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for the love of the game

Months before moving to Moldova, D had his heart set on playing in the Ukranian Open Ultimate Frisbee Championship, which was held over Labor Day weekend in Ivano-Frankivsk in Western Ukraine. This summer, we had an open invitation to play at Wildwood — the massive beach frisbee tournament on the Jersey coast — but had to back out because it fell right before our departure from the United States and we had too many loose ends to tie up before moving abroad.

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Up until the afternoon before the tournament D was unsure whether he would actually be able to go. He found a frisbee team in Chisinau, but after a few practices realized that the team was not planning on participating in the tournament. He emailed one of the tournament organizers who said D could play on their team, but then D was not sure he’d be able to get the time off to go since he had just started working. The week before the tourney, the weather suddenly turned sour. The gorgeous sunshine that greeted our arrival to Moldova gave way to four consecutive days of low temperatures and rain, and D wondered if it was even worth the effort to drive seven hours to Western Ukraine if the tournament might get rained out.

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Fortunately, the Labor Day holiday meant that D just needed to leave work a little early on Friday, a request his supervisor happily granted. At last, when all the logistics seemed squared away, D discovered that the rental car he thought he had reserved did not exist. He had asked for help from the Embassy’s travel office and something got lost in translation. D had thought they had made a reservation, but apparently all they did was inquire whether automatic cars were available for rent, which is not quite the same thing. When D went to the rental agency he learned that all their cars had been rented out for the weekend.

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The good news was that D discovered this snag on Thursday afternoon rather than Friday, which at least left a bit of time to look for alternative transportation. The bad news is that finding an automatic car for rent in Moldova on short notice is no easy feat. The clock ticked down towards the end of the workday when D received an email from the travel office. None of the Embassy’s usual contacts had any cars for rent, but the travel agent found somebody who might be able to assist: “Roman — he is waiting for your call.”

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D had to look around twice when he arrived, toting his frisbee gear, at the agreed-upon address the next afternoon. He found himself at a parking lot along one of Chisinau’s main boulevards. Several unsavory-looking men, who could easily have been auditioning to be extras in a Russian mafia film, loafed outside a barely functioning auto repair shop, periodically cursing loudly into their cell phones. There was no sign of a car rental place so D asked the parking attendant, who indicated a small trailer that stood near the lot entrance. D dialed Roman’s number again and the trailer door swung open.

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Roman’s business was luxury cars. D wanted something simple that wouldn’t attract attention. The best Roman could do was a fiery red Audi. At least that’s what he had said on the phone. He showed D the car, but then said he was still waiting on documents for it, without which the car could not be driven out of the country. He said he expected to have the paperwork after lunch. The lunch hour passed, and then another hour. Roman disappeared and returned shaking his head. The documents would not be ready until the following week, but he had a BMW with all the documents in order. It was a bit more expensive, would it do?

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At that point it was close to 4pm and much as it pained D to pay more for the rental than he knew he should have, there was really no other option. He had already given up on the idea of arriving in Ivano-Frankivsk before dark, as he had planned. He was not ready to give up on the tournament altogether, especially not after spending so much time waiting in that trailer.

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