In January, 2003, a friend with whom I’d once worked asked a big favor of me. I owed her, and therefore agreed, to travel to Moscow, Russia to make presentations, via an interpreter, at a couple of seminars. I hate travel. Add to that, living in Florida, the prospect of experiencing a Russian winter was a bit daunting. For starters, I would have to buy a jacket. I went, bringing two checked suitcases and one carry-on. When I got off the plane and arrived in customs, there was no one there. I looked about and, when I stood next to a pair of glass doors, they opened and, all of a sudden, I was in the crowded terminal in the Moscow airport. “Taksi? Taksi?” men kept asking me. Then I spotted my contact. “I have to go back and check through customs,” I told her. “I’ll hang on to your bag,” she offered, and took my carry-on from me. I returned to customs, now swarming with passengers and the officials running the show. Retrieving my other two suitcases, I got in line. Next to the very serious-looking blue uniformed woman doing the checking was a conveyor belt upon which each arriving passenger had to place their luggage to be run through security. An equally serious-looking fellow in a brown uniform monitored the luggage as it funneled through. I was third from the front of the line when it suddenly hit me: the customs declaration that I had signed on board claimed three items, but now I only had the two, since my contact was holding my carry-on out in the terminal. How do I explain that? I doubted these functionaries spoke English. I had visions of being packed off to the Gulag. I was pretty sure ostomy supplies would be non-existent. I got to the front of the line. The uniformed woman leveled me with a hard stare. I handed her my customs declaration. The line of suitcases was pushing along on the beltway at her back. She picked up her stamp. WHOMP, WHOMP. I was through. What I took to be a glaring discrepancy, they hadn’t even noticed. I had officially entered Moscow, if somewhat negligently, and escaped being packed off to Siberia for luggage fraud.
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