationed here in Moscow were. We checked out a few of the places... very nice housing these embassy people work in.
We finally found a restaurant that took Visa. We walk in, go through the metal detector, get patted down, and head upstairs to the dining room. (must be a mafia joint) The business lunch is 390 rubles (11 dollars) for a 3 course meal. For 390 rubles you get soup, salad, one drink, and a main course. I got a tomato and cucumber salad, tomato soup, and pork tenderloins. Ronald got the Caesar salad, tomato soup, and salmon. We both had strawberry juice for drinks. I think the Russians must have an odd taste palette. My salad had no taste whatsoever even with a little oil and vinegar on top. My tomato soup was so salty, and I don't understand why they put lamb bits and vegetables in my tomato soup. My pork tenderloin dinner consisted of hearty chunks of overcooked pork with cream of mushroom sauce splattered all over the top of it, boiled tasteless carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower, and mini potatoes with the skin left on, heavily salted and fried with rosemary on top. Some of the mini potatoes weren't cooked all the way through. I mention this because I know I could do a better job. First off, I would cut the potatoes in half, then fry them in olive oil, then throw rosemary on top, lightly salt the potatoes after frying. The pork tenderloin should be grilled quickly and served with some pink in the middle and finally, the veggies should be cut smaller and steamed with some some salted butter drizzled on top. Hey, that's the chef in me, what can I say. I gather we are eating in a Russian mafia hang out since we had to go through a metal detector and there were lots of guys in suits with their body guard sitting at the next table watching close by. Since everyone was staring at everyone else, I'd be afraid to reach for something because someone would start shooting rather quickly if I made the wrong move.
After lunch we head out to the street and buy a couple of bottles of water. We needed to wash down the salty food. Here is the thing with Russian dining I noticed, #1. you pay for any drink you ask for and this includes water. There isn't a pitcher of water that comes around like in the U.S. This is something we are spoiled of. #2. Your drink is served to you after you eat everything or after your soup. I noticed this on the plane also. You can't just gulp your drink and expect more. You have to ration it.
After a walking a while, Ronald finally gives in to his tired legs. (I was tired a half hour before that, but I wasn't going to look like the weak American) Don't forget, I've been up since 4:00 a.m. and I am just happy that we toured downtown Moscow with out getting lost.
I call up Sasha around 6:00 p.m. He called me while I was napping but I didn't bother to pick up the phone. He wants me to meet him for drinks and sightseeing in an hour. I am supposed to meet him a the Tverskaya metro stop in front of the McDonalds. I get dressed and get on the subway, I arrive there before he does. While I am waiting, I buy a pack of smokes and light one up as I wait for Sasha. This kid, about 10 years old, comes up to me and gives me these puppy dog eyes and holds out his hand. He wants money from me. So I give him 10 rubles. I walk over to the McDonalds and the kid follows me. I was like... "shoo kid, I ain't got anymore." He finally leaves. When Sasha arrives I impress him with my 1 day knowledge of the subway system. He had this thought that I would be lost half the time. I would say more like 25% of the time not half. When I tell him that I found Vonya's restaurant and toured the Kremlin area, he smiled and said he was impressed.
Sasha and I took a nice evening walk around the Moscow area. It's already dark and the city is lit up beautifully with multi-colored lights. Sasha shows me the Russian White House, and this monstrosity of a hotel that belongs to the Ukrainians. He also shows me the American embassy. I ask the guard there if he spoke English. He said no. A Russian guard was watching us off to the side with his hand on the trigger of his AK-47. Sasha and I continue our sightseeing and walk up to Park Pobedy - Victory Park. It is nothing like I have seen before. First, it's a mile walk up to the statue itself, which is as tall as our Washington Monument in D.C. 2nd, the mile walk is lined with water fountains illuminated in red lights. Beyond the monument is this gigantic white curved museum that sort of cradles the monument from afar. The view as you walk towards the monument is magnificent. I wish I brought my damn camera. Sasha tells me that Victory Park was built after World War 2 to celebrate its victory over defeating Germany. Sasha and I walk up to the monument and when we get there I hop over the closed gate to touch the monument itself. I want to touch and feel the details of the man that carved this bronze masterpiece. Sasha also tells me that when the Russians celebrate their "Red Day" they use Red Square and Victory Park to celebrate. I must admit, this is an impressive piece of art. Sasha likes to come here late at night to think he tells me. I can see why, its so peaceful and beautiful.
After Victory Park, Sasha takes me to Red Bar - an upscale hang out for trendy Muscovites. I have to admit, Red Bar is gorgeous. Everything in the bar is red, of course, the bar staff is dressed in simple Japanese black evening-wear and slippers. The staff, Sasha tells me, is gay as well as the owner but the bar itself isn't gay. The bar overlooks Moscow University, Victory Park, and the Russian White House. Such a beautiful view at night. Sasha and I drink Long Island Ice Teas and chat about life for a while as the deejay spins some euro-dance music. The bar is not a club, it has red couches and benches all over. It's a place to relax and listen to music while checking out the view. I can can compare it to the 96th floor of the Hancock tower, but this place has more class and no tourists. Since we are here on a Monday night, the bar is dead. It makes the atmosphere of the bar serene and not chaotic as it would be on a Friday night. Sasha tells me that most of the gay people come to Red Bar first before going out to the clubs. I can see why, wind down first, get a little toasty, then hit the town. The drinks are a bit pricey here, I look at the bar tab while Sasha isn't looking, for two Long Island Ice Teas the tab comes to 890 rubles (30 dollars).
I watch a couple of business men with their Russian hooker for the evening down their mojitos and order up some Cuban cigars. I observe the waiter do a lighting procedure on the Cuban cigars the business men bought. He clips it, then lights a match and carefully rolls the cigar end (where you light it) over the match to let the cigar smolder a bit so when the patron starts smoking it, he doesn't have to light it with a harsh flame and burn the leaves so you get a burnt taste of the cigar. I've always lit my cigar harshly. I'll have to try it this way next time.
Sasha and I are buzzed, but we manage to talk about his life for a while longer. He's working for this chemical company out of Berlin doing some translation work. He says he's making about $2,000 in cash a month, plus he gets an additional $2,000 that gets put on his credit card. He gets a computer and a cell phone. Vonya is making about the same being a Director (Restaurant Manager) for the restaurant he works at. I ask him why he's living in the ghetto. He tells me that he has his studio condo rented out (he owns it) and that he and Vonya are trying to save money so they can put a deposit on one of the new luxury condos that are going up around Moscow. I said that it sounds like it's a good plan. I ask him why he doesn't buy some real estate and just own property and rent it out. He hasn't thought about that but it might be worth a shot. I tell him that Vonya is a good man and he's lucky to have him. He tells me he is happy with him and that Vonya also likea me too. I'm happy about that and that makes me smile. I tell Sasha that I have to start getting back to the metro since it's already 12:30 and the subway shuts down at 1:00 a.m. Sasha bring me down to the train station and makes sure I get on the right train for the evening. Jeez... I'm not that trashed. He calls me about a half hour after I get home to check up on me. What a good friend.
11:00 a.m. - 9.7.04 - Moscow - Rainy - 45 degrees
100,000 people in Red Square today protesting an end to terrorism and wanting peace from the rebels.
Today is a great time to look for a box so I can ship some stuff back to the States. I also have to buy my train ticket to St. Petersburg. I missed breakfast so I go down to the lobby and have some Turkish coffee and some Greek pastries at the Arabian cafe. It's a bit pricey, but hey you only live once. Turkish coffee and a pastry costs 300 rubles (10 bucks) I think its a rip off but I still don't know the word for "cheat" and "rip off" is in Russian yet, so I bite my tongue. Both items are tasty though. I buy my overnight train ticket to St. Petersburg for 800 rubles (35 dollars). It leaves at 22:15 and arrives in St. Petersburg at 5:25 a.m. the following morning. I am in a 4 berth sleeping car. This should be interesting. Now, how do I get to this train station. My next adventure I see.
After doing some writing for a few hours and shopping I head over to the mini mall across the street to try out some Chinese food. What I ordered in this Chinese restaurant is not what I think I ordered (though how can I fuck it up since I ordered it from the "English Menu"). I ordered fried rice, which was fine, but I also ordered some pork tips. Who knew that it would be sliced pig ears, served cold with soy sauce. I eat it anyway. Its just salty and a little fatty. Not my cup of tea actually. I won't be ordering that again. I do a little shopping afterwards. I finally find a grocery store and a liquor shop. Lets see... Stoli vodka is $3.00 a bottle here. I come to find out that Stoli is the crap vodka in Russia. It's like our Popov vodka that you buy in a gallon jug for 9.00 dollars. The Russians don't even drink Stoli, they have better Russian vodka, they just ship Stoli to the U.S. because we don't know any better. I think I will buy a few cigarettes here and ship them back since they are only a dollar a pack. I can see myself being stuck with broken bottles of Russian vodka if I ship it out air mail. I already bought a box of Cuban cigars and I am having that shipped out also.
11:00 p.m. - 9.7.04 - Moscow - Rainy - 40 degrees
I hop on my overnight train to St. Petersburg and meet my 3 bunkmates for the evening. One is a young married couple, the other is a business man. The train is packed out for the evening. In my car, I have a shit load of Japanese tourists. The business man in the bunk across from me is not bad looking at all. He is in his twenties, handsome, but doesn't speak a lick of English. Neither do the couple below me in the other bunks. I can see this is going to be a quiet trip. As the train moves out, the conductor takes our ticket and asks for 30 rubles for the sheets, pillow cases, and blanket that is on our bed. I guess that's why we are in the economy car. An hour into the trip, the couple below me is already asleep. The business man across from me is reading his book. The business man is ready for bed, so he decides to strip down to his undies and t-shirt to sleep. Oh joy. I gather that someone in our berth has been drinking since I smell liquor in the compartment and there seems to be no ventilation in the compartment either. It's warm in here and I am sweating. I just keep reading my book, The Face of Fear by Dean Koontz. The book isn't bad, it keeps my interest for the next 4 hours.
3:30 a.m. - 9.8.04 - Somewhere in Russia - Rainy - 40 degrees
I CAN'T SLEEP! I CAN'T SLEEP! I CAN'T SLEEP! I toss and turn. It's hot in the compartment. No damn ventilation in there. It's cooler outside the compartment and much cooler between cars where I smoke.
6:30 a.m. - 9.8.04 - St. Petersburg - Rainy - 40 degrees
I get off the train in St. Petersburg and really don't know where to go. First thing, I have to do is take a dump. So, I go to the bathroom at the train station, I pay 3 rubles to get in and look for a toilet. Well, there is a toilet but not one I was expecting. The toilet is this porcelain hole in the ground where you squat and shit into a hole. Haven't people heard of backsplash in Russia? Oh, there is no toilet paper either. I decide to wait till I find a real toilet. I wonder... do Russians wipe there ass or what? Before I head out into the city, I buy my train ticket back to Moscow. I pay an extra 20 bucks (total is 1150 rubles or 45 dollars) for the bullet train back to Moscow, which is supposed to get me there in 4 hours and has no stops. The train leaves at 18:25. After I buy my ticket I head into the city to see some sites. I start hopping on different busses like an idiot not knowing where I am going. I take one bus that goes all around the city, it doesn't pass any of the sites, but it goes around the tenements of St. Petersburg, the factories, the nuclear power plant, and all the ghetto areas. Since I didn't sleep much it wasn't that exciting to me. I even fell asleep on one of the rides around the tenements. But I got to see how the working class of Russia lives.
7:30 p.m. - 9.8.04 - Somewhere in Russia - Rainy - 40 degrees
It's been raining on and off in St. Petersburg for a better part of the day. I finally got to see all the sites in St. Petersburg and took a lot of pictures. I bought some souvenirs and also ate at a KFC. Eh, the chicken tastes the same... but I think the Colonel forgot to give them part of the secret ingredient. Anyway, after checking out the sites, scenery, and doing a bit of shopping, I hop a bus back down to the train station. The bus is packed with people because of the rain. I stand in back of this hot Navy guy on the bus. My crotch is rubbing against his ass and I'm getting hard. Then all of a sudden, the fucker starts moving his ass into my crotch, this goes on for a few minutes as he is talking to his Navy buddy. I'm really hard now, and he must feel my dick through his tight military outfit. He has to. All I know is that he keeps grinding into my crotch as more people get on the bus. I just keep getting harder. Wouldn't you know it, he has to get off at the next stop. He leaves and I have this raging hard-on. Not like I was going to fuck him on the bus or anything. I just look at one of the fat old ladies so I can lose my hard-on.
Before I leave St. Petersburg I buy some postcards for people and get directions to the post office. For some reason, the people seem to know more English here in St. Petersburg then they do in Moscow. Also, they are more friendlier here than in Moscow. After I get the post cards done, I mail them out and head out to finish my sightseeing. So far today I've been rained on, splashed on, and stepped on. My feet hurt, and I am cold since I don't have a jacket. I've had my fun here, so I decide to go back to the train station and wait for the train. I buy some Absinthe liquor at the local grocery store on my way out of St. Petersburg.
On the bullet train I try to fall asleep, but I think I am overtired. I didn't sleep on the way into St. Petersburg and it doesn't look like I'm going to sleep on the way out. On the train I speak with this guy sitting next to me who is heading back to Moscow also. He speaks English, which is good. His name is Arcadya and he is a deejay in Moscow. He told me how he was working at one of the top dance clubs in Moscow called Zeppelin till they closed it down last week because the owner closed sold the building. Right now he is just doing a few gigs here and there. Tonight, he is deejaying at this club called Fresh. It's gay night there he tells me and he is deejaying from 1-3 in the morning. Arcadya is 25 years old, dark hair, blue eyes, about 5'11 and about 150 lbs. He's got this grunge thing going but he's really cute and he is sweet. We talk about music, what's hot on the dance scene, and 80s music like Depeche Mode and New Order, two bands we both really like. Arcadya's phone rings a lot. He's booking his dates for October already. He's doing a gig in Kiev and Leningrad for 2 weekends and he's doing a Rave in Moscow in a week. In Moscow, he tells me, the deejays work two hour shifts and get paid 200 bucks (American) for the night. If the music starts at 11:00 and the bars are open till 7:00 a.m. you can have up 4 deejays working the night. He says he does pretty well money wise. He told me he was in St. Petersburg because he had to buy some luggage for his vinyl. It's 50 bucks cheaper in St. Petersburg than it is in Moscow he tells me. He also bought some new vinyl to spin tonight at Fresh. Before we part ways in Moscow, I give him my email address and tell him to keep in touch. He wants to come to the States some time next year. I told he was welcome to stay with me if he wanted. I get back to my hotel room from St. Petersburg around 11:30 p.m. What a long fucking day.
Noon - 9.9.04 - Moscow - Rainy - 38 degrees
Today was supposed to be an easy day. Drop off a package at DHL to ship back to the States, and then head out and check out some gay sites. I knew it was going to be a crappy day when the people at the travel center and front desk couldn't tell me how to get to the DHL office. The fact is that they are the ones that put the address of the DHL office in their directory. The front desk clerk gives me this snotty, "why don't you call the place and get directions." Of course, the cunt wouldn't let me call from the lobby either, I have to go back up to my room and call. When I call the DHL place, the woman on the phone tells me in broken English to get off at the Mayakovskya station and the DHL office will be within 2 blocks of there.
Before I leave I call Sasha to see what he was up to. Someone answers his phone and tells me that he no longer works for them. I don't have another number to call Sasha, so I will try back again later just in case I called the wrong number. I want to use the computer down at the internet cafe to see if I could catch him on AOL, but I made a vow not to use a computer, cell phone, or internet.
I head out to the Pushkinskaya stop on the metro where the DHL lady told me to go. I walk about 6 blocks but I can't find the DHL office. So I decide to hail a cab in the hopes that the driver can find the DHL office. I give the driver the address (the address is written in Russian from the directory) and negotiate a price of 200 rubles for the cab ride. After driving around for a half an hour, the driver drops me off in front of this building that the sheet says is the correct address. I get out of the cab, pay 200 rubles and look for the DHL office. I don't see anything. I walk around the area to see if maybe someone knows where the building is. I run into two younger guys drinking on a park bench. I ask if they know where the street is, and they tell me I have to go about 8 blocks back up to the metro station in order to get to the DHL office. I let out this heavy sigh of disgust. The guys I asked directions from keep me there for a few minutes longer to converse for a bit, but they speak to me in broken English. I get their names, one is Curio and the other is Sasha (again with the Sasha). I introduce myself. They go to medical school at the University of Moscow and they are in their second year. They have 5 years left of medical school, but they have to do a 2 year stint in the army first before they can finish. It seems that after high school, all Russians have to do 2 years in the military to serve their country. The only way you can get out of serving is if you have a medical issue or pay someone off. The deejay from last night, Arcadya, had a medical issue so he couldn't serve, but if you have a medical issue, you are not allowed to drive in Russia. That was his dilemma. It seems that the state takes that privilege away from you. As I talk to the guys more, they notice I am shivering a bit. It's overcast and chilly in Moscow today. These guys are wearing sweaters, and I'm wearing 2 shirts, one long sleeved shirt, and one short sleeved shirt, to keep warm. I forget that I have the leather jacket in the box I'm carrying. They ask me what I thought of the weather, I told them that it wasn't bad, but it is colder than I'm used to this time of year. I asked if it got this cold this time of the year often. They say, "sometimes." Anyway, since I want to get to the DHL office before it gets too late, I let them know that I have to leave. Both guys hug me and kiss me on the cheek before I part from them. (yes, both guys are very cute)
I find the metro station I got off at earlier and call the DHL office again from a payphone in the station so I can get directions. The woman on the phone tells me in broken English to go outside to the Pushkin statue and make a right. The DHL office will be on the right hand side about 3 blocks. I get out of the station, walk about 6 blocks but still don't see the DHL office. I hail another cab and ask the driver to take me to the DHL office. He sort of says to me in Russian that he knows exactly where it is when I show him the address on the paper. As we drive, I notice that the cab driver is going to the same area I was in earlier, which was wrong in the first place. I start yelling at the driver, "NYET, NYET, NYET!" He just waves me on and motions to me not to worry about it. When we get to the front of the building where we were before, I tell him in English... "this is not the right building. There is no DHL here." The driver cannot understand what I am saying but can see that I am pissed, so he pulls out his mobile phone and calls the DHL office to get directions. He gets the right directions from the DHL clerk and brings me to the office. I had a feeling the whole time that when I spoke to the woman at the DHL office she meant to tell me to take a left from the metro station instead of a right and that the DHL office would be on left hand side and not the right. I was correct. The DHL office is actually 2 blocks from the metro station in the opposite direction she told me on the phone. Call it an instinct but I knew from speaking with other foreigners in which the English language is not their native tongue that they don't know their right from my left. Did I follow my instincts? Noooooooo.
When I get to the office, the woman at DHL takes my box and dumps the contents out of the box and onto a platform. She has to re-pack the box and tape it up for security reasons. She catalogs everything in the box and seals it after re-packing it. She then turns around and charges me $249.00 for a 6 pound box to be shipped back to the States. Supposedly, it's DHL's lowest price. I won't be using DHL again I see. The $249.00 brings me over my budget for the trip, but the box has to go home since I didn't bring much luggage with me and I don't feel like carting a box along with me hoping that no one will lose it in transit back to the U. S.
After my DHL adventure, I decide to check out one of Moscow's biggest gay cruising spots, Kitay-Gorod park. It's across the street from the Russian government offices that holds Parliament, or I guess they call it Congress here, and other government buildings. Kitay-Gorod is a subway station and a park that has two Greek Orthodox monuments in it. Damned if I know what the monuments are all about. But at the bottom of the monuments are the names of the Greek priests, but they are written in Russian. So, I can't figure out who they are. The park is about 4 blocks long and it is lined with trees, and park benches. There is even a little bar tent that sells beer and liquor so you can get a few drinks and relax in the park. From what I see, the park is very cruisy. You have many young guys, young business men, older guys, and a few trolls. There are some really hot guys in the park. But you also have to watch out since there are a lot of straight people here also. The straight guys have girls with them. I think that a lot of the guys here in the park are escorts.
It starts to drizzle so I decide to find some shelter at one of the underground crossover areas on the other side of the park. The underground crossover area is a whole different world. The underground metro and walkway crossovers (if a street is too busy you have to go underground to cross the street) have little shops that sell everything from beer to ladies dresses. It's like being in a small strip mall but underground. People also hang out underground to drink and smoke. A lot of high school kids hang out down here I notice. Since it's now raining outside, all the people that were cruising in the park have come underground to congregate. I get to see who is cruising who down here. There seems to be a lot of young guys down here, the age range is from 16 to 25. There are some military guys here and some older men. The cops don't really bother you and neither do the military guys. You just do your business in a hushed tone.
To observe everything that is going on, I park myself next to the entrance of the steps near the underground entrance and just watch how people are interacting and cruising. Since I don't understand the language, it's hard to understand the pick-up lines. I watch one guy who looks like a pimp talk to his boy in an angry tone. I try to listen carefully to see if I can catch a phrase or word, but I don't understand anything they are saying. I just view their body language. A few girls hang out down here also, but it's mostly guys and the girls hang out with the guys. I notice that some of the boys cruise each other and some of them know each other. Some of the boys make gestures and try to be friendly with each other but I think they are mostly competing with each other. I'm not really in the mood to stay long since it's 6:30 and I'm tired, cold, and hungry. Plus my arms hurt from carrying that damn box all over Moscow.
I take a walk through the park after it stops raining and start heading back to the other side of the park so I can catch the metro. On my way through the park, this kid stops me and asks me for a cigarette. He is by the heating and air exchange for the metro where it's pretty warm. He tries to talk to me in Russian, but I am having a hard time understanding him. He is cute so I decide to stay and see where this leads. Somehow I get this kid's name, it's Leni. He is in his early 20s, dark hair, thin, and tall, and he's got a day's worth of stubble on him. He asks me questions in Russian but I can't answer them. I pull out my subway map and show him where I am staying. Leni motions to me or tries to tell me that he is homeless or has no place that he stays at the moment. Another kid hanging by the heating and air exchange comes up to us and starts talking with us. He's a lot younger, he tells me later on he is 18. He's wearing this pin stripe suit type of outfit and he's very cute also, but he doesn't understand English either. His name is Alexi and he lives here in this area of Moscow. From what both of them try to tell me neither of them don't go to school and Alexi tells me he is homeless also. Leni asks to borrow my pen and starts writing stuff in Russian down on a piece of paper. I have no clue as to what he's writing about but every few minutes he stands up, smiles, and gives me the paper thinking I will understand what he wrote. Each time he stands up he motions me to follow him. I tell him, "nyet." When Leni crouches down to write again, Alexi motions to me, and makes a fist, then punches his hand, and points to me. He tries to tell me secretly that if I go with Leni, I may get beat up and mugged. Alexi tells me this twice by his hand motions. I point to Alexi and ask him if he would do that to me, he shakes his head no. (even though I am much more built than both of them, I know I can take on each one in a fight if my life depended on it) This writing thing and not understanding what Leni and Alexi are talking or writing about goes on for a good 15 minutes. I understand bits and pieces of what they are telling me, but nothing substantial. As we talk, this other kid named Sasha comes by. (Sasha again...) He speaks a very little English but he seems to translates what we are trying to say between the four of us. All three ask what I am doing here in Moscow, I tell them that I am an artist writing about gay life in Moscow. They ask me what gay means, (I guess you can't translate the word gay into Russian) so I make my wrist go limp and prance around in a circle like a little fairy in front of them. All three start laughing. It seems that they now understand. We talk for a bit more until it starts getting dark.
After a few more minutes of talking and watching Leni writing and not understanding what he is writing about, I tell all three of them I have to go. I point to the clock on the cathedral and motion that I have to leave. Again, Leni asks me to follow him. I still tell him, "nyet." I shake their hands and head back to the metro to go home.
1. The reason there aren't many fat people in Russia is because in order to get to your subway you have to walk three blocks underground to get to it, walk up 2 or 3 flights of stairs, then walk another 2 to 3 blocks to get to the platform... what a hike it is to get to these subways.
2. The subways and busses are always overcrowded.
3. Everyone drinks before getting on a subway and drinks on the subway. No wonder everyone has liquor breath.
I watch a bit of TV before I head to bed. I watch more EuroMTV here than I watch MTV at home. Maybe because they play MORE DAMN VIDEOS here. The new video from Depeche Mode, "Freelove" is very good. And there is a pop song called, "Popular" by Darren Hayes climbing up the charts here in Europe. The video for "Popular" is funny, and I like the lyrics, very catchy. I can see this as a crossover hit in the U.S. if it gets played. I think I will get a copy of the single, bring it back to the States, and give it to a few deejays to play. The gays will love it. :-)
My goal for Friday is to do a dry run to the airport to see if I can get there. I will also try calling Sasha again. I hope he's alright.
4:00 p.m. - 9.10.04 - Moscow - Overcast - 42 degrees
I still haven't heard from Sasha. I call him, but the cell phone just rings. My lower back is achy from carrying that damn box all over Moscow yesterday. I think I pulled my back. I took a dry run to the airport. I got off the metro stop that said Aeroport, but all it has there is a shopping mall. So I hop back on the subway again and get off at Rechnoy Vokzal. This is the subway stop that Sasha told me to get off at. When I get there, I see a bunch of people with luggage loading into a minivan, so I ask all of them if anyone spoke English. One person answers back. I explain that I need to go to the airport and ask which bus I should take. The gentleman tells me to take the 42 bus which will take me to the airport, and the cost will be 25 rubles (90 cents). I thank him, and I head back toward Moscow. After the airport run, I decide to check out another gay area, a coffee shop called 911 Cafe. It's supposed to be in Pushkin Square, the area where I was in yesterday looking for the DHL office.
I look around for this cafe for about 2 hours before I give up. Here is what I think: 1. Russians have no clue as to where there own streets are. 2. Never trust websites for addresses. I decide to go home and take a nap. My back is really bothering me at this point. When I get back to the hotel, I try some stretching exercises to get my back to snap back or something so the pain can go away, but that doesn't work. So I take some Alka-Seltzer type aspirins (that's all they have over here) for the pain and take a nap. The aspirins are not strong enough.
After my nap I decide to hit the bars for my last night in Moscow. I pick two bars that are close to the metro. Bar number 1. Central Station, I couldn't find. Either I missed it, or it's written in Russian and I can't read the signs, or it closed down. I gave myself a half an hour to look for the bar and if I couldn't find it I would go to the next bar one and try to find that one. I am on a time limit because the metro shuts down at 1:00 and I don't want to be stuck someplace undesirable. Bar number 2. AWOL, I find this bar but not with out a lot of hassle. When I got off at the subway station I took a cab to the bar. I give the driver the address and the phone number. This cab driver doesn't have a mobile, so he has to stop and ask everyone and their mother on the street to try and find this place. 45 minutes later we find AWOL. It's tucked away in a back alley on some side street off of the street that was given to him on the piece of paper I handed to him. I negotiated 10 bucks for the ride, but I gave him 20 instead since he was so frustrated in finding the bar.
The cover to get into AWOL is 250 rubles (8 dollars). The bar is a bit dead when I walk in. I would say that the bar is about the same size as Annex3 in Chicago. It has a stage, with a stripper dancing on it for the evening, and the place is set up like a cabaret bar with tables and a few bar stools. The place probably holds about 200 people on a good night. There is a deejay and a small dance floor. All the waiters (who are cute and young looking by the way) are dressed up in military gear, camouflage pants and either a camouflage shirt or a green wife beaters shirt. For the most part, all the tables are filled. The bar doesn't have many people at it so I decide to hang out there and listen to some euro-dance tunes. I am here till 5:00 a.m. now since the trains have stopped running. I buy some Russian tap beer which costs 90 rubles and wait for the drag show that starts at 1:00 a.m.
While I sit and drink, this guy from Uzbekistan comes up to talk to me. He's got dark features, dark hair, looks a bit nerdy, but seems harmless. I peg him for a late 20s or mid 20s age bracket. He speaks a little English, but not enough to have a conversation with me. He tells me he is here on holiday, but its hard to understand him since he's a bit drunk. We try to converse with each other a little bit, but he's drunk and can't concentrate on what I am saying, so everything he says to me comes back in half Russian, half English. After a while, he gives up talking to me and leaves for another part of the bar.
Around 1:00 a.m. a gaggle of drag queens enter the bar. Like all drag queen shows, I can tell this one is going to start late. A woman next to me, obviously drunk and someone's fag hag, asks me to watch her chair while she heads to the bathroom. Before she leaves she starts hanging all over me and asks my name several times in a drunk Russian/English tone. She tries to make me understand what she is saying by holding my face, but it isn't working. After she heads off to the bathroom, the drag show starts. Out from the back comes a Miss Foozie look-a-like, (I guess we have a Miss Foozie in every city in the world) she is a big girl, and her outfit is really tacky. Think circus tent with a drawstring around her waist. I have to admit, whatever she is saying is making the audience howl in laughter. I wish I could understand what she is saying.
Four drag queens are performing this evening. Three of the drag queens perform traditional Russian songs, in fact one drag queen came out in a babushka outfit with enormous tits to emulate a Russian mother or traditional Russian matriarch. Another drag queen dressed up in a 1920s flapper outfit and sang a crooner song. The last drag queen dressed up as Madonna and performed "American Dream." All three performances were pretty good.
After the show, this guy who has been sitting with an older heavy set gentleman (who fell asleep drunk at the table) across from me, sits down next to me and buys me a beer. He starts a conversation with me in Russian, but I quickly tell him that I am an American and don't understand Russian, he just smiles at me. I thank him for the drink and we try to converse but we are interrupted by the drunk fag hag who decides to sit down on his lap instead of her chair. She is making a scene at the bar, but this guy I met and I just laugh it off. I need to go to the bathroom so I excuse myself and go piss.
As I'm taking a piss, the Uzbekistani guy I met earlier opens my stall door, crouches down, grabs my cock and starts sucking on it. Before I can say anything, he pulls down his pants, bends over the toilet and mutters something in Russian (I guess he wants me to fuck him). I push him away, zip up my pants, and head back out to the bar. When I get back to the bar, I have another pint of Russian beer waiting for me. The bartenders bought it for me this time. The guy I was sitting next to earlier is still there with the drunken fag hag still on his lap. When I sit down, the guy grabs my hand and starts kissing it. He then moves his hand towards my crotch and rubs it a bit, so I do the same with my hand. The fag hag who notices this, decides to feel up the guy's crotch also, the guy just laughs as do I. We make out for a little while before he goes back out to the dance floor.
While I'm waiting for the guy to come off the dance floor, one of the waiters buys me a pint. He smiles at me and pats me on the shoulder after it is served. Throughout the night, I notice that every time he passes me, he touches my leg. The boy is pretty cute I have to admit. He reminds me of this kid Travis I know back in Chicago. The waiter has this innocent smile, nice body, sandy blonde hair, and a cute bubble butt. I would say he's about 20 to 22 years old. I'm not sure why he's buying me a drink but I do ask what time he got off of work, he tells me 7:00 a.m. I know I won't last that long. I am not planning on staying much longer at this point anyway. It's already 5:30 a.m. I wait a few more minutes, drink my pint, and decide to head back to the hotel. I'm a little bit drunk, and I'm beat, plus my back is still aching. I walk out of the bar, and look for a cab. I notice a main street in front, of me so I head towards it. To my right I see the metro station. What took 45 minutes to get to by cab from the metro station is actually a 10 minute walk from the bar to the metro. My subway ride home is uneventful, just a lot of Chinese or Mongolian migrant workers packed on the train trying to get to work. I guess they are Russia's cheap labor pool.
6:00 p.m. - 9.11.04 - Moscow - Overcast - 40 degrees
My back aches a lot. I don't plan on doing much today, just sleeping in, relaxing, and packing. I watch the coverage of the 9-11 service on EuroNews from New York. I'm sad and weepy. The service brings tears to my eyes. I wonder when we move on from this.
Still no calls from Sasha.
4:00 p.m. - 9.12.04 - Somewhere over Luxemburg - Minus 49 degrees - 32,000 feet - 523 mph
Getting to Sheremetyevo Airport was easier than I thought. No delays. I get off at the correct stop and take the bus going to the airport. I am in so much pain. My back went from bad to worse overnight. I had to take baby steps on the subway and in the airport because every step I took was like a new experience in pain. I ask an old American couple waiting on line in front of me at the Russian Passport Control center at the airport if they had any painkillers, aspirin, or whatever they could give me. They give me some Bayer aspirin. I take 4 pills. I know its not going to help much but its a start. At the duty free shop before I leave Moscow and board my plane I buy a carton of smokes and a box of Cuban cigars. I don't think I will have a problem with U.S. Customs. I talk with some Americans who are also traveling to Kiev on the same plane with me and ask if they think there would be an issue. They said no. They do it all the time. (I think it helps that they also work for the U. S. Patent office)
In Kiev I hang out with Guy, this kid from Israel, and Mike, this kid from Texas as I wait for my plane to JFK. Both boys are heading back home. Mike and Guy tell me that they spent the last three months in India touring the country side and hanging with Buddhist monks, smoking hash, and doing lots of acid. Oh yeah, and they learned some yoga also. Mike is 23, thin, has a slight beard growing in, long sandy blonde hair, and he's dressed like a hippie. Guy is 22, dark haired, thin, blue eyes, long haired and is also dressed like a hippie. Both guys met somewhere in the mountains of India as they were trying out the local hashish. They decided to hang out and travel together after they met. More than likely the two of them were doing this "I'm trying to find myself" stint. The stories they both tell me are fascinating. Mike's visa ran out for India, so he had to get a forged document from one of the locals so he could leave. He had to pay the guy five bucks and some hash. He's not sure if he will be able to get back into the U.S. yet. Mike tried to stiff the local on the five bucks and the guy didn't finish signing the paperwork, so on the plane from India, Mike grabbed a pen and forged the guy's handwriting to finish off the paperwork. Well, if I see Mike get arrested at JFK I'll know why. Guy is going back to Israel to help build houses for poverty stricken Israelis. He was doing charity work by placing kids in foster homes in Israel, but he got burnt out on doing that. That's why he took the trip to India. Now he wants to go back and try something new.
On the plane back to the U.S. Mike tells me his story of why he left Texas. It seems that he was a drug dealer who was selling meth and coke. His partner got bagged by the cops and confessed. During the confession he ratted out Mike. When Mike called up his partner one day, he heard a funny tone in his voice. Mike decided not to stick around, so Mike went to Detroit, then hopped a plane to India till things quieted down. He got in contact with his parents a few weeks ago who told him that there wasn't a warrant for his arrest and that no one was looking for him. So he assumes it's safe to come back home at this point and start his life over.
On the flight from Kiev to New York I sit next to this kid from NYC. His name is Will (or Vlad in Russian). He was on holiday with his folks in Kiev and he's on his way home to Brooklyn while his parents finish up their holiday in Moscow. Will is 23 years old, dark haired, green eyes, about 5'11 and 160 lbs. Nice kid. Good looking also. We have an interesting conversation for about 3 hours on sex and sexuality. Will is straight, and he loves all the girls he met in the Ukraine. He likes the fact that there are "no games" as there are with American girls. He says he can speak easily with the women in the Ukraine, whereas the "American girls just fuck around with you." Will is in between jobs and school right now. He is a delivery boy for a pizzeria in Brooklyn. With all this talk of women, I have to fuck with him and tell him I'm bisexual.
After I tell Will I am bisexual, he starts asking how could I like both men and women, don't I get confused. He tells me how he can never sleep with a guy because men are too hairy. He also asks a question about whether or not I believe if homosexuality is a genetic defect in nature and if it is a gay gene in the human body, where does the gay gene come from if both parents and grandparents are straight. The questions keep on rolling from his mouth. He tells me about his one friend who he hangs out with who he thinks is gay because he likes to talk to women about fashion, shoes, and superficial things. He doesn't know how to approach his friend and doesn't think he wants to know if he's gay.
We talk about his first time with a girl and how it felt "so right" with the girl that he could never sleep with a guy. He said he "could never feel the same way with a man as he would with a woman." Again, he mentions the hairy ass part. He then asks me about why girls in the lesbian community like bull dyke women that often look like men. He says, "if girls want to sleep with bull dykes, why don't they just sleep with men?" After about 3 hours of this conversation, I tell him that I need to try and sleep. The in-flight movie this evening on the flight back to New York is "Ghost" and "Tomb Raider." Both I've seen before. Next stop JFK.
5:30 a.m. - 9.13.04 - Atlanta - Overcast - 69 degrees
Yes, I was supposed to be home yesterday but my flight from Kiev to JFK flight came in an hour late. My Delta connection flight to Cincinnati left on time at 5:37 p.m. I got to JFK at 5:15 p.m. and still haven't gone through U. S. Customs yet. I finally get out of Customs at 6:15. I would have gotten out sooner if the people at Customs knew what they were doing and knew how to close off a station. I was directed to a line by a Customs agent where I waited for 20 minutes while seven children tried to get through Customs. The Customs agent scrutinized every piece of paperwork the kids had. The kids were with this other U.S. Customs agent who was trying to help them get into New York. I guess the kids were on a school trip or something. Anyway, I am standing on line waiting, waiting, waiting. I see an open spot and I move to it. The U.S. Customs agent asks me after 10 minutes of waiting, "who are you waiting for?" I tell him, "I am waiting for any fucking person that is willing to look at my passport since I've now been waiting on line for 20 god damn minutes." He then tells me he is closed. I moved to the next line, the woman tells me after 5 minutes of waiting on line that she is closed also. Now, I'm pissed. I finally get a U.S. Customs agent that is open and he breezes me right through. Assholes.
I run over to the Delta terminal to see what flight I can get back to Chicago on. I look at the flight board and see that there is a flight leaving in 20 minutes for Cincinnati. I get on ticket line but its full. So I decided to go to the Delta business and first class line with no people on it. This half wit of an agent who is monitoring the line says, "are you first class or business?" I said, "no." He says, "I'm sorry but you can't wait on this line." I tell him, "the fuck I can't. I don't care which class of fucking service I am, I need a ticket agent now before I miss my flight. You have a choice, give me an alternative to that line or fuck off." He tells me go directly to the gate and a ticket agent can help me there. I go through security and work with a gate agent to see if I can get on the Cincinnati flight. The gate agent can't help me get on a flight tonight at all. All they do is tell me to go back to AeroSvit airlines and make arrangements with them. So I head all the way back to the International terminal and speak with the AeroSvit agent who informs me that the best he can do is put me on the 5:30 a.m. flight to Cincinnati in the morning and then hop a flight to Chicago from there, which would get me in at 10:20. I tell him fine. He also puts me up in a hotel for the night because of this inconvenience.
As I wait for AeroSvit agent to book my hotel room, Mike from Texas comes up to me to grab a smoke. He needs to get to La Guardia to catch a flight to Texas in the morning. He has no cash, no food, and there isn't a Western Union for a few miles. He tells me that he's going to hop a cab and do a jump and run at La Guardia. I tell him, "no don't do that." I reach into my wallet and give him 20 bucks. There is a shuttle that goes between airports and only costs 12 bucks I tell him. He thanks me and tells me that he can't accept the money I gave him unless I take something from him. (Well I could use a blow job right about now I think to myself) So he takes off his necklace. It is carved out of stone and was made by a Buddhist monk in one of the villages he stayed in. He tells me its really valuable to him and costs more than 20 bucks but he will part with it because he can't accept charity. I tell him that I don't giving him the 20 bucks and he doesn't have to give me the necklace, but he insists. He puts the necklace around my neck, and kisses me on the cheek and says, "thank you." I shake his hand and say, "no problem dude." I give him a smoke and head back into the terminal to get my hotel reservation.
When I get to the hotel I call my boss and let him know I will be late and will be in at Noon.
When I get to the airport in the morning, the agent at Delta tells me she can get me in about a half hour earlier if I didn't mind going through Atlanta. I tell her, "no, what ever gets me to Chicago on time and before Noon will work." It seems that all the flights out of Cincinnati are booked solid and a plane may be delayed, so I take the JFK to Atlanta to Chicago flight home. I get home from Midway at 11:30 a.m. and start work right away.
Last thoughts -- 9.17.04 -- 8:00 p.m. - Chicago
No matter how I look at this trip, I have to admit I had a great adventure. I enjoyed going to Europe again after not being there for 7 years. This vacation was something I desperately needed. I loved meeting all the people on my journey and hearing their stories. It was great seeing Sasha again, and finally meeting Vonya. I like Russia and this vacation did change my perspective on life and my thoughts on what Russia is all about. I was awestruck when I walked through Red Square and the Kremlin. After reading history, living through the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and remembering the tough times the U.S. had with Russia, I could never imagine that as an American I would now be walking through Red Square in the year 2004. To see what the Russians built during Cold War in Moscow is astounding and magnificent. I wish I could spend more time in Russia to examine the relics and learn more about their history.
I will go back to Russia soon. I did promise myself that I would learn the language first before going back. Learning Russian and other languages will be one of my goals for the coming transition I will be going through this year and next. I missed out on so much by not knowing the language while I was in Russia. I thought I could play it off as a dumb American like I did in Paris and Madrid several years ago, but I couldn't do that in Russia. The Russians were not as friendly, nor did they put up with people that didn't know the language. Moscow is a very big metropolitan city with 20 million people living there. It is one of the top five most expensive cities to live in in the world, it is trendy, and it caters to many people who have a euro-centric taste. I have to admit, Russia has come a long way from its old Soviet days.
I will remember this trip to Moscow as part of my transition of what lies ahead of me and how I should deal with things in the future. The reason I went alone to Moscow is to show myself and others that I can adapt and survive anywhere no matter where I am, where I will be, or who I am with. If anything, I knew that I could do things alone, with out the help of others to rely on. It's not to say I don't need friends or family to help, but in life you do have to rely on yourself. The question is, can you handle life on your own? Are you able to survive? No matter what I did in Moscow, good or bad, I learned a lot, and I triggered feelings and other things that have laid dormant in me for quite some time. It's great to have those feelings back again... If anything, it made me a better person who is open to new challenges once again.
I hope you enjoyed this summary of my trip. Thanks for reading it.