Saturday, January 07, 2006

Day 1 - Boston to JFK; JFK to SVO

I'm back from my trip and will be posting day-by-day details over the next week. Hope this makes for some enjoyable reading.

Day 1 - Travel to Moscow I left home with my packed suitcase and dufflebag full of New Year's gifts at approximately 9:30 am. I had made a decision on this trip to drive to JFK, instead of flying from Logan to JFK. The cost for long-term parking at JFK vs. flying was a wash and the time to drive to JFK was actually less than flying due to all the waiting for flights. There was quite alot more holiday traffic than I had expected on the drive. The Mass Pike was a slowly moving parking lot; it took about an hour to travel those 10 miles and I began to worry that perhaps I hadn't allowed enough time.

But after that short stretch, it was smooth sailing. Long-term parking at JFK filled just as I got there, and a long stream of cars and myself were directed to overflow parking lot 7. I found myself waiting in line at Delta's International check-in before 3 pm. The line stretched out the door at the time of my arrival. While waiting in line, I noticed a black-clad, fedora wearing Russian guy, who was busily unstuffing his suitcase and packing these items into a box that he was wrapping in duct tape. Apparently, his one large suitcase was 73 lbs (!) and if he wished to send it like that, it would cost $300. However, he could break it down into 2 bags and that would be no charge. I guess the premium is for breaking the backs of Delta baggage handlers.

I had enough time to pick up a couple of bottles of booze (Frangelico and Bailey's Irish Creme) as gifts for my hosts and friends in Rostov Veliky. While there, I again spotted the fedora clad Russian guy, as he was picking out some bottles of wine. I made it to gate 8 and being in group 4, I was the first of the steerage class to make it onto the plane. Found my seat in row 38 and soon afterwards found that I was seated next to ... the Russian guy in the black fedora. Turns out he is Gleb Makarov, professional ball-room dance instructor and competitor. Very charming guy, interesting life story. We talked for almost the entire flight. Gleb is on his way to Perm to visit family. In that great Russian tradition, he had already started partying before the flight and also picked up two bottles of duty-free red wine, with the plan to enjoy them on the flight.

The flight was delayed over an hour while we waited for 55 passengers on connecting flights to arrive. Once we got into the air and had our meal served, Gleb decided it was time to crack into those wine bottles ("we have to kill them" he said). Upon his request, I got the bottles out of his duty-free bag in the overhead bin. Neither of us had a bottle opener. Gleb had a plan to ask a flight attendant about getting a bottle opener. I had a suspicion there would be no such item available, as all the wine I saw served on the flight was screw-top. I went to the rear of the plane to ask the flight attendants about getting a bottle opener. I was greated with a small gasp and was told that in accordance with US law, they are not permitted to allow passengers to serve themselves. I was further told by the flight attendant that "this is a real problem on the Russian flights, these Russians really like to party". She related a story of a Russian orchestra that was flying from JFK to SVO. Apparently one of its members got so drunk he staggered to the rear of the plane and passed out on the floor. I was absolutely shocked to hear such a tale of Russian drinking excess (not!). I pulled out my wallet to buy a couple of small bottles of the crappy wine they serve on the plane, but they kindly gave me two on the house. S Novim Godom, dear flight attendants.

Here is were Gleb proved to be a real tribute to Russian persistence in the face of rules. I, the lowly American, would have given up at this point, and paid a few bucks to drink some crappy little bottles of wine and enjoy my trip. Gleb wasn't going to quit so easily, particularly when there was some fine drinking at stake. He decided he could push the cork into the bottle and we would enjoy the wine surreptitiously. Plastic forks didn't prove to be strong enough for the trick, but I found a ball-point pen. We took turns pushing the cork into the bottle and finally were rewarded with an oakey Merlot, which was really quite excellent. I poured mine into an aluminum can that once contained sparkling water; Gleb had a plastic cup that he had used earlier. Both bottles were killed while most of the plane slept. We caught a little bit of sleep before the plane landed. Neither of us were looking our best upon arrival, but we had a good time talking and drinking all night.

Upon disembarking, Gleb went to his passport control line, and I went to mine. I didn't see him again as I waited for my luggage. It's a pity, I hoped that he would get to meet Katja. Seems my bag was in the half of the plane that was onloaded second and I waited for almost 40 minutes before I could depart. I walked through the customs green line (no checks) and through a crowd of eager faces. Katja quickly found me, was great to see her bright eyes and smiling face again. We walked outside into the light snow ... was rather nice to see Moscow under white. We found a taxi driver, overpaid (almost unavoidable for a tired American with slight Russian skills like myself) and were finally delivered to the Best Eastern Arbat Hotel.


Anonymous said...

Hi...I realize this was written nearly a year ago...but had to comment. Dear Gleb was my ballroom dance instructor while I lived in NJ!!! I left the area in 2002 so it's been some time since I've seen he and his wife...pursued the impulse to see if I could find out what they were up to and happened across your blog :) Thanks for posting's nice to know he hasn't changed one bit!!!!


H said...

Gleb Makarov presently resides and teaches ballroom dance in Seattle, Washington, and is very sought after as a teacher. He is incredibly funny as he is talented.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories. I had occasion to take Delta 30 and 31 a number of times in 04 and 05 as a monitor for the HEU Transparency program (Google it for an interesting read, if you wonder what that is). The flights home were always peaceful until Delta decided to more strictly enforce the drinking rules, as mass napping would ensue a couple of hours after the party started. When the parties were no longer allowed, 8 hours of conversation replaced the naps, making it a bit more difficult for me to catch my nap. Not complaining, mind you, just making an observation. Sometimes I think about and miss my co-workers at Novouralsk, Seversk (near Tomsk), and Zelenogorsk (near Krasnoyarsk).

Bill Mosby

W. Shedd said...

HEU ... indeed!

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