Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Russians are coming.

When the opportunity to be picked up from the hotel by a shuttle bus to the airport presented itself, it seemed like a good idea.  The concierge was charming and thus appeared knowledgeable.  There seemed no doubt that we would be collected at 8am on the dot and I would be at the international terminal by 8:45am.  All for $1 less than the train fare and without the hassle of wrangling bags at the train station.  Off we went for dinner at Rockpool Bar and Grill (do have the crab salad as a cold entree - divine) leaving the arrangements in the hands of the charming concierge.

On arrival back at my room, there was a note from the concierge with details of our pickup and the shuttle tickets.  Perfect.

Right at 8am the following morning, an anxious looking man with a heavy accent came into the lobby and asked if we were waiting for the airport shuttle.  He took our bags and we followed him.  He wasn't  interested in our tickets.  In fact, he didn't seem interested in very much.  I greeted him warmly and noticing we were the only passengers, explained that one of us was going to the domestic airport and the other the international terminal.

"We go to both terminals," was his curt reply in a thick Russian accent.

Right.  He then was involved in tense conversation over the two way radio.  I didn't hear the content, but could tell that things weren't going too well.  I focussed on  the conversation with my travelling companion which was interrupted when the driver pulled up and said, "You need to get on the other bus."  What other bus?  Where was I?  Was this some kind of raid?  There was no further explanation.

Sure enough, there was another bus.  With another unhappy and tense looking driver.  We'd already been driving for 20 minutes in what seemed to be circles and I could see there was no way I would be at the airport by 8:45.

Being naturally curious, I asked what was going on.  The two-way radio started crackling away, filled with more Russian voices.  People weren't where they were supposed to be.  Nobody had tickets.  Passengers were waiting for a long time.  They were getting angry.  The drivers were frustrated.  There was a lot of sighing.  I imagined a lot of shrugging and eye rolling.  Whoever was in charge of running this outfit needed to get another line of work.  Five more hotels were visited.  Every new passenger was slammed between the eyes by the gruff handling of the driver.  To distract myself, I turned my attention to the drama playing out on the radio.

It went something like this -

"Come in Boris.....Boris...Boris where are you?"

"I am here."

"Where are you?"

"I am here."

"Are you at the domestic terminal?"

"Why you want to know?"

"Because there are passengers waiting."

"I be there."


"Minimum 10 minutes."

It didn't sound hopeful.  He could be hours!

Then Nick, another driver, called into the base.

"What do you do when the passenger doesn't have the paper?"

"What paper?"


Silence.  Minutes passed.  I assumed the paper problem had been solved.  Then base called Nick the driver again:

"Nick, where are you?"  (Here we go again, I thought.)

"I am waiting for passenger."

"Where is the passenger?"

"He went to get the paper."

"How long ago?"

"About 10 minutes now...He leave is luggage and his wife."

"You should not let the passenger leave."

"What could I do?  He was very angry.  He was not of stable mind."


In the meantime, we were still driving around in circles and getting no closer to the airport ourselves.  What the hell kind of shuttle bus service was this?  I'm sure the charming and knowledgeable concierge at the hotel did not knowingly put us in the hands of this mad Russian outfit who trained at the Basil Fawlty school of customer service.

Our driver started to get a bit tetchy at the comic potential I was highlighting in the radio play we were listening to.  He turned the sound down!  What about the man and the paper?  What happened to his wife?  Did the people waiting at the airport ever get picked up?  What was going to take Boris "minimum 10 minutes"?  We will never know.

Every encounter I've had with the Russians has been hilarious.

I interacted with another Boris when I lived in Brisbane.  I was awoken one morning by noise at my window. My bedroom window was very high off the ground, so imagine my surprise when I saw a man's face at the window. At 6am.  Smiling.

As I looked at him, alarmed, he said with a thick Russian accent: "Hello.  I am Boris the Painter.  This is my brother Alex.  We paint the house."  The face of his brother Alex appeared at the window.

The real estate agent had failed to notify us that the house was to be painted.  By Boris the Painter and his brother.  Or anyone else for that matter.  We did recall a strange voicemail message that some shadowy character had left a few weeks earlier.  "Hello.  I am Boris the painter.  My brother Alex and I, we paint the house.  This is Boris the Painter." Oh, that's what that was about.

One morning I went to collect the newspaper from the front lawn only to find Boris the Painter and Alex the brother in a fist fight with the next door neighbour!  The neighbour was claiming there was lead paint and Boris the Painter was not taking proper precautions in dealing with it.  I'm in my dressing gown with three men I don't know refereeing a boxing match on the front lawn at 6:45 in the morning.

I turned to Boris.  "Boris, is this true?"  I could tell from the look in his eyes and the way he shrugged (sheepishly) that it was.  I sent Boris and Alex away to get proper equipment and admonished the neighbour for having a fight rather than a conversation about the problem.

Then there was the time I was an emergency soprano for the choir at the Russian Orthodox Easter service.  When I took the call, I said that I couldn't speak Russian.  I certainly couldn't read it and I didn't know any of the music.  These concerns were apart from the fact that the service would start at midnight, be entirely in Russian and finish at about 5am.  Still they needed me and I'm all for having an experience that gives you a story to tell later.

I arrived at the church.  I was handed a faded, crumpled piece of music that had been copied on one of those stencil machines (remember the print would come out purple and smell like methylated spirits?).  I could barely read it, let alone sight read it.  Then I was issued with a candle and advised that we'd be singing as we processed around the outside of the church.  Thank goodness for the candle - I'd be able to read my music.  Not that the candle will help me read, sing or understand Russian.

So off we went on our five hour singing tour of the church grounds on the windiest night of the year.  I don't know what kind of singing I did that night.  I was very preoccupied with devising a strategy for reading my music without setting it on fire while trying to stay upright in my billowing robe as I completed endless laps of  the uneven ground outside the church.

I succeeded.  I was exhausted.  Then I was presented to the priest who was delighted to discover my first name was Tanya ("Good Russian name.  Are you good Russian girl?") and he offered me his ring to kiss.  I was obliged.

Miraculously, I made it to the airport by 9am to catch my international flight from Sydney to Melbourne.

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