Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still More From the Archives - Moscow

It came to pass in 1993 that Electronic Data Systems (now defunct, the old company currently doing bid'niz as HP Enterprise Services) decided it would be a Good Thing to get their foot in the door of the former Evil Empire, seein' as how the Russian gub'mint was privatizing former state-owned enterprises at a most astonishing rate.  And they were, Gentle Reader, yes they were.  EDS felt that there might be some serious opportunities there and began pursuing bid'niz in Russia... but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

One such newly privatized company was Rostelecom, an analogue to the old monolithic AT&T for all intents and purposes, in that the company provides long-distance telephone services for all of Russia.  It also came to pass that Rostelecom released an RFP early in 1993 for network management consulting services; EDS bid on the RFP and won the contract.  Shortly after that the company released a call for volunteers to staff a team that would go to Moscow for on-site surveys and evaluations of Rostelecom's network management infrastructure, said team further being required to recommend technical improvements and a strategy for implementing the recommendations.

Cutting to the chase... I was the technical team lead for that project and made two trips to Moscow, one in early July 1993 and the second in September of that year.  What follows are some snapshots from the last Moscow trip.  I didn't take all that many still photos when I went, what with having bought my first video camera for the sole purpose of documenting the experience.  And I shot a LOT of video.  At some point in time I'll get those old VHS tapes converted into digital format, but that remains a task on my To Do list... and it's pretty far down that list, actually.  So, without further ado...

Shelly, an EDS sub-contractor and YrHmblScrb

Just me

Two shots of me on Red Square and one of the changing of the guard at Lenin's tomb.  Yep, the mausoleum that holds his waxy ol' cadaver is still one of the biggest tourist attractions in Moscow or was, at the time.   Watching those immaculate goose-stepping troops gave me a world-class chill, believe me.  Click for larger and note how they carry those rifles.  Impressive.

The very FIRST thing we did after unpacking and sleeping off the arrival drunk (more on that phenomenon below) was to hit the shower and walk over to Red Square.  The sole saving grace of the flea-bag hotel EDS booked us into was the fact it was within walking distance of one of the most famous squares in all the world.  We'll digress just a lil bit more to say EDS was doing this deal on a shoestring and doubled up everyone on the team, two to a room.  That was the first and only time that ever happened in all the road trips I made with EDS and it was ugly, given my roommate snored like a proverbial buzz saw.  I MIGHT have gotten all of four hours uninterrupted sleep during the two weeks of that first trip.  Back to Red Square... my one lasting impression of my first view of the place... and it IS most impressive... was turning to one of my co-workers and casually mentioning "there's at least three MIRVs sitting in a hole somewhere in North Dakota with these EXACT geo-coordinates programmed into the warheads."  He looked at me like I was insane.

About the drinking... we were met at the airport by a welcoming delegation from Rostelecom and the first thing we did upon leaving the airport was whip into a hotel parking lot and consume two large bottles of vodka.  Amongst the six of us on the team and our two Russian hosts.  That lil event set the tone for the remaining two weeks.  After we'd finished with the welcoming toasts we were driven to our hotel and given a half-hour to shower and change, whereupon we were off once again to a welcoming banquet.  The food was very good and the vodka continued to flow throughout the two-hour ordeal.  I say "ordeal" because we had just decamped from an approximately ten hour flight between JFK and Moscow... we were DEAD tired.  And then we were drunk.  Dead drunk.  But it was one of those deals you could NOT refuse.

So, we drank a lot.  Early and often, too.  An example: my project counterpart was a Rostelecom director who summoned me into his office every morning at 1000 hrs for his daily briefing.  I'd be ushered in to his office by his secretary who would seat me in front of the guy's desk and then proceed to his wet bar where she would pull out a bottle of vodka and two shot glasses.  We'd have a drink, I'd brief him, and then we'd have another drink... sometimes two.  When we left the country after the first phase of the study was complete one of my team members said to me "Thank God that's over.  Another week and I'd need a new liver."  That's not much of an exaggeration.

Some shots of the hotel room on my second trip.  This time only two of us went over to do final reviews and we each had our own rooms... in a MUCH better hotel.

My bed

The sitting area

The bathroom

The bathrooms were the BEST thing about Moscow hotel rooms, at least in the two hotels I stayed in.  The tubs were long and deep, deep, deep... just the thing for a full body immersion experience after a trying day.  And most days were trying, Gentle Reader.

The conference room where we did our final reviews; note the ashtrays.  I LOVED that aspect of doing bid'niz in Russia... most everyone smoked and NO one looked down on you if you indulged.  My kinda people.  At the time.

Me standing across a busy boulevard from one of the many Stalinist architectural monstrosities that litter the Moscow skyline.  Present day Muscovites take a perverse sense of pride in these Gawd-Awful things.  And they are kinda-sorta impressive in a bizarre way.

One last vignette.  Something else happened in Moscow in September of 1993 and you might remember it, Gentle Reader.  We were in the end-game of our outbriefs and had about three days left in-country when I was awakened very early one morning (like 0430 hrs) by a phone call from a VERY panicked wife who demanded to know "What the HELL is going on over there?"  "What do you mean?" sez I.  "Haven't you been watching ANY teevee?" she asked, incredulously.  "Hang on," sez I.  I walked over and flipped on the teevee (which was always tuned to the Beeb, the ONLY English-language station available) just in time to catch some talking head seriously intoning "... and it looks like Russia is on the brink of civil war.  Back to you, Barbara."  Say what!?!  Russia?  Civil War?  THIS Russia?  Shit!  Damn!  

Fast forward to later that same day.  On our way to the office we noticed many busloads of troops strategically parked at various intersections around the capital and that afternoon we saw our first tanks on the way home from the office.  I returned to the hotel to find numerous messages from EDS... in both the Dallas and Detroit offices... all of which said "Call IMMEDIATELY!"  So, we booked a phone call and got in touch with our management, who informed us we were to leave the very next day, no questions, no ifs, no buts.  Get the Hell out and get out ASAP... there are tickets waiting for you at the airport.

And so we did.  Three days later Yeltsin ordered the Army to fire on the White House and the crisis was over.  But it was sure exciting for a couple of American bid'niz men caught on the ground there... for a brief moment.

And now... Happy Hour!


  1. One of Toby's co-workers in Italy and in Scotland got sent to Moscow. He has promised to have "some problem that only Toby can fix" so that we can visit Moscow - hasn't happened yet, but I hope to vist there some day.

    Your trip certainly sounds interesting - right down to the near civil war. Too bad you didn't room with the lovely lady in the photo.

  2. Lou, you beat me to it. I mean, about rooming with the gal...not wanting to visit Moscow.

  3. Buck, fascinating story and great pics. With that trench coat on, you could very well be an American spy. Did anyone follow you around?

  4. Shelly looks high maintenance, or at least a clothes horse. No denim for her :-)

    I like those curtains in the office. They look like something that is in my capability range. My wife says I could coordinate colors just like a black and white TV...

  5. You have lived an interesting life, Buck.

    As always, thanks for sharing.

    I was in South Korea in August of ‘83 when the Soviets shot down one of their airlines. A two week op. turned into very tense six.

  6. ...we can visit Moscow - hasn't happened yet, but I hope to visit there some day.

    I have serious mixed emotions about that trip, Lou. One of the stories I didn't tell (and there are a few) was about how very dangerous Moscow was back then. While I was there two Brit businessmen were stabbed to death in a hotel about six blocks from the one I was staying in. The Russian Mafia were very visible and they were seemingly everywhere. Like I said: mixed emotions. I'm glad I went back then but I don't think I'd do it today.

    Andy: I'm thinking the lady wouldn't have minded rooming with me. But I know more than you do on this subject.

    Dan: Rumor has it that EVERY western businessman is monitored in some way, shape, or form. Srsly. I dunno about being followed, but I'm certain I was watched.

    Shelly looks high maintenance, or at least a clothes horse. No denim for her :-)

    She WAS high-maintenance, Anon. And that's a good line about the B&W teevee!

    A two week op. turned into very tense six.

    I can imagine! "Things" were pretty tense throughout the military, but much more so where you were.

  7. Yes, you look very dapper in your suit and trenchcoat.

    That building behind you -- not even a church, just a regular downtown office building? It's so fancy.

    Glad you did the traveling for me and I can just "listen" to you talk about it. I am not a travelin' person. (Well, except up and down the East Coast.)

  8. That building behind you -- not even a church, just a regular downtown office building? It's so fancy.

    That's one of the Seven Sisters. All is revealed in the "Stalinist architectural mostrosities" link.

  9. And this was the trip when you called me in the middle of the night and we figured out how we could survive if you quit EDS. I took it very seriously and tried to figure it all out.

    Must have been a very stressful trip.

  10. I called you from Baltimore, actually, when I was driven into the ground working on the A&A deal... the same one that brought you over to London when things were quite a bit better, read as: before the shit hit the fan. And I was serious as a heart attack about quitting, too. I also called my manager that same night and told him I was gonna quit. They got help out to us within three days, if memory serves.

    But I WAS serious. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Wow. This confirms what Pepper has told me about the Russian mafia. And to think I thought he might be stretching the truth just a tad.

  12. It would be hard to stretch the truth in this space, Moogie. The Mafia was literally EVERYWHERE. And people deferred to them at every turn. Those guys were... and still are... VERY bad actors.


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