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Russia, November 8, 1997

Russian Buses Take Their Time

Don't miss the bus! It's a long wait for the next one.

The Bus!

Joe Pickett, Peace Corps Volunteer in Perm, Russia

Russian bus drivers always drive their buses in three's, the joke goes. The first knows where to drive. The second knows how to drive. The third is admiring the intelligence of the first two. Probably the butt of more jokes in Russia than even the not-so-friendly GAI (militia) officer, the abuse heaped on Russian bus drivers is rooted in two facts: Russians use humor to alleviate stress of their high-stress lives, and the average Russian is highly dependent on erratic public transportation.

The same for me too. After over two years living in Perm, I have become intimately familiar with the specs of our bus #41 that services our suburb outside of Perm. Number: #41, or #4 if they forget to switch the signs from the different route

  • Nickname: Zholte Chuda, Yellow Miracle. The person who bequeathed this name obviously had just been picked up
  • Pick one, any one!Color: From dingy yellow to chocolate brown (in spring)
  • Size: Too small
  • Speed: Slow to real slow
  • Country of origin: Hungary, which says to me it should have adequate winter heating, but they didn't ask me back in '81 when it rolled off the assembly line
  • Frequency: From kind of often to almost never, depending on day of week, time, holiday, driver, if it's lunch time, how many feet of snow are on the ground, if the GAI officers closed the one bridge going into the city for no reason, if it's potato harvest season, unannounced closed roads, if the city workers are staging a protest for unpaid wages, etc.
  • Typical elapsed time into city: 25 minutes to ???. See above for reasons
  • Cabin temperature: -20 to 90 F
  • Capacity: If the passengers were of American origin, 50. But since they're Russian, at least 75
  • Average space between you and next passenger: None
  • How to tell where you are in the bus route in January, when the windows are coated with 1/4 inch of ice: Spidey sense, or you just don't know and get off at the wrong stop
  • How much I miss my car in the states while riding: somewhat to a whole bunch
  • Best poor student ruse to avoid paying fare: Saving a punched ticket from each bus on the route. Each bus has punchers on the walls with a different pattern. Just show the conductor the old punched ticket, but make sure you got the bus number right or she'll yell at and fine you when she sees the wrong puncher pattern!
  • Best way to keep feet warm while riding it packed full in subzero February: Buy valenki, felt boots, or maybe just resignation that there are more important things in life than warm feet. And hey you know if it's -20 in Perm it's at least -35 in Irkutsk! It's tropical here!
  • Best place to be on the bus when it's packed: If you don't need to get off until the end, in a seat. If you want to get off sooner, anywhere but a seat
  • Worst place to be on the bus when it's packed: Crammed into the well just inside the door, the last poor soul to get on the bus. This in an ideal place to get your foot crushed in the door, which lack safety devices, as I learned on rough Day Three in Russia
  • Second worst place to be on the bus always: Standing on the joint that connects the two parts of the bus together. This area has an unfortunate tendency to collapse unexpectedly during transit, causing no injury but rather unpleasant momentary terror
  • My favorite way to pay fares: With a monthly pass. This avoids the necessity of constantly digging for change with numb fingers, letting go of the railing and being flung around, etc
  • Best past time while waiting for the bus: trying to hitch a ride for 10 rubles
  • Best excuse to not pay fare (Russian): I'm a Hero of the Soviet Union
  • Best excuse to not pay fare (American): Y-y-ya, ne g-g-g-ovoreat poo-Rooskie (I don't speak Russian, complete with bad grammar and pronunciation). The conductor doesn't want to deal with problem children. But I always pay, honest

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