Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"You Look so Horrible, You Must be Drunk"

Not exactly what you want to be told by a traffic cop when you're pulled over after having stayed up until 2:30 a.m. cooking Thanksgiving dinner.

I had to make one last trip out to obtain a necessary ingredient, Challah bread for the wild mushroom stuffing, and the cops made their assessment of me while I waited to make a turn. Mind you, I had done nothing wrong at all... I just looked as if something were wrong.

Hmm.... Let's see... Was anything wrong? Perhaps I was frazzled after the last few days of precisely planned lists so I'd get everything done on time? Perhaps I was seething that the house had been trashed while I was busy cooking in the kitchen? Perhaps I was upset that I'd had to go out again at 11 p.m. to purchase ingredients to make the pumpkin cheesecake all over again after it had been burned in my broken oven (and I'd been covered in smoke)? Perhaps I was still in shock that the coffee I had ordered to go at the bakery had cost $10.25? (STUPID, STUPID, not to check the price first, but COME ON! That much???! I couldn't refuse it because they'd already made it and I knew someone else waiting in line).

Yes... all good reasons to not be looking my loveliest...

But then there was the BEST reason of all to be quaking in my boots at the sight of these cops. I was trying my hardest not to throw up from the fear that they'd realize I was driving illegally. Lest you think we're irresponsible, let me clarify: the Russian government changed the laws regarding work permits for foreigners this past September. Chris's permit expired the first week of October, which meant that our car's registration was now void. You'd think that we could just then go register it again. WRONG. While the old permit laws are now suspended, the new laws have yet to be announced--so we've been in limbo for two months, despite CONSTANT efforts on the part of his firm's lawyers to get the car taken care of. (And when we actually DO get to register it, it will cost us $500 to have someone navigate the bureaucracy at the Russian DMV for us).

So I'm supposed to just happily give up the car for all this time. All this time that we're actually paying SKY HIGH Russian auto insurance on it. After about a month of hitchhiking (people here call it "taking a gypsy cab") and public transportation when possible (not all that possible on the routes I need to go--with kids in tow and heavy bags to-from work or groceries), I gave up and just started driving again. No matter what, I'm going to have to just pay a bribe if I'm pulled over (most likely), so I might as well just drive...

In the meantime, we're just keeping the car documents out of the car; that way the cops don't realize we're truly breaking the law. Instead they can just then threaten to impound the car because I don't have the papers on me. Much better to have them just think that...

In any case, the cop made me take a breathalizer (spelling?) test and get out the car to check that I was stable. Then started the intimidation designed to make me quake in my boots, ultimately grateful when they would finally just let me bribe them.

I pulled out all the stops on this one... I still had to finish cooking for Thanksgiving and get showered, and I was on a TIGHT schedule! Finally they let me just "pay my fine," making sure to state that I was rightfully pulled over because my car was dirty. (Excuse me? Try driving in one the most polluted cities in the world in winter--when wet oily slush gets whipped onto your car by other cars--and tell me how on earth I'm supposed to keep it clean!!)

This cop had gall, though... He didn't believe that an American mom would only have about $38 on her. I had to show him every crevice of my purse to prove that I had given him EVERY SINGLE BILL I HAD. He then made me show him all my credit cards, to prove that I was telling the truth about not having a current ATM card on me (mine have expired and I have yet--GRRRRR--to get the new ones in the mail). He was actually going to make me go withdraw more money for him!!! I'm so glad that Natalia and Katya weren't with me; they already think all cops are crooks... (And that makes my we-lived-in-NYC-on-9/11-police officers-and-fire fighters-are-heroes blood BOIL).

So I finally got to head home, sipping my now-cold expensive cup of coffee, thrilled that I had bought it because that was $10.25 that the cop hadn't managed to take from me. Too bad I hadn't bought two.

By the way, though, Thanksgiving was lovely. Our tradition is to pair up with friends and make it a collaborative effort, hosted in their wonderfully large apartment. This year we all invited new people and I think there were 25 of us... Kids running everywhere (they actually played soccer in the living room), old friends, new friends, perfect.

10 comments:

Rachael said...

I was going to ask "but was the coffee good?", then I continued reading. How's that for a silver lining in buying $10.25 coffee! I can't believe he was going to make you go to an ATM!!! Crazy. At least he let you go and didn't impound your car. Maybe if the girls were with you, they could have turned on the water works (or said they had to go to the bathroom or something!)

You stuffing sounds yummy. You should share the recipe.

Svetik said...

Hi, You don't know me. I am Russian living in US. Kinda opposite of you :-)
Yes, those cops will try anything to just get money, specially if they notice you are from other country.
I love read your blog. maybe on my next visit we can meet. I have 4 kids and they love read how your girls do there.

Melissa Q. said...

scary; i encountered some police stuff in TZ and it made me afriad as well. i'm glad you had a good holiday:)

Tami said...

OH MY WORD!!! The nerve! I know things operate on a totally different level there, but honestly! I can't believe he made you empty your purse and prove you didn't have an ATM card! AUGH!!!! I'm glad you had a great holiday. ;)

Nataliya said...

Oh no, I would have a heart attack! I'm so glad you were able to get out of this situation. As for the bureaucracy, I really understand what you mean, as I'm having to deal with very similar bureaucracy in Ukraine. I guess it's the same in former soviet republics. But I'm glad you had a great Thanksgiving after such a scare!

Thank you very much to you and Tina for leaving comments on my blog. It means a lot to me to hear the words of encouragement while fighting with the red tape in Ukraine...

Lauri said...

Oh Man... the nerve.. I am outraged that you had to give the creep the last of your money.

Glad your Holiday was nice

kate said...

How was election day in Moscow? Things were oddly, falsely, "festive" (as Putin described it) here.

My car insurance is CHEAP! I guess that's a consulate perk...

My non-consualte friend makes sure she only has 500r when she drives after a scolding from her husband for paying 1000r once for her "fine".

Lori said...

Rachael was telling me about what happened to you and I was in shock. I had to come to your blog and read the story for myself. I had no idea Russian cops were so corrupt. A dirty car, please, why don't they just come out and say they are looking for a bribe, they clearly have no morals anyway.

Annie said...

I really needed a laugh today (my husband's car is suddenly not functioning, meaning I have to get two boys to basketball games in two different cities tonight)....anyway I got it. You are so brave; they would have had to take me to the psycho ward when I fell sobbing to the pavement. But your wishing you'd bought two coffees - that was PERFECT; you made my day.

Happymom4 aka Hope Anne said...

Just discovered this story due to your linking to it (thanks!) My Russian friend tells the story of being pulled over by a cop in Russia, and when he tried to get her to pay her "fine", she made huge big "cow eyes" as she called them, at him, and told him she'd been out shopping, had spent all her money, and her husband was going to be Sooooo angry at her, and then REALLY angry that she had to pay a fine, but that was OK--he could come to the bank with her to get the money . . . . she kept sweetly insisting that he accompany her to the bank where she would pull out money for him . . . and "oh dear me! My husband will be Soooo angry at me! Oh what will I do?!" Needless to say, the cop went away without HER money. . ..