Thursday, April 10, 2014

Busted for jaywalking

Some years ago, out for a walk in Minsk with our friend Tamara, I suggested that we cross the street at a spot convenient to us but not marked by a crosswalk. Uncomfortable, Tamara commented that a militsionier might not like that. Militsioniers, members of the Militia, wear big hats and enforce the laws of the land. They used to look pretty scary to me, and I think we crossed the street where Tamara preferred, though I later led her astray when she and her fiancée Alexey came to visit us in Boston.

This morning I found myself on an inconvenient side of the street about twenty meters from the corner. It was a quiet street at a quiet time of day, and I didn’t think much of crossing in the middle of the block. Oops! A militsionier popped out of an unmarked car, called me over and asked to see my passport. I had a pretty good idea what he wanted, and treated him with the deference he deserved. Unfortunately, however, I don’t carry my passport.

I used to carry official documentation with me at all times, but finally decided that nobody ever wants to see it except in predictable places like the bank. Since my passport was getting tattered from being sat on, I scanned the main page and put the image onto my phone. Later, when I got my residency permit I added that image to my phone.

So, I told the officer I didn’t have my documents with me, but I’d be glad to show him the copies on my phone. At first he insisted on the actual documents, pointing out how easy it is to change things with Photoshop. I invited him home with me, and he relented. The scanned image would be OK this time, so I got out my phone. This did not help, because I got the phone a year or so after getting the residency permit and apparently did not copy over those pictures. Now I had a real problem, but I also had a really kind militsionier.

The cop and I stood around for about twenty minutes more sorting things out. I started by writing down enough personal information for him to call headquarters so they could look up my residency permit on their database. Somehow, however, that didn’t work out. I think the person on the other end of the call couldn’t quite get a handle on spelling my name correctly. Whatever the problem, they couldn’t find me. Finally I called Alla and asked her to read my ID number to the officer and confirm how my name is spelled in Russian on the document. My hands got so cold that when I finally had to sign all the confessions of guilt and agreements to the fine that I could barely write my name. But the City of Minsk got it’s $15 and I learned an important lesson. Tamara was right.

As I prepared to leave, I shook the militsionier’s hand and told him it had been a pleasure for me to get to know him. I meant it. He smiled back and said it had been a pleasure for him too.

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