Winds Of Change MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   It was about four o'clock in the afternoon as we began walking toward the metro station. The fiery Siberian sun slowly began to diminish over the Russian metropolis. A group of us, American students and our Russians (as we called them, as if we owned them, or something), met at the bustling streetcorner near the school. The cars sped past us, bumping up and down on the aging, decrepit Moscow streets. The cars would literally bounce in and out of the pool-size craters. As they passed, their old Soviet automobiles seemed to belch out a continuous stream of fumes. The air itself was brown, like the Soviet sky hanging above us. The smog lay heavy in my lungs and mouth.

That day we had decided to go into the center of town - to McDonald's. Of all places on earth, we came to Moscow to visit McDonald's. During our week's stay, it became an evening activity, to go downtown on the metro. As we entered the station, we were immediately smothered by an entourage of flower peddlers. We walked directly through them to the ticket booth. I bought two tokens, one for me and one for my comrade. I was surprised at the price. It cost only about one seventeenth of a cent, and at that price most Russians complained. I was amazed at the cleanliness of the station. It was covered in grey marble, from top to bottom. Ordinary handrails were turned into elaborate pieces of art. There was a faint smell of oil which pervaded the station, carried by a cool breeze flowing through the subway tunnels which stretched across Moscow. The subway cars themselves were in good condition. Nothing like the graffiti-covered cars of New York City.

We ran down a short flight of stairs to the subway platform. Over a loudspeaker, various subway delays were barked out in a hastened form of the Russian language. That and the constant noise of arriving and departing trains made it almost impossible to hear. Standing on the edge of the platform, I leaned over the track to catch a glimpse of the approaching subway. Like some mythical demon, two glaring lights slowly entered out of the dark tunnel, growing larger with every passing second. Finally, the train rumbled and came to a screeching halt on the far side of the station. The doors opened, and we all crowded in. Within a few seconds, the doors closed and the subway took a sudden lunge forward and was quickly up to full speed. The station whizzed by and suddenly we were engulfed in the darkness of the underground.

The subway ride took about eight minutes. We passed through station after station, each more beautiful and elaborate than the last When we arrived at our stop, we all ran off the train and onto the escalator, leading to the ground level. The station was very crowded, with hoards of people heading in all different directions.

Despite the mass of people, we finally made it to the exit, directly adjacent the restaurant. We cut our way through an onslaught of street venders and ran to the end of the barricaded line, which marked the entrance to McDonald's. About a year ago when the it first opened, there were enormous lines stretching for endless blocks. Now, however, they were much shorter. The outside of the restaurant looked like any large fast food joint. But from the inside it was completely different. As I entered, I had to choose from one of twenty-five cashiers, each with a line of about five people. I had never seen so many registers. I eventually ordered my food, and surprisingly was served quickly. Behind the counter were hoards of workers each with a specific job. This helped prepare the different foods very quickly. Next, I had to find a seat, which was no easy task. There were about five sections for seating in the restaurant, each filled to capacity. After about ten minutes of searching aimlessly for an empty seat, I found one.

As I ate, I stared at the multitude of people sitting around me. This McDonald's was simply amazing. It seemed to symbolize the change going on in the former Soviet Union. This was the mecca of the Western world, of American capitalism. But most of all, it was the result of two new Russian ideas, glasnost and perestroika. The creations of former President Gorbachev, they opened the country to outside business. The result was the opening of one of the largest food chains. These two policies had somehow transformed this country forever. It seemed the first change was this restaurant, and then there were even larger changes as the government tumbled. Only a year ago, Russia underwent its largest change: turning from a communist state to democracy, an incredible feat, never accomplished before. And I had seen where it has all taken place. I had stood on the steps of the Kremlin, where the brave Russian President Yeltsin held out against the coup, with the help of the thousands of Muscovites.

That evening, as I returned home on the metro with my new Russian friends, I thought of what life would be like in the months and years to come. They and their countrymen were embarking on a journey toward freedom and democracy. I realized that it would not be an easy task, but the one thing I had learned from my encounters was that the Russian people were prepared for whatever obstacles lay ahead - on their road to a new life. n

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