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

July 15, 1988|KATHLEEN HENDRIX | Times Staff Writer

ALONG U.S. 101 — 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.

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