It wasn’t as ‘certain’ as some other activities – dealing with mortality or money owed to the government come immediately to mind – but it was ‘inevitable’ that our family’s social director would begin considering and then planning a journey to The States. Granted, we should have been back last year, marking the brother’s and my milestone birthday – postponed by you-know-what – but I felt no sense of urgency in making up for lost time. There has been a meeting of the minds among people we know that now is not the best time to be hanging around airports, let alone going skyward to unnecessary destinations far away. But even if ‘now,’ were somehow better, who wants to sit in an airport for hours on end, waiting to board a plane; who wants to be squished into an airplane seat designed for tiny people; who wants to eat airline food? Granted, there are much worse scenarios to contemplate, but very few anyone would freely choose to undergo.
There is another reason, however, why I was not gung-ho on revisiting the country in which I was born. Readers of my modest efforts are aware that I tend to stay away from political discussions – with the occasional swipe at the anti-vaccers. That’s part of my general adherence to the Golden Rule of not doing unto others…. With few notable exceptions, I have zero interest in discussing partisan affairs with folks near and dear. I usually ignore what people write or say about such matters (it’s rarely that interesting), and if people start up around the Shabbat table, I make it loud and clear: CAN WE CHANGE THE SUBJECT!!! So why should I ruin a perfectly good essay by including my thoughts about how the world should be run? Who needs to see my unwanted opinions? (Say ‘not me.’)
I’ll just mention something that I hope will be non-controversial, that the U.S. has become increasingly polarized, perhaps going to hell in a handbasket (and you’re free to decide on your own why that is and who’s at fault).
It wasn’t that long ago that I was standing in our kitchen on a Shabbat morning, making a batch of White Russians and pontificating to those assembled (mixology and oration being among the few things I can do at the same time). Said I, In my lifetime, the American people defeated the Nazis and witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were Civil Rights legislation and polio vaccines. The Environmental Protection Agency came about during the Nixon Administration; The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed by first Bush I and again by Bush II. And now look what’s happening: America seems to be coming apart at the seams, and who wants to watch? (Say ‘not me.’)
Some astute person might object: The dysfunction you are alluding to would apply just as well to where you are living now. To which I would respond, You got me there! BUT, it never occurred to me when we were making aliyah or anytime in the fifteen subsequent years that I should expect much from the government here in The Land. Plus I have built up a tolerance level for the political incoherence around me here. I am used to it, so it doesn’t bother me as much. But The States? I was always expecting more. Now, I was sensing the bad vibes across the ocean all the way from our living quarters in Ma’ale Adumim. So why get any closer? It might be harmful; it might be contagious. I won’t even go to the Kotel because of all the acrimony there. Why should I travel across the ocean to witness a train wreck?
The answer is simple. Because I’m going, that’s why. And also because I do want to see Tina and David and their sons as well as my brother and sister-in-law. Barbara and Tina do their WhatsApp videos with some frequency, so at least we can see our grandsons and they will remember who we are. Frank and I talk on the phone maybe once a month. Will that do? Not really, especially when there is an alternative – even one that yanks me from the comfort of my home. Six years is way too long.
The tickets were purchased (not only for the airlines, but for all the buses and trains that we would be using). Everything that could be planned was taken care of – even which people we would get to see and when we would see them. Lest there be any confusion, it was Barbara doing all the grunt work. All I would have to do was show up on time with a smile on my face. (I spent weeks practicing to make sure I got it right.) The final touch was provided by friend Ezra. We certainly were not going to travel abroad without our phones brimming with apps we never knew existed – some of which we actually needed!
It was Monday night, the day before we were going to leave. I was sitting in front of my iMac, just chilling, when Barbara walked into my office. She had just spoken with Tina. Guess what? Our lovely daughter had COVID, so of course we couldn’t stay with them. The sound that you might have heard was the wind going out of my sails. Now what would we do?
A few weeks before, our good friends The Levines were supposed to show up at our doorstep, but they both got COVID. With them, it just meant that we would reschedule once we got back from The States, but otherwise: no harm, no foul. But you can’t cancel your flight because the people you’re supposed to stay with have COVID. Try explaining that to your insurance company.
Then Tina called back. It was all arranged. We would be staying with Anya and Alex, and we would get to see Tina and crew as soon as it was safe to do so. (A little background: it was Elena, Anya’s mother, who was instrumental in arranging for Tina to come to live with us. At the time, 1995, Elena’s daughter and son-in-law were living in a small apartment on Roosevelt Island. Now Alex is a major player in a hedge fund. Not too shabby for a poor boy from St. Petersburg.) They would be thrilled and delighted for us to stay with them. Well, all right then, we accept!
Fearing the worst at the airport, we arrived there with five hours to spare. The lines were not as bad as we had been led to expect. Plus, Barbara is not shy about informing anyone who needs to know that she has a bad back and cannot stand in one spot for very long. No questions asked; you get whizzed to the front of the special line for people who need ‘assistance.’ Meaning that the usual rigamarole of checking in, going through security, and the like, which on a good day would take three hours, only took us two. Plenty of time to ‘kill.’
What do you do at the airport
when your flight is hours away?
Read a book, use the loo,
what else is out there for you to do?
The obvious answer was head to the food court. We were not looking for a meal, but we could get something to drink at Aroma. We placed our order and waited. Standing nearby, holding his cane in one hand and leaning on the railing with the other, was a random dude. He must have asked for something out of the ordinary because he was waiting and waiting. We exchanged a few brief remarks, and later, when Barbara and I were sitting at one table and random dude was sitting by his lonesome nearby, my wife invited him to join us and share his thoughts.
Scottie is an Evangelical who had just spent several weeks wandering about the Old City in search of whatever Evangelicals are looking to find. He seemed pleasant enough, but I had the good sense not to get into an extended conversation with him. Let him just explain how much he loved his experience visiting The Land. When we mentioned that we were flying to Chicago (he would be on the same flight and then going on to Nebraska), he remarked in passing that ‘they’ were defunding the police in the Windy City. Weeks later, I saw and shared the following post on Facebook: My silence doesn’t mean I agree with you, it means your level of stupidity left me speechless. I could have patiently explained to Scottie that those in Chicago who have any intention of doing anything of the sort are few and far between, but why intrude into our Evangelical’s version of reality. As I wrote before, that’s not the way to go. Let’s just get to Chicago in one piece without any rancor. Which is what happened, as will be detailed in the next installment of my never-ending series.