From the personal archive of a Russianist, installment twenty-five

Travel notes, accompanying a Soviet delegation to UPS in the USA, February 1990

The week in the States with a Soviet delegation – Sunday, 4 February to Friday afternoon, 9 February is tiring though our interpreter Valeri Shchukin takes the heat and I largely go along for the ride. First days are especially easy – we spend 3 nights in the Plaza Hotel. Under Trump’s ownership for the past few years it has been thoroughly renovated and is splendid – showy rich.  The Palm Court is again the place to be seen – schmaltzy violin and piano for afternoon teas, meals all day long from breakfast onward.

I love the hotel’s location, just across from Central Park and on at least two days I do get to do jogging. However, my exercise program is stripped away by exhaustion from the long days. We gather at 8am and part at midnight, so there is too little time to do anything besides sleep.

Wednesday we spend the night in Louisville in a hotel dating from the same period as New York’s Plaza – 1907 – and with similar pretensions to opulence. It would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that we go to bed at 3am and rise at 7.

Don Layden, V.P. International. Why does he spend the whole week with us? I must keep my mouth shut for nearly all the trip. Why is he scheduling his trip to Vienna, East Germany, Budapest in March? Why does he agree to go to Leningrad and Moscow in April? It looks as if the USSR is just too popular and we must all ride the tiger. But it does complicate my life – distracts from my work plans to have to stop and set up all for these guys.

Minister Yuri Sukhin shows himself to be as energetic, intelligent as previously seemed to be the case on our first two meetings. In addition, he is a good diplomat and excellent politician: he speaks well to our employees – saying that he sees in them his own drivers and recalls his early career as a driver and railroad car unloader. Loves to talk to the workers. His aim in coming is to seek tips on making the transition from chief of a state corporation, an operation of 300k vehicles, 1.5 million employees, etc. to becoming a regulator of the transport industry in a free or market guided economy. To his dismay, our Department of Transportation assistant secretary and chairman of the Congressional surface transport committee say that the US is fast reducing the regulators, doing away with them, see the ICC, FAS.

Sovtransavto boss Tatishvili turns out to be warm, friendly and independent minded – openly glad to be getting out from under the ministry which bred him – a sort of super Arkadi Kurshin, our JV general manager.

At the dinner Tuesday in the State Suite of The Plaza we are joined by UPS chairman Oz Nelson. There are on the UPS side in addition to myself only a couple of middle managers plus Donald Layden and Oz. The Russian guests number four: Sergei Bujanov, Gendais Kuznetsov, Yuri Sukhin and Tenghiz Tatishvili. In Louisville and rest of the trip, I am in this narrow circle of key UPS players.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020

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