To Russia With Love

Or My Adventurous Beginning to My Trip to Russia When I Was 16…

It was the summer after my junior year and I had no plans. I figured I’d maybe hang out with friends, go to the mall, the usual teenage stuff when my father asked me, completely out of left field, if I wanted to go to Russia for six weeks. There was no thinking. “Oh, hell yeah!” was the first thing that popped out of my mouth. Everything that happened between that moment and the moment we left was a blur. It was all quickly getting everything done: passport, tickets, travel music, books, toilet paper, wipes… Oh, yes, I brought everything. Everyone made fun of me, but I like to be prepared for everything.

Going on the trip with my father and me were my aunt and her son. Like I’ve said before, D went everywhere with us. My aunt, however, was something new to deal with. My mom refused to go on planes, so she was staying home. I didn’t have a great feeling about my travel companions, but screw that! I was going to Russia! It was my first time ever on a plane and I was super excited.

Before we boarded, I went shopping for snacks and magazines. I knew it was going to be a really long flight with a few layovers so I wanted to stock up. I offered to buy snacks and reading material for D too but he just scoffed, “There will be movies on the plane, dummy.” I asked him what he was going to do if there weren’t any because I was set with music, books, magazines, snacks, and drinks. I would not be sharing, thank you very much! He just brushed me off. I shrugged and bought my supplies.

As soon as we got on the plane we started to scuffle. We both wanted the window seat. I promised him the window seat on the way back if he gave me it on the way there. He agreed. Then we fought over the arm rest. The poor guy in the aisle seat must have thought we were insane. We squabbled nearly the entire time, when he wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was too excited. And I was right: no movies. Also, no magazines. He read the Sky Mall catalog a good 50 times before attempting to swipe my Cosmo from me, starting another fight.

The food was scary bad. I was glad to have my snacks. At one point, we dared each other to eat an unidentifiable object under a covered plated that smelled like burning tires. We both took a tiny piece and gagged. Turned out to be smoked salmon. Smoked on burning tires, I guess. It took hours before I could get that taste out of my mouth. D tried to steal my soda and I threatened to shove the rest of the salmon in his mouth. He sulked but he behaved.

Eventually, after layovers in Nova Scotia (uneventful) and Ireland (ridiculously gorgeous) we finally landed in Russia. I had been on a plane for a good 13 hours and had no sleep, nor had I slept well the night before due to excitement. I was kind of tired. And then I saw the Customs line. It was crazy long.

Thankfully, my father told us, we could skip Customs. I was pretty sure he had lost his mind but he insisted that we would go right past because we had a relative in the government. The relative, M, was my father’s cousin’s husband and he was in the Russian parliament. His son, A, was coming to pick us up, we were to be treated like diplomats. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about all of this. I’d never heard any of it before. I was sure I was going to get thrown in the gulag or suffer some awful fate. There was no way I was just going to walk out of there like that.

But we did. I was so giddy with relief that I almost fainted into the van that was sent for us. Actually, several vans. I didn’t notice that at the time. Nor did I notice all of the extra men until we were suddenly stopped. There was a lot of yelling and then we were all out of our vans and it was chaos. I was trying to figure out what was going on. I was severely sleep deprived and more than a bit loopy. That’s when I saw our tires were slashed. I got angry. “Who slashed our tires?!” A few of the men, surprised by my volume, turned toward me and one gestured over toward the group of men they were currently arguing with. That’s when I got all Jersey up in there. I started screaming bloody murder.

The next thing I know, one of our guys picked me up and gently tossed me back into the van. In his limited English he said, “Stay down.” My cousin D scrambled in after me looking completely freaked out. “What the frig did you do? They pulled out guns! Not little ones. Gun guns!” To which I thought, “Oh, damn… I need to see this!” and tried to get up to look only to be tackled by my cousin. “Stay down!”

None of the “gun guns” were actually fired. Only pulled out in some sort of macho pissing contest. Apparently, I had screamed at the Russian mafia and they don’t care if you’re a stupid kid running on no sleep. No one was sure if I was crazy, brave, or stupid. I like to think it’s a special combination of the three. I did impress many big Russian men with big guns that day, though.

Oh, and we wound up having to pay off the mafia and wait a half hour for a new van before we could leave the airport. That was my welcome to the motherland!

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