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talent expected one day to play with the big guys. The next twenty minutes were a rush.
Our driver was excited to have an American journalist on board, and he frantically called
his son, Dima, who was already at the arena. He unloaded a mouthful of Russian into his
cell phone, and the only words I could pick up were “ Amerikanets . . . journaleest . . .
nuzhno . . . bilety? . . . davaite! ” which translates roughly into “Got some American journ-
alists here and they want tickets to the game—let's help them!” And help this generous man
did. We pulled up to the arena, and his son, Dima, ran up to the car to greet us. The tall,
well-built teenager was soft-spoken, but there was little time to say anything anyway. We
were in a rush to get inside. Dima told Sergei that we had no physical tickets—nothing but
ominous, I had learned—but that if anyone asked, we should just say, “We are with Yuri
Vladimirovich.” I never did find out who Yuri was. But boy, was his name well-known
at the arena! Sergei and I rushed behind Dima, passing throngs of people waiting to go
through security. At the metal detectors Sergei yelled out “Yuri Vladimirovich!” and we
were waved through like dignitaries. Turnstyles where people were collecting tickets? We
strolled right on through, as Sergei kept saying, to anyone willing to listen, “Yuri Vladi-
mirovich.” Here, I thought, was a window into the shadier side of Russian life—know the
right people and the sky is the limit. Ethical quandary—yes—but I comforted myself be-
cause Dima seemed to be doing something so very generous for us.
In many ways the arena was familiar to me. I love professional hockey. My team is the
Pittsburgh Penguins, and I go to as many games as I can. There was a concession stand,
where I bought a beer. Same as at home. What was different were some of the food offer-
ings. To go with beer? The best-selling option was bags of dried, salted fish strips that re-
sembled worms but tasted far better. I washed some down with beer; then Dima, Sergei, and
I settled into seats, never having shown a physical ticket to anyone (victory!). We were be-
hind one of the goals. The ice, nets, general vibe—same as at home. A difference, however:
cheerleaders. The Pittsburgh Penguins have no cheerleaders. Here, in the aisle next to me,
cheerleaders, one on each step, in orange tops and silver miniskirts. The young Russian wo-
men did not look older than teenagers, twenty-one at most. And this was just the beginning.
Across the arena, on a huge platform situated above fans below, were more young women,
dancers dressed in tight-fitting outfits with black and white stripes. The theme of their attire
seemed, at least vaguely, to be related to the railroad. As unfair a comparison as it may be,
I could not help but think of the topic and movie The Hunger Games , where each region of
an oppressed, postapocalyptic country represents a different industry, and where the young
“tributes” are dressed in costumes representing the industry of their homeland. In Soviet
times Russian sports teams were sponsored by different industries—and Yaroslavl's team,
Lokomotiv, was and still is sponsored by the Russian Railway. As dance music blared, the
girls danced in front of a sign that read, translated, “Russian Rails: main sponsor for Loko-
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