October 13, 2012

Imagine an oil-rich barren country in the Middle East bordering Iran. Now imagine a 12-lane road. 6 lanes each way divided by a median. There are no lane lines…at all.

Our Production Manager, Omar, and the entire JLO crew, myself included, are in a brown interior 70’s style hot, no a/c ratty “sit-up-and-beg” bus. An entire mob of cars, some of which seem to be held together by gum, others high-end, and us have to pass by the arena and complete a U turn so we can head back the other direction in order to enter the gate for our show. Today it’s extremely windy, which I’m beginning to believe is a daily occurrence, with gusts reaching 50 MPH. Heated dust and sand is blasting in through the windows and mixing with our sweat and the oil scented breeze from the Caspian Sea, to create a potpourri of eye watering funk that I have never experienced before.

A dozen or so traffic cops are trying to shoo the mass of BMWs and Audis away from 1 of only 2 gates….the one gate that we need to enter. All of the drivers are ignoring the cops and zipping in to drop people off which in turn causes they themselves to get stuck in this tangle of a jam. These same drivers, now frustrated, get out of their cars in the middle of the 6 lane road. They proceed to wave one arm at other drivers to move while the other arm is glued to their head holding…wait for it…a cell phone.

While all of this is going on, our excessively large shabby bus has now made our U turn and is stuck diagonally across 3 lanes headed for the gate. When suddenly, all the Traffic Barney Fifes converge on our driver waving their little red batons screaming angrily that we can’t enter there. Now we slowly fight our way to the 2nd gate and those knuckleheads say we need to enter at the first gate. Soooooo….down the road we go back into the arid city to make yet another U Turn so we can try this whole process again.

For our next attempt we are once again caught diagonally across now 4 lanes of traffic when the Police start screaming at us again. At this point, Omar gets off the bus to negotiate the terms of our entry. With both hands he points at our remarkable bus, then points to the arena, then points at the gate…all to no avail. All the while, there is screaming and horns blowing and fists waving and the winds howling and we’re all sweating and now there’s more yelling (which we can’t understand)…it’s just on-going. We are now securely perched in the middle of the road and have our bus door open so we can continue to plead our case by waving and yelling and pointing through all the noise, at the gate we need to enter to do this crazy show. It’s now time to call our Arena Security to come rescue us. They finally arrive, followed by more waving and screaming as the mayhem continues. BUT the point has gotten through to them, and the focus of our battle switches to getting these luxury cars out of our way so we can finish making such a WIDE turn. Our driver is relentless about inching forward, we nearly crunch a couple of Mercedes, and we just about run over one of the cops followed by a little aftershock of arguing, but now we are at the gate.

EXCEPT….there is a single police car blocking the entryway with close to a dozen Keystone cops surrounding the car, and none of them have the keys! They try pushing the car; they try lifting and pushing the car. Nothing. We are all laughing deliriously at this point because it is just too surreal and we’ve been in this situation for over an hour. THEN, from out of nowhere, like a flash, a single officer appears in a run from down the hill with KEYS and finally we eek our way through the gate.

Welcome to Azerbaijan!