There are probably people out there who wouldn't mind attending the unveiling of a new model of BMW convertible in one of Moscow's trendiest cafes. In fact, there are probably some who'd consider it a pleasure. It takes all kinds, I guess.
For me, your ace CityBeat reporter, being assigned to cover this event was somewhere between swimming in a Great White Shark sanctuary with a backpack full of seal blubber and telling one of those old-style Sovok cashiers that I don't have any change. In other words, terrifying.They have door-people at these things. They have face-control. And I have the kind of face that face-control was invented to control. Thanks to the magic of an eXile card, I've shown that face in places I'd never get into on my own, but that was usually with other, younger, better-looking and better-dressed eXile staff who don't smell of fear as I do. I tend to let them do the talking to the face-control at cool Moscow places, because once the snotty bouncers let them in, they sort of have to accept me as a necessary evil, collateral damage. Because they can smell fear, you know. Bloodhounds are nasally-retarded compared to the face-controllers.
And they'd have some particularly fierce ones at the BMW unveiling. Just look at the companies that were sponsoring the event: DaVinci diamonds, Dialog Bank, Gautier, and World Gym. So, lessee here: in order to be in the target demographic, you've got to be splattered with diamonds, drowning in cash, dressed like a Swiss performance artist, and buffed. I fail on all counts. I'd be lucky to be thrown out. More likely they'd kick me to death with pointy Italian shoes that cost more than my life savings.
But I done it. I went striding into Berlin House, a very stylish building on Petrovka Street, just as ordered. A quick scan -- I walked past the entrance pretending to be just strolling through the neighborhood -- revealed that the face-control wasn't the usual hulking thug but a slim, snooty young woman with black dress and black hair. That was bad news, because her kind is a far scarier breed than any mere hulking thug. After a few more strolls to get up my courage, I tried to slip in following a rich couple, riding their wake the way you follow a truck on the Interstate. But Snooty Black-Dress wasn't buying it. She could smell the fear. She stopped me, held out her hand and asked for an invitation.
Now that was the weak part of my story: I really had been invited, or rather the eXile had, but it was a verbal invitation -- not worth the paper it was printed on, as Louis B. Mayer would say. I tried bluffing it out. I've seen that done successfully. Some of my best friends are brave people -- I'm broadminded that way.
But you've got to mean it. You've got to be genuinely outraged that anyone would presume to demand proof from you. All I could manage was, "Um, the Manager invited us."
Just when I was ready to retreat, I remembered my eXile card and passed it to her. It was enough. She passed me on to the women signing people in. And they were harmless clerks. I zoomed in, looking to vanish in the crowd.
The new BMW, the occasion of all this jollity, was under wraps, in a silvery space-blanket. Oligarchs were sniffing around it like hyenas attending the birth of a gazelle. On the other side of the room was something much more interesting: a buffet, shvedskii stol, smorgasbord -- call it what you like, it still spells food. I was there in a flash. And that was surprising -- the ease with which I reached the food -- because at most Moscow buffets getting to the food is like getting the rebound in an NBA game: a difficult task requiring ruthless focus and sharp, slicing elbows. You could train for no-rules fighting by learning to get to the food at those places.
But this crowd wasn't impressed by food. That's how rich they were. They picked and pecked at the smoked-salmon appetizers. I don't know too many crowds unimpressed by smoked salmon, but these people ignored it. They strolled, they dawdled, they greeted each other. Once I got over the terrors of getting in, I sat at a table in a nice, safe, defensible corner and looked the crowd over.