Sunday, October 19, 2008

The St. Petes (Marathon) Sprint

I stood at the counter waiting impatiently while the cashier purposefully (and slowly) tied up the to-go bags containing Jaime’s and my orders of chicken schwarma and rice. After a couple more good knots she handed the bag over and Jaime, Liz and I headed outside of the dive restaurant and back to the metro area to try to find our train station. We were heading back to CCS and Yaro after a fun and action-packed 3 day weekend in St. Petersburg.

We searched to get our bearings, but couldn’t find the train station that was supposed to be a block away from the subway stop. We had a half hour til the train left, plenty of time to sit and have a leisurely meal before boarding. But first we needed to find our train.

The first woman we stopped mentioned something about crossing a canal, so we thanked her and left to ask someone else. The next man said something along the lines of “which train station?” which probably should’ve set a couple alarm bells ringing, but we just decided instead to split up and ask 3 new strangers for directions.

The girl I found kept saying something about the metro even after I showed her my train ticket, so I took out the metro map a station employee had for some reason given me earlier in the day when I was asking her if the station we were at had a bathroom. The girl looked at the map and pointed to another metro stop. Two stops, and one line transfer away. And the girl said in a mixture of Russian and broken English that our train station was there. Damn.

Now’s as good a time as any to pause the story and give some background before I speed it up. So how did we end up at Sennaya Ploshad instead of Markoskaya? Earlier in the day on our to the Peter + Paul Fortress, I had commented that the metro stop we were at was the same one we needed to go to later to catch our 5:24 train. Jaime asked if I was sure, and I was pretty confident considering it had been only 50-something hours since we had arrived from Yaroslavl at the same station, so I told him yes.

Another thing to note: Before we had left the hostel to head to the train station, we had gotten into a little argument. Jaime and Liz wanted to leave early, and I said it was much too early and wanted to take advantage of the free internet at Hostel Zimmer Nice one last time. So they headed to the bakery across the street while I did the customary Gmail, Facebook and CNN check. (GObama!) So yes it was my fault that we were both at the wrong station, and that we hadn’t gotten there ten minutes earlier. But there was no time for fingerpointing or apologies. There was only time to run.

Liz checked her watch. 29 minutes til our train left. We dashed back into the metro station, hurriedly bought 3 tickets and ran down the escalator. We caught our breath on the first metro ride and reassured each other that we would make it, because with nowhere to sleep in St. Petes and CCS expecting us for volunteer placements at 9:30 the next morning, we really had no other choice.

Off the first train, some more running and we dealt seamlessly with the tricky leg of our journey back, the line transfer. We shouted the turns at each other as we finessed our way through the rush hour crowd, arriving to the right platform with only seconds to space before the doors on our subway closed and our last chance zoomed down the line. One prepubescent boy squeezed on after us and had to yank his backpack in after the doors closed on it.

Subway riders are used to people sprinting down the escalator to catch a train. They are not used to people sprinting up the escalator to get out of the station. But they made way when we came barreling up the never-ending escalator as we shouted “EEZ-VEE-NEE-TYEH” (excuse me) and “zhe-de”(train) in response to their startled stares.

We got up to the top of the station and in my haste to get out, I smashed my left knee on the bodybuilder-heavy glass door. Too much adrenaline pumping to feel any pain at the moment, but I’d feel it later. We sprinted now giving every last drop of speed and energy we had left. I stopped to ask a policeman for directions and between the panting and heaving I was just able to get out “gde zhede vakzal?” He pointed dead ahead and I wound up and shot off again down the packed street.

Now I love weaving through a dense crowd. During cross country races, the only thing that gave me a bigger thrill than quietly hunting down a fellow runner and blasting past him was successfully executing a difficult weave cutting in and out of the small, millisecond gaps.

But all my previous running and weaving experience had taken place in short running shorts. Never before had I run with a heavy backpack on my shoulders and a duffel bag weighing at least 10 pounds in my hand. (Jaime and Liz had packed smarter and lighter, limiting themselves to just a backpack).

I was able to move the duffel pretty easily, passing it from hand to hand and lifting it above the head of a waddling toddler girl as I whizzed by. No as much luck with the backpack. Forgetting it was on my back, I turned sideways to try to thread my profile through a miniscule gap. Slam! I hit a helpless woman with the side of the backpack. I continued running and shouted an apology (eez-vee-nee-tyeh or sorry) five strides later when I had fully processed what had happened.

And I continued shouting eezveentyeh as I booked it down the crowded street. One image that was indelibly seared into my memory is the snapshot of two women yelping and turning to clutch each other like something out of a cartoon as I ran past. I also thought for a moment about dropping some rubles into the hands of a paraplegic beggar, more for the good karma, I’m ashamed to admit, than out of any philanthropic urges, but I decided that I didn’t have time to stop.

Finally, I rounded a corner and saw the train station. I had completely lost sight of Jaime and Liz, so I stopped and shouted, “It’s here! It’s here!” into the crowd of Russians as my heart pounded overtime in my chest. I caught sight of Jaime and frantically waved him over, but he said Liz couldn’t run anymore and I noticed Liz trailing him, winded and beat.

They caught up and after some wild scampering around the station, Jaime found our train. We got on and collapsed on our shelf-sized beds that would be home for the next 12 hours. We had made it with about 5 minutes to spare. We started dripping sweat, our overworked and overheated bodies no longer cooled by the 40 degree weather outside. But we’d wash up later.

We fell to laughing and laughing and couldn’t stop. And then we started in on the delicious schwarma feast that Jaime had been running with the whole time. The knots that the cashier had tied in the bags luckily prevented the loss of any chicken, although all the food had been shoved to one side of the to-go containers. Still, it was the best schwarma I’ve had yet.

P.S. Sorry again to the woman I hit with my backpack!


McG said...

this is a really well-written narrative, david. your russian adventures sound awesome!

DA said...

Thanks a ton Annie!