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Border Crossing

It was the summer of 1989 I think, before the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. I was working as a television photojournalist for a TV station in Oklahoma City. We were traveling to the Soviet Union with about 150 Oklahoma high school football players and their parents, coaches, officials, and various other supporters to cover the first ever American football games played on Soviet soil. We had been in the Soviet Union for two weeks and had played three games in Moscow, Leningrad, and Tallinn, Estonia We were headed home at last.

We had been scheduled to leave via train, but through some "snafu" we ended up on buses for our trip back to Helsinki and our Finair flight back to the states. When we finally reached the border, we were all tired and hot and just wishing to be home.

The border crossing was an intimidating looking complex of guard towers and fences all guarded by young men (many not older than the football players themselves) with automatic weapons in hand. We had to get off the buses and unload all the gear (we brought everything including goal posts) for inspection and wait while the paperwork was completed.

Eventually, a football was brought out to toss around while we passed the time. Even the menacing looking guards lightened up a little and joined in. When all was said and done, we boarded the buses and crossed the border.

It was an interesting moment. The mood was tense and quiet as we watched the guard towers pass by our windows and I remember thinking how remote and forbidding the country-side looked, a dense forest full of tall trees and no scenery to speak of. But then, as we rounded a curve and we entered Finland the forest opened up and the sun shone and we could feel a weight lift from our spirits. The passengers on our bus let out a spontaneous cheer. The country-side looked beautiful with nicely kept farms scattered amongst the rolling hills with clean and seemingly fresh painted buildings and barns. And we all knew we were again breathing the air of freedom.

Peace, Gary



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