The adventure begins

** Updated to include pictures

Very early in the morning we awoke and took our suitcases outside. The taxi arrived within a few seconds and off we wert to Ben Gurion Airport. In all of our travels, we have never had the check-in and security checks go so easily. When we took off for Crete at about the same time of early morning only three weeks earlier, the process was much less pleasant.

Swiss, which code-shares with El Al, had intended to send a large jet to fly us to Zurich, but there was an equipment problem, so instead they sent two smaller planes and we were lucky enough to get three seats for the two of us meaning that we had both a window seat and an aisle seat. While waiting in line to board, we found our daughter-in-law’s father who was flying back to Los Angeles via Zurich. We said goodbye to him in Zurich’s huge airport.

We boarded an American Airlines plane and had an eight hour flight to the States. Uncharacteristically, I sat by the window (it was a plane that was configured 2/3/2- so we once again had a window seat and an aisle seat). For most of the flight when I wasn’t sleeping, the view was wing and cloud, but when we finally were over land in the US, I couldn’t believe the richness of the landscape. It was so very green and lush. The homes were scattered through the countryside and there was water, rivers running everywhere and little lakes. At home, in Israel, the default color of the landscape in summer is tan. Without irrigation, there are only weeds, cacti, olive trees, and dirt. Every garden must be irrigated or the plants and bushes and trees will die during our long rainless season that lasts roughly May through October. But here, the default was green.

And I looked at the roads beneath me. There were what seemed like dozens of roads that were four lanes wide with cloverleafed interchanges. I thought of our one limited access road that makes us proud, Route 6 that already has cut travel time to the north by hours and will eventually go from Beer Sheva (in the south) to the north, parting in the north with one road going toward the coast and the other toward Safed and the Golan.

When we landed, we went through immigration with no problem. While waiting for the luggage to appear, I sat next to a pretty young woman. She was on the next to the last page of a Danielle Steele novel. I told my husband , “She’s going to be disappointed; they always just end.” A couple of minutes later, she took the book and threw it in the wastebasket (it was a very used paper back that was on its last… pages). She said, “Oh well!” I said, “Yes, I know.” She is Australian and lives in the US. She is a singer who sings her own music and she was returning from appearances in Europe. She was very delightful and as we talked, she told me that she often spends time in Israel as her parents own an apartment there. I gave her my card and invited her to stop by. She smiled and we parted friends.

My hard sided suitcase that I bought inexpensively in Beijing and that cracked by the end of its first journey, ended this flight no worse for the wear. The crack had not extended and the lock had not popped open. It was a good day!

I last was at Kennedy Airport in 1999 and the changes were enormous, most notably the “sky train” that transported us free of charge to the car rental place. Although very slow, the car rental agency gave us no problems with the reservation we had pre-paid in Israel and very quickly we were on our way.

We parked at the Port Authority Terminal and walked just a few blocks to B&H Electronics (9th Avenue, not far from 34th Street) where we bought a projector for our computer. Ohmigosh. This place has to be the best organized store I have ever seen. They have a huge selection of everything! Inside there were tens of customers. However, they have what seemed like tens of people to help explain the features of the equipment and help us compare brands and models. They were able to have the item in their hands within a minute of our saying “yes” and when we went to check out, there were perhaps 10 counters for those paying by credit card and another 6 for those paying in cash– and no waiting. Then we took our receipts to the next counter and with no waiting, we walked out of the store. From start to finish, it wasn’t a 5 minute process!

We then went to buy a pay-as-you-go telephone. No so easy. Everywhere we stopped, they were asking outrageous prices and the networks that some of the phones worked on sounded as if they were local home networks. At a pharmacy that sold a cheap pay-as-you-go (if you think $60 without any air minutes is cheap), the salesperson was warm and helpful and told us there was an AT&T store down the block.

When we got there, we discovered that we could buy a sim card for my phone that was a pay-as-you-go sim card. I worried that it might not be compatible in some way. I knew that my phone was “unlocked” since I had paid for it to be unlocked and have successfully used it in China. So, we paid the $50 for the sim card, taking the gamble that it would work (they can’t be returned- even if they are found to not work while still in the store.) The clerk, who was cute as a button and named Rosy and lived in New York, had never heard of the album/DVD “Really Rosie” (Maurice Sendak & Carole King). She didn’t know how much air time came with the sim card, but knew it would cost us $1 a day on every day that we used it and $.10 a minute.

Success! It worked. And after a long call to our friends (who we hadn’t seen for many many years) to arrange to meet, the phone said that we still had $48+ credit.

In order to meet our friends, we had to travel by subway up to 72nd street. Although all our luggage was in the car, we were still lugging with us the computer (lightweight computer, heavyweight case) and now had the projector (although lightweight, still packed in the box with all of its accessories) and a cradle with speakers for my iPod that we had purchased too. We were wearing our magical vests (the ones we wear as tour guides that allow us to carry: tickets, passports, as many different currencies as we need, tissues, toothpicks, a small camera, a birkat hamazon card, packaged handwash tissues, an extra cloth bag for carrying, a couple of pens and notepads, a laser pointer, and of course, our Shai Bar Ilan business cards. In short, we were walking suitcases.

When we got down into the subway, everything was automated. Did I mention that I was feeling very much like a stranger in a strange land? No. Well, I was. So we looked at the machine and tried to figure out how to buy just 4 rides when suddenly this very tall, very dark man said to us, “you’d best wait in line.” We self-consciously told him that we were foreigners– which of course was a stretch for him to believe since we actually speak English like natives. But he did. He also helped us figure out that we could buy 4 rides for $7 which seemed like a good deal for us as we didn’t plan to be back in Manhattan anytime soon.

The Starbucks at 72nd street and Broadway may have excellent coffee (I had a low cal iced vanilla latte that was respectable) but their wireless network was also a signalless network! How frustrating!

Our friends walked in and it was really really good to see them. Although we have not been in close touch over the years, we feel very close to them. She and I grew up together– but also her aunt and her mother had been friends with my mother when they were still in school. In 1970, when I was pregnant with our third child, and we were concerned with who would raise the children if we weren’t around to do it, we chose them and they agreed. We were exceedingly happy to hear that their children are all doing well and living good lives. We hope we will see more of them as time goes by and he retires. It was a very special treat to see them!

It then being about eight o’clock (and still light out!!!) we walked on 72nd street and found a kosher restaurant and had delicious sandwiches. We took the subway to the car and soon were crossing over to New Jersey.

By the time we got to the Molly Pitcher rest stop, we were tired and looked at the tourist map to see if there was information about lodging nearby. While there, a man said to us, “there’s a Motel 6 at exit 4.” As we got into conversation with him, we found that he spends most of us time doing acts of kindness, primarily visiting the sick. He takes kosher food to them in hospitals (he offered us pizza that he had in his truck, but we had just had meat sandwiches a couple of hours before.) He told us about children and adults who come to Philadelphia (where he lives a couple of blocks away from my sister) for medical procedures and who are in need of kindness and support. He told us to get in touch with him tomorrow because he’d like to introduce us to someone who might be very interested in our tours and might even get a group together. Counting the woman I spoke with on the subway, we handed out at least three business cards today to people who were interested in taking them (the stuffing them into strangers’ pockets thing never really appealed to me 🙂

We found a motel that had a coupon in a booklet for travelers. It was about half the price of the others and since all we wanted was to sleep, we went and checked in. The humorless man at the desk, who didn’t crack a smile the entire time we spoke to him, not even when we recognized (or thought we did) the pictures of Buddhist monks on the wall (he said, “no. I am Hindu.) told us that we would have to sleep in the same [king sized] bed since that’s what the ad was for. I DIDN’T say to my husband (although I really really really wanted to) “That’s gonna make your wife very unhappy.” He wouldn’t have understood.

The room is at ground level (which is good in terms of carrying in the luggage) in more ways than one. But we are comfortable and safe and can’t wait to see what new adventures we will be having tomorrow.

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  1. Wow, sounds like you’ve already had quite an adventure 🙂 Glad the check-in went well. It can be such a nightmare… News around here is the new mall (of course) and the fact that Yirmi flipped from his stomach to his back today. In fact, I got so excited that I called Ohad & then Yirmi did it again! (Good little boy that he is :-))

  2. Anonymous says

    I am getting excited. when wil lyou arrive on Tuesday? I have the guests coming at 7:30 PM. Call and let me know if you need directions. Sandy

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