In 2016, I came back to Bushwick after having lived and worked in Russia for nearly six years. Having traded one dingy, overpriced apartment in an opposite hemisphere for another, I’ve now come to the realization that there are many things similar between the two places. But Moscow does some stuff way better. Below are five things that Bushwick could and should borrow from the Motherland.
One of the first things I learned as an expat in Moscow was that the electronic kiosk is your best friend. These angular, outdated, clunky things found in most shops might baffle an American at first glance, but love for them quickly grows. With glitchy screens and splattered with graffiti, the e-kiosk is a surprising convenience found in Russia. It’s something Bushwick desperately needs.
The cornerstone of the Russian bill system, the e-kiosk is a one-stop shop for everything: cell phone bills, utility bills, internet, parking tickets, concert tickets, train and plane tickets. Junkies even use it to pay for heroin by topping up the electronic wallet account of their dealer. Whatever it may be, you simply select the service, enter your phone number and insert money.
The result is absolutely no important paper mail of any kind coming to your apartment.
Bushwick could obviously use this. We’re constantly moving around, arguing with Verizon and Spectrum about the bogus internet bills, getting parking tickets, paying for various substances — so why not put all that in one place? But hey, maybe people like getting the mail of a person they never knew who moved out of their apartment on Knickerbocker Avenue three years ago.
Picture a small shop lined with dozens of beer taps on the wall, an assortment of dried fish in a glass case and an often plump middle-aged woman running around with plastic bottles. Welcome to Russia’s live beer world.
Live beer is local craft swill poured fresh from the cask into take-away plastic bottles. It’s called “live” because it’s unpasteurized, made without filtration or heat treatment. The yeast cells survive the brewing and are thus alive in the beer.
Bushwick is slowly catching on to the idea. But local booze shops have complicated things by using glass, adding bottle deposits and stocking overpriced beers with ambiguous titles and volumes such as “All Dank Everything” available in 34 oz. growlers.
Just tell me how strong my booze is, how many liters it is, and put it in a plastic bottle. Oh, and maybe throw in some dried squid tentacles.
Contact Lens Vending Machines
Anyone in Bushwick who wears contact lenses must loathe going back to the eye doctor for a script rewrite. We all know it’s just another insurance scam and we’re too busy drinking live beer to be bothered with it. Well, Muscovites know that too and that’s why they use contact vending machines that sells lenses of all sizes and strengths.
These machines aren’t only remarkable because they vend contacts without a script and are found in supermarkets; they also spit cash back at you and not coins for change. Why doesn’t the New York subway system have this technology?
Friendliness at Gyms
Take a look at fellow gym-goers during your next workout at Richie’s Gym or Planet Fitness at Myrtle-Wyckoff and note how people communicate. You see these people every day, but do you say hello? Do you chat with random bros at the squat rack? Likely not.
The gym, however, is perhaps the only place in Russia where strangers greet each other; men even shake hands. Not doing so is considered rude and anti-social.
I am of the firm opinion that unplugging the headphones, saying hello and gripping the sweaty palms of a dozen random guys in the gym makes for better workouts. If nothing else, it increases the likelihood of being saved by a stranger while struggling under the burden of a 135-pound bench press. Imagine that in a Bushwick gym.
Ham — take a second and guess what it means. A little hint: it’s got nothing to do with Moscow and Bushwick’s favorite deli meat.
Continuing on, what would you do if someone called you a “ham” in English? Like, “Hey buddy, you’re a real ham.” Not that anybody ever would, but it sounds ok. The Russian word “ham” means boor. Don’t confuse it with this:
Stop Ham is a Russian social awareness group that goes around Russia’s biggest cities and tries to stop people from being jerks — particularly people who drive and park illegally. Always armed with a camera, the group tries politely to dissuade rule-breakers, filming them and slapping a big sticker on their windshield reading “I am a jerk: I park where I please.”
Their Youtube channel has millions of subscribers and their videos capture all the delights of road rage and the scuffles that ensue. Tire irons, baseball bats and AK-47s all make regular appearances in Stop Ham videos.
What’s so cool about Stop Ham is they’re not afraid to scrap with the bad guys. That’s partly because Putin funds the group — something you wouldn’t guess watching their videos.
Just imagine all the fun a group like that would have on the streets of the Bushwick, where drivers blow through stop signs and honk their horns at you. Stop Ham? Yes, please. And with mustard.
Cover image courtesy of pivnaya_lavka