Sunday, January 23, 2011

Worst. Hour. Ever.

While I’m happy to be living with my host family again and see all the familiar faces around town, the journey of coming from Tbilisi to Samtredia was by no means a smooth ride for me. I probably had the worst hour of my life on Tuesday morning simply commuting from our hostel to the bus station at 9:30am.

Despite this hour being absolutely dreadful for me, it’s probably going to be funny when I look back on it in a few months. Plus, isn’t it true that the worst experiences we ever have are the stories we love to tell most?

My horrible hour starts with the fact that I am terrified of the metro escalators that frequent many big cities. I’m not talking about your standard mall escalator- I mean those escalators that are so steep, so long, and so fast- they could be thrill rides at any Six Flags theme park. In my experience, the escalators in Prague and Paris are pretty scary- but no escalator in all of Europe has anything, anything on the metro escalators of Tbilisi.

I’m convinced that whoever designed this escalator is a sadist. No one with a good heart would willingly submit people to such a torturous ride. On any normal day this escalator is merely a terrifying ride. But add my large duffel bag and backpack into the mix and this ordinarily terrifying ride becomes a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing Satan-stamped journey to Hell.

Even after Emily and my friend Taylor agreed to take my bags down the escalator (in addition to their own) it still took me about forty-five seconds to have the courage to actually step on the escalator and by the time I stepped on my friends were out of sight. Enter panic mode.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, usually I close my eyes and cuddle between two friends whenever I ride the Satanic Stairs in Tbilisi. But this time I was all on my own. Of course, I’m a terrified baby so I closed my eyes and broke out into tears (you know you’re a true crybaby when you can cry with your eyes closed) and sat down on the stairs whimpering for Melissa to come rescue me.

By this time I had alarmed enough passengers on the escalator to the point where they all thought something had to be drastically wrong with me. Poor Melissa had to trudge up the stairs with her enormous backpack so I wouldn’t pass out right there on the escalator.

Now in my defense, I don’t think many of you know just how terrifying these escalators are. I’m not afraid of heights-no. Roller coasters, bungee jumping- sign me up. But I draw the line at 60 km/h escalators at 70 degree angles (I’m only exaggerating a little). I just can’t help it that I’m afraid of plunging to my death and helplessly falling down if I happen to stand even a bit oddly.

The only thing more terrifying than going down the escalator, is going up the escalator (falling down backwards- need I say more?) Thankfully, the metro stop we needed was Didube which is above ground, so I only had to endure public transportation torture once.

Well, or so I thought.

Normally I really like the Didube bus station. There are lots of crazy people all over the place so it usually makes for good people watching. Plus I secretly like yelling at all the taxi drivers in Russian when they ask me where I’m going (it somehow makes me feel like a gangster).

To get on the bus you hand a few laris over through a kiosk window and they give you a small piece of paper with your seat assignment.  Everyone takes the assigned seats seriously but the tickets are sold in order so normally you always sit next to one of your friends. Well this time, there were five of us traveling and I just happened to get the odd ticket. No matter, I like making new friends. In my head I thought, ‘this could be fun’.

My seatmate was the opposite of fun. He was so morbidly obese he took up both the seats. (One man, two seats).When I sat down I had to sit sideways in order to even get half a cheek on the chair. (This becomes a courtesy issue. If you know you’re going to take up two seats- purchase two seats. Am I wrong?) Anyways, as I was already an emotional mess, this moment only made me cry more. I felt bad but I couldn’t help it. I hope that poor man didn’t think I was crying because he was so outrageously fat.

On any inter-city bus ride I would just deal, but this bus ride was four hours. I physically couldn’t sit there so I marched up to the ticket window, handed over my ticket and asked for a new seat. The woman at the kiosk window gave me a small smirk (as if she knew exactly who I was sitting next to) and gave me a new seat.

Any seat would be better than having no seat (which was practically the case) so I was completely fine with whatever seat I’d get. I ended up getting a seat next to a mother and her eight-year-old daughter who were both sharing one seat to save money. A bit ironic since these two people barely took up one seat, while my previous seatmate took up two seats.

Anyways, before the bus took off a man walked by me in the aisle and tripped, dropping several coins right around me. He began to rummage by my feet and look for coins so I stood up so it would be easier for him to see what he was looking for. Just as I stood up though, the man sitting next to me in the side aisle stood up as well, trapping me for a few seconds between the loose change guy and himself. I stood out of the way for a few seconds before sitting back down thinking Loose Change man found everything he was looking for.

Well, a few minutes later, Loose Change man came back and lifted up my backpack to check underneath that. I grabbed that from him and stood up again to let him search more thoroughly, and Side Aisle man stood up again and for the second time I was trapped. This time though, Side Aisle man unzipped my handbag and tried to pull something out of it. I was pretty startled at that moment (I was still tearing up from sitting by the fat man) but I was gripping my purse so tightly that he wasn’t able to get anything out. The mother sitting next to me yelled something nasty to the two men and they both ran off the bus in a hurry.

Thus we can add basically getting conned on a bus to my list of morning joys. I reacted in the only way I knew how: more tears.

To recap, in one hour I…

a) Thought I was going to plunge to my death (and cried)

b) “Sat” (it’s a relative term) next to the fattest man in the Caucasus (and cried) and

c) Almost got robbed (and cried)
Of course, every bad experience is a learning experience so these are several things I can take away from this hour.

1)      While the metro only costs 40 tetri (maybe fifteen cents) I don’t have the eminent feeling that I’m going to die in a five lari cab ride (around $2.50) so I might just opt for cabs from now on. Ironically enough though with the way people drive in Tbilisi, my odds of dying are probably much higher in a taxi.

2)      No more bread or I’ll end up fatter than the fattest man in the Caucasus.

3)      Next time someone drops money around me I’m going to scream, “Zhulik!” (thief) as loudly as I can. That way even if someone really does accidentally drop coins around me, they’ll be so terrified that I’m crazy that they’ll run away and I might even make a lari or two…

P.S. If you’d like to delve a bit more into my Israel trip, feel free to follow my new blog. It’s a silly, photo journal of much of my Israel trip (and other travels) as seen through the eyes of Cheburashka.

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