U2 TOUR TRUCKS ENTER RUSSIA
After the terrorist bombing of Moscow airport on 24th January, Russia has been catapulted to the fore of our minds. Right now, The Foreign Office advises us to avoid specific regions of Russia for all but essential travel. But take extremists out of the equation; are we left with a safe land in which we can freely roam?
Well, every year there are rock concerts in both St. Petersburg and Moscow. How does the stage equipment arrive? We truck it overland from Western Europe. And we’re assigned armed escorts to accompany the convoy.
Dangerous? Yep..but not in the way you’d think.
Last year a cavalcade of trucks on the U2 Tour headed southeast from Finland. We were destined for Russia’s capital, and I was driving somewhere in the middle. Namibian, naturally, was practically glued to my back doors. You know how he panics.
THE RUSSIAN FRONTIER
Predictably, Finnish formalities were completed in minutes; all those saunas do wonders for efficacy. (Did you know there are well over two million saunas in Finland, yet a population of only five million?) On the Russian Federation’s side, however, it was a different kettle of fish. Bureaucracy there is as bewildering as the Enigma Code; they get so het up about collating innumerable white forms. If only they’d relax..
We spent twelve hours on the Russian side. Frosty-faced harridans typed on antiquated keyboards; eastern European truckers grunted. The former eschewed smiles as dangerously progressive. The latter proudly sported socks with sandals.
TRUCKING IN RUSSIA
There are few rules. Or rather, the rules are broken. Between St. Petersburg and Moscow I saw five dead bodies. Seriously. And they weren’t the result of a massive pile-up; I saw five discrete incidents. Sadly, the zero tolerance law on drink-driving holds little currency in Russia; inebriated motorists are rife.
One minute I was delighting in the weather-boarded dachas spooling past, the next minute – disaster. A car had spun and mounted a salesman’s roadside stand. The innocent vendor – probably a father, maybe even a grandfather – was beneath the car, presumed dead. His plastic pots of fruit were scattered, vivid splats of reds and blues amongst the birch trees.
A little further on, I saw a car jacked up precariously on off-cuts of wood, a guy lying beneath the vehicle. Our trucks were passing – at 90 km/h – just inches from his body. And this is with cars weaving in and out, their drivers engaged in a sinister version of The Cannonball Run.
‘I wouldn’t mind but I was actually on the hard shoulder when I see him,’ said my friend Darren over the CB. A car with battered wings shot past seconds later, wildly undertaking. Seconds earlier and…OK, this was getting nasty. The CB radio went quiet. The zany driving had been kind of fun to begin with, but now we’d seen actual bodies. And they don’t bother covering them up in Russia..