The saga of the car continues. In order to get a big red diplomatic license plate installed in the plate holder above, I need to jump through a variety of bureaucratic hoops.
Today's hoop was the "technical inspection."
After suffering through several bizarre stress dreams related to the technical inspection and my fear of anything automotive, I decided to hire somebody to help me find the technical inspection place and walk me through the process.
Best money I ever spent.
I mean, I had a blurry copy of a copy of a copy of someone's printout of the google map, so I probably could've found the place on my own, probably maybe. But then what?
I first met Slava-the-driver when I needed a ride out to the school to participate in a race they were hosting shortly after we arrived here. The guards at the school stopped him outside the gate and told him he couldn't go further, but he convinced them to let him drive in, chatting them up in his cheerful Russian until they opened the gate. I was immediately mortified when I realized what he'd done: he'd driven us directly onto the race course, which volunteers were still setting up. Perhaps he was afraid that I wouldn't be able to run the whole course if I had to walk uphill to the starting line? He dropped us off right at the starting line, in full view of the volunteers and early arrivals, before driving off with a cheerful shout - "I hope you get first place!"
So this same Slava met me at 930 this morning, hopped in the passenger seat and immediately started in with his rapid-fire Russian, without even asking if I could understand him. He had me laughing the whole way there, with his descriptions of "crazy Russian drivers" and funny encounters with the police while driving around town. He helpfully pointed out every last bump in the highway, a 12-lane behemoth that is currently being re-paved. I learned lots of new words, like "pothole," "hood" and "gas tank opener doohickey," which, as you can see, I don't even know the name of in English, along with new verb constructions, like "get left" (as opposed to "turn left") and "merge right." It was really hard to focus on driving with all of this new grammar and vocabulary swirling around in my head.
I may have found my way there without him, but his cheerful smile and banter got me through the inspection process in record time. The guards at the inspection place smiled and came over to say hello when they saw him waving out my passenger window, and even the surly-looking inspector dude knew Slava - he got the whole inspection done without once even looking at my car. Easy peasy.
Then it was time to head home, and that's where Slava really earned his money, because you can't go back the way you came. Left turns aren't generally allowed in Moscow, and since I'd gotten to the place with a series of right turns, I would've had to left turn my way back to the highway multiple times - an impossible and quite illegal task, especially for a foreign lady driving around town with no plates on her car. Were it not for Slava, it's entirely possible I'd be halfway to Petersburg right now, still trying to turn around and head east.
But it's done, and I'm back at the Embassy getting dinner going. The car still needs one more inspection at some police station somewhere, but I don't think I'm supposed to do that one myself. And then there's the small matter of needing an actual driver's license. I'm still working that one.
Most interesting thing I saw all morning? That would probably be the giant billboard that appeared to have been freshly installed on the road into the city center, big white type on a pale blue background, proudly proclaiming in Russian: "EUROPE WORKS FOR US." Of course I couldn't take a picture of that while speeding down the gigantic highway, but it did get me thinking. In some ways Russia is the same as it ever was, but in others, it's just so very different than I remember.
Hard to believe we've been here two months already...