By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“A hundred dollars.” (I figure I should have extra cash, just in case.)
After 45 minutes of paperwork and holding my passport, the currency clerk tells me to go to the cashier, her friend, at Window No. 2. The cashier hands me a $100 bill.
I sprint back to the gate, sensing victory. It’s half an hour before takeoff. But there’s nobody at the check-in booths. My bags sit next to a chair, deserted.
An old man pushes a mop across the floor.
“I’m trying to get on the flight to Los Angeles.”
“It’s closed,” he says. “All closed.”
I head back to the speaker on the wall and press the button. “You win. I missed my flight. I need to extend my visa two more days until the next flight out.”
“Just come back when you’re flying and bring cash.”
Outside the terminal, I barter a cabby down from 6,000 rubles to 2,500. He lets me use his cell phone to call my wife. “You need to give him 2,500 rubles,” I say.
Upon our arrival at Fortunatovskaya Street in the Ismailovo district, my wife comes out in the snow and gives the driver 2,300 rubles.
“We did agree on 2,500,” I tell my wife, as the cabby counts the money.
She shouts at him, “That’s all I have,” then, with a slicing gesture across the throat, “and you know damn well it’s more than enough.”
He stares at her with hatred, knowing he’s screwed. I empathize.
By now, a small crowd of neighbors has gathered to welcome me home, even though I left just hours ago. Sergei, from across the hall, helps me up the stairs with my bags.
“So, Russia wants you to stay,” he says. “It’s better here than in America, anyway.”
* * *Two days later, I’m back at the airport for the next flight out. A passport-control officer in a green shirt, miniskirt and high heels escorts me, click-clicking, to Sverbank’s Window No. 2, saying my $100 “fine” for a four-day visa delinquency has to be paid there in rubles, not dollars. The bank charges me for the currency exchange before slapping on a $25 service charge, which I obediently convert to rubles... before they tell me the service charge has to be paid in dollars. This time, though, I have extra dollars, and I make it onto the plane at last.
But about the time I’m settling into my seat, a dishonest Sverbank employee attempts to withdraw close to $1,000 cash from my credit card. My own bank declines the transaction. The Fraud Protection Department leaves a voice mail at my home. It’s one of the first messages that greet me when I walk in through the door.
The next morning, as I walk my dog in the Hollywood foothills, an LAPD motorcycle officer stands next to an SUV that’s parked in a red zone.
“What the hell do you mean you’re waiting for Brad Pitt?” asks the cop. “You have an appointment with him, or something?”
I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home.
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