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The International Writers Magazine:Crimea

An extract from his book of travels - Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventure in Ukraine

Bus Bribe
R. J. Fox
Still feeling the buzz from the Crimean wine we consumed at dinner, my fiancée and I headed to the bus stop in preparation of our 12-hour ride back Dnepropetrovsk.


When we attempted to board the bus, the driver stared at our tickets and stated ever so matter-of-factly, as later translated by Olya:
“These tickets are not valid.”
“What do you mean they’re not valid?” Olya asked.
“They’re not valid.”
“But we bought them at the station”
“These seats are already taken.”
“How can they already be taken? We purchased these at the station in Dnepropetrovsk.”
“That’s Dnepropetrovsk. This is Gaspora. You need to buy your tickets here.”
“We already paid for our tickets.”
“They are invalid.”
“Are there other seats?”
“The bus is full,” the driver said, before taking a ticket from the person next in line, dismissing us all together.
Olya explained to me what was going on and it made about as much sense to me as Russian.
“I don’t understand,” I stated blankly.
“So can we just go and buy another ticket?”
“The bus is full.”
“I don’t understand,” I said again.
“It’s a scam,” Olya said, going on to explain her theory as to what was really going on.

Essentially, the bus station clerks in Dnepropetrovsk had arrangements with the clerks at Gaspora to oversell tickets (i.e. selling multiple tickets for the same seats) in an effort to pad the pockets of the clerks in Dnepropetrovsk. In turn, the clerks in Gaspora benefit because the duplicating of tickets creates a bidding war amongst desperate passengers. Seats go to the highest bidder. Classic Ukraine. End result: the common man is screwed once again in an endless cycle of getting fucked up the ass with a stake.

Olya continued arguing with the bus driver, but he ignored us. And then something inside me snapped. Maybe it was the wine. Perhaps the mountain air. But something inside me snapped and I went on a tirade, aimed at the bus driver.
“What the fuck is wrong with you fucking people? I’m sick of getting fucked up the ass by the insanity of this mother fucking country! We have fucking tickets for this mother fucking bus, so you better let us the fuck on!”

I don’t know what brought this on, being that it was so completely out of character of me. And even though the driver didn’t know English, I’m sure he understood tone. And I’m pretty sure he knew he was familiar with “fuck.” And the best thing about it was, my tantrum actually worked – probably for the simple fact that Ukrainians usually just accept the fact that this is how things are, mostly out of fear of retribution. I figured I had nothing to lose.

Now that this crazy foreigner – who was probably assumed to be a terrorist – had everyone’s attention, the bus driver demonstrated some compassion by offering us a spot on the floor for $200 U.S. dollars.
“You got to be fucking kidding me,” I said.
“If you don’t like, then you can wait for another bus.”

Olya decided to take matters into her own hands and head inside the bus station, where she proceeded to threaten to call the police. This threat must have struck a chord because an official inside the station led us to the bus and demanded that we be let on board. We were shown to our seats, which were different than the seat numbers printed on our tickets. But why should that matter? Our seats were also located on opposite ends of the bus, which I’m sure was the bus driver’s way of snatching at least an ounce of victory from us since his superior forced him to let us on.

As proud as we were that we beat the system, I couldn’t help but think that all we really did was fuck over someone else who rightfully purchased tickets for the seats we were now occupying. It’s so sad that Ukrainians are so passively accustomed to just bending over and taking it in so many different ways. Nobody fights back. Nobody makes a stink. Because even if they did, the system is still going to find a way to get you in the end. It’s how things have always been before the Soviet Union, during the Soviet Union and now after the Soviet Union. And how things will probably always be, reminding me of just how much we take things for granted in the U.S. Sure, we have our flaws and layers of bureaucracy, no doubt about it. But Ukraine is a constant reminder of how truly great things are in comparison. And why so many people turn to us, when their countries turn their backs on them.
So we began our long journey back home. Frankly, I had enough of the Crimea. In fact, I decided I had enough traveling period. In comparison, Dnepropetrovsk felt safe, familiar and inviting. It’s amazing how quickly a strange place begins to feel like home, especially when you wander far from it.

As it turned out, the young, attractive girl sitting next to me could speak English and therefore understood everything I said during my rant. She pointed out that she paid a bribe to get on the bus, never purchasing a ticket at all. And with that, I drifted off to sleep. With our engagement party looming, I would need all the rest I could get.
© Bobby Fox  

Love & Vodka Read Robert J Fox's book Love & Vodka: My Surreal Adventure in Ukraine Travels here or at Barnes & Noble

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