Travels With Commander Kokolari

Illustration for article titled Travels With Commander Kokolari

After a grueling drive from Athens with the Gumball crew, I grabbed three hours of sleep on top of a bathrobe laid down on a hardwood floor in Team Polizei's room at the Tirana Sheraton. The next morning, we were up and at 'em in the face of a cool rain-threatening Albanian morning. Max Cooper informed us that the people of Albania had rebuilt a bridge in anticipation of Gumball's passage and we'd receive a police escort to the border. We headed outside and Herr Roy immediately got to work moving the Polizia Stradale Intercettore into position. What happened next was both pure comedy and slightly frightening.

A couple of guys in a 911 began goading Alex. At first, he played them off, pulling his arrogant, Alpha Cop schtick on them, calling them unprepared. When they persisted, he went to see Albanian police honcho Commander Kokolari. Commander Kokolari indicated through his translator that he would appreciate a gift, so Alex handed over his safety-orange light-up traffic baton. In exchange, Commander Kokolari had his people ensure that the Team Polizei M5 was the first to leave the line, following the commander himself in a 1.6L VW Bora (That's Mk IV Jetta to you, Yanqui). What's more when Carl and his compatriot in the Porsche attempted to pass us, Commander Kokolari would order his motorcycle cops to box the other cars in so we could pass and regain the lead.

Then it started to rain, and the sight just got surreal. Albanian guys on what seemed like twenty-year-old Moto Guzzis frantically waving oncoming cars onto the shoulder; the route out of Tirana to the border lined with people cheering for the convoy of cars; Alex on the PA yelling out random phrases in semi-Italian-accented English, including my favorite as we passed a somewhat forlorn looking teenager with a hard edge to his face: "Thank you Moped Champion of Albania!" Meanwhile Kokolari — a short, severe, salt-and-pepper man of about fifty with a fireplug build — was leaning out the window waving Alex's baton for all he was worth, grinning at us like a madman. The vision led Roy to comment, "I wonder what'll happen when he figures out that it lights up."


While Ross navigated the wet roads and avoided collision with the hoontastic kamikaze motorcycle cops, Alex took one of the pull-back-and-let-go Mitsubishi Polizei toys he'd purchased at Hahn airport as gifts for the Gumballers and personalized it for Kokolari with a Sharpie. As we reached the border and passed Kokolari, Ross handed it out the window to the obviously chuffed law enforcement officer. It was a surreal start to a day that only got more disjointed.

The Inverse of Alexander: Istanbul to Athens [Internal]

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So obviously all that bidness about the rally being canceled was merely to say "rally continues as normal in opposite direction."