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Communicators AND Others Enjoying Retirement
Issue 13January 1997Volume 2 - Number 2

Welcome to the CANDOER News. Suggestions as to what you would like to see in the CANDOER are welcome. Letters to the editor, articles consisting of general information, feature articles, G-rated jokes, or poems, written/submitted by retirees or OC/IM employees, past or present, will be published, unedited. Material may be submitted on a 3.5" floppy disk (disk will be returned) using WordPerfect Version 6.1 or earlier (if it contains graphics), on a plain sheet of paper (if it has no graphics) or via e-mail. The deadline for submitting material is no later than the 25th of each month. Material received after that date will be published in the next issue of the CANDOER, space allowing. Please, restrict articles/submissions to two single spaced, typed pages. No hand written submissions, please.

The snail-mail address for submissions or letters to the editor is:

Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
Publisher/Editor CANDOER News
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062


This issue starts the first chapter of Jim Prosser's 14 part article, Trans-Siberian Railroad Voyage Journal, July 1996. I hope you enjoy reading this very interesting and informative article as much as I have.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jim Prosser, Joe Lea, Marvin Konopik, and Will Naeher for the articles and stories they have contributed to the CANDOER News.

The CANDOER News is now being mailed to 70 people, hand delivered to the Department, by my youngest son, to six others, and another 12 copies are being handed out at the luncheons. Several recipients of the newsletter are making copies and distributing them to additional 25-30 people. A practice I strongly encourage. The success of the CANDOER Newsletter is in a large part due to the contributions of you the readers.

Now, if you are a regular reader, you know I can't seem to resist doing this about every other issue, I am going to get up on my soap box, again. PLEASE, if you hear of the illness, or God forbid, the death of one of our colleagues, now working or retired, please, p l e a s e, give me a call or send me an E-mail message and let me know. Another of our colleagues, James Scott Metzger, died recently. It was 10 days after his death before I found out about it. Had I learned of his death in a timely manner I would have gotten word out to his many friends and colleagues among us so if they choose to do so they could have attended his viewing and/or funeral and given his family moral support. PLEASE, I am only a telephone call and/or E-mail message away. If you hear of an illness, or the death of a colleague, let me know immediately. I do not mind making the necessary calls to let other members know.

If you are telling others about the newsletter, please be advised that I am now asking for a minimum donation of $15 a year, if you want every issue mailed to your address of preference. If you get some of the issues at the luncheons, then I am asking for a minimum donation of $10 per year. I keep track of all donations and will notify you when your year is up and you need to donate funds again. In addition, all checks should be made payable to me, not to the CANDOER News.


On December 14, I received an E-mail from Mel Maples suggesting that in future issues of the CANDOER News I include a full list of CANDOER's E-mail addresses, as a separate page that can be torn out of the News and placed at your computer so when you wish to contact members you may do so without having to search through the whole Directory. Effective with this issue, both the yearly schedule of luncheons and a list of CANDOER's E-mail and Home address will be placed on the last page of the News, as a separate sheet, so it may be removed without removing any other article. Suggestions are welcome and appreciated.

MEDICARE - Revisited

In 1997, Medicare Part B premiums will be increased from $42.50 a month to $43.80 per month, an increase of $1.30 per month for a total of $15.60 per year. In addition, the co-payment for the first 60 days of a hospital stay will increase to $760, up from $736 in 1996; days 61-90 of a hospital stay will rise to $190 each day from a previous charge of $184 a day; day's 91-150 goes up to $380 a day, from $368 a day last year. The copayment for most medical services under Part B remains at 20 percent of the Medicare-approved charges and there will be no change in the $100 deductible.



On December 13, 1996, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced they have made various retirement-related materials available on the World Wide Web (WWW).

The retirement-related materials are available in the Portable Document Format (PDF) for viewing on-line with the Adobe Acrobat Reader. (The Adobe Acrobat Reader is a Freeware program available on the WWW at http: // and from numerous Bulletin Board Systems throughout the world.) The brochures are also available in WordPerfect 5.1 format for downloading.

You can access the OPM Home Page by pointing your browser at the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) -

The Retirement Programs Home Page can be accessed by using the index to find the subject area of interest and clicking your mouse on the hyper text link letter. Alternatively the Retirement Programs Home Page can be accessed by pointing you WWW browser at the URL -

Those of you with the capability to access this Home Page will find it does not have a lot of information at this time, but Ms. Mary Sugar, Chief Agency Services Division, OPM, assures me that eventually all retirement information available by mail or telephone should also become available on their Home Page.


Now that Income Tax time is fast approaching [I'm sorry to mention that dirty word] I would like to remind you of a program that OPM introduced this year to make it easier to change your federal income tax withholdings.

Annuitant Express is a computer-based system, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which gives you the ability to change your federal income tax withholdings without having to complete a form, write a letter, or make a toll call to the Office of Personnel Management.

Using a touch tone phone, call the toll free number 1-800-409-6528. Then just follow the menu prompts and you can change the amount of federal income tax withheld from your monthly annuity check.

How to use Annuitant Express. [Make sure you have your CSA or CSF Number and the last four digits of your Social Security Number available.]

The first voice prompt will ask you to enter the first seven numbers of your claim number (CSA or CSF).

Next the voice prompt will ask for the last four digits of your Social Security Number (sometimes referred to as your Personal Identification Number [PIN]).

The voice prompt will ask you to press 1 if you are a retired employee, or 2 if you are the survivor of a former employee.

Then the voice prompt will tell you your current tax withholding and ask you to press 1 if you wish to change your withholding or 2 to exit Annuitant Express.

If you press 1, the voice prompt will ask for the whole dollar amount of federal income tax you want withheld from, each monthly annuity payment.

The voice prompt will then tell you: You entered [the dollar amount you entered] dollars to be withheld from your monthly annuity payment. If this is correct, press 1. If it is not correct, press 2 to re-enter the correct amount.

Once you have indicated that the amount is correct, the voice prompt will tell you when they will begin to deduct the dollar amount you requested.


We had the largest turn out ever, 30 attendees, for our December luncheon. In attendance were the following regularly attending members:

Bob Berger, Bob Campopiano, Ed and Barbara Carroll, Jim Carter, Jim Casey, Bob Catlin, Paul Del Giudice, Charlie Ditmeyer, Leroy Farris, Al Giovetti, Charlie Hoffman, Boyd Kaufman, Harry Laury, Bob Liebau, Babe Martin, Will Naeher, Paul Nugnes, Ed Peters, Bob Scheller, Doc Sloan, Ron and Linda Steenhoek, Val Taylor, and Tom Warren.

In addition I would like to extend a big CANDOER WELCOME to the following first time attendees:

Chuck Chesteen, Leo Duncan, Ned Paes, Robby Robinson, and Ed Wilson.

Now that you have made your first luncheon, we all hope you make it a regular habit.

I would also like to extend a big CANDOER WELCOME BACK to Al Giovetti. Al attended his first CANDOER luncheon since his health problems last February (see CANDOER News, Volume 1 - Number 5, Page 6.)

DEATH - James Scott Metzger


It is with deep regret that I wish to inform you of the death of a colleague of ours. Scott died of a massive heart attack at his home on Saturday, November 21, 1996. Scott worked in the DoS Communications Center, Systems/Technical Control section.

In the name of the CANDOERs, on December 6, I sent both a card and a letter to Mrs. Collins expressing our condolences and sorrow.

In the mail on December 12, I received a thank you card from Scott's mother. It is quoted below:


Thank you for the card and letter. I and Scott's family really appreciate it. Scott was a good father to his two children who hopefully we will get to see through the Christmas holidays.

Scott lost his dad when he was 16 years old with the same heart problem he had.

Thank you again.

Emily Collins and family


You may have noted that Ronnie and Linda Steenhoek also attended the December luncheon. They are in town to visit friends and spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with their children, who live in the area.

Ed and Barbara Carroll also attended for the first time in a while. As previously reported, Barbara has been in and out of the hospital with severe attacks of asthma. She says that she is doing very well, now that all the pollens have died down. (See CANDOER News, Volume 1 - Number 9, page 8 and Number 10 - Page 9.)

On Wednesday, November 27, I went to lunch at the Roma with Will Naeher, Paul Del Giudice, Al Giovetti, and Ed Fenstermacher.

Al looks great and is doing well. He has sufficiently recovered enough from his stroke to be able to drive. (See CANDOER News - May 1996 - Volume 1 - Number 5.) As you have probably noted, Al also attended the December luncheon.

Ed came back to town from Wilmington, N.C., to spend Thanksgiving with friends and relatives. Ed too is looking great and doing well.

If you are wondering why I made comments about Al and Ed and not about the other two luncheons companions, what could I say about the two of them, collectively or individually, that hasn't already been said, at least once.

I received a letter and a donation to the CANDOER News fund from Frank Trainer. Frank has been retired since 1976 and is now living in Altamonte Springs, FL. In his letter, he too had a story to relate about Walt Swierczek. He said Walt used to recall a delicious steak that Frank's wife Maria cooked for him in Tokyo. He said the steak was about two inches thick and had to be placed on a large pasta platter because it was too big for his dish. He said he had to diet for a week or two afterwards.

On December 6, I received an E-mail message from Marvin Konopik. He has changed his E-mail carrier and added a very well done Home Page. If you have the capability you might want to take a look at his Home Page. There are beautiful shots of Las Vegas , a great picture of their home, and a nice shot of their pet.

This was Babe's last luncheon for a while. Babe moved to Levant, Maine on the 13th of December. He put his house in Dale City up for sale and does not expect to return to the area until February.

I received a call from Don Stewart the evening of December 10. Don has missed the last few luncheons. He called to let me know that he missed the December luncheon because his wife had an appointment to have some tests ran for what is suspected to be a gall bladder problem. He thought, and I agree, that when given the choice of coming to lunch with us and being with his wife for this important medical procedure, he had no choice.

I talked with Ray Watson on December 11. He is now recuperating at home. Ray was in good spirits. He is getting around with a cane but is not allowed to drive yet. Ray said he hopes to make the January luncheon.

On December 12, I received an E-mail from John Kennedy. John furnished Ray Russell's address in Woodstock, VA. CANDOERs wishing to contact Ray, his address is shown in the Pen and Ink section of this issue.

In the mail on December 12, I received a note, a nice donation, and a Personal Data Form from Chuck Chesteen. Chuck attended his first Luncheon in December. For CANDOERs who may wish to contact him, Chuck's Personal Bio is listed in the Pen and Ink section of this issue.

In the evening of December 13, after receiving a call from OC/T (now DO/CC) notifying me of the Christmas party in room 5440, I began sending E-mail messages and telephoning retirees to let them know. After almost five hours on the telephone and computer, I had the telephone ear piece surgically removed from my left ear. As a result of those calls, I got to talk to a lot of the retirees.

I talked with Bob Law for about 15 minutes. Bob, like a lot of us, was just getting over the flu. He said he spent the summer fishing with Al Brown. He is going "back home" for the holidays and wishes everyone the best.

I talked with Mel Bladen for a few minutes. Mel has been working for six weeks on a new job with a company who supports MS. UTILITIES. He says he is really busy, but enjoys the job. He asked me to pass a Happy Holidays greeting to all of you.

I also talked with Calvin Kearney for a few minutes. Calvin is retired retired and enjoying it.

I talked with both Anne and Smitty. They both are doing well. Anne gave me the name of another retiree who wishes to be added to the Directory and CANDOER News mailing list, Esther Stevens. Her address is included in the Pen and Ink section of this issue.

Anne also reported she had a chance to talk with Helen Williams this past summer, while Helen was in town visiting with her children. Helen, after retirement, moved to Georgia. Helen has had some health problems related to sugar diabetes. She has had to have a knee replaced, but is doing well now.

On December 17 I received a snail-mail letter and a nice donation to the News fund from Charles Grainger. His address and personal bio are listed in the Pen and Ink section of this issue. Charles indicated that he and his wife Shirley, are natives of Myrtle Beach and have always maintained a home there. They wished all the CANDOERs a joyous holiday season.

Will Naeher furnished the following information and address. Bill Sobien has had two serious strokes. The first left him paralyzed on his left side and had some effect on his speech. The second, just as he was recovering from the first, was more dehabilitating. He has lost the ability to speak and walk and has been hospitalized. Will said his wife reported in her letter that Bill is able to understand what is going on around him and enjoys her reading to him the cards and letters they receive from friends. I sent Bill and his wife a get well card and a letter from the CANDOERs.

Later that day, I received an E-mail message from Joe Lea stating that he had heard from Charlie Drinkwater's wife, Nelda, and that Charlie is very sick. Joe asked that the many CANDOERs who worked with and for Charlie send him a get well card and/or a letter. We cannot be with Charlie and Nelda, but we can offer our prayers and moral support. I sent Charlie and Nelda a card and a letter in the name of the CANDOERs.

On December 19, I went to a Christmas party held by the National Communications Center and met a long time friend of OC/IM, Joe Ganci. Joe is in his 54th year of working for ITT and presently is Vice President/Director, Government Relations for ITT Communications and Information. Joe is now a member of the CANDOER Luncheon Group. He asked me to pass his best on to his many friends and colleagues. CANDOERs wishing to contact Joe will find his work address and work telephone number in the Pen and Ink section of this months issue.


Growing up in Nebraska

by Joe Lea

Chapter 9

The small town near where we lived was served by the Union Pacific railroad; this is certainly not unusual, for most towns had railroad service. The unique thing was that the train came into town every morning except Sunday, stayed around a few hours, then turned around and went back to its point of origin. The town, population less than 200, had two grain elevators and a stockyard. Considerable grain, livestock, and freight were shipped from there in the earlier years.

A long siding served both elevators and the stockyards. If the train brought grain or livestock cars to be dropped off, it simply carried them onto the siding, the engine then continuing on to the other end of the siding and once again onto the main track. It then backed up to the "Y," turned around and was headed in the opposite direction. (Any questions---I'll draw a diagram).

Grain was shipped to Omaha, to the flour mills, and the livestock to the huge stockyards, in South Omaha, where the critters were purchased by representatives from the meat packing industry. Armour, Swift, and Cudahy were packers who did business in Omaha.

Of course, the railroad also handled freight and even an occasional passenger.

By the late 1930's, and even more so after the war, more and more of the freight, grain and livestock were being moved by trucks and the railroad's business rapidly declined. There was speculation that Union Pacific might close this line. Mother nature settled the mater in the spring of 1946 when the flooding South Loup River washed out the railroad bridge about 15 miles downstream from our town. At this time the line was discontinued for all time.


At the November CANDOER luncheon I was asked, "Where did the term CANDOER come from?"

As we all know, Secretary Kissinger was a traveling secretary of state and insisted that his traffic be transmitted to the station he was visiting, in advance of his arrival. He did not want a synopsis. He wanted the whole enchilada. Many times he would travel with the President. We often did not know until the last minute where or when he was going, so it was difficult to beef up the Embassy staff or prepare in advance for his arrival. This imposed a very difficult task on the Embassy communications staff. Just about all of his traffic was "Immediate." This preempted the Embassies regular traffic.

When the Secretary traveled with the president, he used White House Communications Agency (WHCA) facilities. In spite of our best efforts to explain the impact of his traffic on the circuits, it had little effect and as a result very little "Routine" traffic went to the embassy so after about five "Immediates" the rest was handled as "Routine" anyway.

On one occasion, John Thomas, then Assistant Secretary for Administration, was aboard the White House advance aircraft en route to Moscow to arrange for the arrival of the President and the Secretary at Odessa. John called, from the aircraft on the KY-3, and told me that WHCA was complaining about the Secretary's traffic. He asked me if I could meet him on the circuit when he arrived at Moscow. I said "can do." When he arrived, he asked me if I could assemble a communications package to be at Andrews Air Force Base to meet a specific flight, together with communicators, to fly to Odessa. I again replied, "CANDO."

I immediately contacted the Engineering Division and the Logistics Section at Franconia and told them to assemble such a package using HW-28's with OTT capability and reproduction equipment, to be transported on Sunday to meet the aircraft. I then contacted Bill Sobien, who assembled a group of 5-6 communicators.

They departed for Odessa that Sunday on a C-130 with the communications package. A circuit was provided and a room was made available to handle the Secretary's traffic. I was told that WHCA had about 24 people! The mission was successful! This was the very first "CANDO" package.

Later it was improved to include modems and the ability to operate in a trailer or a motel room. Secure voice was added when the band width was available. As the TERP came on line, this equipment replaced the bulky HW-28. We deployed packages to each Regional Office for quick reaction. Mobile briefcase satellite stations were also added to avoid trouble like we had at Aquaba, Jordan. But this is another story, for another issue.

There are many "CANDO" stories that I would suggest that any of you who were on the CANDO trips should write to Bob Catlin to let others know about your experiences. I might add that Bob handled his share of the CANDO trips.



The following came in an E-mail from Jim Prosser. Seeing Will's humorous note in the December CANDOER brought to mind a similar listing of children's bible class writings (misinterpretations) kept by a friend of mine who presently is the pastor of St. Michael's church, Wellington, New Zealand. We met in Moscow 1972, when he was the Anglican pastor there and have been good friends ever since. We played on the same broomball team.

Henry VIII thought so much of Wolsey, that he made him a cardigan. A deacon is a mass of flammable material. Lot's wife was a pillar of salt by day but a ball of fire by night. Salome was a woman who danced naked in front of Harrods. The Pope lives in a vacuum. Paraffin angels are next in order after Seraphim. The Pharisees fasted in public, but in private they devoured widow's houses. Today wild beasts are confined to Theological Gardens. The patron saint of traveler's is St. Francis of the sea sick. Iran is the Bible of the Moslems.


by James F. Prosser

Back in the late 1950's, Elsie Crim assigned code clerks around the globe, not only based upon need, but also the personality, suitability, and compatibility of people, she knew that were already at the post's code room. Match-making probably was also a distant thought. Elsie was really quite a psychological expert at doing this, and with perhaps one or two major exceptions never failed.

However, one impressionable young lady she sent to Baghdad was rather immature and somehow slipped through her thorough screening. Not only that, 'Miss Kansas' we'll call her, must have slept through all of her security briefings.

At this juncture in history, Baghdad was in a violent revolutionary period transiting from the monarchy to eventually a republic. There were quite a few high classified telegrams passing between Baghdad and Washington. Miss Kansas happened to process one particular top secret message that greatly impressed her. She made a copy of it and sent it home in a letter to her mother back in Salinas, to show what kind of important work she was engaged in there in Iraq.

Her mother also was impressed, and showed the letter and telegram to the hometown newspaper editor who published the copy of the top secret telegram in an article expressing how proud the town was of Miss Kansas and the important work she was doing for the government.

However, in Kansas City, a national news organization happened to read the Salinas local paper and called the State Department to ask "what about this top secret telegram from Baghdad" and read the contents to a chagrined official.

That brought about a quick investigation, which verified the incident, as being a security breech, and surprisingly, only resulted in the immediate dismissal from the Foreign Service of the naive Miss Kansas without any legal action.

Trans-Siberian Railroad Voyage Journal

July 1996

by Jim Prosser

Part 1 of 14


As a young boy, there was a small library of very old books in my bedroom, left there by my grandparents. All were from the 1920's and before. I found one of particular interest, for it was about the great railways of the world. The story about the history and building of the Trans-Siberian railroad across Russia captivated my attention. The seed to ride this incredible railroad was then permanently implanted in my mind.

By the age of ten, I was already keenly interested in railroads and a rail fan of sorts. A short distance from the rear of our property the Kewaunee, Green Bay & Western steam locomotive trains thundered by several times daily to and from the car ferries at Lake Michigan. Plus we had the thrill of watching the Chicago & Northwestern and Milwaukee Road switch locomotives shunt the box cars and refrigerator cars in and out of the cheese factories and ice plant adjacent to our property.

While living in Russia as a diplomat in 1972-74, I had the opportunity to actually view the arrival and departure of the Trans-Siberian train, called the "Rossiya," but was prohibited by the Russian authorities from photographing or riding on it. Twice I attempted to obtain permission to ride it, but was refused both times. Whenever this happened, in the standard practice of mutual retaliation, the U.S. government refused permission to Russians, in the U.S., for travel outside the 25-mile perimeter of Washington, D.C. and/or New York.

I then promised myself that sometime after retirement, I would again attempt to ride the Trans-Siberian railroad all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean, 6,000 miles in just over seven days. AMTRAK's "Sunset Limited" between Miami and Los Angeles is its closest rival (3,066 miles in three days). In 1996 a dream of a lifetime was finally realized. I chose to do it in summer because of the longer days for viewing along the route.

Recognition is due to those who helped make planning this trip a lot easier than I had anticipated. First was Robert Strauss' book "The Trans-Siberian Rail Guide." It had just about all the answers to any possible question. RAHIM TOURS of Lake Worth, Florida, did an outstanding job of taking care of all the administrative details. Special thanks to Richard Measham of the BBC London, a rail fan I met via CompuServe's TRAINNET who provided invaluable advice and information on Trans-Siberian schedules, distances, route maps and station locations. Lastly, to my wife Mary, whose critical comments in the preparation of this journal were vital.

The frequency of Trans-Siberian trains Nos. 1 and 2, the "Rossiya," had always been daily departures in each direction. However, on June 1, 1996 the Russian railroad reduced the schedule to every other day each way. "Milk" trains Nos. 903/904 which stop at all stations between Moscow and Vladivostok and take ten days each way, still run daily.

No reason was given for the "Rossiya" reduction. This caused me to lose one day of sightseeing in Moscow and, happily, have one added to my stop in Irkutsk, Siberia. It certainly couldn't have been due to lack of riders, for I am told the train is always full.

After reading the Russian newspapers, I surmised the cuts in "Rossiya" service were made as a cost saving measure. The Russian railroad has been seriously in arrears in payment of their electrical bills. Twice while in Siberia I learned of preemptive power cuts of several hours duration by the electric company on the Trans-Siberian line between Ulan-Ude and Khabarovsk for nonpayment of overdue bills. According to the radio news, in each instance the power was not restored until the electric company had received a U.S. $20,000,000 down payment. Our travel was never affected by the power cuts.

After several months of planning and making arrangements, I was ready for the trip.

- Sunday, July 7 -

After 0800 Mass and breakfast, taking less than 30 minutes to pack for this 3-week trip, Mary took me to the airport.

Flying Northwest Airlines, I was on a small turboprop plane to Minneapolis. There I connected to a Northwest flight to Amsterdam. In actuality, because Northwest and KLM are partners, my flight turned out to be a KLM plane (Boeing 747-400).

The first couple of hours of the flight were quite bumpy even though the surrounding weather was fine. After reaching Hudson's Bay the remainder of the flight over northern Quebec, Labrador, southern Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and into Amsterdam was smooth as silk. It never got dark outside because of our great circle path toward the North Pole. The sun was below the horizon for only two hours before it rose again. KLM made it a very enjoyable passage. - Monday, July 8 -

I purposely planned to stay in western Europe a few days before flying onto Moscow. It was my intention to get over jet-lag by resting up before Moscow. I arrived in Amsterdam 20 minutes early because of the strong tail winds immediately out of Minneapolis. After getting money changed I went to the airport train platform and took the 0746 train to Brussels.

I purchased a 1st class ticket because after the sleepless trans-Atlantic flight, I thought I would be able to sleep a bit on the train without much disturbance. But I was amazed to find 1st Class almost full. Of course, it was a working day and commuters were heading to Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam and other points. It also was in the heavy summer tourist travel season.

En route to Leiden, the train passed many fields of flowers for commercial sale. Each was beautifully manicured and cultivated. I wonder how the Dutch farms and fields will compare with the Russian ones next week?

The train arrived in Brussels at 1030, on time of course. Friends who were my neighbors when we lived in Belgium for seven years met me at the station and immediately drove to their home in Waterloo. By the time I got there, I was dead tired and dehydrated, so I drank a lot of water and went to bed until 1530.

- Tuesday, July 9 -

A day of rest and recuperation.

- Wednesday, July 10 -

I am still recovering from jet-lag, but starting to get over it. After lunch, my friends drove me to the Midi station in Brussels where I caught the 1530 train back to Amsterdam airport. I slept most of the way. Arriving at the airport train station, I went upstairs and caught the free shuttle bus to the nearby Hotel Ibis where I stayed this night. After dinner, I went for a long walk to assure a good sleep.

- Thursday, July 11 -

It was a rather poor night's sleep. Jet-lag was still with me. After an 0700 breakfast, I took the hotel shuttle bus back to the airport to check-in for the flight on KLM to Moscow.

The airport was jammed with holiday travelers. The Amsterdam airport is a marvel of convenience. But it has one major fault. Checking in for flights is done at a central location regardless of whatever airline flight you are reserved. Dozens of agents were available, but there were thousands of passengers checking in. In going to Moscow I was in direct competition for the many people heading for southern European tourist meccas. I was concerned I might not get through in time to make my flight, but was assured by airport personnel I would. I did.

The flight to Moscow was smooth and uneventful, lasting about three hours. A fellow passenger behind me was able to give me a lot of good, up-to-date information on present conditions in Russia. He was born there, but his parents had emigrated (or escaped) to Holland in the 1950's. He now travels frequently back to Russia on business and holidays with his family.

The KLM flight landed at Moscow's Sheremetevo II airport! In 1972 it was a small building directly across the field from Sheremetevo I and used exclusively for flights to and from eastern European cities. Now, all international flights are at II, and I is used solely for internal flights. II has been completely rebuilt and modernized, but through continual battering of heavy usage without any upkeep it still looks like a 24-year-old airport. It reminds me a lot of Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport. The facilities are all present, but don't function well, if at all; i.e., lights, escalators and electronic sign boards.

The physical, cultural, political and social differences between 1972 and 1996 are enormous. They are evident as soon as you walk out of the plane. First of all, there were no longer the then ever-present young soldiers with AK-47 machine guns pointed at you. I actually did see one out of the plane window, but at some distance away on the tarmac.

Moscow had been having a siege of several days of hot weather. The airport, not surprisingly for Russia, is not air-conditioned. It is not needed 330 days of the year! But, being in a hermetically sealed glass structure is no place to be with thousands of other people on a bright, hot, day.

I had time to roam about the terminal inside and outside to take note of life in the new Russia. Things have indeed changed in 24 years!

There are plenty of refreshment and tourist kiosks. Even a video game parlor, appropriately placed in the area immediately outside of the main rest rooms, which are acceptable by western standards. There were plenty of legitimate taxis waiting to take fares, but they were in competition with very aggressive unofficial drivers of personal automobiles wanting to make money to supplement their incomes. The price of a ride to the city center started in the $80.00 range, but it came down quite a bit when you started bargaining and seeking drivers offering lower prices. The Intourist bus cost $50.00 for as many as you could get in it, so I took it and shared.

It was quickly evident the country is awash in foreign currency, especially U.S. dollars. At just about every business outlet in the airport, they readily accepted dollars along with Russian rubles. Vendors are quite particular though. Dollar bills must not be soiled too much, be of recent vintage, never written or stamped on, ripped, punctured or with small pieces missing. They would not be accepted. Bills denominated $20 and less were preferred because $100 bills were feared to be counterfeit. They also favored the new $100 bill. There were automated teller machines (ATM) for VISA, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards scattered about as well as banks to change money.

Shortly before beginning this journey I heard a news report from the U.S. Federal Reserve Board that more than 40% of U.S. currency is physically present today in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States made up from the former Soviet Union. I believe it.

One has to be very careful with the Russian currency. With the hyper-inflation they had in the early 1990's, the dollar rate of exchange has now stabilized in the past year around $1.00 ' 5,185 rubles (24 years ago one ruble ' $1.35!). The result is that the ruble notes of 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 were confusing by having all the extra zeros to deal with. One had to be careful not to give 100,000 when only 10,000 was required. Identical note size and similarity of printing styles adds to potential errors.


See you next month.

Issue Index    Issue 14