WHY DO WE HAVE RUSSIAN ARMED ESCORTS?
Rock and roll trucks are always assigned security cars in Russia. But why? Will we otherwise be overrun with marauding bandits?
It’s difficult to say, because every time I’ve driven to Russia I’ve had an armed escort. On each occasion I noticed no impoverished brigands lurking in the bushes. Never have I clocked pistol-toting rogues hiding in wooded expanses, eager to ambush me, duff me up and pinch my lorry.
Moscow Mafia? Tip-offs that valuable Western trucks are crossing the border? Sensationalist rumours of a nefarious underworld? I don’t know. But the protection racket is thriving.
Little Dick doesn’t worry about hammering his truck through Russia: ‘On a Motorhead tour once,’ he said, the show was cancelled when we arrived in Moscow. ‘Nobody thought to organise us an escort back to the Latvian border, so we just set off – two trucks, no security.’ Brave man, Little Dick. Fortunately, he emerged unscathed.
But on the Metallica Tour last year, I got chatting to our armed security guys as they posed with guns for a photograph. They admitted to having taken potshots at baddies on occasions. Yep, protection sounds like the way forward, then; I’ve never been a huge fan of bullets in my direction.
The trouble on the U2 Tour, though, was the sheer size of the logistical operation. With a whopping 54 production trucks slipping through the Russian border, co-ordinating who was following whom became a little clouded.
SAFE FROM RUSSIAN HIJACKERS
‘Erm, shouldn’t we have an escort?’ asked Namibian over the CB. We seemed, all of a sudden, to be bereft of any security whatsoever. There was supposed to be eleven cars, each car escorting no more (or fewer) than five trucks. Fine, in theory. But black rock and roll trucks filled the very horizon. And then one of the security guys erred at the turn-off to Murmansk.
Honestly, I’ve never seen such nonsense in all my puff. I waved frantically at colleagues travelling in the opposite direction. Fifty-odd trucks were turning round, having blindly assumed that we were regrouping into the requisite number of trucks per car. Nope. One of the escorts was simply lost. Awfully bad form not to know where you’re going in a job like escorting trucks through iffy territory, no?..
So there we were – Namibian, me and a pal called Dan – barrelling along, heading southeast without a security car. Just the three of us, happily bumbling through a bleak land littered with unremitting hazards. And then we sat in a traffic jam caused by a sleepy trucker mounting the central reservation.
To my surprise, impatient motorists began unscrewing the bolts in the barrier separating the carriageways. A couple of minutes later several cars had turned around rather than wait. The queue shortened considerably.
As we began to roll again, a silver van passed us. An A4 piece of paper was Sellotaped to the back window: “U2 TOUR”, it read. ‘That’s more like it,’ said Namibian. ‘I feel safe again now we’ve got an escort.’ A piece of A4, Namibian? Don’t you think a bandit could whizz down to a stationery shop?
‘The baddies know we’re on this stretch of road,’ I said. ‘So how difficult would it be to whack a sign in the back of a van and lead us to a compound? Within the hour you’ll probably have been disembowelled.’ I broke off momentarily, swerving to avoid an erratically driven Lada.
‘Or the baddies might decide to eat you,’ I continued. ‘Actually, given your size, the latter is quite likely. Nature didn’t skimp; you’d make an excellent stew.’ There was a pause. ‘Oh yeah, never thought of that,’ he replied.
Still, innocent until proved guilty and all that. We followed the silver van, retaining the option of ramming him if he tried any fruity monkey business. Then we reached St. Petersburg..