Sunday, January 21, 2018

Saturday night's alright for flighting

Sorry if this seems more like a series of unconnected thoughts -- it was written over a period of either 14 or 21 hours. I can't be sure.
I was planning on taking the 9 pm bus from Jerusalem to the airport but when I went online to check in I was informed that I could not, and would have to do so at the airport. I thought it was a phone thing but the same thing happened when I tried to check in from an actual computer. Now in the best of cases I am a neurotic freak, always worrying about being late or messing something up. I had started packing right when Shabbat was over and by 7.15 I was pacing the apartment and watching Maddie pack for the army. I wasn't bored, just crazy. When I got a message that I couldn't pre-check in my lunacy went into overdrive. I suggested that I take the 8 pm bus so if there was any problem, yo I'll solve it and I wouldn't wear a path into Maddie's apartment floor or stand over her being useless and annoying. She agreed and we had a tearful goodbye on a city street. The 8 pm bus left at 8.11 and tried to make up time by flying to the airport. We hurtled down mountains pushing small cars out of the way. It was harrowing. It made me actually prefer being on an airplane. It was that scary. We stopped at the security area and the nice men with the big guns had us get out and identify our bags. Then back onto the bus which was too big to get through the roundabouts, but that didn't stop the driver. Or slow him down.

I disembarked and entered the terminal to see many large groups blocking the lines (memories of Newark as the Birthright groups clogged everything up). I was directed to another line so I moved towards the first security hurdle. I was asked the standard questions (whom were you visiting, what's your daughter's address, why did you lend your nephew your scarf, did you really waste time eating at Burger know -- basic El Al security stuff) and thought I passed whatever test this was so I moved to the next line. At that line, the woman took my passport and asked me to wait. Begin nervous shuffling. Apparently, I had been chosen to get extra screening. How exciting -- not quite winning the lottery but it explained why I couldn't check in online. Over the internet, no one can walk away with your passport. She came back a few minutes later and confirmed my seat selection, almost like it was an accusation ("You are in an aisle seat?" Um, yes. "Row 27?" Yeah, that a security issue?). That was pretty much it. I was a bit disappointed because I wanted a better story than that to tell. After this level of security I went to the next one. I recalled that you have to go through the side lines for more questions and only then back to the middle entrance but when I tried that I was told just to go through the middle. Seems that they have changed something somewhere. OK, whatever. Into the room where 2 lines become 20 lines and no one knows where to go. If you have every been in this room, you understand. People just sort of push through and split off to whatever line seems most vulnerable to being jumped.

Traffic was light so 2 lines only became 4. But when I got to the front I was pulled aside again. More extra screening. I was asked many questions about electronics and such and I answered everything honestly. I have very little to hide. Not nothing, you understand, but certainly, not a lot. I really wasn't wearing a belt (an intentional choice by me so that I can smooth out security, and free myself up to eat more, but the security people seem confused by the choice). The guy who dealt with pulled-aside people told me to put my foot up. I thought that the hokey pokey was an unnecessary escalation of security protocol, but he's the expert in the blazer. He then rubbed this magic electrical toothbrush thing all over my feet. Then all over my jackets and my bag and all the electronics and doo-dads that I had in my pockets. The wand went into a machine and eventually, the machine reassured him that I was harmless. Heck, I could have told him that. But I didn't mind. Not only did I leave a lot of extra time for just these possibilities, but I like being safe and respect the people who are doing the job of keeping me safe. So I say, triple screen me whenever, ask me whatever and make sure that everyone is as harmless as I am.

Passport control was uneventful (I didn't do the biometric because I feel it is hypocritical for me to rail against the metric system, and then exploit it at the airport) and then on to the food court! It is true: the airport has a food court and one of the stands sells pre-made sandwiches with kosher supervision. So I got a sandwich of tuna and egg and washed it down with a piece of Swidler fudge. I have time, I am relaxed and I have been swabbed.

At the gate I got a decaf espresso - there is a Camden Food stand which has supervised foods. I considered getting more to burn through the remaining Israeli cash but I chose not to because, honestly, the sandwiches just aren't that good. And I had more fudge and cookie to eat. And now we wait. I was there early (as is my wont) so the D7 area was lightly populated and quiet. Of course, as soon as I got up to throw out some garbage some woman took my seat. Seriously. There were hundreds of empty seats and she took mine.

The two gates on either side started loading at the exact same time to (one to JFK and the other to LA). The quiet corner of the airport turned into a chaotic center of activity as dueling announcements had people wandering all over. Instead of waiting for my group or aisle to be called, I just strolled up to the line and got on during the earliest stages. I was "that guy" and I don't care. Sure I would have to sit for a bit longer but I ensured myself overhead space and did not have to wait on line. 27c, aisle, and I'm not giving it up.

Flight notes -- 2 hours in: I took a benadryl and a chocolate chip cookie about an hour before take off but so far, no effect. Was that espresso not decaf? I wish I could sleep. Some people seem to have no problem contorting themselves and finding a position that allows them hours of uninterrupted sleep in these tiny and uncomfortable 787-9 seats. I just can't do it. The aisle is also narrower than other wide bodies so I keep getting jostled by everyone. Sometimes, I think, intentionally. I listened to a lot of Tom Petty, then some "ambient meditation" music and some classical music. I'm not sure how much I really slept and how much I just sat there, seething.

Fitful dozing. A jacket over my head and the least comfortable seats I can imagine. The guy next to me had to watch Vantage Point 3 times beginning to end before he stayed awake for all of it. I finally gave up and put on Monuments Men. A movie with a couple of bright spots and a whole lot of not so bright spots. Lights on and wet naps at 3:15am.

3.45 dry omelet for breakfast. I eschewed the tomatoes and olives, the roll and white cheese and the plain yogurt. I did get a cup of coffee, not just because I like coffee and have to be awake but because, as the flight nears a close, this is one if the last times that people will speak to me in Hebrew by default. My language skills are limited but there is something comforting about being spoken to in Hebrew. I will miss that as well.

We landed on time. Why do people knock El Al? No rude people, no delays. Fine food. Though the seats were uncomfortable, hundreds of albums to listen to, hundreds of movies and TV shows, amble food and drink, nice lighting. Though I'd love to be able to afford more spacious accommodations, the flight, from security to baggage claim, in each direction was fairly pleasant, assuming one can think of zooming at 480 knots 34,000 feet in the air "pleasant."

Random note- checking in neurotically early means my bag goes on first. It therefore seems to come of last which makes me worry that it is either lost or that I am in some sort of trouble. Whose comes off first? People who are late to things but they are also the last ones to come through passport control because they don't rush. Their bags go round and round before mine even shows up. So all my crazy planning and I still wait. So, Newark, passport control (I did rush through there because about 30 seconds after I got on line, 2 other flights streamed in and the lines grew to ridiculous lengths). Baggage claim, 2 more security stops and then, hey there Randy and thanks for the ride.

Home now. Papers to grade, laundry to do, doggoes to pet. It is nice to be here but I already miss Maddie, and Israel. Until next time, I will be praying for the arrival of the Moshiach so we can all be in Israel, Julie, Talia, my parents and everyone else, where we can speak Hebrew, visit the kotel and eat a whole mess of fried chicken. Signing off and thanks for listening.

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