The eXile sent out ace city beat reporter John Dolan to experience first hand the new Mega Mall, billed as Eastern Europe's largest mall. His report is an eXile eXclusive.
The problem is that the Mall is about a kilometer south of Tyoplii Stan', the nearest metro station. When we popped up to the surface at Tyoplii Stan', we were in the middle of an open-air market. A blizzard was in progress. No sign of any buses; no signs to the mall.
Sure, we should've asked somebody, but Katherine and I aren't like that.
In a cold climate, shyness can be fatal. We were going numb, inch by inch. I was almost ready to take the plunge and ask someone for directions when we stumbled out onto the bus stop. A crowd was waiting. A big crowd. A Moscow crowd. Were the two of us really up to elbowing our way onto those buses, if they ever even arrived? We were out of our league, incompetent refugees. We took the easy way out and started walking south, where the IKEA arrows pointed.
After that walk, I understand why the retreat from Moscow got Napoleon so depressed. You squint into the snow, looking for a sign of your destination, getting colder from the extremities inward. For the first time in my life, my penis hurt from the cold. An odd feeling, not entirely unpleasant but kind of scary.
After a hundred versts, we saw our first landmark: the ring road. A freeway! My California DNA vibrated with hope. Where there are freeways, surely there are malls!
As we approached, we saw a line of marching people leading up to the off ramps. They were stretched out single file in the snow, like a photo from the Eastern Front. The marchers were mostly women and girls eager to get to the mall and willing to march through blizzards and dodge freeway traffic to do so. When you saw them up close, many of the girls look like the pubescent females who are the prop of every mall in California. But no California girl could have survived the death march they took for granted as the price of getting to the mall.
They were totally unfazed by the blizzard, the traffic or the cold. They ran across the on-ramp and slid into the snow on the other side, whooping in triumph. They obviously knew what they were doing, so we followed them.
Another hundred versts or so, and we reached the edge of a cliff. From there, we had our first sight of the promised mall, gleaming like a giant gray Quonset hut in the valley below. The parking lot was full.
We slid and stumbled down the cliff, following the path worn by these winter-tough women and girls. We ended up at the giant supermarket which anchors the mall, suddenly moving into a cheezy pseudo-tropical world complete with eucalyptus trees and an ice rink blasting bad accordion music. There was a food court, mostly inoperative, and a hundred shoe stores. They were all empty-because the crowd was in the "Gipermarket," standing in line for smoked fish. We couldn't believe it: the only place in the mall doing any business was this supermarket. And we saw, in the crowd, something very rare in Moscow: pregnant women. We counted four of them-the entire Russian birth rate was at this store.
There was no way we were going to walk back. We jumped for the first bus we saw. An old woman behind us hit us with her purse, yelling, "Hurry! They're leaving!" Emboldened by her urging, we elbowed our way into a prime seat on the warm, comfortable bus. But the rest of the crowd was surging through the middle door and the driver reacted by shutting it on them. It broke, and we all had to get out and stand in the snow again.
Another bus arrived. The driver was yelling, screaming at his passengers to get the hell off his bus, that it wasn't going anywhere. They stayed put.
An hour later, the crowd waiting for these buses was around 10,000 people. We knew we'd never make it onto a bus if we had to compete for a seat. We took the long path up the cliff, into the snow, back toward Tyoplii Stan'. But you know, it wasn't bad. The wind was with us, and we were veterans now.