Amazing Race's James & Abba Talk Moscow Misfortune
By LISA HIRSCH
The Amazing Race bid farewell to long-haired music industry veterans James LoMenzo and Mark "Abba" Abbatista on Sunday night, and ETonline caught up with the pair to find out how hard it was to have their bags stolen in Moscow, if they ever made it out of Russia, and what they thought of two other teams taking their cash, in an interview filled with lots of laughs.
James: (Plays the ET theme song on his guitar).
Abba: That was James by the way. How are ya?
ETonline: I'm good how are you? I'm sad to be talking to you guys honestly.
James: Oh we're not… we're happy.
Abba: I'm not. (laughs)
ETonline: Because I wanted you to keep going. Oh my gosh it was so hard to see you--
James: Who says we're out of the race yet -- Abba?
ETonline: You're still out there racing, right?
Abba: There may be a gas leak in James's house, uh...
James: No, there's a gas leak in this Russian prison cell...
ETonline: I was really bummed to see you lose your bags, that was just awful to watch. How did that feel? What was your reaction when you saw that the cabbie left?
Abba: It felt great! It was a lot easier without the bags… No. Let me correct you too because we didn't lose our bags, this was a cabbie drove away with our bags and conscious act of theft here we got out of the cab and he drove away.
ETonline: Oh, okay.
Abba: And so you know, we were like fifty feet away from the clue box, you could see it, and you know we just thought we were running up and getting the clue and coming back, we had not paid him at the time, and apparently he thought that the bags were more important and more valuable than the money we owed him, and as soon as we got out of the car, boom he went.
Abba: So again it wasn't some act of you know kind of foolishness or you know, slack part of anything on our part, it was really just a bad situation. And the reason to why my passport was in there was because we had come out of the pool and I didn't have a towel, and when we put our closed on they were soaking wet because I couldn't dry off. And that's the reason why. I mean normally my passport, I sleep with it when I travel. And so again, just weird things happened and it got us.
James: I have a confession Abba. I slept with your passport too. Maybe this isn't the place.
ETonline: On the show it wasn't really clear, because I know a lot of the times on The Amazing Race people will leave their bags in the cab and so I just assumed watching it that that was what had happened, but the way you describe it, that's much worse.
Abba: You know I would bet, and I'll probably go back and take a look at this, that every single team did exactly that. And that was the first and only time that we ever separated from our bags. In the bamboo challenge we actually put them down and I tied them to the bike that we were in. So, okay I sit corrected that there were actually two times that I ever remember leaving the bag that was not in our possession like that.
James: Throughout the race I kept telling the Sri Lankan girls, you girls are out of your mind, don't leave your bags in the cab cause they were doing it with impunity, and I thought well you know, you guys are just risking it. So it wasn't like we were, you know not aware that could happen or weren't thinking that couldn't happen. Again it was all at the moment, we were rushing, we thought okay let's just get up there, get back in the cab and move on. So that's kind of why we took that shot.
ETonline: Yeah, that guy probably made a lot of money off of all the stuff you had in your bags.
Abba: Well we actually had the lightest bags ever in race history. We were under ten pounds on our bags so good luck to him he stole the wrong ones.
Abba: But you know, we had to comb our hair with a fork the next day because you know we didn't have a comb.
ETonline: (laughs) I was going to ask you guys that because besides the fact that you ended up getting eliminated from the race, I mean how hard was it to be in a foreign country with basically only the clothes on your back?
Abba: Yeah it was a little bit uncomfortable. Especially cause it was raining and cold. (laughs)
James: Yeah, actually it was freezing that night. ... Having lost luggage many times, it's not the first time we've ended up somewhere without or stuff, you know? 'Cause we've traveled [while] touring [with a band] for years. And that's almost commonplace to have your bags go away for a day or two.
Abba: It was rough for me because I had contacts in, and my glasses were stolen and I'm pretty not much functional without my glasses, so having contacts in every day and waking up in the middle of the night in a hotel and I couldn't see where the bathroom or something was and I couldn't walk anyway because you know… That was pretty hard to go through a daily situation of nothing but contacts.
Abba: But you know what, you MacGyver things you know, as best you can.
James: Strapped on some glasses backwards on his eyes.
L: How long did it take you to get a passport and get out of the country?
J: It is an interesting story, tell her why we couldn't get it right away.
A: What happened is that you just can't get a passport ... There's also a Russian visa for entry and exit, so you're dealing with two different governments at this point. This happened on a Friday and a Saturday, and Tuesday was the Russian day of independence like our Fourth of July. ... So not only did we get hit with lightning, we got hit with a hurricane on top of that, and then like an electric eel came and zapped us and then we were stung in the face by a bee. ... We wound up having to go through the bureaucracy of the Russian system which is a very procedure-driven, it's not the easiest kind of culture to be in sometimes, there's no flexibility in it, everything is very much by the rules and very you know, that's the way it is and you have to jump through the hoops. But you know what we got lucky with some of it and we were able to get the passport issued, the temporary passport that got us home, and then the visa that allowed us to get out too. So, and there's a little bit more story to that but um there was actually a letter of diplomatic immunity that was granted, that is how this thing happened.
ETonline: (laughs) Wow.
James: We would have had to stay there for over a month (laughs).
ETonline: How long did it take?
Abba: It was I think six days.
Abba: I looked at James at one point I said, "Hey you know what, if we had won this leg, we would have got say a trip to go somewhere." So this way here we got our six day all-expense paid trip to Moscow, you know?
Abba: And that was kind of how we felt and it was like you know what like alright, we're over it we're out of the race, we have to kind of re-transition ourselves, and even though we're doing this all day long at least at night we can drink voluminous--
Abba: Vodka (laughs).
ETonline: So on Sunday night's episode in the last closing scene, you see that you are in a car with a priest. Can you tell me how that happened?
James: That was our speed bump, if you recall we heard the speed bump. ... So we were the only ones that had to do that, that's why you kept seeing our faces on the speed bump sign, and that was actually his church which was conspicuously placed throughout a bunch of roads going in the same direction. So it was a bit of a challenge, we knocked it out pretty quick. We were kind of hoping that, you know, maybe he'd put in a good prayer for us or at least he'd open up his collection box and the passport would be in it but obviously he wasn't a very good priest because neither one of those things happened (laughs).
ETonline: Unfortunately he couldn't materialize your passport for you (laughs). ... I also want to talk to you about another turning point in the race this season, another major, major event. What did you think when you watched the episode where the twins took your money and shared it with Trey and Lexi?
James: I was dumbfounded because we were convinced that we had lost the money. I mean just lost it, like it just slipped out of Abba's pocket along the way. So that was the first, I mean we kind of discovered that with the audience watching the show, you know. It was kind of weird to all of a sudden look at these people we'd been running around with and go, 'Oh my God, look at them!' But you know, my take on it, Abba's a little different, there's no rule against picking up somebody's money if it's fallen on the floor, you know, and part of the game is to kind of compete and get ahead and stuff like that. I don't know if it was a scrupulous thing but you know I don't hold really any animosity towards them. I think it was kind of, you know it's bad taste to have to be shown on TV doing something like that. And I was really surprised that Lexi jumped on board as well. You know, and to me it is kind of a part of the game, maybe not the most, [moral] part of the game. I don't know.
Abba: Yep, and as he said I don't totally buy into that kind of situation. I mean, I don't condone what happened. I think under the circumstances that we were the only people in there, it was a substantial amount of American money, and they knew it was, and so I'm disappointed, kind of shocked at Trey and Lexi. Not so shocked at the twins. But you know what, it happened to us, we didn't know that that had happened until we saw it on television that week. Previously going there we had been in a van as our cab and I had fallen asleep on the back bench and that's how I thought the money was lost. You know I wasn't going to accuse anybody because I didn't know that, and now, looking at it in hindsight, I just don't think that looking in the rearview mirror is the best way to go forward. So, you know, it happened and I think that you know I was very happy the way that we kind of dealt with it level-headed and--
James: It created a really great experience anyway, you know? Despite all that we did get back on track relatively quickly, so I mean it kind of [ended up being positive] in a strange way.
ETonline: Yeah, I thought it was pretty amazing that in a country like Bangladesh where there's clearly so much poverty, that you were able to replace that money with everyone being so generous.
Abba: Yeah. And you know what again if we had had the money, we would not have had that life experience, and I think that quite honestly for me, that day was probably one of my highlights of the whole race, you know? Because it's really like the generosity of strangers giving you something that, you have no chance of ever paying back, and it really is just like, why are you doing this, you know? And then it kind of makes you feel guilty about all the times that maybe you could've reached out your hand to somebody and you didn't, you know? And you're kind of like, God I feel somewhat terrible about myself here, but at least at the same time it's like there's these angels around us that are you know, kind of like -- wow.
Abba: I'll tend to look at it as, if that didn't happen that day we would have never had that experience, and you know again it wasn't something fatal, you know we said sort of through it that a lot of times you know you're gonna to make mistakes trying to stay away from the catastrophic ones, well we hit one of those (laughs), you know? But I think just going through life if you bend and don't break, you're probably better off. And I think that you know it was a nice gesture of the Bangladeshi people. You saw throughout the race, we had support of a lot of the locals. Everywhere we went with the children in Bangladesh, and the people helping us with the bamboo, and if you look there's always a circle around us that are sort of smiling and enjoying what it is that we're doing. And you know, I think that that's sort of a testament to James and I, and I hope anyway that that's why they were there, because they wanted to be with us. And we could respect their culture and their local customs, and you know, who they are, and I'd like to think that's some of the experience of us traveling, you know? That we're not scared of this stuff that seems so exotic and so foreign sometimes the first time that you see it.
Abba: And even the poverty that was there in Bangladesh, it's awful, you know? I mean the conditions that these people are living in -- they're there right now today and have the same conditions. But the spirit of the people in some of the poorest places that I've ever been has been the most wonderful spirits that I could find. Anywhere. And you know it's just I think a nice reminder sometimes and people use it as that positive kind of reminder, then you know what, it was a lesson that we learned, and hopefully everybody else could kind of benefit from it.
ETonline: Yeah definitely. Has it changed how you live your life daily now that you're back in any way?
James: You know what, I've always kind of had an open heart for people, and more so than a lot of people in my business. But this has kind of reinforced that. When we were stuck in Russia we were at the police station, and we were trying desperately to find our passport, we just couldn't make a connection language wise with the guy on duty, and we had to fill out a form. And so you saw this fellow come walking up and I asked him could you help translate. That guy stood there for hours. Hours. He had just come home from school, and he had his smoothie he was gonna sit down and eat, and he gave us all that time. And, I mean, I was amazed, I am forever thankful to him. It didn't get us the passports, nonetheless he gave us all that time to try and help us. I mean there are so many great people in the world and I think you know, we get the kind of the thing of being ugly Americans, you know that kind of strips off once you see the generosity of people with maybe a little less. I mean not so much [with this guy] but certainly Bangladesh. I came away with so much renewed positivity for people in general throughout the whole world.
Abba: I think we kind of came across as being kind of serious and it's really not the way that so much of this was, you know I think we had a whole lot of goofy like moments through things, and there were people that helped us. Again we wound up even going into the final pit stop, there was a really pretty girl that was jogging along, and it was kind of like I put out my thumb like hitchhiking and she laughed, and you know she walked up to the pit stop with us, and we kind of hugged her, and when we were in Moscow the first time again there was another very pretty woman that was dressed in this business suit and she was the one who kind of helped and walked with us, and got a cab for us. Going on to the one plane that we wound up getting on going into Russia we met these two women that were I think from Ireland or Scotland, and they got on the plane and we wound up going down the runway with them holding hands and like singing and dancing, and like you know. I mean it was just so much fun that like we had, and you know obviously they can't show everything but you know what it's like we enjoyed the experience.
Abba: And I think that's really something everybody should take [away, that] there's so much stuff in the world that you could just kind of unbelievably enjoy. Try to eat something different today. Say hello to somebody you've never said hello to before, you know just do something different, whatever it is. And I think that if you have that attitude, life really opens up and maybe these people were all around us all the time but you know what, it's like a clenched fist can't receive the gift. So if you open up your hand sometimes you might be surprised what falls into them. And not just when you need something. And, again, I think our experiences of traveling have sort of maybe taught us that slowly along the way, and maybe you saw some of that. I'd like to think that that's sort of how we live our life, and I think it was pretty accurately represented.
ETonline: One last question: Who do you think of the remaining pairs, who do you think will win?
Abba: I'm gonna go with Monster Truck.
James: Yeah me too.
ETonline: (laughs) You guys know they're not in it any more, right?
A: They're not? Who are you voting for?
J: They only let us watch TV for forty minutes at a time here in Russia.
A: Yeah we're still in Russia by the way. Did they tell you that?
You can catch the remaining teams on The Amazing Race on Sunday nights at 8/7 c on CBS.