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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Roads Can Drive You Over the Edge

If you ever want to know what's wrong with Russia, drive around Belorussky Station at rush hour. To get the full effect you have to be going south on Tverskaya and trying to do the unthinkable -- make a left. This being Russia, you do this by going right at the station and weaving your way through two lefts -- a maneuver I execute quite often, since my friend Stan (the "golly isn't this a great country" guy) works on the other side of Tverskaya. The problem is the traffic lights. They are ever so cleverly timed as to cause the maximum confusion and the minimum movement. You sit at a red light, looking longingly at the green one just beyond you. But by the time your light has turned green, the one ahead is red, and your way is blocked by a flood of cars from a side street. When they get a green to move on, your light is red. This can continue for hours. I once sat through 12 light changes before it dawned on me that I was never going to get out of Belorussky Station. At this point I threw caution to the wind and ran the red light, if creeping forward a few inches every five minutes into a sea of automobiles can be termed "running." Actually, it's more like "wading." The results were predictable: The cars in my lane followed, while cars in the side street honked, and decided to run their red light in turn, causing gridlock. This was one of those significant life experiences. I think I understood all of Russia in the brief -- well, actually, not so brief -- time I spent in that tie-up. First of all, you never get anywhere by obeying all the rules in this country. If I were squeamish about driving through a red light, it would have taken me about six hours to get through 500 hundred yards, instead of just 90 minutes. Why doesn't someone regulate the lights to alleviate the traffic problem? That is too big a question for the likes of me. The omnipotent "they" are supposed to take care of such things. The little guy just has to cope with the unfortunate consequences. Second, when you start taking matters into your own hands, you've got to know your own strength. Might definitely makes right in these cases, and you should not tangle with the big guys. I once played chicken with a huge KamAZ truck and lost; my poor Moskvich needed a new door, window, mirror, and front panel. The truck drove away without a scratch. On the other hand, I like to push the humble Zhigulis around. I stay strictly clear of Mercedes with Russian plates, though -- I'm not eager to tangle with a gun-toting mafia boss who might object strenuously to being cut off. Third is the lesson I'm most ashamed of learning: If you can't make it better for yourself, at least make it worse for the other guy. As I drove through the red light into the swarm of cars coming in from the side street, I knew I was contributing to greater chaos in the universe. But I could not sit idly by and watch those cars streak blithely through the intersection. Much better to cause a major snarl by disregarding the lights completely, and I must admit that I got a warm glow from causing all those other cars to grind to a screeching halt. When I'm king, I'll ban all cars in Moscow. Until then, maybe I should take the metro.