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Travels in Russia

Russian Remonts
Stop Theif!
Almost Worth Staying For
Offshore Your Rubles in Swiss Accounts
Russian Women
You Can Buy Anything in a Russian Kiosk!
What Did Russians Eat Before Potaotes?
Nothing Like a Birch Branch Beating!
Anything Can Be Scrap Metal
Serious Soviet Pollution
Day-Tripping Around the Garden Ring
The Russian Poezd
Yeltsin's Family
Soviet Photography
Happy Times in HTML Hell
Road Runners Rule!
Piva is Good!
A Subaka Says What?
Soviet Swimming
Manly Russian Men
And Peter is a Distant Second
Invest in Russia?!
But He Went by the Name of Lenin
That Looks Just Like My Dom
Russian Adoptions by the Dozen
Internet Cafes Are Everywhere
Going to See Mama Russia
Going to the Movies
Russian Visas
Eta Notebook Batteria, Durak!
Fidelity is Not a Brokerage
Soviet Suburban Living
Taking the tramvai
Cash Transfers Across Russia
Time to go...
Do Your Spring Cleaning Now!
Reclama Nation
Russians Do Tours
Going Local
Pecktopan = Restaurants
Yevgeniy Primakov, Who?
101 Reasons Why NATO's War Sucks
A State Secrect: Women's Ages
Russians Blew up the US Embassy!
It's Dacha Time Again
I Love Me a Starlite Diner
Anything Goes at Night
Yesho Piedesat Gram Vodkoo
Shock Thearpy
IMF & Reform
Zoos Should Be for Politicans
There Was Giligan, And the Skipper Too
The Regions Exist?
Do You Believe the Media?
What is Russian Feminism?
Russian Music Rocks
Bye Bye Fast Food
Yest Klooch?
Addicts Are Addictive
Racism in Russia Too
An Education in Russian Politics
Orphans Are Lonely
Making Bliny
Nasty Newspapers
#51 If you get the jokes
Sick as a Dog
Those Crazy Russians
An Open Road Ahead
Iron Felix
You Can Buy (Almost) Anything in a Market
Education Makes Elections Happen
Ice Cream in Winter
Superstitions Are Sneaky
The Adventures of Flat Jon
Ice Fishing in Sibera
Death is Painful in Any Culture, Anywhere.
Lenin is Alive
Every Thing is Leaking
New Russians
Go Dollar!
Corruption is Endemic
The Joe-Cool Moscow Crew
Taxes Will Find You
I'm Driven Mad
Holidays Last and Last
It's All About Location
Taxies Take You Everywhere
Russian Religion Re-emerges


Russia, July 5, 1999

The Zen of the Line

Some days it actually pays to wait in line

Talk about speed!
I took the hydrofoil instead
too much order in the world!
And this is an orderly 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.

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