COVID19, you suck…חלק ראשון

March 3, 2020

Of course it’s raining! I feel like this trip is already cursed. Every time I looked on line, the planes to Israel kept filling up quicker than I could pull up Google Chrome. The month leading up to my plane ticket purchase found me anxiety-ridden, knowing I had already paid (in full) for an apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place. (In hindsight, it never occurred to me that coronavirus might be the culprit in my inability to snag a couple of seats to the Motherland.) Daily, for over a month, I would go on El Al’s website and search for a plane leaving anywhere from the east coast to Tel Aviv. Miraculously, on January 12th, I managed to find two ridiculously reduced priced front-row premium class seats on a flight to Israel from Newark, New Jersey – holy s**t! As soon as I clicked on that “Purchase” box, I immediately said to myself, “You get what you pay for.” One week later, the first COVID19 case would be diagnosed in the United States.

So, in any other lifetime on any other day, saying, “You get what you pay for,” has become a standard motto in our household. From plumbers and electricians to hotels and car rentals, the hubby and I have been mostly happy with what we have gotten for what we paid, even if it means spending more than we should. This seems to be a 99% accurate motto, the other 1% reserved for airplane travel…

It all started with the  plane returning back from Tennessee in October 1996 that had to circle Philadelphia International Airport for over an hour for some “unknown” reason during the era of “suspicious packages” prior to 9/11 thanks to the Unabomber, and following a panic attack overcoming me when boarding the plane after the flight attendant found a small unlabeled, cardboard box in an overhead compartment to which no passenger could claim. I didn’t fly again until 2010…

Following the advice of a psychologist friend who specializes in fear of flying, I planned a trip to Milwaukee to see my brother and sister-in-law as a precursor to the very long flight I would be taking to Israel for the first time in 2011 in celebration of the kid’s bat mitzvah. This friend warned me that my anxiety would be at peak levels during this flight because of the short distance. He said it takes approximately 20 minutes for anxiety to cycle from start to finish. Looking at a 2 ½ hour flight, I would have at least a third of the flight in a state of pure anxiety. Lovely…but I was prepared…or so I thought…

The flight to and from Milwaukee came from the depths of hell, the hubby organizing the flight plans while the kid and I lived a Lord-of-the-Flies-existence at summer camp. Needless to say, we flew from Philadelphia to Chicago on a bus with wings – a very noisy bus with wings that rattled and shook for the entire 2 ½ hours it took to fly from Philadelphia to O’Hare International Airport. And then we had to switch to a commuter plane…

To this day, I’m amazed that I, let alone the hubby, survived that plane ride. We still mention that trip every time we plan to fly. A scheduled 45-minute flight took 10 minutes…WTF?! What the hell kind of winds were those?  Needless to say, the hubby hasn’t been allowed to make travel arrangements since 2010.

Then came that very long flight to Israel for the first time in 2011. Wanting to fly locally and wanting to spend as little cash as possible, we chose U.S. Airways out of Philadelphia…you get what you pay for…

It all started with the family sitting behind us – Mom, Dad and their two kids, Sissy and Bro, Bro absolutely refusing to sit in his own seat, opting to sit on mom’s lap instead, and the flight attendant repeatedly requesting the parents immediately put the child in his own seat with a fastened seat belt or the flight would be delayed. “Delayed” was not the word I wanted to here, sitting on the tarmac at the precise time the plane was scheduled to take off. The mother begged to hold her son, warning that the child would scream if he had to sit on his own. And this argument continued for 40 minutes, my anxiety about the flight nearly burning a hole in the roof of the cabin. Remember, this is only the second roundtrip flight I had taken in 15 years. I don’t know what came over me, and I seriously didn’t (and still don’t) care about the way I reacted (this is where the hubby and the kid facepalm). I unfastened my seatbelt, stood up, turned around and said, “For the love of G-d, put the f**cking kid in his seat and let him scream! At this point no one gives a s**t if he screams! Let’s just take the f**k off lady!” I do believe I received a standing ovation in the minds of those poor flight attendants, as well as the other 400+ passengers onboard. And that was before we even took off…

Two brothers, not older than 10-years-old, reclined their seats to their fullest capacity the entire 10+ hours flight, their heads completely visible to us as they literally slept in our laps while their parents, sitting in the row in front of the boys, not understanding why I complained about not having enough room. On the way back home, I had a man with the world’s largest hands sitting in front me, he seemingly only capable of sleeping with his hand hanging over the seat that was also reclined to its fullest extent, blocking my entire view of the t.v. screen. But the crème de la crème was the man sitting next to me…

After sitting down, my seat partner proceeded to take out a Jordanian newspaper. It wasn’t so much that he was reading a Jordanian newspaper, but more so a reaction to the situation in Israel at the time becoming increasingly tense with multiple terrorist attacks taking place in Jordanian controlled areas throughout the country, some happening while we were there. I will also admit that my knowledge of Israel and the conflict was in its infancy.

And then he took out a liter-sized bottle of water, which was completely banned on all flights to/from Israel after 9/11. My anxiety taking over (along with my inability to keep my mouth shut), I questioned my new friend about the bottled water, to which he proclaimed, “It’s “bullsh**t!”

Okaay…and then he took out a whole cooked chicken…

This is the point where the hubby and the kid usually tell me to just shut the hell up and mind my business. But then I wouldn’t be me, right?

Seeing my reaction (which I would give anything to see now) to his “carry-on luggage,” my new friend began to chuckle. He then proceeded to tell me the story of his life. See, this is what you get when you “talk too much” and have a degree in Anthropology.  I don’t recall the village from whence he came, but he grew up somewhere in the West Bank north of Jerusalem on the Jordanian border. He identified with being Jordanian and did not call himself a Palestinian but complained that Israel considered him a Palestinian and “treated him as such” whenever he crossed the border. He was proud of his Jordanian heritage and didn’t wish to be associated with being “Palestinian.” He then filled in the gaps about the whole cooked chicken while offering me raw cucumbers and tomatoes his relatives had grown in their backyard gardens. I learned how he migrated all by himself to the United States at the age of 16. How he ended up in Baltimore, Maryland and slowly found his way, completing his GED, graduating college, getting married and having children, ultimately finding himself owning several businesses and becoming “quite wealthy” in the process. In return, he flew back to Israel four times a year for a month at a time to assist his two maternal aunts, his female cousin and his sister, all of whom suffered from dementia and/or Alzheimer’s Disease. Wow

Then there was the 2017 flight to be with the kid when she made aliyah – very last row in front of the toilets with the toothless dude on the aisle seat slurping and chewing ridiculously loud (yeah, I’m one of those people), then falling asleep for the entire flight. I had to keep reminding myself that we originally weren’t sitting together, and that the ticket supervisor managed to rearrange seating so that we could sit together…until the woman whose seat we booted started to complain about not sitting in her originally assigned seat. Oh, and, by the way, the very last row seats don’t recline. And, because we are who we are, we had the same seats coming back, another dude sitting in the aisle seat who slept the entire flight. And don’t forget about the woman sitting in front of me who kept reaching back to poke my knee, insisting I was constantly pushing her seat. Yeah…good times, good times.

Then there was 2018…

Despite scoring economy plus seats round trip, we quickly learned that every single person in economy likes to congregate and socialize in the two feet of extra leg room afforded to us for an additional  $110 per seat. I would later learn in 2019 that economy plus is also where the men like to daven (pray) – you get what you pay for…

However, I met a man named Ben, the passenger sitting on the wing side. The good thing about Ben is that he also “talks too much” and never sleeps on planes – the perfect partner. Ben was originally from New Jersey and moved to South Carolina. He was currently an Uber driver and loved his job, explaining to me how Uber drivers should behave (but don’t) and how passengers should behave (but don’t). Ben had been a cavalry scout in the United States Army. He later obtained his private aviator license and continues to fly planes as a hobby. He’s also a big gun aficionado and 100% supports the NRA and every American’s right to own a gun. Another hobby Ben actively participates in is Civil War reenactments, he opting to dress up in confederate garb. But the most interesting facet of Ben’s life was his return back to Judaism.

Ben was primarily raised by his mother after his parents divorced, his father disappearing from their lives. His mom was originally a Christian from Columbia and met Ben’s father after immigrating to the United States. She would later convert and get married to his father. Up until 2019, Ben had no idea where his father might be living, let alone if he was still alive. I don’t recall how Ben found his father, my memory telling me he discovered a half-brother on Facebook or possibly through a genealogy search. Either way, the father was now living in Tel Aviv and Ben now had an instant family, including several half-siblings.

Six months prior to our departure, we were all still recovering from the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting where eleven people were shot dead by a lone gunman. Ben disclosed that because of this event he found himself rediscovering his Judaism and was becoming more religious, a local Chabad guiding him through the process. Ben and I spent the entire flight talking about our lives, making the 10-hour flight seem like minutes, the only thing breaking up our conversations being the massive minyanim (prayer groups) taking place in front of our seats; that, and the cranky flight attendant who refused to give me any cream cheese for my bagel and told us to stop talking – you get what you pay for.

In April 2019 we managed to score a couple of premium class seats for a nominal fee, my aisle seat companion being a Polish man with dementia who only spoke Polish and some unknown form of Hebrew no one could understand. He spent most of the flight yelling at me for not understanding him or seemingly complaining about the flight attendants not understanding him either – you get what you pay for.

May 2019, travelling to Israel alone this time, I managed to upgrade to an economy plus seat. Of course, much to my “surprise,” the 10-year-old boy sitting next to me was an uncontrollable vomiter – you get what you pay for.

On the way back home, I won a lottery for premium class – woohoo! Not…the drunk man sitting behind me complained about me “talking too much” the entire flight – you get what you pay for.

So, here it is, March 3, 2020. Why should anything be any different?

Driving in the rain, in and of itself, is bad enough, but driving in the rain at night totally sucks.

Despite scoring my premium class seats two months prior, our plane had already been changed, albeit retaining our fabulous seats. Except for our 9:00PM flight, the airport was empty, us swiftly passing through TSA with absolutely no issues, all along me asking, “Am I missing something here?”

Not having eaten for most of the day, the hubby and I bought a couple of sandwiches and sat at a communal table next to a couple who were eating salads. Our table neighbors, Martha and Joel, are from Maryland and were flying to Israel to see their son, Danny, graduate from michve alon (a pre-army Hebrew language school). This was the only reason they were flying to Israel. We completely understood. We did the same thing a year ago to see our daughter graduate medic training. In talking, I discovered that Martha is also a lone soldier mom on what the hubby and I refer to as “the mommy site” on Facebook. While we talked, the hubby recognized a gentleman from our community also sitting at the table. We discovered that our neighbor’s son is not only in michve alon with Danny, but they also live on the same kibbutz. As we were getting ready to board, Martha introduced me to Michelle, whose daughter lives on the same kibbutz as the son of a mutual friend. An only-in-Israel-but-not-yet-in-Israel moment. There are no coincidences in life…

The plane was half empty with a number of people wearing surgical masks and latex gloves, me continuing to ask myself, “Am I missing something here?” And then a child in economy started screaming as the flight attendant closed the curtain to separate the cabins, the screaming child now barely audible – you get what you pay for.

The plane was 25 minutes late taking off, but the hubby and I didn’t care as we knocked back some bourbon and red wine at no extra cost. So far this flight might just be our best yet, the hubby letting me talk as much as needed to ease my anxiety.

Despite leaving 25 minutes late, our plane arrived one hour earlier than expected, but I’m not complaining.

And Ben Gurion was empty too…am I missing something here?

The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches
She asks “Are you cursed?” He says “I think that I’m cured”
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bull rushes

The Curse – Josh Ritter

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