Well the title of this post may make some of my two or three readers think that I have some hardon for all things macabre, although this is not the case (precisely the thing someone with a hardon for all things macabre would say). I was reading a book, possibly Freakonomics, or Superfreakonomics, can’t remember which, and there was a part in there about death which got me thinking about this post.
As it turns out, most people fear death in its extreme, most destructive forms: a plane falling from the sky, a terrorist subway bomb, a crazed shark or drunken stereotype Russian bear, riding a unicycle around Red Square, massacring tourists with a golden Kalashnikov. They don’t think about other smaller things that might lead to death, like eating 5 kroshka kartoshas a day.
Time to clog some serious artery
Seeing as how the probability of those things happening is extremely low, I thought about some of those daily Moscow realities and just which one would be the end of me, so this, dear comrades, is my list of the top five things most likely to get you, Russian style.
5 Stray dogs
Oh yeah, I fucking hate those stray bastards - sorry dogs. I did a post ages back that summed up my bad feeling toward them and non-leashed dogs, in fact HERE it is. I've got nothing against the care-free dogs, frolicking in their freedom (like the lovable rogue from Lady & the Tramp) I do, however, have of problem with the rabid crazies that are just itching to rip my crotch out or, a better case scenario, just bite me and give me some of that sweet rabies action.
I've had a few run up to me and, luckily, never been bitten. I always keep an eye on them and the nearest stick or stray-dog smashing weapon. It’s not uncommon for people and kids to be attacked by them either, just turn on the news. Although, when I'm drunk, I quite often make a fuss of them or give them food so that will probably be when I get struck down. But there are more common things than dogs around, namely:
The last thing I want is a fat ice spear through my ushanka (although I don’t actually wear an ear-flapping ushanka). A less lazy man would dig up some hard stats on icicles, but I'm not here for the facts (although you can read about this in Russian). My eyes, however, tell me all I need to know. It’s become a habit of mine to always look up at the roofs, check out the ice situation and proceed to loop right around the place. The dvorniki clean them off sure, but with the cold and the snow, there’s always a risk.
So keep your eyes on those roofs! But roofs aside, no list would be complete with crazy Russian driving!
3 Mad car drivers
The cars I have in mind are the ones I hold my hand out and use as taxis. Again, I did a post about this a long time ago HERE and when I tell people in England about how it works, people naturally think that that it’s a roller rape-homicide on wheels, but usually that’s not the case.
The danger here usually lies with the flagger of the car, a lesson I learnt myself-by trying to get the most rock-bottom price.
Two episodes are fresh in my mind where I thought, this may very well be my last trip.
One time was when it was late, coming up for 1 am. I had been to the cinema and was in need of a car, a cheap car and naturally there weren't too many about. I haggled with a few until I found the one. By the time I had got in, the possibly-drunk driver told me that the door was broken and I would have to hold it closed. An excellent start.
Apart from holding the door physically closed with my hand, I noticed the back of the seat was broken, so no leaning back in pimp style. To add to the adventure, the guy seemed a bit crazy, possibly drunk and was waffling about some shit. I could quite easily imagine him nonchalantly telling me about his dead hooker collection.
Didn't quite learn my lesson though
The second adventure involved a crazy Georgian who managed to rip me off hard (which is why I now I prebook taxis from the airport. I sick of listening to haggling taxi drivers talk shit about having to pay 500 rouble parking, looking for the next sucker foreigner). The rip off was partly due to circumstance, but I clearly remember the biblical-style rain hammering down on the highway while this lunatic stabby Georgian hammered the hell out of his shitbox 1970 lada, aquaplaning over the puddles and all.
Honest to god I thought we were going to crash. To make matters worse, he dragged me the scenic route, all around the fucking city, no map, no satnav and then charged me the most I’d ever been charged.
He seemed like one of those ridiculous hothead Georgian guys who would just be calling you droog one minute and slicing your dick off the next with his rusty stabbing blade. But saving money on streets cars aren't the only road risks.
If you are a reader who is not in Russia or Moscow and don’t know exactly what a marshrutka is, it’s a converted minivan and an alternative to the bus. This is what they look like:
I suppose this could have been rolled into one ‘death from driving on Russian roads in general’, but I like to be specific, damn specific. Usually you have to take a marshrutka when your other travel options are limited. Every time you take a marshrutka ride, you're putting yourself one step closer to that big strip club in the sky.
There are an insane amount of daily accidents on these yellow death wagons. I used to have to ride two every day and sometimes four, but the death factor comes from the drivers’ insane driving. They rush all over the place, trying to get it as many passengers as quick as possible. They are not just shit drivers, they are crazy about it too.
I remember sitting in one and the driver was just crashing through the gear box, clearly not grasping the uber complex system of ‘clutch in, change gear, clutch out’. How he didn't wreck the thing, I’ll never know.
Also the line for the marshrutka in the morning can be a real bitch.
Good morning traveller!
Now how many of you out there have enjoyed that moment, when you get into an ex-Soviet lift, press the button and think: "hmmmm, this life looks suspiciously dangerous ". I have, many, many times. In fact, one thing that made me add this post to the list was a dream I had yesterday about a lift I was crashing down in. I've had many of those, should have taken the stairs moments. Like this one.
Come on in
If you’re in Russia, you might notice that it takes some serious work to get a lift replaced. Usually one has to come crashing down before it gets replaced. According to the Moscow Times, about 20 are in worn down and bad condition.
Of course, there’s the human aspect too. Quite I few times I've seen a sign saying ‘maximum five people’ and in inside are 8, jammed in like sardines (much like a marshrutka). But Russians never take notice of signs…
So take the stairs, watch out for the winter ice and avoid the marshrutka!