Making peace with and getting the f*ck out of Romania

Mission Control, Space Cadet First Class Pettersen here kindly informing you that at exactly noon Eastern European Time on Thursday August 31st, I will permanently abandon my post here in Iasi, Romania, merrily leaving this accursed, gasping laptop behind to drag someone else’s potential productivity to a crawl. Seven days after I depart Iasi, I will exit Romania by land, into Hungary and continue to make my way to Minneapolis, via San Francisco. That’s right Control, I’ve got one foot through the airlock and one half of my brain dedicated to mushroom Swiss burger acquisition. Productivity-wise, I’m a goner until mid-September.

I have sworn to not return to Romania for a minimum of nine (9) months. This is a conservative estimate, invented solely for the benefit of the few people here that I’ve grown to like, so they don’t get all weepy on me. In reality, it could be much, much longer.

Since June of 2004, I have lived in Romania for a cumulative 16 months, the past 13 months consecutively. This most recent stint was meant to be much shorter. I had firm plans to spend last winter in a non-snow, borderline beach-going environment, but the appeal of a poorly timed guidebook writing job kept me here all bloody, dark, god forsaken winter. And spring. And summer.

For a homeless, short attention span travel writer, bent on absorbing new experiences and languages, 13 consecutive months in one single locale is about eight months too long, even in a place that’s easy to like. In a place that defiantly challenges you to like it, on an hourly basis sometimes, it’s 12 months too long.

I am told that I will miss Romania once I’m gone. This may be true. But don’t ask me if I miss Romania until at least May 2007 or risk being tagged by an involuntary motor-reflex spitting response.

There’s a lengthy list of pitiful people here in Romania that, if I were god, I’d smite down with great vengeance and furious anger, a la Ezekiel 25:17. Or, failing that, kick them squa’ in the nuts, a la South Park Season 2 : Episode 5.

I’m the type of person that, once severely wrong, will hold a grudge pretty much forever. Just ask Ryan Air, Tom Cruise and Berlin. However, in the past week, I have taken the time to bypass my overriding loathing and reminisce about the great parts of Romania. Fittingly, this happened while I was on a train, rattling through the cinematically perfect countryside. Also, I was a little drunk.

Defying my urge to dwell on the negative, I started to compile an Honor Roll of people/places/things that gave me joy while in Romania. I’m proud to say the list became surprisingly long. However, as we all know, through pain, comes humor. And my dedication to being choke-on-your-spittle hilarious, just for you, inspired me to simultaneously develop the Dishonorable Rat Bastard Roll. Those of you reading this blog for a while will know that the latter list virtually compiled itself.

In order to keep a fair and diplomatic balance, I will alternate the two. So, without further ado…

Honor Roll: The train system that defies the odds and is nearly always on time.
Dishonorable Rat Bastard Roll: The train cleaners that can’t seem to rid the passenger compartments of the garment-infusing urine pong.

HR: The farmers whose hard work makes for stunning vistas from nearly every road.
DRBR: The jackass civil engineer who hired his high school drop out son in-law over a pool of qualified candidates to head the city’s street resurfacing project that took all summer, which resulted in streets that lasted nearly two weeks before fissures, potholes and general collapse ensued.

HR: The politicians that returned land and property that had been grabbed by the Communists to their rightful owners.
DRBR: The politicians that continue to pocket EU funds, jeopardizing the country’s pending membership, so their fourth home can have a heated, four season grotto and their sons can each have a Mercedes that they can’t drive or park, while offering up their fractionally less corrupt rivals as scapegoats.

HR: The mechanic that I eventually found that knew how to fix my car and refused payment if the work took less than 20 minutes.
DRBR: The three stooges mechanics (Moe, Curly and Ovidiu) that I visited before that guy who couldn’t get my brakes properly installed, even after four tries, causing my brakes to lock on the busiest street in Iasi, which didn’t serve to make me any more popular with the locals, and blamed the whole mess on the car (blaming inanimate objects for personal failings is a national pastime here).

HR: The two people who spent untold hours, one almost losing their job, in the effort to help me get my car road certified by the RAR people.
DRBR: The RAR people in Iasi. Every single stinking, useless, drunken, miserable one of you. Honorable mention goes to the $hit-eater that unceremoniously revoked my original certification, even though it had a full year left on it, because we had the audacity to not offer him a bribe for a simple title change. Also, the mouth-breather that gave me a list of eight things that needed to be fixed before he’d re-certify my car and when I dutifully fixed these things, gave me a list of 19 more things to fix. Also, the asshole that told me to come back on three different occasions, always at 7am, in February, for no reason at all. And the unwashed f*ck with a BMW, undoubtedly paid for in cash with bribes he’d collected, who finally certified my car, but only after four reverential visits at uncivilized hours and two bribes, which he brazenly collected at his desk, that always had an open bottle of wine on it, even at 7.30am on a Saturday morning.

HR: The sweet staff at Family Pizza, La Cao’s Chinese Restaurant and Shawarma King who were always happy to see me and rarely made fun of me for always order the same two things.
DRBR: The degenerate, cigarette-centric waiters working at Casa Pogor who were unfailingly rude and finally ripped me off for $8 for a lunch that should have cost $3.

HR: ‘The Professor’, a mildly drunk, but affable stranger who helped me change my tire when it went flat for the fourth time in three weeks, after the 15 year old halfwit that had ‘fixed’ it torqued on one of the bolts so tightly that we broke two (cheaply made) tire irons getting it off.
DRBR: Romanian drivers. Hands down the worst I’ve seen in 41 countries. Even after one month of intense driver’s training, they are still dangerously inept, using their horns more than their brakes, never using their rearview mirrors or considering the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t the only car on the road. Special mention goes to the idiot in Craiova who, rather than wait two seconds for me to pass through the intersection, swerved around, taking a right from the left lane an inch in front of me, had the nerve to look surprised when I hit him and then blamed me because I wasn’t using my turn signal to somehow indicate that I was going straight. Also the heathen, tooth-deficient countryside truck driver that ignored three open pumps and pulled up behind my car at a gas station and leaned on the horn while I paid for my gas and bought a Snicker’s bar and then threatened me with a beat down when I asked him if he kissed his mother-sister with that mouth.

HR: The Papuc family for feeding me every weekend and doing my laundry for the pure joy of being nice to me.
DRBR: Whoever used to live in my apartment that apparently used one, maybe two, sheets of newspaper in the corner of the living room in place of a kitty litter box.

HR: All the quiet, simple countryside towns that have managed to retain an elegant semblance of a subsistence, peasant lifestyle.
DRBR: Bucharest. Particularly the taxi drivers, shameless criminals all, who, when I’m king, I’ll have rounded up and sentenced to a life-time, dunce hat and diapers chain-gang, cleaning dog shit with their bare hands and kissing the feet of the tourists that they once mercilessly preyed upon. Bucharest restaurant managers, I haven’t forgotten about you. Keep that menu price switcharoo shit going and you’ll be right down there, lips puckered, with the taxi drivers.

HR: The high speed, free-for-all, legal file sharing network, that comes complimentary with your ISP, which provided me with untold happy evenings of movies and TV shows, often only days after being released in the US, negating the need for an actual TV.
DRBR: The 16 year old self-styled hackers who phished and sacked customer accounts at my bank in America, resulting in my bank dropping a full ATM blackout in Romania, leaving me with tedious wire transfers as my only cash source. If I could only convince my bank to send me your home addresses, you’d all be minus two kneecaps and a testicle by now.

I could add to this list for days. The lesson here is that despite my constant complaints and justified public screaming jags (just following the lead of the locals folks, no ugly tourist here!), Romania has wonders and beauty that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Europe. Those who come here without the foolish intent on being productive will likely enjoy themselves immensely, provided they avoid Bucharest, government officials, taxis, touts, gangster wannabes and the post office.

There. I’ve made my peace. As best I can anyway. This doesn’t mean you RAR people are off the hook. I still have two days to kill, a lot of free time and a strong yearning to know how fast a BMW’s steering wheel will melt when set ablaze.