Vladimir Putin stopped by a gas station in Chelsea on Friday afternoon on his way to a visit with President Bush. On hand to greet him was Senator Charles Schumer. The gas station had received a make-over–new paint, new sign. It had once been a Getty, but like all the Gettys in the city it has been transformed into a Lukoil, which bought all 1,300 Getty stations in 2000 for $71 million.
Lukoil is Russian, and Putin’s strong head, covered with a blond crew cut, bobbed happily among the crowd, a head shorter than everyone else, as he took his tour and posed for the cameras. While inside, Putin was observed eating a Krispy Kreme Donut.
“With the introduction of this independent source of oil, The Saudis and OPEC will not have the stranglehold on oil prices they currently have,” said Senator Schumer, Putin beside him.
Lukoil’s official christening took place on a day of low gray skies and warm weather, at noon. The gas station, on Twenty-Fourth Street and Tenth Avenue, was surrounded by secret service officials from two countries. They all wore suits and serious expressions. Tenth Avenue was closed off at 23rd Street. Twenty-Fourth Street was closed off a block West. Pedestrians and bicyclists were asked to stand on the East side of the avenue, and the street was kept clear. There wasn’t much time for a crowd to gather, as Putin’s presence in Chelsea didn’t last much longer than twenty minutes.
A male roller blader in shorts came barreling up twenty-fourth street wearing large headphones. He was oblivious to the shouts of “Stop!” and “Halt!” The men in suits tackled him. Headphones askew, he sputtered, “What the Hell?”
After Putin had posed for the cameras with Schumer, he went to the waiting limousine. Schumer walked to the curb and when Putin was inside the Limo Schumer waved to him through the window. Putin waved back. Then the Limo sped off in the direction of the UN. It was followed by two Black Chevrolet Suburbans, impeccably polished black, windows down, each one crammed with the men in suits. This was followed by a Chevrolet Suburban crammed with men in Army fatigues and helmets holding AK 47s. Many of them were wearing shades, either Oakleys of Ray-Ban wrap arounds. This was followed by two vans with tinted windows, inside of which someone thought they saw a really big mounted machine gun. “Holy shit you see that gun!” he exclaimed. No one else had.
Putin’s Limo had curtains on the windows. They were pulled aside for the departure. The curtains seemed like a Russian touch. It seemed like Putin was in the Limo that was his Limo until the vans with the tinted windows went by, and were followed by a very long limousine whose make and model were unclear. Other than a fire truck trailing at some distance, this big Limo with the strange shape and color was bringing up the rear of the motorcade. It was empty.
The limo’s color was a very deep midnight blue, almost purple. It had a boxiness that was unfamiliar at first; then images from old movies surfaced, and it this car resembled the Limo that Eastern Block functionaries at high levels would roll up in, the car carrying the bad guys. Now they were the good guys, and the car was empty.
Although it was in perfect condition, it looked like it might be twenty or thirty years old. It seemed likely that it was Russian, that it had been flown over to the US some time ago under maximum security. This was a pampered Limo. But its shocks were a bit old, and the long frame groaned as it went over a pothole. Was it the back-up Limo in case the first stringer got hurt? No one could answer these question at the time.
Schumer was still speaking to the cameras. He posed with officials from Lukoil while they both held a blue and gold Russian Samovar.
He was asked what kind of donut Putin had eaten earlier.
“I suggested to him that he have a glazed,” he said enthusiastically.
The answer was vague– was he implying that Putin had eaten some other kind of donut in spite of his recommendation? Or was he simply making sure that The Russian President was not left to his own perhaps less that totally informed devices in the face of Krispy Kreme’s selection, and that the Senator from New York, a friend, a common foe of OPEC, had chimed in and steered him to a glazed?
Asked to clarify, the senator said, “Yes, he ate a glazed.”