“Don’t worry, be happy” sings an elegant black man on the screen. He is in white, barefooted and virtuously wriggles his toes when sitting in the armchair. A bit of American pop culture is shown now on the Soviet TV. This is a mild peripherical manifestation of the New Thinking. “This is a hit N 3 in the USA now”, — says the program leader.
I like the message and its presentation. It is evidently much more attractive than the old oligatory “keep smiling”. So a mental note is made to look for the disk (not CD, LP will suffice) when in the USA.
This note is nearly forgotten during the actual visit — several weeks of science and sceintific policy negotiating, explaining the new life back at home to numerous old and new friends and acquaintances. Changing coasts twice, going from one campus to another (from Boston to Irvin in the Orange County), seeing the winter New York and Santa Barbara, witnessing the amazing difference of Berkeley and Palo Alto, giving lectures and attending seminars everywhere — all this takes the full attention and force of a professional scientist. However, on the last Saturday of my visit, buying T-shirts for all my family (wife, two married daughters, their husbands, four grandchildren) in China Town in San-Francisco I found myself facing one with “Don’t worry be happy” inscription. I have already acquired several T-shirts of the “Yacht Club SF” type with sailing boats, but this was something new. Without hesitation I bought on in the turquoise tone fashionable now at home for my elder daughter. And of course my mental note
returned to the memory.
So the same evening I visited the “Tower Records” on Durant in Berkeley and asked if I could find something with these words there. “Look at vocals, name McFerrin, but I am not sure if we have it at the moment”, — was the salesgirl’s answer. But there it was nicely looking LP with the singer’s face, and so I got it.
In couple of days my trip back home began. Unfortunately visiting a hospitable Chinese Restaurant in Berkeley the very last evening I have misread the fortune cooky note. In the dim light the banal “The journey
of a thousand miles begins with a single step” changed into a sinister message when “step” was read as “stop”.
Indeed, the unrefundable and unchangeble ticket from San-Francisco to Washington I was supplied with was not direct, a change of planes was to be done in Chicago. Sadistically enough my colleagues have told me stories of the lost baggage in the O’Hara airport. My bags had some other things besides the T-shirts and the LP so only naturally I wanted them to arrive to Washington with me. Leaving for Moscow the next morning I was not able to wait for them. My only hope was the fact that both planes belonged to the same company, namely ? American.
My “journey of a thousand miles” began early in the morning. Everything looked fine. The bright Californian sun on the west coast, a reasonable forecast for the midwest on “Today” program, quite moderate jam at the toll station for the Bay Bridge, flight announced on time at the check desk — everything seemed to try to take my worries off. But the I saw no aircraft at the gate.
In the due time we were told that the plane went through the “B-check” and would be late. The predicted lapse of one hour and a half certainly exceeded the time for the transfer in Chicago which I had. I realized that the “single stop” I expected in Chicago was in fact in San-Francisco — in a better correspondence with Chinese message.
My american co-travellers were amusingly quiet. Their fatalistic attitude to delays. changes of schedules, etc is barely understandable. So to look decent I was to conceal my indignation and learned from a matter-of-fact — like clerk that i was booked for the next American flight to Washington leaving Chicago three hours later than the original
one. Not bad, just a small delay. And more time for the tranfer of my bags.
That day I learned a new word “momentarily”. It is quite nonobligatory and reassuriong at the same time. Our pilot loked it very much. Anyhow we had delays everywhere possible and arrived to O’Hara quite behind
schedule. Very politely I am instructed to take United flight N … leaving 7.15PM to continue to Washington. So the worst has happened — I am to change the line. And I have only 25 minutes and don’t know still that American and United are farthest separated lines in O’Hara. I learned it momentarily. I arrived to building 4 and should leave from
building 1. Apparently they don’t like building N 1 there. Wverywhere you can see signs showing buildings 2 and 3, and those for building 1 are rare and well hidden. Finally I am there and now my carry-on looks suspicious to a couple of youngsters at the security check. Five minutes more and I am at the gate I was sent to by the American clerk.
Computer-like letters on a modern anouncement desk say “Tulsa”. My sense of geography tells me that it is a wrong direction. An obliging United clerk tells me, that my plane is at Gate 6, not Gate 2. But I have already run along the Gate 6 and have not seen anything like “Washington” announced. Anyhow I am to return there only to find an “Austin” sign on the desk. It is 7:15 already and in the exasperation I almost yell to the nice girl
“Where is that Washington flight?” — “Don’t worry, relax”, is the answer. The shame is all mine. My flight is the next leaving from this gate at 7:50 (fifty instead of fifteen I misheard at the American counter). There is still no plane but
it will arrive from somewhere momentarily.
It arrived indeed at 8:20 but the sight from the glass panel showed a small car carrying my bags. So I relaxed and at midnight local time was at Dulles international to spend a night at the reserved Holiday Inn room.
Courtesy telephone for Hotels at the airport ringed 10 times without any answer. Second try after five minutes gave the same result. My bad mood began to return. Finally a helpful girl at United information desk got them. Shuttle van will be here in fifteen minutes.
In half an hourit arrived and soon I confronted a nice kid at the registration. Sorry, no reservation in the computer — neither in my family name, nor in the first name. The receipt of the Travel Agency was not persuasive enough. “You are a happy man, we have some vacant rooms tonight”, — the imposing chef appears to inform me. “and payment is to be done in advance”.
So I pay and suddenly all my exhaltation of a long day results in a hot denunciation of the modern America. “Your golden years are gone”, — I remember saying, “where is your famous service? What a change in 15 years I watch this country”, — etc, etc. The chef stoically listens to all this and without comment gives me the keys to my room.
I twenty minutes I got a call from him. It is to apologise. My reservation and money are found, i shall get a reimburcement in the morning. It is immediately clear that the Chinese spell is over. From now on everything will be OK on my way home.
Indeed it was. I even was not amazed when in a modest Airflot first class cabin the misspelling of the Chinese fortune message was pointed to me by an observant neighbour. It was not important anymore.
A short rest in Moscow, a comfortable night train to Leningrad and I am at home. My wife briefs me on the eventfull time during my absence. We begin to inspect the presents brought from the USA.
The “Don’t worry …” T-shirt makes her angry. It is said bitterly that there in San-Francisco I certainly have lost contact with reality of our everyday life. Indeed the dark winter day evidently contrasts with the Californian colours.
But then my elder daughter’s family arrives and the attitude changes. The grandchildren are movingly happy, both “Yacht Club” shirt for the son-in-law and “Don’t worry” one for the daughter fit well and look handsomely on these young beautiful man and woman. I put the LP on the player and McFerrin sings “Don’t worry, be happy”, — to all of us.
— “And how is the car?” — I ask casually. Just before I left Leningrad a new car was bought for family. It is still not easy to get a car in this country, to put it mildly. And in these days of liberation, when a lot of illegal money is being laundered by the private enterprises the demand has encreased enormously. So the old car which my son-in-law had for some time, was easily sold for its original price and my priveleges were used to acquire a new one. My own four wheel drive is ten years old so I was able to buy and register a second car in my name. My son-in-law has gotten from me a written permission to use it. Having done such a non-ordinary move it was only natural for me to express the interest in the new car.
— “It was stolen three days ago”, — my son-in-law answered with a bleak smile. With sudden anxiety my daughter looks at my wife, who evidently appears to know nothing. “Don’t worry, be happy”, a male voice continues to sing.
In an understandable bewilderment we listen to the sad tale of the events. Everything was done by the professional theaves. There is absolutely no hope of recovering.
The car was left for the night near the appartment house — early in the morning my son-in-law was to bring it to the workshop for a routine but compulsory checkup of a new car. At 5:30AM he left the appartment to find that the elevator did not work. Running down the stairs he glanced from the window and saw that the car was not there. The entrance door was blocked and it had took some time to go out. No car indeed. And it was evident that the theft was planned and well prepared.
The futility of a search for the car was all too clear to the police. Writing down the registration numbers, they left and no news was heard from them afterwards. In fact even the numbers were taken in a wrong way. Dialing a special telephone service 002 I could find that a stolen car of our model and colour was advertised, but with figures 0166 instead of 0611.
The lightheartedness of my son-in-law is evident. No antitheft gadgets, even no pedal lock or a secret switch; the insurance was only for half a price. So half of the money spent is gone and the prospect of getting one more new car is quite doomed.
Strangely enough the news can not change my beautiful mood of being safey at home. My wife says several soothing words to our daughter. The 4-year grandson repeats with an evident delight “They stole our car …”. So we stop discussing the incident and turn to something else.
In the due time the young family leaves the two of us, my wife and me, try to avoid mentioning of the misfortune.
To overcome the eleven hour difference between Leningrad and San-Francisco I try not to sleep before the real night time. That is why the TV is switched on. A new entertainment program “Montage” is on the screen. It is a mixture
of parodies, paradoxial inventions — in quite a good taste. Somehow naturally the clip “Don’t worry be happy” fits into the show. A man tries to jump from the balcony and is stopped by the words of the song. This
is the very last impression of the day. Without anymore force left I fall asleep.
Telephone wakes me at 3:30AM. A coarse voice mentiones my name. I confirm that it is me without realising where I am. And the next question “Where is your car?”, — sounds very foolish. I know for sure that my car (namely
my old four-wheel drive) is safely in the garage. Gradually I realise that this is police and the car in question is the stolen one. My wife wakes up also. Later she told that the conversation was quite blurred. For example, giving my address I stressed that it was in Leningrad.
I managed to explain to a patient lieutenant on the other side of the line all the circumstances. He grasped everything amazingly quick and promised to call once more after the necessary checking. Indeed in ten minutes
(is it not momentarily?) he was back. The car in question was mine and now it was at the police station N … We could go there to fetch it.
Mercilessly I waked my son-in-law and sent him there. Asking him not to wake me more I returned to sleep.
I learned the whole story late in the morning. The car was towed to a police station by the traffic police from a big street half a kilometre from the appartment house where my daughter’s family lives. It had a flat tyre and stood there with the nonlocked doors for several days.
The thieves were professionals indeed. The doors were opened by them with the keys. But getting the tyre flat was their unexpected bad luck. The spare tyre was in the trunk and they did not manage to open it. Only this model has a boot which one can not open by a kick of the knee. Apparently they were scared by somebody when they tried deperately to bend the roof of the trunk and abandoned the car.
The car was left almost intact. The number plates, already taken off, were on the rear seat. Only the wheel with a flat tyre was irreparately bended during the towing. So having changed this wheel my son-in-law was able to drive the car to his garage.
It is difficult for me to convey the feeling of the improbability of this event. The fellows in the garage even touched the clothes of my son-in-law to fetch some luck from him. Appropriately enough an open but untouched bottle of sweet wine (“Kagore” used for the Communion in church) was left by the thieves in the rear seat pocket. The bottle was consumed and finished on the spot and this was the end of the adventure.
Whose luck was it — only this question remains. I am considered a very lucky person by my friends, but my wife prefers to think that this is my son-in-law’s luck. I still think that it is mostly my fortune. And so I don’t worry and I am happy — the conclusion to which the singer on the screen comes in the end.
Modern Soviet-American impressions, written by Ludvig Faddeev.