Chapter 52 – Just Can’t Let It Go
After spending a few days walking around Tbilisi, checking out all the sights and even going to one of those debatably homosexual sulfur bathhouses where I sat in a tub full of piping hot water and drank beer with a bunch of naked guys, I could find little left to do with my final day in Georgia. Of course, the option to get blackout hammered and act like a total asshole was and always is on the table, during that point in the journey I was feeling that I resort to that alternative far too often. I wanted to try something new – something exciting and different that didn’t come with a brutal hangover and possible legal repercussions.
Following some research in The Lonely Planet’s Georgia edition and a quick flip through Google images, I concluded I’d spend my final day in the country taking a trip out to a monastery in the mountains known as David Gareja. With no options of public transportation, the LP book said the best way to get out to this remote location is by taking a shared taxi with as many other travelers as possible to split the cost into affordable fractions. Unfortunately, I’d been by myself and could find no one else interested in tagging along. Nevertheless, in spite of its transportation expenses savagely buttfucking my daily budget, I stuck with my plan of taking the monastic day trip.
On the wall of the hostel there’d been a sign advertising the taxi services of a “funny driver” named Irakli. The night before my little excursion, with the help of a cute Polish chick at reception, I booked this Irakli character to take me out to David Gareja the following morning at 10am. I thanked her for her assistance and shuffled off to bed.
The next morning, after I’d done some push-ups, taken a shit and a shower and ate a lil’ sum’n-sum’n, I stepped outside the hostel and was ready to roll by quarter to ten. As it happens, ten came, ten went and Irakli didn’t show. Around quarter after, I went back inside and approached the desk in the lobby which’d at the time been occupied by a very large Polish dude.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
“Uh yeah, I booked this dude Irakli for ten o’clock to take me out to David Gareja and he’s not here yet. You think you could contact him or somethin’?”
“What time is it?” he asked, looking at the wall clock. “Ten-fifteen? You booked that piece of shit for ten o’clock and he’s not out there yet?”
“Yeah,” I laughed at his blunt description of their advertised driver.
“Okay, let’s go outside. He lives right down the street. If he’s not out there, I’m going to kick in the door to his home and squash his fucking testicles.”
Just as we’d walked outside, a paunchy man of about forty in sky blue swishy pants, a pea green fleece and a black winter cap came strolling up while jamming some sort of sausage roll into his unshaven face which he immediately after washed down with a fat swig of Pepsi.
“Ah, there he is,” said the big Pole before turning his attention to Irakli. “You’re taking him to David Gareja, yeah?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
“Alright, cool,” he said then looked back at me. “Okay, you’re all set. That is Irakli’s car,” he pointed to a nearby beat-to-hell two-door hatchback. “Enjoy your trip.”
“K. Thanks man.”
He nodded and then walked back into the hostel.
“Hey,” I stuck my hand out, “my name’s Tim.”
The sloppy man jammed the rest of the sausage roll into his gullet and smeared the grease from his hand on his fleece before reaching out and grabbing onto mine.
“Irakli, nice to meet you. Shall we get going?”
Since they drive on the right side of the road in Georgia, I went to get in to what I thought was the passenger seat on the right side of the car.
“Whoa, hey, are you driving today?” he laughed as he started walking over.
I stepped back and looked in the car.
“Oh shit, sorry man. I didn’t realize it was one of these,” I said then walked over to the other side of the ride.
Irakli climbed in the driver’s seat and as I opened the passenger door, he asked me to wait for a minute before I entered so he could quickly pick all the fast food wrapper bullshit and empty pop bottles from the floor and toss ‘em in the backseat. Once it was up to his standard of cleanliness – which wasn’t very high – I climbed in and we hit the road.
After getting to know each other a bit with the typical “Where you from? What you do?” run-down, Irakli asked me if I spoke any German.
“Naw man. Just English and a little Spanish. You know Spanish?”
“No Spanish,” he said as I got my first whiff of his pungent breath, “but I learn German from leeving dere for ten years working.”
“Aw, really man? That’s cool,” I asserted while conservatively inhaling as little of his boozy sausage-stinking facial emissions as possible. “So, have you lived in an English-speaking country as well? Is that how you learned the language?”
“I learn like thees,” he said while turning the tuner to BBC radio or some shit like that. “I teach myself by leesening to radio, watching television, reading book and talking to people like you – thees ees how I learn. German ees a nice language but not a lot of people speak it worldwide. English ees for everybody. So I am try to communicate with the world using English.”
“Nice,” I nodded. “For how long have you been teaching yourself English?”
“Two years now.”
“Damn, that’s not bad – good for you, man.”
“Thank you, thank you, but eet steel needs much more working.”
For as big of a weird-smelling slob as this dude was, I was quite impressed by his dedication to learn English and his interest in being a global person. However, as we drove along, I was less impressed by his constant nasal spray injections, the snot-rockets that followed as well as his in-depth explanation of the behavior during which he tilted his head back and made me look in his nostrils to see how tiny his nasal passageways were so I could better understand why he has breathing problems.
Worse than his snotty quirks, however, had been Irakli’s recklessness at the wheel. As I’d mentioned, in Georgia they drive on the right side of the road and, in his ride, the driver’s seat was on the right side of the car. When the wheel is on the right side like that and there’re other automobiles in front of you headed in the same direction on a two-lane highway, it’s almost impossible for the driver to see if there’s any oncoming traffic in the opposite lane. In spite of this, Irakli had no qualms about blindly attempting to pass cars on narrow, winding roads while burning along at a cool 135kmph. Many times this led to me shouting from the passenger seat as I looked square into the headlights of cars about to smash us head-on.
“No! No! Oh my god, get back over!”
And Irakli would jerk the car back into our lane, narrowly averting certain death.
“Holy shit,” I’d sigh a second later, “that was close. No need to rush, man. The monastery’s been there for fifteen-hundred years. It’s not goin’ anywhere. Just take it easy and get us there alive.”
“Of course, of course,” he’d agree with me and then go right back to doing the exact same shit.
Although they were plentiful, not all of our scares on the road had been Irakli’s fault. About an hour into the ride, we’d been cruising along on a straightaway when some truck driver asshole began pulling his rig onto the highway to make a left turn off some street that intersected it from the right-hand side. It was a big rig and he was takin’ his sweet-ass time too. There were literally no cars in front of or behind us at the time. It almost seemed that the driver pulled out at that very moment just to fuck with us.
At the speed we were flying, braking alone wouldn’t have saved us. We still would’ve plowed into the tail end of the semi and gotten decapitated. So, as Irakli stomped the brakes, he swerved to the right and we skidded off the side of the road.
“Zat muzzafucka!” Irakli shouted after we’d come to a halt. “He was trying to keel us! You see zat? He wasn’t even Georgian, zat muzzafucka!”
“Really?” I asked, “I couldn’t even see the driver. How could you tell? And if he wasn’t Georgian, then what was he?”
“I don’t know, but he definitely wasn’t Georgian. A Georgian wouldn’t do zat. I’m going after zat muzzafucka.”
“Oh god, no. Please don’t.”
“No, ze man has to know what he’s done to us.”
When I was a kid riding in the car with my dad and someone would cut us off, instead of just letting it go and moving on with his day, he always had to make the other driver aware of how they’d wronged him. Most often, he’d pull up and drive alongside the offender and mean-mug in their direction, hoping they’d look his way. If it was “some dumb broad” or “some stupid cunt” that cut him off, even if he did get their attention – which wasn’t easy because more often than not they were completely oblivious to having cut us off in the first place, having been too consumed by their cell phones, the make-up they’d been applying, the puppy resting on their lap or a combination thereof – he’d just continue dishing out evil looks. He wouldn’t escalate.
But if it were some fuckin’ dickhead, asshole or jag-off that’d cut ‘im off, he’d actually start yelling, “Hey dickhead, hey asshole, hey jag-off, you cut me off back there!” And sometimes they’d get in petty arguments, sometimes the other guy would be afraid and roll up the window and look straight ahead until the light changed and sometimes the other guy would be as pissed as my father and they’d start yelling at each other from car to car.
I never understood what my dad expected to get out of this behavior. Did he think that him swearing at the other driver would somehow un-cut us off? Did he expect them to repent for their wrongdoing and beg him – the ideal driver – for forgiveness? Maybe he expected them to thank him for the tough-love lesson in learning the rules of the road – I don’t know. Whatever the case, it made no sense to me. More so, it terrified me. I remember being a little kid, begging my dad to just let it go but he always refused and I’d duck down in my seat, scared to death that the other driver was gonna pull out a gun and shoot us or embed a tire iron into my father’s skull.
Unfortunately, I was forced to relive these feelings one weekend during my junior or senior year when I was home from college. At the time, I’d been manning the wheel of my dad’s black Ford Ranger while heading north on Milwaukee towards Harlem Avenue when, from the passenger seat, my dad reached over and started blaring the horn at a brown work van with a Poland sticker on the bumper that had just made a right turn in front of us off Touhy Avenue.
“What the fuck are you doing!?” I said. “Don’t touch the fuckin’ horn when I’m driving.”
“That Polack cut us off!”
“Who gives a shit? I’m not dead. You’re not dead. The car’s not fucked up. So I had to hit the brakes and slow down a little not to hit him – who cares? That’s part of driving.”
My dad didn’t agree with me.
When we pulled up to the next intersection with a light – the one at Harlem – the Polack van with the five feet of ladders stacked on the roof had been the only vehicle sitting at the red. I purposely pulled up behind it in the right lane so as to not have to deal with an unnecessary confrontation.
“Hey,” my dad said while pointing to the left, “get in the other lane.”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Just fuckin’ do it,” he spat. “Do what I tell you.”
“Ughhhhhh,” I groaned and obeyed my orders.
“Hey!” my dad leaned out the window, yelling at the guy in the adjacent lane who’d had his window rolled up. “Hey, fuck you asshole!”
Completely oblivious to what was going on, the Polish immigrant leaned to his left and began manually cranking down his window.
“Wow, wow, wow! Wot eez dees?”
“You fuckin’ cut us off back there you fuckin’ jag-off!” my dad shouted and gave the guy the finger.
“Why come you are showing me the feengare!?” he asked while shrugging defensively. “Why eez deez?”
“Because you,” he pointed at the guy, “drive like a fucking dickhead!”
“Whoa! Hey!” the man held up his cell phone. “How ‘bout I am calling police right now?”
“Yeah, go for it,” my dad said as the light turned green and I pulled away, “you fuckin’ jag-off.”
Back in the USSR, after turning around and heading back the way from which we came on the two-lane highway between Tbilisi and David Gareja, Irakli caught up to the semi that had cut us off. In order for him to be able to yell at the man, Irakli drove in the lane designated for oncoming traffic and pulled up right alongside the driver of the rig whereupon he began yelling in Georgian – even though he said he was certain the driver wasn’t Gerogian – and insisting the guy pull over. The driver of the semi completely ignored us and kept going on his way. This enraged Irakli who then decided to keep following the truck in a direction and for reasons that I hadn’t been paying him seventy dollars to drive.
“Yo, can we just forget about this shit and head to the monastery?” I said. “Because this right here, what you’re doing, is fucking retarded.”
“But zat man purposely tried to keel us. It wouldn’t be right to not follow heem. And he knows he’s wrong, zat’s why he keeps driving.”
“Or it’s because he knows you’re a fucking psycho and doesn’t wanna deal with your ridiculous bullshit,” I thought to myself and sighed.
While in pursuit of the truck, I saw a cop on the side of the road dealing with the driver of some car he’d apparently pulled over. We went right past ‘em and continued following the truck for another couple minutes until Irakli finally gave up and turned back around. Although I thought it was over, this is when my driver got the genius idea to pull up behind the police officer who’d already been busy with what he’d been doing.
“Oh my god, what the fuck are you doing? Can you please just take me to the fucking monastery that I’m paying you to take me to?”
“Hold on,” he said, climbing out of the car. “Zat man probably was driving wizout a license. Zat’s why he wouldn’t pull over for me. I must inform ze police officer so he can go take care of za man in ze truck.”
“You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.”
“It will only take a moment,” he said and shut the door.
Irakli stormed up to this police officer and started yelling at the guy about being cut off by some non-Georgian trucker who’d allegedly been driving without a license and had been purposely trying to kill us. As expected, the officer perceived Irakli and his raving lunacy to be a threat and ordered him to stand back while he finished writing a ticket for the guy he’d been dealing with.
Eventually, he came over and gave my driver his full attention. After hearing his story and smelling his breath, instead of hustling off to go arrest the truck driver, the copper ended up making Irakli go through a field sobriety test which he was able to pass. After having gotten a stern talking-to, my wheelman was let go and for the rest of the ride out to David Gareja, while continuing to bitch about the original “muzzafucka” who cut us off, I had to comfort Irakli while he broke down and started crying about how he no longer has faith in any sort of law or justice systems due to the cop’s reasonable reaction to his insanity.
Photos from the day I went to David Gareja…