Thursday, May 23, 2013

Soggy American in Transit

Recently seen in Moscow: An American determinedly stumbling about in hiking boots, short green athletic shorts, and a soaked red raincoat.

I could not have been been more wet if I had decided to explore Snoqualmie Falls in the spring.

As I made my way to the train station, this evening, to catch my train from Moscow to Uzhgorod, the sky decided to take the fire-hose approach.

I grew up in Seattle and I've seen a lot of rain. I don't know, however if I've seen rain like this before. I likely have - just not in this situation.

If I could show you a picture of the streets, you would think that they were a picture of the Moskva River or something. I've got pretty rad hiking boots – they go up to my ankles and I've never had wet feet in them, even when exploring New York in a downpour. Upon merely crossing the street, the water gushed in over the tops and turned my socks to soaking. This happened over and over again. Later, when I got on the train, I was able to wring out around half a cups worth of water from them. I'm not sure if my shoes will ever be the same.

I had heard the rain from Vova's open window as I read Coraline (and finished it) by Neil Gaiman. I didn't, however, realize the magnitude of what was happening in those minutes. I zipped up my rain coat and tromped downstairs, bags in hand, swinging at my side in memoriam of Julie Andrews. Hood up, I opened the door. The entire parking lot was flooded. Someone had turned a faucet on our little corner of Moscow.

I had no reason to hesitate. Nothing to wait for. No time to “let it pass” and stepped out. Before I had walked a single block, my pants were thoroughly, thoroughly shamelessly soaked through. By block two, my quilt was heavy with the rain it absorbed. By block three, my shoes were filled to the brim with water.

“Golly.. I didn't know it could rain this hard?”
The sky answered back by pounding my head harder.
I grinned.

I can't say I ever felt discouraged or frustrated – just sort of mesmerized. It was warm outside and it felt like a shower. I wanted to strip down and scrub my scalp and roll in the mud... but I had a train to catch and Moscow mud almost always has shards of glass in it, I've noticed on my barefoot excursions.

Others were just as wet, I'm sure, but they didn't have pants that pitifully boasted it like mine which became semi-see-thru and stuck to my thighs worse than a new blues dancer who thinks it's their job to close their legs on yours as they dance, one of the worst habits to have but one of the easiest to kill.

The walk to the train station seemed a bit longer than usual and when I got there, there was a crowd down the stairs and into the tunnel of people not ready to brave the rain, knowing that in time, like all things, it would pass. I entered as a walking proof of why they ought not go out. A living testimony to the force of that awaited them.

I sludged down and people gave me a much different look than I normally receive in the Moscow metro. Water pooled around my feet each time I paused and finally I made it onto my subway. Never before had my rain-jacket soaked through – and I've put it to the test in some pretty vicious storms for elongated periods of time. Today, my forearms were dripping.

I sat down and, when I got up again, left a wet mess behind me.

It was only fourteen minutes to Kievskaya. People stared. I maintained a neutral expression that hinted at pleasure – although I think that in that moment, of everyone on the train, I had the right to wear the infamous frown of Moscow which bends faces into the most unbelievable of contortions like my childhood friend, Jenny, doing a backbend.

The long escalator reintroduced me to the sky again as we remerged from the underground trip and I found my train station. There, I opened up my bags to survey the damage. Everything I owned was wet except for what I keep in my backpack. This is why I use a waterproof backpack. The bag I have is from Chrome. It cost me more than I think normally appropriate for a backpack but I could throw that thing in a river and the contents of the main compartment would still remain dry and that makes it worth its weight in gold. It's built to be watertight for biking. Anyway, it's in there that I keep things that can't afford to get wet. I keep my camera in there with the netbook, Kindle, and iPod. Unfortunately my ticket had not been in there and it was falling apart – something that had the potential to give me grief later on in my journey. I thought about how I would mime out “it was raining so hard my ticket dissolved.”

For 25 rubels (nearly a dollar) I got admitted to the bathroom where I put on the driest pair of trousers I had, my light-green “athletic” shorts I like to wear under shorter-skirts in warm weather. I found one dry sock and put it on underneath the extra pair of leather shoes I had. I was a sight, and I knew it. I put eggs in my hiking boots and tried to dry out my underwear and long pants a bit underneath the dryer. “Oh, hey there Russian-model-lady. How you doin'?”

I marched back out and meandered until I found the platforms with the trains. Platform 14. Car 17. Seat 27.

I handed the lady my ticket. She looked at me and said something to the effect of, “Dude, this ticket is crazy wet and ripped, man. This is not really ok.” I acted out the rain and looked at her with a face like, “Man, I just crossed the Mississippi with all these bags and you're going to turn me away now?”

I handed it to her.

“Ooohh! Amerikanski!” she said with a hint of amusement.
“Da. Amerikanski.... a very wet American,” I said to myself.

She held onto my ticket but waved me through. I was not thrilled that she had my ticket. I was supposed to have it. They always give it back.

At the other end of the car was my seat... and about 8 people crowded in where I was supposed to be sitting. I think my face told all. Shock. Confusion. And then we all laughed together. I stepped back and soon, they all filed out until just one old woman was left.

Still laughing, I started to hang up my belongings on the bars that supported the bunk above me. This time, I had the perfect seat. A lower one in the groups of four (not the set of two parallel to the aisle). This meant I could spread out a lot more easier and sit upright in my own bed. I have a feeling most of what I have will still be wet by the time I reach Uzhgorod in 30 hours.

I went to check out my ticket and was not so reassuringly reassured that it was ok. I gave a thumbs up with a week smile and a questioning shrug. She said something in Russian and I said, “Da,” with a nod of approval.

Bow we're on our way. We've got an interesting, amicable group. Tonight we're all soggy, but I think tomorrow has potential. We'll see.

And thus ends my month in Russia. I know I'll be back there someday.

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