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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

My World

Bad Carma
John Harrison

It is quite difficult to find a place to park near the Raddisson Slavyansky Hotel. The car parks outside Kievsky Station fill up quickly, and a mysterious one-way system leads you in zig-zags ever further away from the hotel. I eventually found an empty parking space in 2nd Borodinskaya Ulitsa, which runs along the side of the huge Evropeisky mall. There was no yellow line and other vehicles were parked there. As I left my vehicle a man stepped out from a doorway and for some reason offered me some roses. An hour and a half later I returned to my car. It had gone. I walked up and down the road twice, in the hope that it would suddenly appear. It had either been stolen, which was unlikely, or it had been kidnapped by the dastardly evil car parking police.

The latter was indeed the case, as a friendly uniformed security man from the mall informed me. “Don’t worry, I know somebody who can take you to the police pound to pick your car up.” A man appeared out of the same shop door where the flowers seller had appeared, and dashed across the road towards us. I agreed to everything, that all it would cost is 5,000 roubles, and that would includes a taxi journey to the uttermost ends of Moscow and that he would wait at the GBDD office whilst I paid a fine. Then I felt an eruption of anger starting deep down in my belly. I tried to control it and prevent myself from pulling his eyes and hair out and leaving him in bits in the gutter. Then I remembered that Russian prisons are bad. Pride had its own stupid way and I refused his services, thinking I’d sort it out myself.

I turned the corner onto Bolshaya Dorogomilovskaya Ulitsa. There I met a GBDD officer who didn’t want to talk to me. It was suddenly very lonely, and cold, without my little car. Further up the road, there was another uniformed man who gave me the number of the department of the GBDD which deals with kidnapped cars: 504 1724. After the recorded message the voice informed me that you have to have your driving license, car registration document and passport with you to get your car back. Then a calm female asked where the vehicle was picked up from, and the number plate.

Walking back to the scene of the kidnapping, I did in fact see a no-parking sign at the end of the street; I must have been blind not to have seen it. I cooled down sufficiently to hear a bespectacled man asking politely whether I needed a taxi. I said no, er, yes. He said the whole trip would take two hours and cost 5000 roubles plus a 350 rouble fine, I haggled the price down to 3500 plus the fine and felt good about that at least.

In most cases, apparently, when your car has been kidnapped in central Moscow, you pay your fine in the GBDD office on Ulitsa Pobeda 9, in Reutov which is in the back of beyond, beyond MKAD on the far western part of the city. The nearest Metro is Novogireevo, but it’s about an hour walk. Bus 15 goes from Metro Pervomaiskaya, and takes about 30 minutes, although you may end up waiting at least that long for the bus, so my driver told me. Once there, try to keep your cool in the office, which is a one-storey Portakabin affair within a large GBDD complex. Everyone is in a predictably bad mood. The drivers because they are being blackmailed, and the police because they have to deal with these delinquents.

There is a line of pre-perestroika-type wooden windows which are opened from the inside by gruff men and slammed shut. Most of the drivers were civil, to each other, which helped. I didn’t have my passport, but when my turn came the officer asked me why I wasn’t in London with Berezovsky and I answered that I wasn’t quite in the same league, and if I was, I wouldn’t be standing in line to pay a fine. He laughed and seemed to forget about the passport. You have to pay a 350 rouble fine in a machine right there, although the officer seemed happy to take the cash from me direct. Ten minute later the window opened again and I was handed a release order for my precious vehicle.

Then another mad dash through Moscow. Kidnapped cars are taken to whatever “spetsparkovka” place is nearest to wherever they are picked up. In my case, in another inaccessible place on Ulitsa Ryabinova Vl. 71a, near the junction of Mozhaiskaya Shosse and MKAD. You show the release document and you are allowed inside the “spetsparkovka” to pick up your car which is stuck with bright yellow self-adhesive stickers all over. It is best to remove these straightaway, otherwise they become almost impossible to remove. The hardest part of all this was subduing my anger and accepting the services of drivers who are clearly working hand in pocket with the GBDD. I speak Russian, but as it happens, most of the drivers seem to speak some English and seemed used to what must seem to them childish antics of foreigners.

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