Finding Nemo

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tank Boy

Tank Boy

My Mongolian phone kept ringing. And my head kept pounding. What the hell was this?

"Hello," I croaked into the phone.

"Good morning Mr Nemo! Are you ready to drive tank today?" chirped the voice on the other end.

Oh shit. I looked at the clock on the phone. 8:01am. Yesterday, after arriving back in the city the first thing I did was eagerly sign up for Bolod's Tank Driving and RPG Day of AWESOME!! (I'm not sure if that's the official title.) I then proceeded to go out clubbing until 5am to celebrate my return to civilization.

Now, 3 hours after passing out, I was faced with an awful choice. Miss the 2nd greatest boy-hood fantasy of all time, driving and shooting a tank? (Of course #1 is jumping into a rocket and playing astronaut. Which I still intend to do at some point.) Or, drag my carcass into a tank and risk puking all over it?

My brain tried to compute these options.

"Hello??! Hello Mr Nemo? We are leaving now please."

Of course, there really was no choice. We were talking about driving a freaking tank.

"Yes, I'll be downstairs in just a minute." And with that, one of the greatest and worst days of my life began.

Mr Bolod

Mr Bolod
Mr Bolod is what you would call a character. He speaks Mongolian of course. He also speaks Russian, English, Italian, and French. He has lived everywhere from the former Soviet Union to California where, of all things, he worked as a representative of an Irish moving company. His enthusiasm for Mongolia, tanks, and blowing up cows with RPGs is infectious. As we got into the microbus to ride out to the ranch, he chatted away excitedly about the days events.

"So... first we will drive tank. You will drive tank! Very exciting, yes? And then, we will shoot RPG. One time, guest shot RPG and didn't blow up. We were all very surprised. Then, just as I began walking to target, it blew up BOOOOOM!!! <waves arms to show how big the explosion was> and I fell down! It was very cool!"

I nodded, trying not to vomit on myself as the bus lurched over the potholes.

Mr Bolod enjoys taking "snow-baths" in -35 deg C temps
Behind me was a lovely Russian newlywed couple on their honeymoon. Viktor, clad in the requisite Adidas tracksuit and matching sneakers, sported a factory-issued Russian buzzcut and scowl. His smoking wife Inna was probably 20 years younger than him. She wore bouncy cleavage busting out of a tight red top and a painted-on animal-print miniskirt. Her purple and black Adidas sneakers matched her husband. She smiled at me. Viktor noticed and his scowl grew deeper.

"Nice to meet you guys. Where in Russia do you live?" I asked politely.

Russian Adidas wedding
Viktor scowled some more, then growled something at Bolod in Russian, nodding towards me.

Bolod answered back smiling and looking apologetic. Then Inna piped in and Viktor grew quiet. Inna turned to me. "Don't worry Nemo. My husband vas hoping for private tour but iz no problem." Damn, she was hot when leaned forward and apologized for her husband. It took every ounce of willpower in my body not to stare at her breasts in front of Viktor. "Eyes Nemo! Look at her eyes!" I screamed at my brain.

Later when I asked Bolod, he told me that Viktor apparently didn't like that I was American. "But don't worry, I told him you are very much same. Both Americans and Russians love shooting guns and bombing small countries! Ha ha ha ha! Don't worry, it will be very fun day!"

Finally, thank God, we arrived at the ranch. I opened the door, jogged about 10 feet, and got on my knees. And up came the entire water bottle I had just drank, along with some bits that looked like Campbell's vegetable soup. I pondered the resemblance, because vegetables don't really exist in Mongolia.

After wiping the tears from my face and vomit from my beard, I looked up. Two soldiers in full dress camouflage were staring back down at me, armed with rifles. They were not pleased. Apparently we had arrived on an official Army base, and the first thing I had done was to puke all over it in front of the guards. This was starting off nicely.

The Tank

Bolod must have made a funny joke because soon they were laughing at me and negotiating a price. Bolod forked over some wads of Tookirig and one of the men disappeared. Soon after we heard a huge roar, and a giant cloud of dust and smoke bellowed from around the corner. And a few seconds later, like a shining star upon a hill (well, it may have been the stars I was seeing from dehydration), appeared a real, honest to God ... holy shit that's a tank.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the awesome Russian T55!! (1950's era)
Aboard was another soldier. Apparently this whole operation of letting tourists pay a small fee to shoot the hell out of the place is completely sanctioned by Mongolia's Ministry of Defense. It gave me an idea. What if this sort of thing was allowed by the US Army? Listen up Pentagon. I really think you guys should consider this approach. I mean, if a Backstreet boy pays $20 mil to go to space, won't Joe Schmoe happily pay a few G's to ride around in a stealth fighter? This could solve our debt problem, boys.

The tank pulled up in a roar of exhaust and dust and then stopped. The engine still sputtered along though, the whole thing creaking and jiggling. The thing was a beast. A gloriously noisy, metallic, diesel-fumed beast.

Viktor's scowl had vanished. He hooted and we high-fived. Inna looked a little wide-eyed. We crawled onto the deck above the treads and the thing suddenly jerked forward and took off down the road. It moved surprisingly fast, and I had to hang on for dear life to avoid getting tossed overboard. Inna clung to Viktor, her boobs jiggling like jello the entire time. Not only were Viktor and I enjoying this, but the soldier had noticed as well. Ah, to be a wealthy Russian man.

After we had reached an open area, the driver crawled out of the cockpit and the soldier pointed at me. "You drive!" Ummm... did you not forget that I had just recently anointed your army base with vegetable soup spew? My head still hurt and I was feeling weak, but what was the worst that could happen? We were in an open field.

So I climbed down into the pit. Everything was bare bones, just metal and wires. As I sat in the chair my ass began vibrating along with the engine. It stunk of a peculiar smell. I decided it was a mix of diesel and sweaty socks. Not the most pleasant thing to encounter when you are trying to not to puke. On the floor were 3 pedals, and near my hands were 3 levers. The soldier pointed at the pedals. "Like car! Gas! Brake. Clutch." Then he pointed at the twin levers on either side. He motioned pulling the right one. "Go right!" Then the left. "Go left!" And then he pointed at the 3rd lever. "Gears. OK, now try!"

Getting my license to drive a car when I was 16 involved months of training and a difficult written exam. Getting the OK to drive a tank apparently took 30 seconds of broken English.

I pushed on the clutch with my left foot. It didn't budge. I leaned forward using my bodyweight and finally it depressed. Then I pushed the tank into gear, and revving the gas (how much do I rev??!!) until I heard the engine whining, I let up on the clutch. The tank lurched forward so fast I banged my head on the turret hard. And it hurt, like when you accidentally fall on concrete hurt. Owwwwwww. Seeing stars, I quickly realized I couldn't see much out of the little forward viewing slot and had no idea where the hell we were going.

Suddenly, the soldier yelled, "Left!" Shit. I pulled the left lever until it clanked something into place and suddenly the tank was spinning to the left. I had just disengaged the left tread. "Right!" he yelled. I pulled the right lever and suddenly we were stopped. Both treads were disengaged. I pushed the left forward and we started swinging back to the right. "Straight!" I pushed the right lever and we lurched forward again.

Holy shit!!! I was driving a tank! It was kind of like a blind man driving a car. A hungover blind man with a concussion. Too soon, my turn was over. As soon I climbed out, I jumped off the tank (which is quite high off the ground), nearly twisted my ankle, and began vomiting again. At this point it was only dry heaves. Feeling shaky, I managed to crawl back aboard. The soldiers had a good laugh at this. Inna looked like she wanted to give me a big bosomy hug.

Viktor was next up, jerking the tank all over the place while I clung to consciousness. But it didn't matter. I had just driven a freaking tank. This was the greatest day of my life.

This genius allows the tank to run over him


Shortly after we were back at the base, and Bolod led us over to the shooting range, which was basically a few concrete blocks. The soldiers produced a metal pipe, then proceeded to shove a rocket into the end of it. I looked at the now-armed RPG held nonchalantly by the soldier. It all seemed incredibly dangerous, and I didn't believe a few concrete blocks on the ground would protect any of us from anything.

This was the ubiquitous Russian-made RPG-7, like the tank also from the WWII era. RPG's are incredibly simple devices. The rocket slides into a hollow launch-tube, and then the trigger ignites a charge on the back of the rocket. It's basically a hand-held mortar system.

The soldier knelt down, took aim, and PFFFT!! SSSSSSSS!! the rocket disappeared behind a jet of white smoke.

It made an evil hissing sound as it flew, and a fraction of a second later the hillside exploded in a cloud of grey dirt and smoke. CRACK!! The boom echoed around the hills.


That was scary as hell. And totally AWESOME. In a minute it was my turn. I took the firing position and was handed a fully loaded RPG. My hands were already sweating from the lack of sleep and Mongolian vodka, and now they were sweating even more. I was scared poopless. If I dropped this thing there was a very good chance we would all look like swiss-cheese zombies.

I knelt down and aimed at the the wooden planks that served as a target a few hundred yards away. The soldier checked me out and then said "OK. Fire."

It's impossible not to laugh like Dr Evil afterwards

Adrenalin pumping, mind blank, I squeezed the trigger. Surprisingly there wasn't much recoil. The rocket disappeared SSSSSSSSS!!! and then CRACK! The ground exploded about 80 yards in front of me. I had missed horrendously low. Viktor started laughing crazily. Then I realized that I was laughing crazily too. This was the most fun I'd had since I'd jumped off that skyscraper in Macau. No, scratch that. This was more fun. Afterwards, I began humming the theme for "America! Fuck Yeah!" except that I changed to "Mongol-i-uh! Fuck Yeah!"

"America! Fuck Yeah!"

If you are ever in Mongolia, whatever else you do, make sure you call one Mr Bolod. It will be most totally awesome thing you'll ever do.

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