I never sleep well after drinking, which means that I never sleep well, period. But adding in a strange hotel room, 11 hours of jet lag, and sore feet fails to improve the situation any.
My phone was ringing.
“Mark? Hi! This is Shane, from the IFC office.” Said the voice on the phone, who was obviously not hungover. Bastard.
“Oh, hi, yeah.” I tried to talk coherently while swinging my feet out of bed, just about falling on my ass.
“Come on down to the restaurant, let’s all get breakfast and then the driver will take us into the office.” Shane was too goddamn cheery. I was hoping he was faking it, or else he was going to have to die.
“Ok, fine. Be down in a few. Lemme shower.” I hung up the phone. It took a few minutes of sitting over the edge of the bed to figure out which way gravity was going. Once oriented towards the center of the earth, I slouched my way over to the bathroom.
Everything was new, yet kind of crappy. Like they tried to make a top notch hotel out of cut rate parts. I didn’t care. I had hot running water and little hotel soaps, I was in heaven. I scraped as much of the Moscow dirt and beer sweat off of me as I could, Grabbed something clean to wear, and staggered out of my room towards the elevator.
The shower made me feel beter, but I was really getting hungry and thirsty. I didn’t dare drink the tap water, according to my book the water in Moscow wasn’t like Mexico, where you could expect Montezuma’s Revenge to strike with the first drink, apparently Lenin’s Revenge was bad filtering and lots of heavy metals. Joy.
After throwing on a pair of ratty slacks and a shirt with some kind of collar, I checked the hotel map and found the floor of the restaurant. I took the elevator down and staggered out past the doors and their “Do not Disturb” signs, and saw Bob and Paul, looking equally worse for wear by the door, with a clearly excited guy who was obviously too excited and well balanced to be as hungover as we were. This was Shane.
“Hi,” he was shaking my hand violently, “I’m Shane, it’s a real pleasure to meet you!”
“Yes. Mark. Hello.” I had no idea what to say or do.
“Let’s eat.” Said Bob. Far hungrier and with the look of dehydration setting in, and having already been through the introductions, he was in no mood to fuck around.
The breakfast was part of the room charge for the hotel. We gave our numbers and were checked off a little list. The waiter showed us to our table. Everything was exactly like any standard hotel in the US. After the previous day it was a bit unsettling. But we were hungry and thirsty, and food was all we were really interested in. Shane was very excited to talk with us. I had the feeling that not too many new people came by, so this was really interesting for him. I found not vomiting from this pounding hangover much more interesting, so I kept nodding and ordering more orange juice and smiling. We ate like pigs.
Once done, we headed downstairs to another car and driver. This was Dima. He had a much smaller car, a Soviet Zhiguli, which was in fact, an exact copy of a Fiat. We packed ourselves in and gave Shane the front “Death Seat”. Dima was neither as old nor as calm as Sasha, the other driver, and took off out of the hotel drive like a madman. We were packed in so tight that it didn’t matter that there were no seatbelts we could find, we just hung on for our lives.
Moscow was slightly more familiar as we headed towards the office. We were following the same road that the metro line did, heading towards the center of town. On our way in we passed the original Soviet McDonalds, which was huge and stood out since it was western architecture that was really out of place compared to the rest of Moscow that we saw moving past our windows. We could see the Kremlin towers approaching, and as we got close the car took a sharp left, taking us around the outside of the main blocks of the city core, this was a much wider arterial, curving around sections of old city wall that disappeared into hotels, behind which we could see the upper floors of GUM. We passed around several large buildings, one of which Shane pointed out as KGB headquarters and prison. It looked like everything else, but with just a larger soviet crest on the front. We turned off the main drag onto a smaller side street, which led us onto the riverside drive.
Ahead of us we could see that huge white apartment building on the river.
Shane leaned over the seat, “That’s it! The Kotelnichaskaya Nabreshnaya Kvarteri. Our office is on the 18th floor”
The building looked large, but that was just an illusion, as we got closer, we could see that it was enormous. Just massive. Everything was overbuilt in scale, great grand edifices, Soviet crests, towers and wings that spread out over the whole block and across the river. Dima drove in the gate and up to the steps in front. As we got out we could see the whole effect. Marble steps led up to six massive double doors leading into the main entrance. The whole place was made to make you feel small in comparison, and it worked.
Shane was already halfway to the doors, “This way!” He was waving his arms to get us to follow.
We headed up to the main doors, but Shane was over to the side. I reached out to open a main door, and it was locked. It looked dark inside as well.
“No, over here!” Shane was at a much smaller door, off to the side of the main entrance. We headed that direction. Inside the little door was a small room with another door on the opposite side, and a huge, old keypad next to the door.
“Now, “said Shane, punching keys, “The code is 3-8-5, if you forget it, usually someone has written it just above the box somewhere.”
There was no lightbulb in the little hall, and it was pretty dark. If something was written on the wall, I sure couldn’t read it. But looking at the keys I could see that the “3”, the “5”, and the “8” were all badly worn. This had apparently been the code for a very long time. Before I could ask anything, Shane was already through the door, and heading into the Lobby. We scrambled through to keep up.
The apartment lobby was huge, with marble floors, great chandeliers, and massive desks where you could get assistance, that is, if anyone was still there. But the lights were off, everything had a coat of dust, and an old woman holding a squirt gun was sitting in a chair, reading. Once she saw us coming in, she got up, pointing the squirt gun at us and talking angrily. I couldn’t understand a thing, but Shane spoke with her and she calmed down and returned to her book.
“What was that about” I asked Shane.
“Oh, that’s the Dezhurnaya. The Floor Lady. She’s there to watch the main door so no undesirables get in.” Shane said.
“With a squirt gun?” I asked.
“Tear Gas.” Shane smiled and went off to the tower to the left.
I really had no desire to find out what kind of leftover Soviet Tear Gas was in this old lady’s squirt gun, so I tried to keep up. We went around a corner and down a long hall and got to another elevator lobby. There were two elevators, one with tape blocking it off.
I looked at the blocked elevator, “Out of service?” I asked.
“No,” said Shane, “it’s working fine, but they only let us use one at a time. If the other one breaks down, then we use this one.”
“So we have 18 floors of people and only one elevator?” I said.
“No, it’s 21 floors actually.” Shane pushed the call button. And we waited.