From an interview in San Diego, July 1017
Developing a Vision
David is one of those people who does not have a defined title. He never felt that that there was a role model out there that he could look at, no one that could say follow this path. He thought in terms of adventure, but tried to create a context to approach each adventure. By the time he was 30 he had made decisions about himself, things like “not attractive”, “smart but not in the way that grades necessarily show”. He described nothing of his childhood that would hold him back but mentioned things that might make him want to separate from his home. He grew up with the niceties that modest privilege allows, a beautiful family home and grounds, but a home life that he does not remember fondly.
In 1992 David was looking for a project to become involved with and the San Diego Vladivostok Space Bridge was being planned. That idea was conceived during an official visit by the Mayor of Vladivostok to San Diego in Se[t. 1991 to celebrate the establishment of a sister city relationship between San Diego and Vladivostok. It was a big and expensive project for that time. Sea World was chosen for the site because they had a large screen and the capability to link up to a satellite feed of video and audio in real time. Two way communications between attendees in both cities would be simultaneous. Simultaneous interpreters were used at each site and citizens got to communicate with each other, most for the first time. When David heard about the project he set about to raise funds to make it happen and to make business contacts. But it was not all about money, it was also about relationships.
This was during the period of Perestroika and Glasnost. Businessmen from Vladivostok were staying in San Diego. Following the Space Bridge there was a party over the border in Mexico. That’s where David met Pavel Morozov from ACFES, a major regional trading company in the Russian Far East. They began to consider what type of business arrangements they might develop. David had been impressed with the energy of the Russians and their desire to move into the mainstream of world wide business. At the time he was employed by a company called Science Solutions, but he left because the owners lacked the understanding and imagination to see that things were going to change because of the coup in Russia. David and Pavel spent the next six weeks exploring San Diego, discussing the development of a joint venture with Gary Furstenfeld, a San Diego businessman who was amajor supporter of the San Diego-Vladivostok Sister Cities Society, David, and Pavel. The came up with a name for the venture, Russian Pacific Services, and plans were made for David to come to Vladivostok for a three week business trip. In the interim David read journal articles and books on Russia and the changes taking place there.
Going to Vladivostok
“I remember being on the Aeroflot plane in San Francisco thinking ‘This is it’. The sound of Aeroflot jets is different from Western jets. The engines are not synced and there’s much less sound proofing, less attention to the comfort of the flying public. I remember the jet powering up; running down the runway, the electric feeling.
This was really out there.
This was really cool.
This was scary, exciting.’”
But is landing in Khabarovsk Russia did not sound so “electric”. He described the airport as a “mosquito infested dump of an airport”
“I was appalled. I was shocked. I was like ‘No way’.
Khabarovsk was a very different place than I’m used to. Very rugged, deteriorating, decrepit. I was shocked. Not surprised. Shocked.”
In the terminal people came to pick up the passengers. Eventually they were all gone, every passenger. He realized that his contacts were not there.
“I was the last person there… I started to figure out what my alternatives were … ‘I’ll sprawl out here on the floor then in the morning I’ll figure out what to do…’
Just as I was ready to spread the stuff out they [two men and a woman translator] showed up.”
They took him to sleep in a Czarist era house with ancient plumbing that belonged to a family of means in a time long gone. Now it was much in need of attention. He told me the bed was not a very good bed but it was clean. He climbed into bed and slept. The next morning he was picked up and taken back to the airport to get on a smaller jet to Vladivostok. At the check-in he handed them the bags he was traveling with and they wanted $150 dollars to put his bags on the plane.
“I had been told I could use credit cards [in Russia] but they wanted hard money[globally traded currency]. I was appalled at the price. I didn’t have the money. I showed my wallet with $8 in it to the girl behind the counter. I think it was clear that I was freaked out.
She looked both ways then put the stickers on the bags and passed me through to my plane.
As we landed [in Vladivostok] I could see what I thought was the terminal way down the runway. I thought ‘NO, noway!’. We’ll taxi'”.
But when he saw the pilot and copilot each carrying their brief cases and walking toward that distant building he thought he would have to walk that distance in his suit, carrying his three bags. Thoughts rambled through his head
“I’m flying in my good stuff. It’s a business trip. It’s different from the flight to Khabarovsk. I’m really scared at this point.
What have I gotten myself into? This is really bad… Everything sucks… This is miserable… I can’t wait to get out of here… I can’t wait to go home.”
Eventually an open bus was pulled up to the plane. Passengers stepped in, and stood for the ride with their suitcases around them.
“At least I didn’t have to walk in my boots and my suit the whole way down the runway.”
Once outside the terminal there were people waiting to pick up passengers, but there was no Edick sign.
“I remember this giant Armenian guy reaching for my suitcases and this young woman cutting in front of him. I was impressed with how she had cut off this guy. He must have been 250 pounds, Big Dude, and she just cut him off like that. There was no battling, no contact, I was impressed.
‘Are you David Edick’.
‘Yes I am’.
‘Come with me.’
We walked to a mini bus. I was told that ‘Morozov is sick. He can’t be here. I’ll take you to the family where you will be staying’.
That’s where I met Larisa [who he later married], at the airport. And I remember that she was distinctly bored with my being there. I asked her later what she had thought at that first meeting. ‘Well you were just another foreigner come to see, come to leave, and that would be it. I’d never see you again. It was just a job’”.
All the way into town he was amazed at what he saw out the window. He described it with words like “decrepit””broken down” “poor”. Then he continued the story.
“By the time we got nearer the city I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This is Russia? Really? It really was an adventure…Whatever happens, happens.
I got to the home of the host family that was going to take care of me. We went out to the waterfront that was close by. I’m really jet lagged and Morozov showed up. He looks like hell, He’s been in the sanitorium, some heart condition.
He says ‘I can’t be with you. I can’t stay. These people will take care of you. You come to the company and we’ll do something. But I’m not going to be part of it.’
I thought ‘Jeez – We’re partners. How is this going to work? It’s like now we’ve had a train wreck. Now what?”
When David showed up at the ACFES offices there was no connection to be made without Pavel despite the business plans, the name, the cards. At the end of the day he was told they didn’t need the Americans. They were already working with New Zealand and Australia. During the next few days he experienced a strong sense of being marginalized [a term he used several times while describing the first few weeks in Vladivostok]. He did manage to have a box with cash flown into Khabavrosk in July around the time that a “trade delegation” from San Diego arrived for a week stay. These were the ‘power’ players who had also attended the business meetings back in San Diego.
“They were surprised to see me, asking ‘what are you doing here?’ as if I were an imposter. I let them know that I had been there for a month”.
I think many people at this point would have given up, but David continued meeting people and finally connected with the brother of San Diego real estate agent Olga Cutter. Paul Cutter seemed to share a vision similar to David’s.
“Paul was looking for people for a Russian American investment banking joint venture. I was hired as Deputy Director of Siberian Capital Investment. We had the world at our fingertips. We were going to connect the mining and manufacturing industries of Siberia to the capital markets of the world, Europe, America, Hong Kong…
This was big. They were going to pay a hard currency salary although payments would be in rubles starting out. Our office was in a state construction agency company building near the train station. It’s in a prime location on the fourth floor. I can take the train in. This is really good but the bathrooms were worse then anything I’d ever seen in my life.
This is where it all starts. It doesn’t start in a penthouse. It starts with the opportunity to do something. The curtain opens. It is what it is – opportunity in motion.”
The quality of David’s experiences began to change. There was a sense of the high life he as his associates socialized with the rich and influential residents of Vladivostok.
“We spent a day on a yacht with a executive from a Serbian manufacturing and construction company. The executive came on board with a case of plum brandy. At the end of it he had less of it than when we started. We enjoyed jumping off the yacht into Peter the Great Bay. Then we were going to have a cook out on an island.
We went onto the island. We were walking on the beach when we heard this, felt this, sensation. Up over the hill comes this Soviet attack helicopter. He’s doing circles around us with the nose aimed at us. And I’m going shit shit shit shit. We are in the wrong place. This is Really the wrong place.
We are some place we aren’t supposed to be. This guy flew over us a couple times. I can see his face. After a couple of circles he pulled off and went up the bay.
Turns out someone had issued an emergency signal and they were looking for them but we didn’t know that. That was one helluva vehicle and it was working completely. It wasn’t like being caught with your hands in the cookie jar. This was serious.”
That was not the end of the day. When I stopped giggling he said wryly “That was memorable.” Then he went on to talk about the rest of that day.
“We had all kinds of food. We had a diver on board who dove into the waters of the marine preserve for scallops in the protected zone”
Heady moments like this were interspersed with a daily routine. Riding buses in a suit, sweating in the heat, and speaking only enough Russian words to get in and out of the bus.
“ I’m working with little bits of information trying to make connections with the outside world. It’s like being at the bottom of a well looking up. I can see the outside world I can see all this world of commerce and society and I’m at the bottom of this well. I was isolated. Telephones didn’t work, faxes didn’t work. It was a battle to just to get a package into Khabarovsk from the US. I had to take an overnight train to get there and an overnight train to get back. Then in August Larisa introduced me to one of her Academy of Sciences friends, from the Oceanographic Institute who explained to me something that he called internet packet communications, what we now call email. It was used by some scientists and academics, but it had very narrow uses at that time.
It was just beginning. I thought ‘Packets of information could be the answer [to our communications problems]. We can do communications with the worst telephone service in the world. Our British partner in the office, Steve Tupper, understood immediately that these packets were a tool we could use. We could communicate. We were doing the best we could when we discovered there was no money.
We weren’t going to make the payroll.”
The upset was visible on David’s face and audible when he spoke.
“’What? What do you mean there’s no money?’
Steve Tupper described the problem. We were a shareholder company and should have collected money from the mining and manufacturing companies who were the shareholders but Siberian Capital Investment never collected the money. They were share holders but they never contributed any resources so we were broke.
We thought Paul Cutter was out there trying to find investors. Turns out Paul was trying to cut deals for himself on the side. Finally there was proof of him doing that and there was a big scandal in the company.
At that point they fired me, using the excuse that, as a director I wasn’t directly bringing anything of value. Nobody else was either, but I was made the fall guy. I sued them. It took a little while but I won. I got all my back salary which, in an era of hyperinflation what was a decent ruble salary at one time, ended up being enough for a couple cups of tea. It was laughable but collecting it was a great, rewarding experience.”
Time to consider leaving
“So I survived and met amazing people. We were out on the edge of change in the world. Russia was reinventing herself from the Soviet Union to a new Russia. The economy was a disaster, society was a disaster, half the people were walking around in a complete state of shock from the currency hyperinflation. The other half were business men “biznesmin”.
He stopped talking for a moment then continued with a nostalgic tone,
“It was a beautiful dry summer, very unique for Vladivostod. It was a time when everything was possible. There were no structures to stand in the way. You could do anything. I mean I met everybody except the governor. He was out of town.
I went and saw everything except one room of electronics at the defense plant. Everything else I got to see. Six months earlier I would have been arrested or killed.
The rules were being rewritten, systems were being reinvented, and connections were being made. There I was with Steve and Larisa trying to make something of it. We were a handful of foreigners in a city of mostly Russians, scrambling to make connections. Then there was the betrayal and everything went down.
After that I lived with Steve Tupper in the countryside. In mid Sept. the US consulate that had been closed in 1949 was being reopened and I was there. While I was with Siberian Capital the administrator for the US embassy in Moscow came in and asked if Steve Tupper was there. I asked “Who are you and why are you here?’
‘I’m here from the US embassy. We’re going to reopen the US consulate. We’re here because you know how to get construction materials’….
Since I was an American citizen I was invited to the opening of the consulate. I remember the speaker, Randy Lecoq, then the Marine Corp band playing the Star Spangled Banner and then as they raised the flag I thought to myself ‘I’m here. This is history. I’m really here’.
Now I was coming to the end of the trip. Winter was coming. I’d extended my VISA as far as I could. I was out of clothes. I came for the summer. Winter was coming. I left in Oct 4th.”
Returning to San Diego
“When I think about all the people that I know from San Diego, those people that have all the social power, have all the money, have all the connections, have everything, people who are “somebody”, I think to myself ‘I was there and they weren’t’. ‘This is history. This is part of the world reordering itself. This is like laying a cornerstone of a great new building, a monument of sorts. It starts here. To be at that starting spot, at that moment, at the beginning, is really amazing and I made it happen. I took the initiative to go. There were no guarantees. It turned out to be a wild ride. It was so totally unique to be there at the beginning. At the time it seemed like so much hope and energy and ….. honesty and commitment. That was the time to dream impossible dreams. You didn’t know what would happen. You couldn’t know what would happen. Sketch out a dream. It was so fantastic. Just live it. Make the best of it.”
Would you do it over? David became quiet when I asked this question, When he finally answered he was trying to
remember a quote from a poem written by Jim Morrison. “If your life was a movie would you watch it?”
Of course I asked if he would.
His answer was immediate, “Absolutely. Yes I would.”
“When I came back there was the culture shock of the Anchorage airport with NFL football on TV at 4 AM. And then in San Diego everyone wanted to talk to me about the adventure that I had gone on. They had thought I was just going for a few weeks (which I was) and then I disappeared over the hill. It turned out people didn’t think about what I was doing.
Sitting in Kelly’s Pub I realized that I had evolved. I had changed. I had grown so much. It was a step change. I had gone to Russia, come back and I was still jet lagged but there in Kelly’s I was confident. I was being myself and being able to touch, to recall what I was before. I knew I was going on an adventure. I just didn’t know how extraordinary it was going to be. People in San Diego had pointed me toward some initial connections and introductions but all that stuff played out very quickly in the first weeks. It was when I was on my own that I saw the opening up into these huge vistas, dramas.”