Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Coming through in the Clutch

Ladas are supposed to have problems. Everyone knows that. In fact, I think it’s part of the reason why any foreigner would even consider buying one. “I wonder what will breakdown today,” is a question that has so no definite answer. The possibilities are endless. It’s like calling the psychic hotline and asking what will happen to my Lada today?

As most of you know, our Lada has been no exception. We’ve run out of gas, fully discharged the battery, blown the engine, and overheated due to a faulty thermostat. That doesn’t even include the horrible alignment, dim lights, and decrepit fuel hoses that still need to be fixed.

Luckily, there is an entire sub-economy dedicated to fixing the very cars that have such a high breakdown frequency. You have to wonder if this was a “make work” ploy by the Soviet Union. Your engine blows? Go to a guy that deals specifically with engines. Car doesn’t start properly? Talk to a car electrician. Have problems with your brakes? See a mechanic.

So that’s we did.

Our engine was rebuilt by a guy named Arif, the starter was fixed by Sulduz, and the brakes were redone by Akif. This trio brought the Lada back from being clinically dead. It was a masterful effort. Early results were positive, but the real test remained: get the car from one end of the city (where the mechanic was) to the other (where I live). The journey was about 25 km and had to be done at night to avoid traffic. If the Colonel could pass this test, its future was bright.

Time: 10:00pm. Evan and I board the empty metro on our way to the end of one of the metro lines. Everyone on the train is wearing a black leather jacket. In case you were wondering, no, there was not a audition for Grease going on.

10:30pm. We exit the metro, video camera in hand, and start making our way through the stiff breeze to the yard. Will the Lada be able to move through such intense wind? Only time will tell.

10:50pm. We arrive in the yard. The security guard wakes up from his light slumber trying to figure out why two foreigners have invaded his yard. “We are here for the yellow zhiguli,” we tell him. “10-EC-118?” he asks. “Yes.” “Why didn’t anyone tell me you were coming?” He eventually relents and points us in the direction of the car.

10:55pm. The moment of truth is here. We try to start the car. After four tries, it doesn’t turn over. Damn. What’s wrong? Then we realize it’s the choke. We pull it out and the car starts. Success!

11:00pm. We roll out of the yard and drive around the block a few times. All seems to be running smoothly. The new brakes are definitely more capable at bringing the car to a full stop. This is good news.

11:15pm. Our Lada saviour, Ilham, who lives in the neighbourhood, comes to meet us to make sure everything is running smoothly. After a couple of rides around the block, he says, “All is good, you can now go home.”

11:25pm. We start the 25 km journey home. At one point we had to go on the busiest road in the city. The Colonel held its own and even passed another Lada.

11:45pm. We are almost home. Not a single problem throughout the entire journey. Could our luck finally be turning?

11:50pm. Sirens. Words coming out of a loudspeaker. A police car pulling up beside us. Uh oh. Looks like we have to pull over.

11:52pm. Interactions with the police are always a crapshoot. We decide to take the “I don’t understand Azeri or Russian” road. It’s a war of attrition. Hopefully they will break first.

11:53pm. The younger of the two cops approaches our car. He says something in Azeri about needing documents. I turn to Evan and say, “What does he want? Documents?” We stall for a bit and then handover the documents. The guy looks at them and then walks back to his car.

11:55pm. The older cop comes out and says in seriously broken English that our back light is broken. We don’t understand so he asks me to get out of the car so he can show me. In North American, being asked to get out of the car is rarely a good thing. He points out that the light that is supposed to illuminate the license plate is not working. That is illegal. The next day, I checked to see if other cars had such a lot. Almost none of them did.

11:56pm. We go back to his car and he tells me that we are missing a sticker on our windshield denoting registration. We know this, and it is illegal to be driving around, but the “playing dumb” strategy seems to be working out so far. He asks if I can pay a fine. I say no. I keep asking where I can get the sticker.

11:57pm. Finally, he relents. My documents are handed back and he gets in the car and drives away. We wait until the car is far, far away before proceeding.

12:03am. I arrive at home. What a night. The Colonel passed with flying colours. Time to get it registered.


At 2:02 PM, Blogger Muriel said...

New title for your blog:

Life on "the edge". Living with a Lada in Baku.

At 6:14 AM, Anonymous Gary said...

Great story. Used cars seem to generate a whole class of adventures. I suppose the coppers thot they could pick up some easy donut money.


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