חלק חמש עשרה וחצי
March 17-18, 2020
Escape from the Holy Land
Well, the day has come – it’s our last day in the holy land and there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do. Seems Bibi has caught up with all the naughty and disobedient folks out there. Everything is completely shut down…everything. We have about 15 hours to kill today and there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do. To make matters worse, it’s supposed to rain all day. So, what does one do when there’s…absolutely…nothing…to…do and it’s raining? I’ll tell you what one does…NOTHING. Our original plan was to check out the beach and some museums in Tel Aviv while the hotel holds our luggage but that ain’t happening. All beaches have been closed, along with all the museums and everything else. The only thing that is open is Petah Tikvah Park next door, so I’m going to walk around and get some fresh air while the hubby chills in the hotel room. We’ve been permitted to have breakfast at the hotel this morning, but we’ll have to find a place to eat later on in the day. We even checked out the business lounge to see if there might be some leftovers…nothing. Looking for a take away restaurant will definitely be on my walking list this morning. Aside from the two restaurants inside the mall that will only meet you at the door after ordering online, the mall is completely shut down. We certainly aren’t trying that one again.
Before taking off, the hubby and I have agreed to reserve our room for one more night, regardless of price. We’ve got nowhere to go otherwise. So, on my way to the park next door I stopped at the reception desk to ask about extending our stay. After explaining to the hostess that we had nowhere to go and a flight not leaving until midnight, I was informed that we could stay and would only be charged half price. I was also told that we were two of a dozen guests (us being the only Americans) at this point and that the hotel would be shutting down as soon as we all left. Despite her calm, cool and collected demeanor, the hostess clarifies that Israel is a very small country and that COVID 19 is a serious threat to its population. It’s pertinent that all non-citizens need to leave. I’m not offended in the least. I want to get back home too.
Although no one is wearing masks in the park, everyone is maintaining the 2-meter required social distancing. I’ve decided to sit in one of the Adirondack loungers and watch whatever passes before me. Despite the call for rain today, the sky is a beautiful blue and the temperature very pleasant with no humidity, no signs of rain whatsoever. The background noise of cars driving up and down the highway helps with the belief that people are still going about business as usual while I observe the sights and sounds of nature that surround me – the shrill of children playing on the playground, the soft conversation of mothers walking their toddlers around the lake, Poi fish gobbling up whatever crumbs are thrown their way, water trickling through the lilies.
And then the sky suddenly turned gray…very gray…
Quickly hoisting myself from absolute comfort, I decided to head back to the hotel down Shimshon Street on the opposite end of the mall, where the Small Claims and Family Court was actively in session and where I discovered Cookie, a schnitzel chain restaurant that has take-away. Getting back to the hotel room before the skies opened up, I grabbed the hubby, told him we were getting schnitzel for a late lunch/early dinner and needed to get out ASAP before the rain. Dutifully obeying, he put on his shoes and followed me downstairs. As a slow drizzle speckled our glasses, we speedily walked around the corner to order some food and managed to get back to our room before the rain settled in for the day.
There’s nothing left to do but watch T.V. Compared to Jerusalem, there’s more English-speaking shows in Tel Aviv, although there’s not much to choose from aside from the news. Israel has closed its borders to all foreigners, Israelis coming from other countries being granted the only entrance, along with olim (people making aliyah/becoming Israeli citizens) who can guarantee a place to quarantine for 14 days or being relocated to one of the hotels being used as quarantine housing. Israel is also working with Peru and India to bring back citizens via El Al Airlines. In return, Bibi is asking all tourists to leave, which we will gladly do if and when our plane takes us. After my discussion with the hostess, I get it. Most countries are closing their borders to non-citizens, Australia is next on the list and shutting down. Closer to home, Lakewood, New Jersey is also shutting down. On a brighter note, weddings are being performed in the streets so neighbors can witness the nuptials. I’m finally getting the magnitude of this coronavirus.
Watching the pouring rain from the window, all we need to do at this point is pack, wait for our taxi and try not to fall asleep. The hubby has stolen the last two rolls of toilet paper and shoved them into his suitcase – we have no idea what awaits us at home. He says it’s not stealing because we technically paid for it. I agree, but stealing toilet paper makes for a better story.
Our Gett driver is very friendly but asks that we both sit in the back seat. He is wearing a mask and vinyl gloves, all four windows rolled down. I think he’s happy just to have a paying fare. Public transportation is taking an especially hard hit. Only ten people are permitted on any busses or train cars at one time, the drivers having to determine and control who gets on. Most people are working from home at this point, so there doesn’t seem to be a problem with this set up. Taxis are a last resort at this point due to the closeness of driver and passengers. The city is quiet and the highways clear, a strange occurrence for Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is like New York City – it never sleeps…ever.
At the airport we are greeted with a very long, but calm, line leading up to the check-in counters. I’m kind of surprised, considering how desolate both the Newark and Ben Gurion airports were upon our arrival two weeks ago. Has it only been two weeks?! At this point, all yeshiva and seminary schools have been shut down, forcing all American students to return home. In addition, all American tour groups have been cancelled and asked to leave the country. I feel bad for those people who visited Israel for the first time and got handed this coronavirus deal. For many, this will be the only time they get to see the holy land. Despite my desire to go home, I’m already planning our next trip in my head.
The only thing saving us from that long line is our premium status. You definitely do get what you pay for – the premium line was empty. Even with all the students and tourists leaving enmasse, two outgoing flights to Newark have been combined and there’s only one flight to JFK in New York City. The downfall is that we now have several hours to kill before boarding and all businesses (except take away food) in the airport have been shut down. At least we have Susan and David, who have safely made it through security and have joined us for late-night snacks and drinks.
I can cut the tension in the air with a dull butter knife. Everyone is anxious to get back home. Thankfully, everyone is also calm and respectful. The Zombie Apocalypse is in full swing and it’s time to Escape From the Holy Land.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, for 31 years the motto in our house has been “You Get What You Pay For.” Of course, this is the case 99% of the time…except when it comes to flying premium class: minyanim (a group of 10 or more men in a prayer service) meeting arms-length from your seat; two different angry men on separate flights who suffered with dementia and don’t speak English or Hebrew and are taking their frustrations out on you; the boy who vomited for several hours before landing; the drunk man blaming your “excessive talking” for his losing sleep (which didn’t happen). And why should this flight be any different? Behind us is a sick baby that is coughing, crying and whining. Any other time, I wouldn’t care about the coughing, but now I’m wondering if the family behind us is infected and will get us sick. Then again, half the flight is wearing masks and gloves, including the entire flight crew. I feel sorry for the crew because they have to clean the bathrooms every time someone uses them. I guarantee this is not what they signed up for when they thought they’d be travelling the world. It reminds me of my career as a social worker. “Helping people” comes in many forms. I’ve wiped enough butts, pulled up enough underpants and kitty-littered enough vomit to end a career tenfold. They’ll get over it…someday…
The girl sitting to my left switched seats with another woman upon request to sit with her husband. I can’t believe she’s given up a two-seater for a three-seater. I’m upset that the hubby and I were expelled from our two-seater that is now occupied by two strangers. Why should we give up our seats as a couple for two people who don’t even know one another?! The girl is a seminary student flying home to New York. She explains how most of the plane is made up of yeshiva and seminary students, some of their parents having been pressured to pay for premium and first-class seats in order to get their children home in time for Passover. She has never flown premium before and questions the kashrut, opting not to eat or drink anything not given to her by her friends in economy for the entire flight. If this was my kid, she would be in heaven! And I would tell her to take full advantage. You get what you pay for. I’m feeling sorry for her mother who shelled out thousands of dollars to have her daughter hunger strike. Oy!
Aside from the whiny baby behind us, I’ve managed to get some sleep here and there. The flight even feels like it’s going faster than it is, a beautiful red sunrise greeting us as we pass over Canada. On our descension, a girl from first class attempts to use the toilet. I don’t think she’ll ever do that again…ever. Although the flight crew was not exactly pleasant in their reaction, it was a pretty stupid maneuver to do after the pilot has told us to sit in our seats, fasten our seatbelts and not move whatsoever. I mean, the flight crew is buckled in, so what do you think you should be doing as a 175,000 lb. plane is landing? You sit the f**k down.
I think this is the first time an El Al plane has landed and no one clapped. This is so depressing…
Aside from the 300 souls departing our Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the airport is empty.
Finally navigating our way through the new electronic customs, we have found our luggage, contacted the parking lot shuttle, located our car, loaded up and started the hour-and-change drive back home…and it’s still raining…
Before leaving the apartment in Jerusalem, I decided to wash all my clothing – that way I would not have to do laundry when I got home. Genius…except when your suitcase has been left out in the rain…twice…and is completely soaked through…
COVID 19…you suck!
“I can’t sleep tonight
Everybody’s saying everything is alright
Still I can’t close my eyes
I’m seeing a tunnel at the end of all of these lights
Sunny days, where have you gone?
I get the strangest feeling you belong”
Why Does It Always Rain On Me – Travis