The Great American Glasnost Tour : In a Peace Walk Across the U.S., Soviets Explore the Basics: Bikers, Barbecues and the Beach

Times Staff Writer

It was high noon in San Ardo, a scorched little crossroads between Santa Barbara and Monterey. A bunch of bikers were under the one stand of shade trees in sight, cans of beer in hand, tinkering with their motorcycles. Black caps, sleeveless black T-shirts, leather chaps, tattoos and a week's growth on their faces, they looked mean.

Out of nowhere came Alexei Shaskolski and Alexander Raskin, two Soviets from Leningrad, with their friends, Ron and Pat Herson of Los Angeles. The rest of the party of 440 Soviets and Americans, on the last leg of an American/Soviet peace walk through the United States, were picnicking back down the highway around a bend.

The two Soviets stopped dead in their tracks, riveted by the scene. Actually the tough-looking bunch weren't bikers but trikers, each with a gleaming, one-of-a-kind trike, or motorized tricycle, made out of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Not a Bit of Trouble

Without thinking twice, Pat Herson, all sunny smiles, friendly greetings and talk of peace, moved among the trikers, the rest of the entourage close behind. The trikers eyed the T-shirt Shaskolski wore with the flags of both countries as its motif.

For a brief moment, it looked like trouble. Far from it, as it turned out.

Within moments, Scott Keith of Mojave was explaining the workings of his trike. Then he tore off down the street with Raskin as a passenger.

Next the photo opportunity, with Keith, who's called Little Hoss, and Big Hoss ("actually my name is Churchill") standing good-naturedly at attention, flanked by Raskin and Shaskolski.

With the manners of a diplomat, Keith shook hands in farewell and said, "Anytime we can have peace instead of a war, I'm all for that."

And the Soviets walked away richer by one more priceless slice of American life.

The peace walk, the second so-called citizen joint venture sponsored by the Soviet Peace Committee and International Peace Walk, Inc., a private American organization, ends this weekend in San Francisco. A follow-up to last year's walk from Leningrad to Moscow, including many of the same participants, this walk started its Washington-to-Philadelphia segment on June 17, then crossed Iowa, with people camping in tents and staying in private homes along the way.

Last Saturday, the marchers arrived at LAX, pitched their tents at Santa Monica High School, went to Disneyland ("We want the rides where you hear the people screaming") and were back on the road Monday morning, busing to Montecito, then walking 10 miles to a beach in Santa Barbara, some wearing their new Mouseketeer hats.

The theme of last year's walk in the Soviet Union was "Ending an arms race nobody wants." But one year further into glasnost, with a nuclear arms reduction treaty and a summit behind them, the focus seemed to have shifted to peace and friendship, with the emphasis on the friendship. It was "getting to know you" time.

Warm Reception a Surprise

While the Soviets were not welcomed here by tearful, cheering crowds comparable to the thousands who met last year's marchers in the U.S.S.R., they described themselves as unprepared for the open, warm reception they have received, and not just from the American "peacenik" community.

"The people from both countries have been fed such stereotypes, such propaganda," Tancred Golenpolsky, director of the International Book Fair in Moscow, said with some amazement. "But watching all this, it's as though there was never a Cold War."

Golenpolsky, here with his 13-year-old daughter, is in some ways atypical of the Soviets in the delegation, in that this is his 11th trip to the United States.

"Prior to this, I've been on VIP tours," he said. "Beverly Hills, limousines, plush New York hotels. This time I have been to mid-America, to the heart of American privacy, the homes of middle America."

Demanding Peace Business

The business of peace and friendship can be a tiring one. Before the "citizen diplomats" reached Los Angeles, rumors had preceded them that the Soviets were worn out, not only because of the extreme heat and humidity, but because of packed schedules and constantly being on display.

The bulletin board at Santa Monica High told the same story. There was a huge sign-up sheet for get-togethers with senior citizens, church groups, veterans clubs, peace organizations.

Blanks under all of them, except for one offering "Beach and barbecue party in Pacific Palisades." The space underneath was crammed with Soviet names.

In fact, the Soviets did not just play. For the most part their attitude seemed to be one of a high sense of purpose and duty.

Ready for a Dip, but . . .

With the Pacific within his sight for the first time, Raskin, a librarian from the Leningrad State Library, prepared to race down from the campsite for a quick dip, a "baptism," he called it, with his friends before dinner.

No sooner did they have their gear ready, however, than an insistent call for attendance at the welcoming ceremony at the amphitheater drew them back.

"Goodby, Pacific Ocean," he shrugged, heading for the amphitheater.

Not everyone may have had the attitude of Vsevolod Marinov, a sociologist from the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences in Moscow, who reported of his trip through America: "I've got 12 families under my belt. I've missed not a chance" to participate in the "marcher in the home" program and see how Americans live.

Like his fellow countrymen, Marinov had been fascinated by the abundance, having found only one house without a VCR, one house with only one TV, and one hostess who apologized for not having a second bathroom.

Alexander Muravski, an English instructor from Moldavia, confessed he had been reluctant to spend the night at a farmer's home in Iowa.

"And you know," he said in awe, "75 farmers had driven to his home just to talk with a Soviet. He (his host) divided them into three groups and so I met with them in groups of 25. It's true they all asked the same questions, but for them, it was the first time in their lives they were asking them."

From the other perspective, Pat Whalen hosted three women from Leningrad and one American at her family's comfortable home in a wealthy section of Montecito. She had done it, she said the next morning, only out of a sense of duty, thinking it would be an evening of strained smiles.

Delightful Insights

Instead Pat, her husband, Roger, and their three college-age children, were treated to descriptions of living and working by Ada Kosinkina and Elena Kosiukhina, while Valentina Anopova, an artist, amazed them with pictures of her building-sized mosaics. She sketched a family portrait of the Whalens for her own collection, and the next morning drew Pat Whalen as a hostess gift.

"It was one of the most fascinating evenings I've ever spent," Pat Whalen said.

At a time when the Soviets are being encouraged by their leader to take a hard look at their society, it is inevitable that most Soviets on the march seemed to be looking at everything in America comparatively.

Even the most sophisticated said they were stunned by the abundance, the consumption, the technology. And while they did not dismiss the problems and inequities of American life, they commented frequently that they were seeing little of the poverty they know to exist, along with homelessness (a group of them met with a delegation of homeless people in Santa Barbara), crime.

As did several others, Raskin expressed regret that they were seeing only the results of American labor and not the process. The hard work that has gone into creating the affluence is out of sight in what he and Shaskolski called "weekend America."

The Soviets' appreciation of things American could be lighthearted at times, with Vladimir Glushenko, a young interpreter for Soviet radio and television, joking that he had discovered to his great relief at Disneyland that finally there was a place where Americans too had to stand in lines.

"They have lines for the rides, and at the ladies' rooms," he said.

Shaskolski, a professor of scientific communism, talked with fondness and no irony of a water slide he had ridden somewhere in America.

'Want (One) for My Society'

"That is one of the first things I want for my society," he said. "It would probably cost just a few thousand rubles, but it makes people happy."

At times, he said, "it's hard to take," seeing home after home with so much--the Jacuzzis, the appliances, the food, the cars.

He was willing to acknowledge that it was not all rosy, that there was too much disparity between the haves and have-nots, and that "Americans are overfed. They don't know what they want. They have too much."

But he could see nothing wrong with the prospect a few Jacuzzis in the Soviet Union.

Participants were not without criticism of the American/Soviet Walk, beyond the inevitable too much to do, too little time problems. There were criticisms of the organizers.

Ironically enough, people were calling the American organizers authoritarian and accusing the Soviets of high living in the well-stocked, air-conditioned van they had at their disposal.

Soviets and Americans mentioned at times the disparity of the two groups. The Soviets were by and large a mainstream group, ranging from foreign policy experts, doctors and teachers to welders and grinders.

The Americans tended to be from the various contingents of the peace movement--church groups, New Agers, counterculture types, social activists. If they were professionals, they tended to be retired, like Ron Herson, a retired radiologist.

Putting it in shorthand, Dmitry Diomin, a senior editor for foreign broadcasts at Radio Moscow, called the Soviets "yuppies" while the Americans seemed more like "hippies." It was frustrating to think, he added, that Americans with positions of influence in society were not among them.

The disparity, however, stems from the fact that few of the Soviets are here on their own time or at their own expense.

Sent by Government

They are on approved leave from their jobs, still get their paychecks, are not using vacation time, and have been given $440 pocket money by the Soviet Peace Committee.

With the exception of a few scholarships, the Americans are here on their own, and if they signed on for all three segments, the cost was $2,500.

Both sides tended to agree that the march could be organized better. Being on the go so much interferes with one aim of the march, which is to enable the participants to get to know each other beyond fleeting, superficial exchanges.

"It would have been much better to stay three days in one place," Tancred Golenpolsky said with gathering irony. "Let them walk in the shopping malls for three days and talk to people, instead of traipsing around fields of corn.

"It may make you feel important and patriotic to do all that suffering, but really, we could bum it anywhere in the world."

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