O UR TRAIN TRIP begins on a chilly, not oppressively cold, February night. It is just after 10:00
p.m. in Moscow, a city that sleeps as infrequently as New York does.
Sergei and I packed light, a single roll-aboard suitcase each. We drag them over hard
chunks of ice on the sidewalk and stand on the busy street in front of NPR's office to hail a
taxi—well, actually, just someone's car.
Real taxis are available. But calling one is pointless because it can take hours for a driver
to beat the traffic and reach you. So the quickest way to get from point to point is to do what
amounts to hitchhiking. If you stand in the road and put your hand up, a Russian driver will
usually pull over within minutes, hoping to give you a ride and make a few extra rubles be-
fore or during his or her commute.
Moscow traffic jams are notorious and can immobilize drivers for hours. The New Yorker
had a wonderful piece in 2010 about a pedestrian who got mad at a driver on the road and
felt so confident the offending car would not move much that he walked blocks and blocks
home, grabbed a baseball bat, and returned to vent his anger by smashing up the offending
vehicle which, as he predicted, was still stuck in traffic in roughly the same spot.
Its not that public transportation isn't available. Moscow has one of the biggest and most
efficient subway systems in the world. It's just incredibly unpleasant. Whatever the temper-
ature outside happens to be in Moscow, there seems to be some rule that the temperature
will always be fifty degrees warmer in the metro. So if it's about freezing outside and you're
bundled up in winter wear, it's a veritable sauna on the subway, making the whole place stink
of sweat and sweat-soaked fabric. The subway is also crowded with Russians who have no
interest in improving a stranger's travel experience. A passenger needing access to the door
to get off at the next station will simply walk into you, expecting that the fleshy obstacle in
the way will get the message and move.
Rose, who likes to stand her ground, learned about the city's unspoken rules of the road
the hard way. As we approached a metro stop during one morning rush-hour ride, a herd of
sweaty passengers squeezed through the crowd toward Rose and me. I nudged Rose, mo-
tioning that we should retreat as far from the door as possible, but she resisted, not wanting
to condone rudeness. She waited in vain for someone to politely ask or at least politely mo-
tion that they would like to get by. Her determination was both admirable and hazardous. As