Eric Baines

Tag: Samara

Buses and Extortion

by eric on Oct.18, 2010, under Eastern Europe Tour 2010, Music, Uncategorized

The last few days have been rough to say the least. The Russian survival training part of the tour has officially begun with a 16 hour bus ride leaving directly after the show in Samara, RU and ending at the sound check in Ekaterinburg, RU. In the U.S., this wouldn’t be problem at all because we have what you call “sleeper” style buses. The best ones have usually 12 bunks and a front and back lounge section with plenty of room for the 10 people in our entourage. They also come equiped with electricity, internet, satellite TV and DVD players in every bunk not to mention a bathroom and sometimes a shower. It’s the lap of luxury and my favorite way to tour. Russia, however, has no sleepers. They have what you call “upright” or “coach” style buses. Picture your average Greyhound bus but about 2/3 the size with no heat and an awful smell. Mmmmm…what a way to spend the night. They did manage to create a sleeper by turning half of the seat around so that they faced each other and throwing mattresses across them so we could lay down. It worked but it was far from the comfort of the U.S.. Now add on the fact that Russian roads haven’t been serviced in decades it seems and some of the mountain passes in Siberia are dirt. It makes for a great ride. The bus broke down twice and we lost two hours because of the time change so we arrived at the venue 20 minutes before the show was supposed to start, tired beat up and dirty. We did a quick sound check, ate a couple of pieces of meat and cheese backstage, I ran my fingers through my hair and proceeded to rock in a smooth jazz sort of way. The people of Ekaterinburg were very awesome in spite of us pushing the show back two hours.

A familiar thing happened to us the day before while leaving Krasnodar. We were running a little late to the flight but things were going somewhat smoothly. By smooth I mean the usually hour of taking 25 pieces of luggage and road cases through what seems like 10 ex-ray machines just to get to check in and then standing around waiting for the tour crew and promoters to haggle with the airline over the price of oversize luggage while fending off the evil stares of the unfortunate other travelers who got in line behind us. You know…smooth. Anyway, after all of that we were going through security which starts with a check of your passport and ticket. This has not been a problem at all on this trip but today this guard saw an opportunity to make some money. He claimed we had the wrong immigration forms and he calls his superior who comes and looks concerned like we’ve done the worst thing in the world. They eventually take our Russian promoters to another room and do a little exchange: 150 euros and we get our passports back. There was nothing wrong with our forms they just knew we were late and there was nothing we could do. I wish I could say that this was the first time this had ever happened to us out here but it’s just the way things are here.

When we first arrived a week or so ago and retrieved our baggage and gear we had to show our luggage tags to get out of the baggage area (Russians are the only ones left in the world that still check). The baggage claim area was walled of and by the time we got our stuff we were the only ones left in the area. We had the gear loaded on to carts and we were ready to go. The guard who was checking the tags ask what we were doing here and was told that we were a band. Then he said give me a CD. The promoter refused. The guard then said give me a CD and I’ll let you go or I’ll check all of the bags individually which would of meant another 20 minutes of unloading the carts. Needless to say he got his CD.

These are pretty mild annoyances but sometimes it gets brutal. One time we had to connect in Minsk, Belarus. We thought it was weird when we could not check our luggage all the way through when we checked in in Moscow but we got on the plane, anyway. When we arrived in Minsk we unloaded our gear and they wouldn’t let us check in. After making us wait around, holding the flight for 3 hours and moving our massive amount of gear around two or three times to be inspected they charged us $2500 dollars for visa’s and let us go. The kicker was that we got right back on the very same plane that we had flown in on. The options were basically “we can take your stuff and put you in jail or you can pay us and be on your way”. It makes me appreciate that we have rights and laws in the U.S. and we’re not at the mercy of some rogue customs agents that are looking for some extra cash. I’m starting to miss home. By the way, that was the first time we ever played in Ekaterinburg. We were late that day because of the delay and the people waited two hours in the cold to see us. You Rock, Ekaterinburg!

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