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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moving World of a Metro Monitor

The most dangerous time of year has arrived on the drafty escalators of Moscow's busiest metro station.


It's hat-stealing season, when hats of all designs and fabrics are regularly plucked from travelers' heads and either stolen or tossed in jest across the moving stairway.


And it's Natalya Vladimirova's job to retrieve them. Eight hours a day, six days a week, she sits in the tiny glass box at the bottom of an escalator at Komsomolskaya metro station and tries to ensure that peace and order prevail. Her monthly salary is 200,000 rubles ($65).


"We don't sit there like dolls," she said. "It's an interesting job, but it's hard. We're working with the population, and that's the hardest job of all."


As well as ensuring that people walk on the left, stand on the right, and never run or place their baggage on the railing, her work includes summoning technicians, metro attendants, doctors or policemen, when necessary, and warning lovers to stop kissing when they get to the bottom.


"The metro is like a living organism or a person," she said, and accordingly it changes from season to season.


Autumn is bad, not only for hat theft, but also for fights.


"You have to stop the escalator, or they all fall down like dominoes," she said, "I've had five on a pile, and it isn't funny at all."


But Vladimirova, who knows karate, occasionally takes her job more seriously than her superiors would like. Once, she was fined 20, 000 rubles for hitting a disruptive passenger.


The man had stepped off the escalator and stood at the end without moving. When other passengers walked into him and he started fighting with them, Vladimirova said she left her box and gently tried to push him aside. The man raised his arm as if to hit her, whereupon Vladimirova promptly delivered a karate chop.


"It was his fault, and I did it in self-defense," she said, demonstrating her move during an interview in the station's tiny lunch room. "But he started screaming and yelling that he was being murdered, and then the police came."


Recently fined for eating a roll on the job, she is now struggling to wear her own clothes along with her uniform. "I'm a woman," she said, "Why should I wear a gray shirt and a tie? And that red hat looks like a night-cap so it's lying at home somewhere."


Instead, she sports a purple and white blouse and a stylish black beret.


But at Komsomolskaya, the excitement goes beyond fashion statements. Vladimirova recalled another incident when an attendant told her that a corpse had arrived on the metro. Vladimirova went up to the body, took out her hand-mirror, placed it in front of the man's mouth and discovered that the man was indeed breathing, and simply drunk.


But the worst thing about working by the escalator is not the drunks or the fighting, but the stream of people that ask her for information.


"Nine million people go through this station every day, and I'm convinced that every one of them asks me for directions," she said. "Usually I tell them to read the signs, and then I close the door and ignore them."


But Vladimirova, who dreams of taking a design course and becoming an interior decorator, said the beauty of the mosaic on the platform ceiling is compensation for every irritating question, every drunk and every fight.


"Even if I can't see it while I'm working, I'm happy just knowing it's there," she said.