Wednesday, December 08, 2004

On The Mark -- Reporting from Russia V

Walk at your own risk. If you ever have the chance to go to Russia, especially to cities outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, the most important thing to remember is that drivers have the right of way. They don't stop for anybody, even if you're in a crosswalk, which are hard to find anyway. I was "saved" a few times. And many times I saw people in the middle of the street as cars whipped by them from both sides, not even bothering to slow down. They also don't pay much attention to the dividing lines in the road. They create their own lanes, including going up on curbs, and squeezing between cars like we would observe motorcycles doing on our highways. In Russia, "insurance" does not exist in the dictionary. There's no such thing as car insurance. If you get in a wreck, you pay to get your car fixed or to cover medical expenses. While being driven from one of the airports in Moscow to my hotel we were delayed by an accident. As my driver approached the scene, we saw an SUV twisted, smashed, and spun around in the middle of the road. "Ah, another New Russian crumbles," he said, explaining that a $35,000 SUV in America goes for $100,000 in Russia because of customs duties, and only those few who have been able to capitalize on the new democracy, the New Russians, can afford a vehicle of this kind. "Let's see if it's a girl driver," he says with some glee. "I'm certain it was." Sure enough, there she was, standing in the middle of the road in her mink coat on a cell phone. "She's calling to see if she can find a friend to stay with for a couple weeks," he says seriously, "because her husband is going to raise hell when he finds out he's out a hundred grand. He'll be drinking a lot of vodka tonight."

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