Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bears. Coke Bottles and Russian Planes that Crash

"I'm in shock!!!!! R.I.P."

That was Russian hockey star Alex Ovechkin's Twitter post concerning today's tragic plane crash.


When I opened my eyes this morning, I had a 15 pound Chihuahua laying across my chest.

However, this wouldn't end up being the key component to why Klecko would spend his first day off in 3 weeks with a heavy heart.

Just about the time Sue McGleno's dog Romeo began biting my hair in an effort to gain admittance to his outdoor "relief area", I heard the anchor on ESPN reporting something about Russia, and his voice was set in a dour tone.

Just before I had woken from my slumber, the International LOKOMOTIV team plane crashed, and at least 43 international players and coaches had lost their lives.

Apparently they were in route to Minsk for their season opener when their plane found it difficult to obtain the needed altitude and they hit a tower.

After the impact, the plane shredded and most of the shrapnel and passengers landed in the Volga River.

Tragedy is tragedy, I get it, but Klecko has always had a special infinity towards the Russians and their air travel.

Between the years of 2006-2009 I flew at least 20 000 miles back and forth across their country.

We are so spoiled in the United States. We whine about lost possessions or hidden baggage cost, but in the Motherland......when you get onto a plane, you do this with the knowledge that aviation is a progress in work, not an entitlement.

If you've ever traveled across Russia, and had an opportunity to observe some of their planes....well, just the initial observations can be unnerving.

Case in point, I've hopped on planes in the Asiatic Arctic, and I've hopped on planes by the Black Sea. Everyone of the birds I entered were American made, but do you think it's a good sign when you see dark paneling covering exposed wires on the walls of the hull, or seat cushions designed in a plaid pattern of yellow-orange and brown?

Dude, these had to be made in the 70's and I'll bet they had run the gauntlet before Uncle Sam tossed them over to their former Cold War Rival.

On one occasion when an English speaking Russian discussed the poor state of these machines, he mentioned that the unbelievable part was after they ran them into the ground even further.....they would turn around and sell them to the Chinese.

Klecko will never-ever ever fly China.....I swear it to J.P.2

So after completing my mandatory routines around the house, I headed out to the gym.
Today was a heavy lift day.

As I rotated between bar-curls and dumbbell triceps exercises, my mind went back to Russian air travel.

One of the 10 proudest facts that Danny Klecko can brag about is.....he has a winning chess record in Russia.

I'll never forget sitting in the Novosibirsk Airport. I had just spent 36 hours in this city which is located in the exact middle of Russia.

While I spent my day there, I went to a place called New York Pizza in hopes of finding some American companionship as well as its entrepreneurial founder Eric Shogren.

Not only is this guy one of the most eccentric business men in the world, but he is from Minnesota, the State that Klecko built.

But Eric was not there, and all the people dining seemed to be speaking Russian.

The singer was doing Jimmy Buffet covers, so during his break, I was lonely enough to try to strike up a conversation with him, but as it turned out....God must of hated me that day cuz the guy wasn't from my homeland....he was Canadian.

I didn't even finish my beer, I just went back to my hotel and jumped between the sheets with my newest bedmate......depression.

But anyway, I am in the Novosibirsk airport, our boarding keeps getting set back and while everybody found ways to whittle away their time,I began to search for a way to occupy mine. I knew that since I couldn't speak or understand the language of anybody in this airport.....I would have to resort to desperate means.

So at this point I pulled out my chess set, held it in the air and literally yelled out......

"Who wants a piece of the American?"

Some Eskimo looking dude stood up, set his belongings down and crossed the waiting rooms large open space, just like pretty girls do in perfume commercials.

Before all the pieces were even set up, we had a hoard of bored travelers who volunteered themselves to act as our event gallery.

With each move made, the crowd began almost yelling, I don't know if they were giving their opinion or what they were doing, but the game got intense.

Birds were flying over our heads because several of the airport window panes were intentionally removed from their window frames.

I could tell that the mobs musings were messing with my opponents mind, he was beginning to make some moves that were out of book.

So that's when I began point to myself and declaring "Bobby Fischer - Bobby Fischer" and then I'd point across the board and announce......"Boris Spassky"

When I did this everybody laughed, everybody but a huge middle aged man that was built like a Bear. He hammered out in a more than stern tone...."Petrosian!"

Petrosian was the world champion in 1963, and even though he wore the crown....much of Russia criticized him for being mundane and unimaginative.

I think the Bear declared this to let my opponent realize that his tactics might be too predictable.

But you could really sense that our game was being played for national pride.

I kicked the Eskimo looking guys a**,

But after he laid down his king, the shame in his eyes bothered me. sure....all the gallery would forget this outcome within minutes, but would my opponent?

I held up my finger to signify 1 more game, and the Eskimo looking dude accepted.

To make a long story short.....I threw the second game.

As I did this, I could just see my chess coach (Kansas City Bob) pounding his fist on the cafe counter and swearing words that will send him to level 10 Hell, but I'd do it again.

Sometimes in life, if you pay close enough attention, you realize that ambassadors carry better karma than narcissists and assassins.

So now the nice looking woman motions for us to head out to the tarmac.

Klecko just followed the crowd.

In Russia, you don't merge from the airport into the plane through that accordion-noodle-thing.

They take you onto the tarmac and you have to walk up that ladder staircase deal, you the ones that JFK and the Beatles were always seen descending down in those historical film clips.

So now we finally are allowed to board, we are sitting in the plane, and 20 minutes pass, an hour passes, more time passes again.

So now a terse Russian voice starts barking something over the intercom, and by my fellow passengers response, I can tell it's not good.

As the disgruntled travelers began to stand up, the big Bear dude was issuing instructions to the other travelers, while he did this.....the Bear was pointing at me. was like that "God's Smuggler" comic book I read as a kid, the Ruskies were going to trump up some charges on me and bump me into the Gulag LOL.

But when we all got off the plane, the Bear motioned me to follow him, so I did.

If Russia ever considered shooting their own Mafia series for HBO, I swear to Caesar that the Bear would thrash Tony Soprano.

I'm not kidding you, the guy had hands like catchers mitts and he wore a black leather Jacket (like the one Rocky wore in his first movie).

I'd be willing to bet that this guy was totally Russian Mafia, you could tell by the way the locals responded to him.

So now the Bear issues orders to a woman who stood behind a counter, and before you knew it....she was running him over a tablet and a pencil.

Then just like Charlie Brown, in one of his T.V. specials....the Bear stuck his tongue out of the side of his mouth as he labored over a picture that he was drawing.

From the look of his furrowed brow and his menacing stare....I was 1/2 expecting to see a picture of a Monet like landscape, but instead...when he flipped the tablet over, I spied a crude looking airplane that had it's front tire crossed off with an "X".

When I pointed to that front tire, the Bear ran his hand across his throat in a slashing manner to let me know that it was not working.

For hours we watched 4-6, sometimes even 9 guys out there working on that front wheel.

Through the eyes of a baker with no mechanical aptitude, it looked like to me that - that front tire wasn't deploying when the plane was landing.

So now the Bear goes and sits down. I began thanking the the Polish Christ for sending the best of angels to guide me through this bump in the road, he sent me the Bear.

You have to appreciate when people go out of their way when they don't have to, and I can't imagine that there is anything more humbling than being in a position where you have nothing of value to return.

It is so "Little Drummer Boy".

But for once, television commercials paid dividends.

Klecko walked up to the concessions counter and purchased 2 Cokes.

I brought the bottles over towards the Bear, his back was turned to me.

I called out "Comrade" and as he turned around, his face almost bumped into the soda in my outstretched hand.

When the Bear saw the Coke I said "Sploseeba" which is "thank you" in Russian and he laughed with one of those lumber jack laughs.

Eventually we did get up in the air. The whole day had been more than surreal, so for once I just kept my mouth shut and carefully examined my surroundings. I was witnessing something that few American will ever get to see.

The woman all had their hair died in this dark-rich red color, this is Russia version of blond. If your hair is - are - all that.

Some of these women had chihuahua's. They were allowed to sit in their laps as long as they didn't act up, and nobody (other than me) wore a seat belt.

When the sky waitress worked the aisle, she came with foil envelopes that actually gave you more than 6 peanuts and large receptacles filled with tea.

In Russia, you don't sleep through your flights. There's too much tension in the air, instead everybody gets along and enjoys each other, as if....well who knows, as if it may be their last time together.....with anybody.

And when the plane lands, dude....they clap louder than people did in the theater the first time I saw Luke Skywalker blow up the Deathstar.

They really don't take their survival for granted.

About 6 weeks after that flight, I was at home sitting on my couch with the radio on. It was tuned to WCCO, and if my memory serves me right, it was my birthday as well.

The announcer broke in and reported that Siberian Flight number whatever-whatever had just crashed due to the front wheel not being deployed during landing.

The planes crashed and went into flames.

I remember sitting - thinking about how I knew the people (or people like them) on that flight.

I thought about the Bear, and then I remembered the Eskimo looking guy as well.

I wondered if their was any chihuahua's on the laps of the victims during impact.

The thought terrified me, and made me sad.

I'm not saying that I cried......but I'm not saying that I didn't.

My dear Russian friends, I am sorry for your loss today and somewhere across the ocean is an American who his grateful for how you have changed his life.

Good Night Comrades


  1. This is lovely and amazing. You have a bizarre gift for storytelling, using cultural signposts to make every adventure mythic ... the result is that everything seems full of meaning. Amazing.

  2. Yes, indeed, you are a wonderful storyteller.