moscow trafficI was running late, driving swiftly down the interstate to my office. Suddenly the car ahead of me swerved to avoid a large piece of metal in the lane. I wasn’t so lucky. Two bumps later all seemed well. Two exits later it wasn’t. My right front tire was wobbling and I pulled over to a narrow median as the rim hit the pavement. I crawled over and out to confirm the worse – the tire was flat.

Crawling back into the drivers seat and facing into the afternoon sun, the temperature in the car rose. If I opened the driver’s side window, there were fumes and cacophony. Hoping for a breeze, I opened the other side and sat. I was already late, there wasn’t much more to do. Things were in fates hands.

Cell phone service was strong and within five minutes I’d called AAA for help, rescheduled the rest of the afternoon and alerted my partner. Thirty minutes later I was still sitting there. Every car zoomed past sending shimmies through my perch on the pavement. A police car cruised by without slowing. Finally a tow truck slipped into the space behind me.

Allan, the driver, asked me to stay in the car as he set the jack up and recovered my spare from the trunk. The car listed to the left as he spun the lug nuts off and within minutes the entire drama had its denouement and I was back on my way.

How fortunate to be in a country, a county, a city, on a road where help was swift and simple. It’s not so if you’re a driver in Moscow, Russia. On an overly warm March day in San Diego there was no blowing snow to contend with and getting help wasn’t an issue of personal safety or a threat to one’s finances.

As reported recently on PRI, driving in Moscow requires heavy doses of patience and perseverance. In rush hour it can sometimes take a noisy half an hour to travel one block. Gridlocked drivers dread one sound in particular – sirens. They could herald an emergency but worse, could be a government apparatchik approaching. With their flashing blue lights they rule the road.

Everyone is required to pull over and most all comply. Two years ago one unfortunate pedestrian, 32 year old Piotyr Shkumatov, was crossing the street when a government car ran a red light with its blue light flashing, sending Piotyr flying and into the hospital. No one was courageous enough to testify against the high ranking official driving the vehicle. Soon Piotyr envisioned a unique protest and the blue bucket brigade was born. He’s fastened a blue utility bucket to the roof of his car in protest.

The Society of the Blue Buckets now lobbies against the impunity of the blue lights and shoots videos of offending official drivers. Some have been pulled over by the police but more recently the buckets are gaining support in their quest for justice. The movement is growing with more than three thousand Muscuvites involved, fueling Piotyr’s determination to keep fighting against corruption and continue commuting for justice.

Here’s a link to the full PRI story.

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