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I bet when you saw this title you thought I was mistaken for a thief of some old Soviet clunker, arrested by the scary KGB and shipped off to Siberia? Just as a clarification for those who missed it, there is no KGB any more. It has been replaced by the FSB about 20 years ago, which, much like the CIA and MI6, hardly concerns itself with auto theft, not to mention, they apparently stopped shipping people off to Siberia over sixty years ago (can you imagine that!).

No, my story is nothing as dramatic. It actually is cute and funny. So, if you wandered in here for the wrong reason, sorry to disappoint. But if you are still reading this, chances are you belong.

Want to join me on a fun journey back in time? Then, fasten your seat belt!

In the year 2011, I opened my Twitter account and suddenly was followed by a number of auto dealerships and manufacturers, ranging from Lombardini and Ferrari to Cadillac and Mercedes. My strange popularity among auto makers and distributors continued unabated, despite the fact that I never wrote a single tweet about anything remotely auto-related and never followed back my eager auto-friends.

As those, who follow me on Twitter know, I tweet about Russia, China, USA, world events and cultures, geopolitics, nature, spirituality, music, feng shui, social media, and of course, writing and publishing.

Then, several months ago, I discovered that according to Klout, I was influential in the following topics: Russia, thrillers, Amazon, epublishing and feng shui, to name a few. Which all made sense. However, my No. 1 TOP topic, according to Klout was… cars! For those who don’t know, Klout is the standard of Social Media influence and it rates how influential you are about various popular topics.

I stared at my Klout page. I’d never tweeted about cars. I tweeted about trains a lot, since my most recent mystery thriller, entitled GOLD TRAIN, includes some great train action, and since I happen to love trains.

But cars?

Then, I looked at my tweeter name, @LadaTweets, and knew: this was my answer! My mysterious and unwanted popularity with the world’s auto crowd has been explained!

Huh?.. You ask. But let me enlighten you.

It all started years ago, how many exactly is not important ;), when my well-meaning parents decided to call me Lada. This is a linguist in me talking: Lada is actually an ancient Russian, as well as Slavic, name and it means ‘balance’ or ‘harmony.’ As in ‘living in harmony.’ It’s a very good name and I am very fond of it.

As another example, the verb derived from the noun ‘lada’ – ‘ladit’ – means exactly that: to live in harmony/ peace. The popular Russian name, Vladimir, means living in harmony (peace) with the world. V-lad-i-mir = In-harmony-with-world. Many – even among Russians – think that ‘Vladimir’ means ‘the owner (or ruler) of the world,’ but the ancient root of both notions is the same. It seems, the ancients were much wiser than us as they understood that one can only rule one’s world by being at peace and in harmony with it. What a novel idea!

But back to my story. Here is the clincher: LADA also happens to be the name of the most popular Soviet car. Its manufacturer, the Soviet/Russian automaker AvtoVaz, thought it would be cute to give it a girl’s name, like Mercedes, you know. Mind you, Lada was nothing like a Mercedes. It was a rather simple, no nonsense, solid and reliable car. And cute in its own way.

Check out the general page for Lada on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lada

1500 Estate Evesham.jpg

Lada Classic. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia

Currently called Lada Classic, this is what Lada looked like in the Soviet days.

Lada Classic page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lada_Riva

Lada Classic Estate. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Lada Classic sedan. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Excessive capitalist luxury was frowned upon in the good old Soviet Union, so things manufactured in the country were rather perfunctory, but so over-engineered that many became heirloom pieces. Interestingly enough, many of those who grew up in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries have fond memories of Lada, the car. So fond in fact that there is still a cult following of the Lada Classic. Although AvtoVaz makes contemporary cars as well, they still sell Lada Classic practically with the same exact look as in the 1970’s and 80s. It’s sort of like Volkswagen Bug – people buy because of nostalgia.

In 1989, I just graduated from high school and started at the university. My parents had recently bought a Lada and jokes were frequently made about a Lada within a Lada. My fiance at the time wanted to follow in his and my parents’ footsteps and also managed to buy a Lada, after his and my folks chipped in. It was very rare for a twenty-year-old to have a car in those days, although ours was a used one. We were an adventurous couple and that little Lada served us faithfully for a couple of years, until in 1991 we left the country, having sold our well-used car for a nice profit. Such was the power of hyper-inflation that was picking up before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Before we left, we made very good use of our car, having traveled high and wide in it, including a super-tour of Eastern and Central Europe. During our European adventure, we’d visited a number of countries and some day I’ll do a post about that.

Our adventures included a story about two-foot deep pot holes in Western Ukraine, which cost us the steering wheel that cracked in half. We made the rest of the journey to Poland, steering the car without it (I still wonder how we managed it). In Poland, we bought gasoline and the new steering wheel on the black market at a huge premium, along with some very cute boots for me (the only thing that was actually affordable). Then we crossed over to East Germany, only to find that all gas stations were closed because it was after 6 pm. And I mean, ALL gas stations! The orderly Germans loved to go home to their families early and didn’t care too much about any stranded motorists, which were admittedly very few in those days.

To save the day (or rather, the quickly approaching night), we had to cross the border on foot back to Poland under curious gazes of the Polish and German border guards, and persuade the Polish border patrol to sell us some gas from their patrol car, which they gladly did to make an extra buck. In Germany, we had a different problem. Apparently, our car liked it there so much that it refused to leave and it took us a while to convince it to start moving.

Later, the Chech border patrol was so shocked to see a loose Russian car on their little border crossing – apparently the first ever Russian car they’d seen in their lives – that they asked us if we wanted political asylum. In Prague, we settled down for the night in our car (to save money) in what seemed like a quiet courtyard, only to wake up in the middle of the Chech Police headquarters parking lot. In Hungary, we befriended the gypsies, who were… But that is already another story, which I promise to tell one day, along with many, many other funny anecdotes.

Yeah, it was a great little car – a big nostalgic sigh. Some tend to laugh at it, but I’ll always have fond memories of Lada, my first car! Lada was actually considered a luxury car in other socialist countries. Everything’s relative in this world, isn’t it? Kind of like Toyota Camry is considered an impossible luxury in Israel, where it’s unaffordable even for people who make a very good living (as I found out while visiting my Israeli friends).

In East Germany, our friends Anke and Michel were very envious when we came to visit. They also wanted a car. But the only one available to them was a Trabant, an unbelievably tiny and funny looking East German car, made out of either celullose or cardboard. There is no consensus to this day, which material was used to produce that incredible creation, but the comforting thought was that the material appears to have been bio degradable, therefore cows could chew on the remnants after humans were done with it. I am not  kidding! And guess what, the nostalgia for the good old East German days causes people to collect even Trabants.

The infamous East German Trabant. Along with Yugo (Yugoslavia), voted one of the fifty worst cars ever made. Dan Niel, Pulitzer Prize-winning car critic remarked that it  “gave the Communism a bad name.” What where the other 48 all-time lemons? Well, some of them were Western European, but most were American. No Russian cars made the list.

As opposed to Trabant, Lada, properly made out of metal, was the pinnacle of desire in Poland and East Germany. As we drove our Lada through East Germany, the locals shouted appreciatively: “Ohh, eine gute Russisch auto!” – “A great Russian car!”

And so, there you have it. The mystery of my popularity in the auto industry is solved. It’s all about branding, you see. They actually thought @LadaTweets represented Lada, the car, not Lada, the thriller and fantasy writer.

Contemporary Lada: Lada Granta. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Lada Kalina. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Lada Niva. Photo courtesy Wikipedia

The trick now is to make the Lada Ray brand name just as – preferably more – recognizable. The little Lada is going strong after all these years. In competition with the Honda, Toyota, Ford and other giants of the auto world, it has outlived lots of brands, both in Russia and abroad. And people still remember that old, classic Lada with warmth. Some even still want to drive it. Whatever you think about Lada as a car, those who made it must have been doing something right!

So, I’ve been thinking: time is the ultimate test. If my books are remembered with warmth and re-read after many years, then I haven’t been writing in vain.