A Lesson from the Colonel
“Predictable! That’s what drivers are in my native country,” I mused after returning to Bedrock roads from a summer vacation. Drivers follow the rules of the road. They know what lane markings are, they stop at stoplights, and they are even polite. Not in Bedrock, where you’d think that the concept of defensive driving would have taken hold, such as little things like giving parked cars on the right a wide berth, just in case a door should suddenly swing open. Saturday, the sight of a horse drawn wagon heading up the magistralnaya (freeway) in the midst of speeding cars reminded me that back home, the Amish folk paint a 5-foot high orange safety triangle on the back of their horse-drawn black carriages for their trips along the shoulders of our country roads.
Many or one could say most drivers in Bedrock play by the rules, but there is a large minority who make up their own rules. Six years of experience on the roads here in Bedrock allow me to classify these characters. Type #1 are the true juveniles that buzz around in dark, sporty Lada Sputnik 2108’s. Type #2 are older, even middle-aged juveniles who have traded up to an inomarka (foreign car); usually one well run-down and past its sell-by date; often a black BMW, but sometimes a right-hand-drive Japanese model shipped in from the East. Type #3 are the New Rich, either a biznezman or chenovniki, a bureaucrat, with enough money to get a new black SUV, but not powerful enough to have a driver. Whether Type #1, 2, or 3, most of their vehicles will have smoked windows.
A new species has recently emerged: women with a new car and driver’s license who need to show they can keep up with the boys. Not long ago a minor celebrity on a Russian talk show bragged how good she felt driving at 180 kph (110 mph) on Moscow city roads. Any one of these four dangerous characters can appear from nowhere like a meteor from the sky to spoil your day. Just search Russian Driving on YouTube if you doubt my word.
The Colonel was Type #3, and his lesson was not just about defensive driving. I had just dropped Wilma at work on a Saturday. Fred Jr. and I were looking for a place for lunch on Shosse Entusiastov. I was in the middle lane, and as I passed two cars stopped at a light in the left lane to make a U-turn, I pulled over to the left just in front of them. Crunch! I peered to the left into the window of a black SUV that had just swerved into our silver beauty from rear quarter panel to front door after apparently trying to whip out around me to pass. The Colonel didn’t even get out of the car; he was already on the phone. I got out to talk to him but he wasn’t interested. Fred Jr. and I pulled over and out of traffi c to wait for the DPS (traffic police).
I called Wilma. She arrived about ten minutes later with a colleague from work. Then an insurance agent showed up, representing the Colonel. Courteous to a fault, the agent discussed the situation with us and counseled us not to be concerned; the DPS would show up soon. It wasn’t so soon, but they did show up about an hour after the accident. Papers were fi lled out and road measurements taken. At this point, the offi cers asked us to move our baby off the road, which we did. A minute later the SUV and the DPS pulled off together about 20 meters in front of us.
I should have read this situation better; as I’ve been in Bedrock long enough. While Wilma and I stood near our battered baby, the DPS offi cers, insurance agent and the Colonel held their own conference. A few minutes later the DPS offi cer walked back to us and presented us with papers declaring me at fault; “Please sign here.”
There are two issues here. The fi rst is that in most countries, if you are hit from behind, the hitter is at fault. We were hit in this case, and from behind, not vice versa. The second issue was the decision to lay blame on the spot. Readers of Fred’s past Passport columns may recall the incident a year ago when our Pomegranate Pyaturka was hit full on from behind near the Baltschug by a black Audi, by a driver with a mobile phone attached to his ear. In that case, the Audi driver had gotten out and declared “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” we had to wait three weeks and return to the DPS offi ce for a razborka (a hearing) at which blame was laid. Now, in a situation where, at a minimum, there were disputed circumstances, blame was attached on the spot. Now I understood that we should not have left the Colonel and his agent alone with the DPS. A military udostovereniye (identifi cation card) and/or some Ben Franklins have real influence in Bedrock. A few days later I paid my 100-ruble fi ne. What does it matter anyway; we were both insured.