Traffic into Moscow is a non-event this afternoon. So is finding the home of our Russian contact, Evgeniy. What a relief! We've just pulled into the parking lot of his apartment complex; Tara is sitting next to me, turning off the GPS and the laptop, while I take out our phone and dial his cell number. Evegny answers and reports that he'll be down to meet us in two minutes.
We are unpacking when he arrives, smiling. "Hello, Yankees!" he exclaims, shaking our hands firmly before commanding, "Gimme keys, I park your car." Tara looks at me, and I shrug with a smile, handing them over. Evgeniy hops into our little red Corolla, starts the engine, throws it into reverse, and floors it.
With a squeal he whips our tiny hatchback into a parking space less than twenty feet away, jabs the brakes, and hops out reporting, "Toyota, very nice car." It pleases us that he likes it. After all, he gave us the idea to buy it in Germany!
We grab our things from the back seat, and Evgeniy helps us schlep everything inside. On the way, he approves of our plan once more, saying:
I think its good, your car plan. Tourists always go Trans-Siberian, Trans-Siberian, Trans-Siberian. But you know? It's total crap. It's a sheet idea.
You see nothing, you just go in straight line, and there are no showers. My wife and I? We like to be clean, we like a shower every day. It is so fucking hot in the summertime, and you are stuck with so many people. It's crazy.
He has wide eyes and shakes his head in bewilderment, then starts up again.
…and on every fucking train, woman next to you bring a chicken. Always. Always on train, there is chicken and there is vodka. I am bad Russian. I fucking hate chicken and I hate vodka.
As we all squeeze inside the minuscule elevator for his building, he bumps his eyebrows up and down and nudges us with his elbows, saying something like, "Ooooh very sexy in here, oh yes!" before breaking into peals of laughter.
Commenting about how hot it is, we ask if we can take showers. "Oh yes, you don't want to get dirty, black like neegar!" We are stunned, unable to form a coherent response. Then Evgeniy drops the n-bomb again and laughs hysterically. "I am not racist, I am just crazy Russian!", he confidently assures us. "I like Obama, he is good. For a neegar!"
In Russian, the word negr (негр), which sounds like nigger, is the usual term for "black people", which, despite its neutral denotation, is challenged because of the virtually-universal familiarity with US society's racist usage of nigger.
In the apartment, we meet his wife, Svetlana, a demure woman in a low-cut sun dress. She limply shakes our hands and then Evegny whisks us away for a tour. When we reach the kitchen he jokes, "Dirty dishes, that is for my slave!"
We see the bathroom, and the office/living area where we'll be sleeping. He briefly mentions that he has a homeless friend who sometimes sleeps over, and will probably spend the night with us, and maybe we can have a threesome! The tour carries on and we hardly have a chance to process it. Finally, we get a peek into his bedroom, or as Evgeniy calls it, "my sex place!"
Once the tour is complete, we congregate in the living area, where an air-conditioner, a blessed, blessed air conditioner, pumps a cool breeze into room. Evgeniy sits down at his computer; Svetlana is already at hers. They sit back to back in office chairs, typing away.
After taking a moment to bask in the climate controlled atmosphere, I retrieve my laptop. Evgney has a Lenovo too, and wants to see it. When I hand it over, he eyes it dubiously, then hands it back in disgust. "Fucking shit, it is dirty!" Then, pointing at a smallish dark area in the center of the screen (from when my parked bike tipped over on the electronics side) he says, "Your fucking screen is sheet!"
Then, reaching for a can of compressed air, he says, "Here, gimme Lenovo. Fuck…" and points a short, straw-like nozzle towards the computer. As he blasts the air vents, a puff of dust flies into the air. "There. Clean now." And with that, the four of us settle in for the evening, each behind our computer screens.
Hours later, we are summoned for tea. We all sit down at the kitchen table, in what we discover is a nightly tradition. Svetlana brews us Siberian herbal tea, and we talk while munching on chocolate and crackers.
Evgeniy is an excellent story teller. Before the night is spent, we'll hear about Russians on planes with roasted chickens wrapped in newspaper, Gypsies, Chechens, Muslims, and that Mexico is like Russia, but with good roads!
When we're through, we thank our hosts and head to our pull-out couch, not entirely sure if some stranger will appear in the night to join us. We fall asleep, thanking our lucky stars for air conditioning and the generosity of our strange new friends.