My story starts with an ordinary ride. In a country where private automobiles are still not common, folks either use foot-power or a form of public transport. It forces people from all walks of life (except the very rich) to rub shoulders with one another. I think it is a daily reminder that we all are part of the human family.
In town, Marshrutkas are common. These are mini-buses that are often used by retirement homes in the USA, except here they have been retrofitted with extra rows of seats. They make airplane seating seem luxurious.
Konotop has 17 routes. For 1 1/2 grievnah or about 18 cents you can travel from one end of town to the other and all points in between. But there are no transfers. You will need to pay another 18 cents.
Konotop has a Tram Way too. It's popular among seniors, because they get to ride free. Built during Stalin's time, Konotop is the smallest city in Ukraine with such a system.
I think it has a lot to do with the fact that during Soviet times Konotop was a center for military deployment. I recently learned that of the three major Soviet Tank Divisions, Konotop was home for the most western one.
Today, I take the Tram Way (it's free for me!) to the Vakzal and meet up with Babushka. She has invited me on an excursion into the forest. We will take an Elecktrichka instead of a Poyezd.
The Elecktrichka is an electric powered train and differs from the diesel Poyezd since it usually travels shorter distances between towns and villages. There are no sleeping compartments and people sit on benches facing one another three by three. For less than a dollar, we will travel an hour into the countryside.
As seats fill up, vendors walk the aisles hawking their merchandise. One man sells an assortment of magazines and newspapers. Another offers socks, shoe laces, gloves and other small household items. A much older woman, who seems to be permanently bent over, drags big bags filled with sodas, bottled water, candies and cookies.
We are a diverse group on the Electrishka. People, who are dressed as if they have some money, sit across from those who have little. Families with children are next to pensioners, army men, university students and on this trip, a spiked-heeled and mini-skirted young woman with painted nails about an inch long. She stands out, of course.
I settle into the bench alongside Babushka and across from several of her friends. Using my small print Russian/English dictionary, we have fun "talking" with one another. I find that smiles and laughter make for good communications in any language.
Unexpectedly, Babushka stands up. She beckons me to follow her. "Where are we going," I wonder. We sway our way through the moving car towards the front of the Elecktrishka. I see her conferring with one of the conductors and before I know what is happening, I am sitting next to the engineer looking out the train's front window.
In front of me, an array of gauges, throttles and pedals control the speed and blow the whistles. He explains some of the workings of the train and points out the safety lights that switch from green to yellow to double yellow and red. I notice the train tops at 55 kilometers per hour.
It's every child's dream.
In my childhood, I remember the family getting a 45 RPM record player. It was the kind which took a stack of records and automatically dropped the next one into play.
Among the records was a double record story about a boy and a train. I think it was called "Sparky and the Talking Train." I listened to it over and over again. Although I cannot recall the story line, I do remember the feeling. It was magical.
I beam a Grand Canyon wide smile. Today has become magical. I'm Sparky. Although I do not get to run the train, I am right next to the engineer. When he blows the whistle, I imagine some talking. Now would that be Russian or English?