The Three (un)Wise Men, Episode 1
It was all becoming a bit overwhelming. I was on my way to spend two weeks exploring Israel and Palestine, with the help of another high-school friend, Mark. Mark and his wife Andrea were teaching English in a Palestinian high school for a couple of years and were apparently suffering from some sort of food-borne illness that made them lose all reasoning processes of the brain. Why else would they invite me to come over and stay with them?
The logistics were on the sketchy side, as well. Our mutual high-school buddy Jeff would be flying up from Honduras (where he had been living for a year or so)through Dallas-Ft. Worth to Newark, NJ. I would be taking the train from Pennsylvania to Newark International Airport and meet up with him with an easy 3 hours to spare before our flight left for Tel Aviv. We would catch a taxi in Tel Aviv to take us up to Jerusalem. No problems that I could foresee.
I began to get a bit worried when Jeff failed to show at the gate by the time the Final Boarding announcement had been made. Knowing his weakness for salty treats, I assumed he’d been distracted by one of the Auntie Anne’s kiosks littering the terminal and got trapped in a lengthy conversation with one of the lonely pretzel slingers. With this theory in place, I proceeded to board the plane. Once in the door, I pushed toward the back, elbowing women and children out of my way with deft pokes and a look of distant aloofness that comes only with many miles spent in Coach. I found my seat just a couple rows from the very back of the plane, got my items situated, and began to worry. I got up and walked to the bulkhead and scanned the cabin for my friend one final time. In the distance was the sound of the door closing and latching. My heart sank; I would be traveling alone. I breathed a sigh of disappointment and turned to head back to the confines that I’d paid dearly for when his flannel shirt appeared on the far side of the cabin. El Jefe had arrived! After exchanging pleasantries (as well as his story about the immigrant TSA officer who helped expedite him to his gate on time but with expectations of a bribe), we climbed into our seats and prepared for the 11 hours of air travel to come.
The flight was a pleasant mix of knee pain and House re-runs broken up only by a screaming child and the occasional trip to the bathhole. After 8 hours, I had finally had enough and politely asked to get off. I was told this was not possible, so I convened with Jefe at the bulkhead to discuss life for the next 3 hours. We reviewed our itinerary and the instructions that Mark had sent us in case he could not meet us at Ben Gurion International. (“Barring someone breaking an arm, I’ll be there, buddy!”) Just 6 baby outbursts later we touched down on Israeli soil.
We had been warned about the Israeli security forces at Tel Aviv: be honest, be courteous, be patient, and DON’T CRACK A SMILE. Jefe and I followed the signs for arrival check-ins and spotted the row of little shacks that looked like tollbooths for walkers. I waited in line and couldn’t help but notice that these booths were all staffed by stunningly beautiful young women. I tried desperately to remember what Mark had told us, but all I could seem to recall was “Be smart, be witty, be charming.” It suddenly made perfect sense.
I was next in line and stepped forward to the next boothgirl who coyly beckoned me (It was either coyly or professionally, I can’t be too sure.) to her little brown shack located directly under a large PA speaker. I handed my crisp, new passport to her and awaited her questions. I couldn’t wait to show her how much I knew about myself. Her brow furrowed into the quizzical, confused look that I have become accustomed to seeing when meeting new women.
“Your passport. It is new.” There was a long, accusatory pause. “Why?”
I was disappointed that she was interested in my passport instead of me, but any interest is still interest, so I attempted to answer her question.
“Beca….” The PA speaker directly over her head interrupted me with a 110 decibel, unclear announcement in Hebrew about something apparently very important. Perhaps someone’s tea was getting cold in the staff break room?
I tried again.
“Because my passport was within 6 months of expiring and I was told I would need a new one.”
“Who told you this?”
“Your..” Again, the PA announcement blasted into her ear, repeating the same foreign phrases from the previous announcement. I paused.
“Your government’s tourism site said it was required.” She nodded in approval. I could tell she was impressed.
“How long will you be staying in Israel?” Finally! She wanted to know about me!
“Abo…” The PA speaker blasted out the same announcement, only this time in English. I closed my eyes and waited for it to end. The 28 hours without sleep was beginning to wear on me.
“About two weeks,” I replied.
“And where will you be staying?” Why did she want to know this? Was she planning on meeting up with me at some point? I wondered if she liked pizza.
“We will be…” For the fourth time, the PA blasted out the announcement. I stopped, raised my eyebrows and shot the speaker a look that I’d hoped would short its circuits. I turned back to her; she was smirking a bit and batting her deep dark eyes at me while waiting for my reply.
“We will be staying at the Augusta Victoria Hospital.” She looked confused, so I continued. “Our friend has secured an apartment there for our stay.” She smiled again and nodded.
“Enjoy your trip, Mr. Herr.” She stamped my passport, and I was on my way.
I met up with Jefe, who was patiently waiting for me. (He had no PA trouble.) We each gathered our two bags and headed out the door, hoping to see Mark. We reviewed the plan one final time.
“Mark said that we head out of the terminal and find the shiroot that takes us to Jerusalem. Then we’re to tell Shen in the shiroot to take us to the Jerusalem Hotel, right?” I asked Jeff to confirm.
“That’s what he said. Shen is the taxi driver, I guess,” Jefe agreed.
We walked past the fountain; there we found Mark, exchanged hugs, and headed out into the bright sunshine. Jefe looked around the line of taxis outside the terminal. “So where’s Shen?” he asked Mark.
Mark looked blankly at him. “Who?”
“Shen. You know….from the shiroot!”
“What are you talking about?!” Mark’s face was deeply furrowed by now.
Since we were on Israeli soil, I tried to be a diplomat. “In your instructions you said we were to tell Shen in the shiroot to take us to the Jerusalem Hotel.”
“There’s no Shen. I meant ‘When in the shiroot, get them to take you to the hotel.’” Mark seemed to think we were idiots for getting that confused. He would be correct.
The Mercedes Sprinter van door opened and we climbed in. Mark paid the driver and told him where we were (hoping) to be headed. The man nodded and we took our seats as the adventure was about to begin. The driver started the engine, lit a cigarette, and dialed his mobile phone as we left the curb.
El Jefe spoke his disappointment. “Boy, that’s too bad. I was really looking forward to meeting this Shen guy.”