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JOGGING SOME NERVES AROUND THE KREMLIN WALL

by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

MOSCOW — So I wanted to jog around the Kremlin. What’s the big deal? I mean, you gotta jog somewhere, right?

“You’re insane,” a colleague said.

“Hope you like Siberia,” another said.

“Boys, boys,” I said, slipping on my running shoes, “the Kremlin is just a big building. Buildings are meant to be jogged around.”

They shook their heads.

“Nice working with you,” one said.

“Can I have your bags?” another said.

This was overreaction. Wasn’t it overreaction? No matter. I had to do it. I was leaving the USSR the next morning, and for the last 11 nights I had seen that red star atop the Kremlin from my hotel window, calling to me like a lighthouse calls to sailors. “Jog me,” it whispered. “Jog me now.”

I had to do it.

“You’re really going?” they said.

“Life is but a run,” I said, bending over into a hamstring stretch.

What could happen, I figured? Really, what could happen? It’s not like I was hiding concealed weapons. I had those shortie- shorts and an old sweatshirt. Nor did I plan to jog the hallways.

I just wanted to get inside that massive castle-like wall and circle the grounds. Maybe wave as I loped past a cabinet meeting window. Then curl around to the Kremlin parking lot, and, you know, see if they numbered the spaces with yellow spray-paint, like: RESERVED: A. GROMYKO.

Maybe they had a lunch truck outside the front entrance. And as I scooted past Gorbachev in the middle of a hot dog, he’d nod and say, “Nice pace. Try to keep your arms lower.”

OK. Did I expect too much? Well. OK. But I meant no harm. And out the hotel

door I went, at an amazingly average pace. . . . SHRIIEEK I started across the street. SHRIIEEK. A whistle. A policeman waved me back. Don’t cross the street. Use the tunnel under it.

OK. Use the tunnel. I came out and headed into Red Square. SHRIIEEK. A whistle. Another policeman. Stay within the white lines.

OK. I can do that.

Across Red Square and down toward the wall. Up to an entrance I jogged, a good mellow pace, and I nodded as I started past the guard.

SHRIIEEK.

He threw his arms in front of me. Grabbed my press pass. Shook his head and reached for his walkie-talkie.

Maybe another entrance, I figured.

SHRIIEEK. That was the other entrance.

This went on three or four more times. A whistle, a stern look. A couple of
“mooshki, ushki, dreshki . . . ” warnings.

I was bouncing off the wall in a circle, every 200 yards, like a kid playing Duck Duck Goose. Only the wall went on around two corners, and past a park, and another corner. It was as if they had walled in Kennedy Airport. Shorted out Anyhow, soon the problem became less their wall than mine. I should mention that I am not much of a jogger.

I reached something like my 14th entrance about the same time as a black limousine. The guards pushed me aside — they touched me, which should at least be a technical foul, or something — and marched over to the car.

And then I saw it.

About 20 feet away. An entrance with no guard. What could happen, I figured? Really, what could happen?

I was through it like destiny.

My flesh tingled. I was inside the wall. What a feeling! My mind began to race, my eyes became motor-driven Instamatics. Take it all down, I said to myself. Everything. The White House might want to debrief you. Take it all down.

And I did. And here is what I saw. Here is what I can tell you about the Kremlin.

It is yellow.

That is all I got to see before a guard grabbed me and threw me out. OK. So it’s not much. Hey. I got in. Let somebody else set up camp.

Geez.

Actually, I wasn’t in, per se.

Actually, I was about what you call halfway in.

Actually, I had jogged into the trash pick-up.

I walked back around, no longer feeling mellow. I reached the line of people waiting for the official Kremlin tour. What the hell? It was my last day. I slipped in, and soon I was at the gate.

And a guard grabbed me.

“Ve trusak nelzia,” he said, directing me to the street. “Ve trusak nelzia.”

Which means, “no shorts allowed.”

So that was the problem.

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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