Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Capricious Son and a Difficult Mother:The Story of Israel and Russia

Ah, Romania!
  I have spent the last weeks zigging and zagging through the countryside of Eastern Europe. I've seen plenty of interesting things but all the while I continue falling further behind in pursuit of my ultimate goal. After about a week in northern Romania I decided to head for Bucharest to take a more hands on approach at obtaining a Russian Visa. This two week long endeavor proved both costly and fruitless. Each of my three trips to the Russian Consulate seemed to achieve progress, however, in the end, they wanted just a bit too much and the agency I'd hired to assist me decided that they could no longer be of service.
  Poor U.S. foreign policy over the last couple of decades has ensured that an American attempting an overland Round the World trip be greeted by the impossible and the near impossible. Basically, there are two routes for an honest RTW. One passes through Russia (as well as Kazakhstan and Mongolia if you are so inclined) and one splits Iran, Afghanistan, and/or Pakistan into South Asia. Though I would love to have the option of the latter path, even those of only marginal sanity must cede to the fact that it is almost surely suicide. Therefore, as a cogent individual, I am relegated to using Russia in order to complete my trip around the world.
                                                         A Friendly Diversion
  I emerged from the doors of J'INFO TOURS in downtown Bucharest feeling deflated. The folks at the agency had several recommendations as to other options for my trip but anything other than a circumnavigation of our planet seemed a pithy consolation. Though I have fallen short of personal achievement as it relates to scholastic and monetary gain, when it comes to mobility I have proven a bit of a superman and this trip helps cement my purpose in life. Many of the traits that have been stumbling blocks to my integration, and success, within "civilized" American society have helped me overcome geographic barriers with a certain ease. Unfortunately, bureaucrats exist throughout the world (they are like bloody Kryptonite) and I must deal with the Russian variant in order to find my way back to the U.S.. Fortunately, as I helplessly watched my dreams slip from my fingers, friends offered perspective.
  Now there aren't too many East Tennesseans that can claim to have several close friends throughout Europe, much less one that a certain Washington County sessions court judge once proclaimed the worst criminal in his courtroom, but I do. It seems that my brand of assertiveness is more accepted in recently communist countries than in the land of the free. Lucky Me! And so it was that two of my very good friends from years gone by were attending a jazz festival in western Romania. The sheer statistical improbability of these two drastically diverse and unacquainted Romanians, which I knew from Tennessee, being among the roughly 2000 attendees at the same obscure festival high in the Carpathians was enough to bring me out of the doldrums and head west.
 Riding with Russians on the Transfagarasan
About 125 miles from Bucharest I encountered the Fagaras mountains. Reaching about 8400 feet, this is the highest range within the southern Carpathians. It is also home to one of the coolest roads on the planet, the Transfagarasan. Romania has proven to be a bit of a motorcycling Mecca and, as such, the Transfagarasan was my rug. A fine July morning witnessed no fewer than three cycles of plummets and ascents of the serpentine ribbon of asphalt and I was considering more when I encountered a group of Russians that invited me to join their party. Quickly, I clamped myself to the tail of the swiftest of the group. Our speeds charging down the mountain were more in line with the capabilities of the Honda sport bike I was chasing and it didn't take long to cook my brakes. Inevitably, I found myself alongside the road awaiting my dot4's return to a liquid state. Eventually my brake leaver regained resistance and our oddly diverse crew was once again mobile. After a brief, tentative, period the road flattened and our pace hastened. A great ride concluded with beers and a late lunch under the looming presence of Cetatea Poenari, one of the dozen or so "claimed" residences of Dracula . I was given contact information for the Black Bears motorcycle club in Moscow and I continued on to Garana, Romania.
                              Vlad and Cristian, Oddly Similar Yet Distinctly Different
   Allow me to preface this portion of my story by expressing my love and admiration for these guys. They are genuine to a fault and I am fortunate to be able to call them friends. With perfunctory explanations dispensed, let's roll back the years to 1995.

During lunch one of the Black Bears exclaimed, Snowden is in Russia and yet you are not.
   Shortly following my expulsion from Washington College Academy, and a 2 month stay at a juvenile correctional facility, I was set to reenter that cauldron of grief known as public school. David Crockett High to be specific. Opened in 1974 this poor excuse for a center of education has, as I imagine is common in many U.S. schools, continued in a precipitous plummet to, as of yet, unknown depths of despair. Fortunately, when Vlad joined my family for 6 months as a foreign exchange student, resource officers (cops) had yet to join the faculty of bureaucratic screws and my unique set of skills were somewhat insulated from authoritative reprisal.

Cristian to my right , Vlad to my left, and communist era project to the rear.
The classes at Crockett seemed to focus on things I did poorly, so I tuned out.  Unlike myself, Vlad proved an outstanding student and our lone common teacher was always singing his praises. She was somewhat less impressed with my litany of run-on sentences and overt obstinance. I managed to piss her off thoroughly on a couple of occasions. I am fairly certain that she regarded me as a complete idiot till my overachieving sister came through and validated my genes. I suppose that it is to her credit that I can recall her class at all, however. Most of my memories within the windowless walls of David Crockett High School were immediately relegated to trash bins in the far reaches of my mind. They were emptied long ago. I remember well my time with Vlad though. There was no getting around the fact that we both had an appreciation for all things fast. There were two folks at Crockett that knew what a McLaren F1 was and, as it just so happens, we were both staying under the same roof (Thanks for the subscription to Road and Track, Mom). At first we were free to blast around the back roads of East Tennessee, or wherever else we wanted to go, without tether. We always had fun. He had, and still has, a knack for making me laugh. Eventually though my parents decided that I was a liability and Vlad was off-limits. I was relegated to sneaking him the occasional beers to smuggle into my old room.  Perhaps their intuition was correct. He became a high ranking Romanian diplomat and I became a convict in search of freedom, a vagabond.  

  Ten years on, I again found myself expelled, this time from East Tennessee State University. For

A little finish sanding to break up the beer swilling.
whatever it's worth, my grades were quite good and I was coming off a semester of straight A's. However, a verbal bout with school officials over an inability to register for classes led to the police being called and a foot chase around campus. It turns out that I was a bit (or a hell of a lot) faster than the ETSU public safety officers on that day. They were less than impressed and criminal charges were levied. During my extended break from university I took up carpentry, a field which I possess natural talent, and drank a lot. It was during one of many nights at the Acoustic Coffeehouse that I first met Cristian. Brought to Johnson City to help implement SAP accounting software for General Shale, a local brick company, Cristian didn't require much sleep and we drank together almost every night. I was well known in town but not necessarily well liked and it was nice to have someone to shoot the shit with. Even loners need a friend or two. We laughed hard, and I didn't give a damn about anything other than hiking, motorcycles, and my dog Daisy. To be honest, it wasn't such a bad existence.
  The seven years that bring me current have seen change, both in regards to perspective and development. In addition to finally graduating from university (University of Tennessee Chattanooga., economics, w honors), I have also been examining the world, first hand, at a furious pace. With every new inch of space I see, my universe shrinks and my priorities shift. The mountain route I took to Garana was along a less developed trail but my Tenere was up to the task. Cool temperatures and light traffic more than compensated for the inconsistent road surface. It was an environment ripe for contemplation. Law School, or no Law School?

   I reached Garana midevening just after darkness had shrouded the Valley where the festival was in full swing. Cristian found me with 2 bottles of beer in his possession. Extending one in my direction he said. "It is German beer. Drink it. It is good". Seven years didn't seem like so long a time. I was led to a campsite and erected my tent. There was no Russian Stamp in my Passport but there was a smile on my face. The fact that I ever made it here defied great odds. Just give me some time. I'll get where I need to be.

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