May 5, 2011 There’s no AAA here.

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

This is for you gentlemen. Car breakdowns are handled differently in Russia. There is no AAA and there are very, very few tow trucks – and they sometimes refuse to tow you. I’m certain that all those Mercedes in Moscow get first class, American style service, but we are in rural Russia.
Our Lada refused to start when Larisa left the supermarket downtown, so she made two calls – one to me to come help and one too her long suffering cousin Sergey who is her go-to person every time anything goes wrong.
I took a cab downtown ($2.15) and by the time I got there, Sergey, who had borrowed a neighbor’s motor scooter, was already under the hood and had learned that the car wasn’t getting gas. As the gas gauge was very low and as the driver was a woman, it was decided by all of the males present that she had just run out of gas.
Now, in America, you have to use a special red gas can to legally purchase or carry gasoline anywhere, but this is Russia. Larisa went into the supermarket; purchased the biggest bottle of water they had ($1.10) and emptied the water onto the grass. Sergey put the bottle on the scooter and went to get gas.
The gas didn’t help. I suggested that was time to call for a tow, but Sergey is one of the nicest and stubbornesst helpers in existence and he insisted on checking the fuel filter and the fuses for the fuel pump and working for about 15 more minutes before he gave up and agreed with the tow idea.
Larisa called the tow service number on our insurance. It turned out that our insurance didn’t cover the tow, but we could order one on our own dime – or this case on our own 1000 ruble note – about $35 – and they didn’t tow the car the way American companies do. They only send out a wrecker if there has been a serious accident and the car cannot roll – otherwise they send a car, a rope, and two brave men.
Sergey looked puzzled. He asked why we were calling a tow company when there was a cab stand about 50 feet away. Come again? He explained that taxi companies would tow a car around town for about 250 rubles (less than $9) I let him and Larisa do the negotiation, and in a few minutes two competent acting drivers came over to our car.
All Russian cars have tow rings on the front and rear bumpers. They took the tow cable out of our emergency pack (required on all Russian cars by law), and clipped the car to the taxi.
The tow cable is a 5 meter (about 15 foot) long 4 inch wide nylon cable with clip hooks at both ends. You clip the cars together and the front car provides the motor and the rear car provides the brakes. Hand signals coordinate the whole thing. It was the way your grandfather and I towed cars in America – before it was outlawed in 48 states.
Larisa got in the front car to provide directions, and I got in the passenger seat of our car to provide – nothing – it was just the only seat left. The cab driver phoned into to his company to say that he was towing “The American’s” car out to Premalka and we took off at a good speed.
As scary as this kind of tow is, it turned out to be a treat to watch. The two cab drivers were sober, competent, pleasant, and had obviously had a lot of practice. They handled bad roads and traffic lights with casual hand signals and they made the tow look easy. We paid the $9 and added a tip just for the pleasure of watching them work.
We had towed the car home because it was close to 5:00 and too late to get to a garage. I figured that we would call a mechanic or have the car towed to a garage the next day. I had forgotten about Sasha, the family mechanic. He was a professional mechanic and a friend of the family. He came over after dinner to fix the car, and in about 30 minutes, he had the back seat out and a bad fuel pump in his hands.
He called a friend at a parts store and found a new one. The store was going to close in a few minutes, but they would have the part waiting. The only problem was getting there. Our car wasn’t running and Sasha had walked over. He didn’t have a car either.
Fortunately Vladimir, the husband of the German Lady, came to our rescue. He had an old red Lada that he washed about every day and he offered to drive us downtown for the part. Like his wife, Vlad was fastidious about his possessions. It turned out that the car was a Lada Model 1, the first model made, and it was 35 years old. It also hummed. When a motor is running just right, the bearings are noiseless, the lifters don’t click, nothing rattles and it just has a pleasant hum. That was this car. Vlad had driven it to Siberia the year before I could understand his confidence.
On the other hand, while the car hummed, the driver SCREAMED! He didn’t want us to miss the store and was going to get us there if we had to finish the trip in an ambulance and several times I thought we were going to. Good thing we made it, I would have hated to get blood on that immaculate interior.
Sasha had the pump installed in about thirty minutes and charged us 400 rubles ($14) for the job. The pump and filter had cost $950 rubles ($34).
In America the process would have been, call AAA for a tow, use your other car for a day, and pay $250 – $300 for the repair;
In Russia, it took one cab, one motor scooter, two cabdrivers, two friends (one of them a mechanic), a kindly neighbor, a wild drive in an antique car, a store owner who waited for us, and $62. Oh, Hell. It was more fun here.

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