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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Baba' Behind The Wheel Beats Muzhik

No, I'm not going to talk about the weather. There's been quite enough said already, and I am too grateful for the sunshine to whine about the temperatures. Yes, it's cold. It's Moscow, for heaven's sake. If you want to sunbathe in February, move to Australia.


In fact, I may even sound an upbeat note on my b?te noire -- Moscow traffic. I am happy to report that the brutal, testosterone-laden driver corps is slowly becoming feminized.


In the past few days I have roughly doubled my sightings of Russian women behind the wheel, bringing my eight-year total to six. Given the fact that I have probably taken over 3,000 taxi or gypsy cab rides in that time, six may not be all that impressive, but it's a start. And three of them have been in the past week, so I'd say we have an "up" arrow for the female cabbie.


I was picked up the other day by a plump, blond matryoshka of a woman in a beat-up Zhiguli, who piloted me delicately to work while keeping up a running commentary on the air quality. Her conversation was liberally sprinkled with "oi," a welcome change from the less printable exclamations of her male counterparts.


"Oi, there's just no air to breathe," she sighed, while her little car did its best to depress the oxygen level even further. "They talk about the center, but you couldn't pay me to live in this stink hole."


I agreed, which might have been a mistake. I was then treated to a litany of complaints associated with breathing exhaust fumes, including nausea, fainting and headaches. I was feeling distinctly wobbly myself by the time I climbed out of her heap and stumbled -- oi -- up the stairs to my office.


But despite the lecture, it was a kinder, gentler experience than the death-defying, curb-scraping rides I usually have. This woman actually stopped for pedestrians, and did not get into a "mine's bigger" contest with every car that tried to pass.


Russian men tend to shudder and sneer at the idea of baba za rulyom ("broad" behind the wheel), saying that women are totally unpredictable when it comes to traffic rules. Which means, as far as I can tell, that they obey them.


The only thing predictable about male drivers is that they will constantly pick the worst option in any situation.


I generalize, of course. My ride yesterday was with a very pleasant older gentleman, whose only drawback as a chauffeur was that he seemed to be legally blind. I'm sure he only picked me up as a seeing-eye passenger, and kept asking provocative questions like "What color is the traffic light?" or "Are we on the Garden Ring yet?" as I smiled pleasantly and sweated in the passenger seat.


Although perfect eyesight is not really an asset, either, given the state of most windshields in the city. Is there a law against windshield wiper fluid in Moscow? Most drivers seem to prefer the "flood the windscreen with hot water thrown from a two-liter soda bottle" approach, which leaves a solid, frozen smear in place of the glass.


Windshield wiper fluid is expensive, I know. Vodka, on the other hand, is cheap, and works quite well, and has the advantage of doubling as a party beverage in a pinch.


I am out of the driver pool for now, sidelined by a hopelessly defective Moskvich. So I'll continue my survey of the capital's chauffeur fleet with an occasional sip of windshield wiper fluid for courage.