Контент 16+ Anyone who thinks that driving from Belarus into Poland is a cultural step up (Wow ! The E-u-r-o-p-e-a-n- U-n-i-o-n !!) cannot be thinking of the roads, and this holds true all over Eastern Europe. Belarus may not be like Vatican City in terms of opulence, but it is certainly clean and at least the highway coming straight in from Moscow is exemplary — smooth as a baby’s bottom, in fact.
By the time we got through the last checkpoint barricade — having had to run the same gamut all over again — and quite late because Liuba had been at the Polish Embassy all morning — the night was falling and the Poles had closed down all windows but one. So single file we went, like refugees trying to escape through a narrow mountain pass. When we, at last, hit the terra firma of Poland, darkness sprawling about us, we indulged in about 20 seconds of euphoria — and then realized what lay ahead.
The plans to stop at dog-friendly hotels were long-gone, and we would now have to wing it all the way to Varna. This would mean looking for inns which seemed so desperately in need of guests that even pythons and scorpions would be welcome. Fortunately for us, the dogs behaved (and continued to all the way) with remarkable aplomb and good cheer considering that they (big “peoples” as Liuba likes to call them !) were confined to their backseat posts for long stretches, During the interminable wait at the checkpoints I had had to hustle them in and out of the car (on leashes on course) to quickly relieve themselves. Not 10 seconds had passed before one of the piss-dongs in uniform started screaming at me to get them back inside in the car. I assume that this was because, as we were hovering at the border and technically in some kind of limbo or suspended animation with no claims to actually being ANYWHERE, neither we nor the dogs had any rights at all beyond the sanctity of our vehicles. I would have told this Nazi wannabe to go fuck his Jewish grandmother except that I wouldn’t have put it past the cretin to simply shoot the dogs.
The other two problems were that, first — aside from a precursory study of a real map — we could only rely on our navigator to guide us, and, for some reason, these gadgets don’t always seem trustworthy — especially if a local work crew is finally in the process of mending the road, and travelers passing through are forced to take an obscure detour. In such cases, the navigator is about as useful as a Google translation of a Bangladesh comedy in dialect or the confessional poetry of an acid-head. The final tally is that you can end up on a dead-end street or in the middle of a cow pasture while the navigator swears up and down that you are powering point blank to your destination…
As result of our shaky navigation system, plus the confusing darkness and our own ignorance (I am sure), we wound up driving on treacherous, bumpy, Third World roads that maybe could have been avoided if we had really known the way. But then again, perhaps these were actually the main routes through Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, etc..And when I say that “we” were driving, I really mean that Liuba was at the helm because in fact I no longer possess a valid driver’s license. (This, as we shall see, did not stop me from eventually taking the wheel.) Since these strips of the road were predominantly two-lane pock-marked blacktop twisting around perilous mountain ribbons where most of the traffic seemed to consist of very large 18-wheeler trucks transporting massive cargo, the whole experience was more than nerve-wracking. Liuba did a yeoman’s job but her inexperience of driving amid the circles of East of Eden’s Hell threatened more than once to have us go sailing off the mountain into the crevice below. It has to do with centrifugal force — one should, as much as possible, bend into the curves instead of swaying way out to the last vestige of the perimeter. Poor Liuba didn’t know this (she got her license when she was 54). Poor me, the cowering passenger, knew it all too well The doggies knew nothing and were quite happy. Those hungry caverns yawned — and were cheated. It turned out that Liuba wanted to live as much as I did. But she was flagging, her eyes were playing tricks.
I bravely seized control. I am a great driver, but I lost my license back in the USA for DWI (driving while intoxicated) and never bothered to reapply when the suspension was up. So, to make up time and give Liuba a break, I took over. And was doing fine until I failed to slow down as we entered some small ville, whereupon I was stopped by the cops. O Fuck, I thought, no license and in the middle of a strange country. Luckily, the cops were young, jovial guys who spoke English and accepted 200 euros. Then we were on our way, but my wife was screaming at me over the lost money. We were getting tired, there did not appear to be any hotels available, and the night was looming darker and starker, the roads more and more treacherous, the grinding, whizzing, hammering, slashing roar of the passing trucks more and more ominous. Then, after stopping at a 7-11 for petrol, I spotted a hotel. Nothing fancy. But a hotel. The time was about 4.00 a.m.
We pulled in. I got out and marched to the door, slipped inside to the lobby and rang the bell. I was worn-out, smelly from cigarettes and the road, and when finally a bleary-eyed, nondescript woman in a nightgown appeared at the top of the stairs, I was at the point of supplication. In my best Russian I pleaded my case. “We are exhausted, we have two dogs with us, and all four of us need a place to sleep for a few hours. We will pay whatever you ask.” To my astonishment, she agreed. What a great lady to accept our dogs !! I was ecstatic and — anticipating full redemption in the eyes of my disgruntled wife — I strode back to our car and beamed, “We’re in. She said yes.”.
Unfortunately, some people have different ideas as to what constitutes a dog.
Releasing Poppy and Casper from their car captivity and hooking them to their leads, we headed for the entrance again. Like a Roman chariot, it must have been, because when the massive, slavering hounds burst in ahead of me, dragging me in their wake, the woman let out a gasp as if she was afraid of being devoured. Or gang-banged. “Noooo!” she squealed. “You can’t bring them in here!” — “But you said..!” — “Noooooooooo ! Go away !”.
So that was that. If Cass and Pop and been chihuahuas, we’d have been in the door. But not with big dogs. “No coloreds allowed” came to my mind, that old sign of racial discrimination from the Deep American South. I gave Liuba the bad news, let the dogs take a shit, and got back in.
There was a fence nearby, opposite a closed dough-nut shop of sorts, and that fence looked a lot like a place to park for the night to me. I announced to Liuba that we would stop there, and I remembered the 7-11 back up the road. “I”m walking back to the shop,” I told everyone. And I wandered up the hill. The malignant commentary of a savagely discontented wife followed my footsteps.
Thank God for small mercies, they say — because beer was available. In America, and now in Russia, they cut you off in the shops at a certain time. Not in this part of Europe. I bought four tall cans of Heineken and went back to the car. Liuba was already muttering in her sleep, and the dogs, after wagging their tails and moaning and sighing a bit, settled down. I rolled down the window and lit a cigarette and opened the first of my stash. I sat back, defiantly, knowing that tomorrow was going to be a marathon endured by two utterly spent people and a pair of gentle, compliant dogs. By the end of the second can, I was happy enough. Two more cans, three pisses in the bushes, and about six cigarettes later, I felt rejuvenated and sweetly ready for rest.
I lay my head finally back on the seat, wishing now to stave off the daylight for as long as possible, and closed my eyes. I imagined I was riding on a greyhound bus back in America in the middle of the night between two distant northern cities. Or on a train in the South in whose drowsy, vaguely decadent cars there are only the silhouettes of the night-riders and the endless honey and grease of the gloom. A train of Negroes and poor whites and old strippers from juke joints and clubs.
Sometimes, I confess, I find this euphoria, driven usually by fatigue and alcohol, to be heaven — if not the ‘real’ Heaven of the Christians, where golden roads are treated to the melodies of silvery harps — nevertheless the place where my soul belongs, a halfway house of prostituted pleasures, a place where the blues are answered in sensuous undertones. A place where morning never comes to rip you open.
But sure enough, before long, the lights in the dough-nut shop came on and some early sugar-rush types went strutting in for their coffee and pudding-filled cakes. The offices would be blinking soon. It was time for Bonnie and Clyde and their two hostages to move on. So we did.
===Eric Richard Leroy===