A note to fans of Little Golden America: as of issue No. 22, Admit Two adopted a PDF format, which means you will have to access individual back issues to get to further chapters of Ilf and Petrov's American adventure.
Purchase an Automobile and Depart
ON THE WAY to Sing Sing and even before that, during lunch with Mr.
Adams, we began urging him to join us in a great trip across America.
Since we had no real arguments to offer, we repeated monotonously one
and the same refrain:
“Come, come with us! It will be very interesting.”
We coaxed him just as a young man coaxes a young girl to love him.
There is no reason for it, but he wants someone to fall I n love with him,
so he presses his suit.
Mr. Adams did not say anything to it. He looked as coy as a young
girl and tried to change the subject.
Then we increased the pressure. We even thought up a torture to
which we subjected this good-natured elderly gentleman throughout an
“Remember, Mr. Adams, that you will be responsible if we come to a
bad end. We are likely to get lost in that country filled with gangsters,
gasoline pumps, and ham and eggs. We shall get lousy right before your
eyes in this New York, and that will be the end of us.”
“No, no, gentlemen!” said Mr. Adams. “No! You mustn’t press me
so hard. It is most inconsiderate of you. You don’t understand that, Mr.
Ilf and Mr. Petrov!”
But we persisted, pitilessly egging our new friend on to the point of
wavering, and then as soon as possible we would strike this fat iron, en-
cased in a neat gray suit, while it was hot.
Mr. Adams and his wife belonged to that sort of loving couples who
understand each other from the first glance.
In Mrs. Adams’s glance could be read:
“I know that you want very much to go. You are scarcely able to con-
tain yourself from starting on a journey with the first people you meet.
Such is your nature. It means nothing to you to abandon Baby and me.
You are as curious as a little pickaninny, although you are already sixty-
three years old. Just think of the number of times you have crossed
America by automobile and by train! You know the country as well as
you know your own apartment. But if you want to take another look
at it, go ahead; I am ready to do anything for you. But one thing I can-
not understand: which one of you will drive the car? However, do the
best, you can and don’t bother about me at all!”
“No, no, Becky!” One could read the response in Mr. Adams’s glance.
“It would be unfair and presumptuous to think of me so harshly. I don’t
want to go anywhere at all. I merely want to help these people. Besides, I
would be lost without you. You had better go with us—that would be
best. You are ever so much more curious than I. Everybody know that.
Come along. Incidentally, you will drive the car.:
“And the baby?” replied Mrs. Adams’s glance.
“Yes, yes! The baby! That’s terrible! I quite forgot!”
Whenever the wordless conversation reached that point, Mr. Adams
turned toward us and exclaimed:
“No, no! It is quite impossible!”
“Why impossible?” we asked plaintively. “Everything is possible. It
will be so nice, so very nice. We’ll travel, stop to see places, stay in hotels.”
“Whoever heard of anybody stopping in hotels?” Mr. Adams suddenly
cried out. “We will stop in tourist houses or in camps.”
“There! You see!” we caught him up. “You know everything! Come
along with us! Please come with us! We beg you! Mrs. Adams, you
come with us! Come with the whole family!”
“And the baby?” cried both parents.
We answered cavalierly:
“You can put the baby in a public nursery.”
“No, no, gentlemen! Oh, no! You forgot; there are no nurseries here.
You are not in Moscow!”
That was right. We were not in Moscow. From the windows of the
Adams apartment could be seen the denuded trees of Central Park, and
from the Zoological Garden came the hoarse cries of parrots in imitation
of automobile horns.
“Then leave her with your friends,” we continued.
Husband and wife became thoughtful. At this point everything was
spoiled by the baby herself entering the room in a night-suit with a
Mickey Mouse embroidered on the chest. She came to say good night
before going to bed. With groans the parents ran to their little daughter.
They embraced her, kissed her, and each time turned to us. Now you
could read the same thing in the glances of both of them:
‘What? To exchange this beautiful little daughter of ours for these
two foreigners? Never!”
The appearance of the baby threw us back to where we had started.
We had to begin all over again. So we launched new attacks.
“What a fine baby! How old is she? Is she really only two years old?
Why, she looks as if she were eight! What an amazingly independent
child! You should really give her more freedom! Don’t you think that
the constant care of parents retards the development of a child?”
“Yes, yes, gentlemen!” said the happy father, pressing the child to
his stomach. “You are only joking!”
When the child was put to bed we talked for about five minutes of
this and that, for the sake of appearances, and then we again began to
press our suit.
We proposed a number of things about the baby, but not one of them
was suitable. In utter despair we suddenly said, as if remarking, idly:
“Don’t you know some respectable lady who could live with the baby
during our absence?”
There was, it seemed, such a lady. We began to develop the idea, when
Mr. Adams rose suddenly. The lenses of his spectacles began to gleam.
He grew serious.
“Gentlemen, we need two days to decide this question.”
For two days we wandered around New York, annoying each other
with questions as to what might happen in case the Adamses refused to
go on the journey with us. Where will we then find our ideal creature?
And we spent a long time in front of stores that sold things for the road.
Scotch cloth bags with zippers, rucksacks of sailcloth, soft leather suitcases,
plaids, and thermos bottles—everything reminded one of a journey and
lured him to start on it.
Exactly at the appointed hour, Mr. Adams appeared in our hotel room.
He was unrecognizable. He was solemn and deliberate. All the buttons
of his vest were buttoned. Thus the ambassador of a neighboring friendly
power come to call on the minister of foreign affairs and declares that
the government of his excellency considers itself now in a state of war
with the power the representative of which is the abovementioned min-
ister of foreign affairs.
“Mr. Ilf and Mr. Petrov,” said the little fat man, puffing and wiping icy
sweat off his bald head, “we have decide to accept your proposal.”
We wanted to embrace him, but he wouldn’t let us, saying:
“This is too serious an occasion, gentlemen. We canot lose any more
time. You must understand it.”
In the course of those two days Mr. Adams not only made up his
mind and reached a decision, but he worked out our itinerary in detail.
The itinerary made our heads go around.
At first we were to cross the long and narrow state of New York
Throughout its length, stopping in the Schenectady, the city of the electric
industry. The next important stop was to be Buffalo.
‘It may seem too trivial to take a look at Niagara Falls, gentlemen,
but it must be seen.”
Then, along the shore of Lake Eire, we were to proceed to Detroit.
There we were to examine the Ford plants. Then on to Chicago. After
that the road was to take us into Kansas City. Through Oklahoma
we would drive into Texas. From Texas to Santa Fe in the state of New
Mexico. Here we visit the Indian territory. Beyond Albuquerque we
cross the Rocky Mountains and drive into the Grand Canyon. Then Las
Vegas and the famous dam on the Colorado River, Boulder Dam. Then
on to California after crossing the Sierra Nevada range. Coming back
from the shores of the Pacific Ocean we return along the Mexican bor-
der through El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston. Here we go along the
Gulf of Mexico. We are now in the Black Belt: Louisiana, Mississippi,
Alabama. We stop in New Orleans, and across the northern corner of
Florida, through Tallahassee, Savannah, and Charleston, we move toward
Washington, the capital of the United States.
Now it is easy to write about it. But then… how many shouts,
arguments, attempts to persuade one another! We wanted to go every-
where, but we were limited by time. The entire automobile journey had
to be made in two months, not a day longer. The Adamses declared
firmly that they could part from their baby for sixty days and no more.
The difficulty now was an automobile: what kind of an automobile
Although we knew beforehand that we would buy the cheapest auto-
mobile that we could find anywhere in the United States, we neverthe-
less decided to visit the automobile show of 1936. It was the month of
November, 1935, and the show had just opened.
On the two stories of the exhibition building, as if by sleight of hand,
were gathered all the fairy-tale constellations of the American automobile
world. There were no orchestras, no palms, no refreshment stands—in
a word, there were no additional attractions. The automobiles themselves
were so beautiful that nothing else was needed. The chastity of the Ameri-
can technical style consists in this: that the essence of the thing is not
spoiled with anything extraneous. An automobile is the object for which
people came here, so only that was here. One was free to touch it, one
could sit in it, turn its wheel, light its lamps, examine its motor.
The long bodies of expensive Packards, Cadillacs, and Rolls-Royces
stood on mirrored stands. On special platforms were specially polished
chassis and motors. Nickeled wheels, displaying the elasticity of the
springs, were spun around, and gears were shifted to demonstrate their
Each firm demonstrated its won technical trick, its one improvement,
designed to clinch the enticement of the purchaser—upset his, but chiefly
his wife’s equanimity. All the automobiles displayed by the Chrysler
firm were gold colored—there are such bugs, coffee-gold in color. These
automobiles were surrounded by one huge moan. Thing pretty little
American women with the blue eyes of vestal virgins were ready to com-
mit murder for the sake of owning such a machine. Their husbands
turned pale at the thought that that night they would have to remain
alone with their wives, with nowhere to run to. Many, many are the
conversations in New York at night after the opening of an automobile
show! It goes ill with a man on the opening day of such an exhibit. He
will wander for a long time around the marital couch where, cuddling
like a kitten, the beloved creature sobs while he pleads:
“But, Mabel, our Plymouth has gone only twenty thousand miles.
It’s an ideal car.”
But the lovely creature does not even listen to her husband. She will
repeat one thing over and over:
“I want a golden Chrysler!”
And that night the marital couch will be transformed for the husband
into an Indian fakir’s couch covered with spikes.
But the low powerful Cords with crystal lights, which during the
day are hidden in the fenders for better streamlining, compel one to for-
get the golden bugs. American women walk into these machines and sit
in them by the hour. But they have not the strength to walk out. Their
emotions are completely disturbed. They press a button, and the lamps
triumphantly creep out of the fenders. They again touch the button, and
the lamps hide in heir nests, and again nothing is seen on the outside,
except the chaste, shining fender.
But everything dims—even the gold and the crystal—before the rare
and apparently old-fashioned form of the huge Rolls-Royces. At first you
want to got past these machines. At first you are ever surprised that, in
the midst of these slick models, hidden lights and golden colors, stand
these black simple machines. But on looking closely you discover that
therein precisely lies their distinctiveness. Here is a machine for the rest
of your life, the machine for exceedingly wealthy old ladies, the machine
for princes. Here Mabel discovers that she will never attain complete
happiness, that she will never be a princess. Her Frank earns altogether
too little money in his office.
Never will this automobile be out of fashion. Never will it grow old,
just as diamonds and sables never grow old. Ah, it is terrible even to sit
in it! You feel like the lord protector of the seal who has lost the seal
and will be instantly dismissed.
We sat a while in a Rolls-Royce, but decided not to buy it. It was too
luxurious for us. It would have been of hardly any use on that trying
journey which was before us. Besides, it cost many thousand of dollars.
Then we moved from automobile to automobile. We sat in a blue Buick
and in a small and cheap Chevrolet. We called forth Cord lights out of
their hiding places by pressing a button, we passed our hands over
Plymouths, Oldsmobiles, Studebakers, Hudsons, Nashes. We even pressed
the horn of a Cadillac, assuming the air that on that alone depended
our decision to buy or not to buy. But after evoking a truly marvelous
and mighty roar of the steppes from the nether regions of the machine,
we walked away. No! We would not buy it! It was not within our
We visited other automobile showrooms. They were located for the
most part under the open sky on vacant city lots, but all their grandeur
was spoiled by a huge sign reading, “Used Automobiles.”
Here also were Studebakers, Oldsmobiles, Hudsons, and Plymouths.
But what time had done to them! No repair work could hide their respec-
table old age.
“These machines are for very wealthy people,” Mr. Adams said sud-
denly. “I advise you to buy a new Ford. A used car costs little, but you
never can tell how many times you will have to repair it on the road nor
how much gasoline and oil it consumes. No, no, gentlemen! It would be
a foolish thing to buy secondhand stuff.”
Although in every one of these markets under a special shed stood an
automobile decorated with the attractive placard “Today’s Bargain,” and
although we were insanely intent on acquiring this bargain (the price
was incredibly low and it looked simply remarkable), Mr. Adams was
implacable and restrained us from a dangerous purchase.
We bought a new Ford.
At first we wanted to buy a Ford with a radio set, but we were dis-
suaded by a terrible story. Not long ago an accident occurred. In the
mountains an automobile was smashed. The wounded people lay in it
for several hours under the sound of fox trots broadcast by the surviving
radio set. After hearing that we refused to buy a radio. Incidentally, it
cost only forty-two dollars.
We also declined to purchase a heater. What’s the use of a heater when
you have to keep a window open anyway? Otherwise, the windshield will
sweat. Besides, the heater cost a lot—twelve dollars.
An ash tray was inexpensive, but we didn’t have the time to buy one.
In a word, we bought the most ordinary Ford, without a radio, with-
out a heater, without an ash tray, without a rear trunk, but with an
It was sold to us by a dealer in the lower part of town, somewhere on
Second Avenue, corner First Street—not the most aristocratic part of
the city. Our new automobile, or, as they say in America, the “car,” stood
in an empty garage. The garage was dark and dirty, and the dealer
looked like a gangster and didn’t even express any special desire to sell
us the machine. If we buy it, all right! If we don’t, don’t! Nevertheless,
we saw at once that this was just what we had sought. The automobile
was quite new, of a sedate mouse color, looked expensive, yet cost little.
What else can one ask in an automobile? Free cakes?—as Mayakovsky
used to say. There are no such wonders in the world! We bought it at
We fell in love with our new car, and when all the arrangements were
over, when we received the documents entitling us to the possession of
the machine, when it already hade its yellow number 30-99-74, and the
inscription “New York,” and was insured against the possibility of our
running into anyone, and also against the possibility of someone running
into us, when for the first time we drove with our own machine through
New York and Mrs. Adams sat at the wheel, while Mr. Adams himself
sat beside her—we were very proud and did not understand why the
great city did not say anything about it. To make us feel good, old man
Adams said that in all his life he had never, never seen a better, more
comfortable, and easier riding, and more economical, automobile than
“Yes, it is remarkably comfortable, and it is easy to drive. You were
very fortunate that you bought this and no other automobile,” Mrs. Adams
We, too, were puffed up with satisfaction at having managed to pick
out the very best automobile out of the twenty-five million automobiles
We spent the last night with the Adamses.
We decided to rise as early as possible and drive off while poor Baby
was still asleep. But we failed in that. The little girl discovered us in the
act of moving suitcases. It was pitiful to look at the Adamses. With lying
voices they assured Baby that they would return in an hour. The Negress
wept. We felt that we were utter scoundrels.
The machine glided over the damps asphalt of Central Park West. The
speedometer began to register miles. We started on our long trek.