The Russians are Coming: Excerpt

This is an excerpt from my memoir “The View from the Rigging.” I was the boarding officer on a fisheries law enforcement mission in the Bering Sea. We had just boarded a Russian factory vessel fishing for Alaskan king crab. The captain greeted us on the main deck, surprisingly informed us of the safe landing of our astronaut on the moon and is leading the way to the wardroom for a meeting.

As we snaked our way to the wardroom, the captain suddenly took my elbow and quietly said, “Come with me, please.”  The rest of the party moved on while I turned to follow the captain down a side passageway and up to the next deck. Stopping at a beautiful mahogany door with a polished brass name plate, he turned and said, “Please step into my cabin.”  My mind struggling for a scenario, I stepped inside. He followed and closed the door. Before I could say anything, he pointed for me to sit in a small leather chair at the side of his desk and, in perfect English, he asked, “Do you own a car?”   

            “Do I own a car?”  I had no idea where this was going.

            “Yes, do you have an automobile?

            “Yes, Captain, I do.”

            “What kind?”

            “A Toyota Corona.”

            The captain leaped out his chair, a huge grin on his face, extended his hand to shake mine, pumping it vigorously. “So do I!”  I got the feeling he now saw us as some sort of kindred spirits. He sat down and leaned back in his chair.

            “How long did you wait?” He steepled his hands, tapping his fingertips in anticipation of my answer. I must have looked confused. I had no idea what he meant. “You know. How long did you have to wait to get your car?”

            “I’m sorry Captain. I don’t understand.”

            “Well, in my country, as captain of a fleet factory vessel, I am highly ranked. I got my new car after waiting only three months. How long did you wait?”

            “Captain, in my country anyone who wants to buy a car makes a trip to a car store. There are usually several in a row on the same street. When I bought mine, I knew I wanted a Toyota, test drove a few models, decided, then bargained for the best price. I drove the car home the same afternoon.” From the look on his face I feared I had embarrassed him. Damn!

            He said nothing for a while, then, “I like the U.S. Coast Guard.  They are not like the Navy or Army. You and I are just men who go to sea.”  After a slight pause, he added, “I don’t like our Army or Navy either.”  Before I could recover, he placed both palms flat on his desk, pushed out of his seat and pointed to his cabin door.

            “We should probably be joining the others in the wardroom.”  To this day, I imagine  an old Russian sea captain sitting around a fire, stoking his pipe, downing a vodka, dramatizing this same event to his grandchildren, “….yes, that’s what that crazy American tried to get me to believe—he buys his cars in one day!”