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

MOSCOW — So there I was, racing through downtown Moscow in an illegal car, with a frantic U.S. wrestler in the backseat, and a frantic Russian translator in the front, and visions of a quick death dancing in my head.

But let’s back up a minute. . . .

As some of you know, I do a morning sports radio bit on WLLZ (98.7-FM). And on Monday, I had this idea. Why not get Andre Metzger — a Grand Rapids native, and one of America’s best amateur wrestlers — to talk live from Moscow?

I thought it would be fun. Especially since that night he would face the USSR’s Arsen Fedzayev — considered the best amateur wrestler in the world — for the gold medal in the Goodwill Games. Andre said he would do it, and I was grateful.

Did I mention that Andre once broke a man’s neck while wrestling? I should mention that.

See, here was the problem. Within an hour of the phone call, Andre would be due to weigh in for his match. You can’t be late for your weigh-in.

“We’ll have a cab waiting,” I promised.

We did the show. And a cab was waiting. Except it wasn’t a real cab. Instead, I later found out, it was just some guy who was changing his oil when our translator — whom I’ll call Katrina — asked whether he wanted to make some money.

It was also Katrina who told the driver, in Russian, where we wanted to go.

Let’s just say Katrina is not a wrestling fan.

Did I mention that Andre once split a man’s ankle in half? I should mention that. It was time to panic

Anyhow, we drove along the streets of Moscow for 15 minutes. Not good, since we should have been to the sports hall in 10.

“This doesn’t look familiar,” Andre noted.

“No it doesn’t,” I said.

I turned to Katrina. “Druzhba Hall, right?”

“Druzhba?” she said. Her eyes grew large. Her face went pale. “OOH . . . moozi GLISH!”

Now I have no idea what that meant. But I can tell you what it felt like. Remember those college board exams at 8 a.m. Saturday? And you wake up and the alarm clock says 7:59?

That is what it felt like.

“Are we . . . going to . . . the WRONG PLACE?” Andre asked, his voice panicked.

“Mokzi, oozmash . . . OOH!” Katrina said.

We were going to the wrong place. The complete wrong direction. It was 5 o’clock. Rushin hour. If Andre was not on a scale by 5:30, he’d forfeit the match. No gold medal. No meeting Fedzayev. And we were 25 minutes away.

Did I mention Andre once broke a man’s face while wrestling? I should mention that.

The car spun around. Katrina put her hand on her forehand. A bad sign.

“Tell him to go faster,” I yelled.

“He can’t,” Katrina said, “he get ticket.”

“The hell with ticket,” I said. I saw the headlines: “Detroit Columnist Costs U.S. Medal” . . . “Metzger To Writer: Your Fault, You Die . . . “

“Faster,” I hollered. “But the police,” Katrina said. “Forget them,” I screamed. “Tell the driver we’ll pay 10 more rubles.” She translated. He grinned. He hit the gas.

Then a policeman pulled us over.

By now Andre was banging the door with his fists. “Why did I do this!” he bellowed in anguish. I think it was anguish. I was too busy shaking.

“Columnist Found In Moscow River . . . “

The policeman asked for papers. It was then Katrina told me that playing taxi was illegal in Russia. I had a sudden hatred for FM radio. Andre was moaning. The driver was pale. When the policeman finally let him go, I had to offer 20 more rubles to get him to turn the key. It was 5:22.

Did I mention that Andre once broke a guy’s thumbs? I should mention that. Rushin’ for rubles

“I think it’s up here!” Katrina yelled.

“Why did I DO THIS?” Andre yelled.

“Ten more rubles!” I yelled, being American.

Let’s sum this up. We were riding in an illegal cab, a top U.S. wrestler was about to miss his biggest match, the translator was crying, I was writing my own obituary, the driver was figuring, what, he was up to at least 100 rubles?

And it was 5:30.

The car reached the Druzhba gates. Before it even stopped, Metzger was out and running. Katrina was 20 steps behind, in high heels, screaming. I gave the driver everything I had.

“RUN!” I hollered . . .

Well, OK. Here is the epilogue. Metzger made the weigh-in. Barely. Katrina cried for 10 minutes. I was out of rubles. We walked back.

And that night Metzger wrestled Fedzayev, and he lost, 8-2. I don’t think the ride had any effect. This Russian was good. But afterward, I apologized, and Metzger shrugged it off, nicely.

“Forget it,” he said. “It was no big deal.”

And I guess I believe him.

Then again, he knows where I work.


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

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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