Russia, July 5, 1999
Some days it actually pays to wait in line
|The day before I left I my journey along the Volga River cities,
my friend Dave asked me how I felt to be traveling all the time. I know his
workaholic style, so I knew what he was really asking; was traveling around
Russia worth giving up my cushy expat job? I took a moment to think about
that question, and I told him that some days, when I was moved by a sight,
sound, speech, or emotion, I though I was doing the right thing, but other
days, when I spent it waiting in a line, I felt that I'd made a mistake.
That waiting three hours in a Toglatti train station just to ask the dezhorniya
when the train left Samara and got into to Ulyanovsk, was a waste of my brief
moment on this Earth. I was wrong.
I waited three hours to ask those two questions, and I'd do it again. Well I did do it again, this morning even! I waited in line for three hours with Lidia as she applied for a visa to visit Scotland. Why? Because in those three hours in Toglatti, I wrote a letter to a friend of mine who is headed to Kosovo as an Army MP. I wrote to her about the beauty and insanity of lines in Russia. How Russians have developed a system, over the countless hours and countless lines during Soviet times, to actually accomplish something with nothing.
When you approach the end of a line here, you ask who is last, and stand behind them for fifteen minutes or so. Then, where there are a few people behind you, you ask the person in front of you to save your place. Then you step into the next line and repeat the process. After you have two, or maybe even three spots, you dance between them till one is close to the window you need to get to or you just have a seat and rest your feet. Just before your turn, you return and reclaim your space. If you are lucky, the window will still be open when you get there, but you don't give up your place in the other lines until you've done your business at the first window. You never know it might close in front of your face!
The big problem arises when the person who was saving your place in one line goes to his other line, or leaves completely. Then you have to try and reassert your place in that line before the people behind you forget you were there. This happened several times to different people while I was in line in Toglatti, and the ensuing babushki shouting matches was a sight to be seen! I only wish my cussword-Russian was better so could have learned a few things about those ladies' mothers!
Now, as I type this, I am smiling at the memory of those ladies fighting tooth and nail for every spot in the line. Yes, that three-hour wait was worth every second. Worth more than the hundreds of dollars, PwC would have paid me to work that day. Worth more than all the vodka in Russia and all the tea in China, combined.
Yes, Dave, I couldn't be happier with my decision to leave the corporate rat race, and I don't regret it a minute, a dollar, or a three-hour wait in line. I've leaned something amazing after two weeks of lines in the provinces, something my father thought I'd never learn: patience.