Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. - Cyril Connolly
Monday, October 03, 2005
Yello, my nem eez Veektor, and I need to go to zee veel kahl veendow
The Russians are a hoot. That is, when I don't want to strangle them.

When they arrived on Friday, we made introductions: Sergei- Deputy Mayor of Vladivostok; Viktor, Regional Duma (State Senator) of Ektarinaburg; Olga, First Deputy Aide to the President of her Duma in Novo Sibersk, and Illyana, President of her Neighborhood Association (kind of like our President of the Mid Town Improvement Assoc.). They range in age from 32 - 50, and are all as different, but delightful as can be. This is the first trip to the US for all of them, and they speak NO English. One thing they are NOT - is shy.

Viktor is a tall, droopy eyed, chain smoker with classic Russian features. By that, I mean he is 37 and looks 47. His very first question / demand of me in Russian was: "Leenda, I very much want to attend an American Soccer game while I am here".

"OK, let me see what games are playing and we'll try to make that happen for you".

"No, Linda. The game is Sunday - it is the Balteemore 'chyorneeya vernotee'." Hmm, I thought. 'Chyorneeya' I knew to be 'black', but I had no word for 'vernotee'. Then, Viktor flapped his arms and cawed.

"Oh - "Black Birds! Chyorneeya vernotee are black birds!" You mean the RAVENS football!"

"Da! Da! Zee Raveenz!!! Amereekanskee futball!" He said gleefully.

"Viktor, I doubt that there are any tickets available, but I'll look online and see. Even if there are, they cost many, many dollars. How much are you willing to pay?"

"I veel pay $100 Amereekanske doollars," he said very proudly and gravely. That is a fortune for a man in his position in Russia. It's a large portion of his monthly paycheck, let alone an amount for a man with 2 children and one on the way.

But I soon learned Viktor is nothing if not determined. I quickly recognized the politician in him. He had made up his mind to do this, and he was willing to cajole, charm, negotiate and, if necessary, beg his way to a Ravens game.

I logged onto Ticket Master, and the only tix I could find were $150 in the Ravens end zone. When I told him this, he swallowed as if trying to determine how he was going to tell his children he spent their college tuition on an American football game and said - " OK Leenda - it eez vhat I vant". So I put them on his credit card and printed out the receipt. Then, with some help, I explained to him that he would need his passport, the credit card he bought the tickets with, and the receipt, and needed to go to the "Will Call Window".

On Sunday, we all traipsed to the Aquarium in the morning (another blog post - trust me), and then took the "voda taxzee" to the Fells Point Festival. Like the mother hen in charge of her flock, I gave them each $15 to spend on lunch (provided by the program), and I managed to get them to understand that we MUST meet back at the water taxi stand at 3:00, so Viktor could make the 4:00 kickoff, and we could all go to the Inner Harbor and shop for souvenirs and trinkets for them to take back to Russia.

In the meantime, I had no idea how I was going to get this poor man to the "will call window" to pick up his ticket, find his seat, and then find us after the game, when he spoke NO English, in a stadium that seats 80,000 people.

I got a piece of paper, and on it I made two columns. One column in Russian / Cyrillic, and the other in English. First, my name, address, and cell phone number with an "If found, please return to..." Message in English and Russian. The next item was a phonetic spelling in Cyrillic characters of the English phrase: "My name is Viktor and I need to go to the Will Call Window". I made him practice this phrase over, and over again. He and his friends got THE biggest kick out of it. With the biggest grin I've ever seen, he would pump my hand up and down in his bear paw hand and say very earnestly, "Yello, my nem eez Veektor and I need to go to zee veel kall veendo, kahn yu yelp me?". And then I would dissolve into complete giggles.

Viktor programmed my cell phone number into his phone, and I did the same. We tested them. The only problem being, that although this worked splendidly, we were each being charged for a cell phone call to and/or from Russia.

Now - how to get a perfectly competent, adult man to a football game when he has no language skills and can't even read the signs? Ask for a favor. You gotta love the people of Baltimore.

The closest water taxi stand to the Ravens stadium stops at the Science Center. Luckily, a lot of people were headed to the Ravens game from the Fells Point Festival. At 3:00, I approached the least drunk, most responsible looking group of guys in Ravens shirts, and explained the situation to them: "This is my friend Victor. He doesn't speak any English, and he is a State Senator from Russia. He wants to attend the game very badly, and needs to go to the Will Call Window to get his tickets. Can you make SURE he gets there?? I gave them my cell phone number. They assured me that they would be happy to look after Victor and after he repeated his little parrot phrase to them, they all slapped each other on the back like long lost friends, and the water taxi left. I was sure I'd never see him again....

The rest of us spent the afternoon doing all the classic Inner Harbor tourist attractions: like watching the "Fudge Show" in the Light Street Pavillion and shopping for trinkets and gifts to take back to Russia. I wanted to call Victor to make sure he was alright, but I figured he probably wouldn't even hear the phone ring in the stadium.

Just as we sat down to dinner at Capitol Brewing about 3 1/2 hours later, my phone rang. I saw it was Victor's number and grabbed it. "Hello? Hello? Victor?"

"LEEEENDAA!!! "мы выиграли!!" (myoi vyreegralee)! Over and over again. (I forgot to note earlier, and I'm sure everyone figured it out, but this means "we won!!, we won!!"

"Victor - where ARE you?"

"LEENDA!!! Zee Ravens "мы выиграли!!"

At this, the phone was handed to someone named Seth, who came on and asked me if I was "Leenda". Yep - I sighed, that's me.

Well, Victor really, really likes you. He seems to think you are the most important person in AmerEEEKA. We met him at the game and he kept pointing to your name on a piece of paper and telling us he needed to go to the Will Call Window, but he was already in his seat. I think he's ready to go home. What do you want us to do with him?"

I wanted to jump through the phone and kiss Seth is what I really wanted to do. I told him where we were, and he said, "Hey! We're all going to Hooters and that's right next door! We'll bring him over to you!".

15 minutes later, a sunburned Russian with a Ravens hat, and the biggest smile I've ever seen strode out to the patio with 4 of his new best American friends in all their Ravens regalia, picked me up in a bear hug (NO mean feat!), and exclaimed once more "LEENDA!!! Zee Ravens "мы выиграли!!", only this time, he followed it up in Russian with

Leenda -"Я нашел окно билета!" (Yah nashel okno beeleta!).

Translation? "Leenda - I found the will call window!!"

UPDATE: I would be remiss in not noting that zenchick met up with us, and unfortunately had the brief, if not just frustrating, task of chasing Victor and the other Russians around Fells Point with me to make sure he caught the water taxi on time in the first place. I needed all the help I could get by that point!
posted by Broadsheet @ 6:29 PM  
9 Editorial Opinions:
  • At October 03, 2005, Blogger Frenzy Lohan said…

    Victor was probably so many people's anecdote that day. "And then this man came up to me, and he just kept saying..."

  • At October 03, 2005, Blogger elcapitanhink said…

    This is probably the best blog entry I've read in months.

  • At October 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have to agree with Josh, this is a great read. I was at the game. Too bad I didn't meet Veektor, it would have been a pleasure seeing him enjoy the game and some of Baltimore.


  • At October 03, 2005, Blogger Malnurtured Snay said…

    From now on, I'm going to call you "Leeenda".

  • At October 04, 2005, Blogger Zenchick said…

    oh please...I'm a social worker. Like running around the festival after some drunk Slavic would phase me. :-)
    And I love your Russian transliteration! Priceless!!
    (you should have taken them to Ze Bean)

  • At October 04, 2005, Blogger deanne said…

    You know (Leenda), all I can think of is Mikhail Baryshnikov's character from Sex and the City.

    I love non-english speakers - we had some Danish girls stay with us in New Zealand, and (seriously) they said things like "Ve've come to New Zealand to see the sheeps." and "Oh! My feets are frozen!"

    Hours of entertainment!

  • At October 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Leenda! Good story! Tell us more!


  • At October 04, 2005, Blogger AnonymousCoworker said…

    Leenda, this was a great story! Now hit us up with the Aquarium one, please.

  • At October 04, 2005, Blogger Robert said…

    What a great story. Thanks for sharing it!

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