Hookers on the Highway
And other curiosities in Moscow

The women who work in the Moscow airport wear skirts hiked just a few inches above the knees. Their uniforms are olive drab and the fabric looks rough. Of course, this may not be indicative of anything in particular, but it�s striking when compared to the female crews in New York or Munich who sport red or blue, smooth slacks or longer skirts. On the other hand, the male attendants in the Russian airport were attired in much the same way as the men in the States or Germany. In all three places, none of the clothes the men wore seemed to fit correctly, not surprising since they�re probably employer-issued without any tailor-assisted recourse.

The whole reason for bringing any of this up is because of something our tour guide Andrei Zolotov said on the bus ride to the hotel. We�ll get to that in a moment.

First, when we arrived at the Moscow airport, there was customs. In the atrium, young Russian girls, probably middle-school age, smoked cigarettes. One with dyed red hair called someone on her cell phone. The ceilings are divided into a series of cylindrical bronze-looking circles, each a foot in diameter and a half-foot deep. At some points, the pattern would end abruptly leaving exposed wire and air ducts. In 1980 when its construction was completed for the Olympics, the terminal was considered a miracle of modern architecture.

"Now," said Zolotov, "it is just a hellish place." Outside, we walked with Zolotov through the brisk, diesel-fumed air, past men hawking cab rides closer to the city center.

On the bus ride into Moscow, we saw uncultivated stretches of frozen, brown soil, punctuated by the occasional gas station or restaurant. The scene eventually changed to tract upon tract of high-rise apartments — the kind you see when you drive along the Belt Parkway by East New York or on the Major Deegan past Co-op City. Not exactly, but similar. It was impossible to tell how people obtained these flats. Are they co-ops? Or are they a post-Communist equivalent of public housing?

On the sides of the highway, Zolotov pointed out the women standing, as if waiting for a bus or help with a flat-tire. Further from the road were parked cars. When Zoloft said these woman were prostitutes and explained how on a good night the strip would be teeming with hundreds of them, the short skirt thing started to seem like more than just a random detail. Maybe it�s a tenuous connection, but after hearing about the hookers again in the lobby and later at dinner, and after having heard about them previously in the U.S., it seemed like something to keep in mind — if not in terms of a possible story, then perhaps merely as a cultural aside.

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Reporter Michael Gartland stares as the class tour bus drives by hookers posed on the shoulder of a Moscow highway.