Wow. This was a short trip. Five days. I think the only time I’ve ever done this short of a day-to-mileage-traveled ratio.
While I won’t burden you with the details of my trip – and believe me, it’s no burden, just another set of stories for another time – the travel never fails to meet expectations.
On this return trip, things seem to have gone slightly more smoothly – partly because I was unencumbered by a travel companion that did not have the same set of travel credentials that I did. Apparently, when travelling with El Al, the assumption is that Israeli citizens (passport holders) are less of a security risk and may not need the full treatment.
While waiting in the initial line that wasn’t moving, a mindful attendant figured out that someone at the entrance to the routing was not balancing the queues, and simply shuffled a bunch of us to a faster-moving line.
I happen upon a young woman, whose job it is to perform the initial questions – the good ol’ ones that I know how to answer clearly and firmly to instill confidence in the asker that I know what I’m doing, and that we can do away with this formality. After she is done, we spend a few moments chatting, not a normal occurence, more flirtatious, probably because this is a rare moment in her day when someone is actually smiling at her, and not making her life miserable. I recognize that this probably isn’t her dream job, and that she processes some multiple of thousands of people a day, and wishes she could be one of us, taking flight to another destination, or returning from some fabulous experience, but whatever the case may be – she probably doesn’t need me to add to her misery, so instead I try to lift it up, offer a friendly smile and word. She sends me through the fast-track line with no requirement to scan my bag, or shudder the thought, open it at the second security station for further inspection.
Making my way to the check-in array of counters with hard-working boys and girls, also probably only doing this job to pay for something greater, I wait, patiently, for people to get ticketed, and moved along.
When it’s my turn, I reach a young man, probably in the range of 22-26 years old. He quickly punches me in, double checks my meaql preferences, seating, and we chat briefly about where I’m going, and I ask him when he is making the trip. He’s happy to tell me that he is traveling to Thailnad in two weeks and is very excited about it. He speeds me along, gets me my boarding pass, takes my checked luggage, and we part smiling.
Since I have a little time, I had coordinates with a friend of mine to meet at the airport, since he works nearby, and this trip was so short, that I barely got to see him. My last visit, he had his spouse were on vacation outside the country, so this was a nice opportunity to see each other, catch up over a coffee, and talking at the speed of light to cover so much in a short time.
After a bit, we bid each other farewell, and hope to see each other during the next trip.
On to the security scanner.
This time, I’ve got it down. I’m wearing synthetic shoes, cargo pants with absolutely no metal in them, nothing in my pockets. Everything goes into the backpack, and I proceed to the detector. In Israel, they did not require removal of shoes. I guess they have not gone completely nuts yet.
I step through, and sure enough, the buzzer goes off.
There’s NOTHING to set it off! Maybe at some point in these five days, I was drugged, kidnapped and secretly implanted with some device that an organization is looking to retrieve on the other side through other nefarious means? Probably not, since during the trip it’s been non-stop family and brief interludes with friends.
So I get pulled to the side to get wanded. Oh boy. This guy looks like he’d rather be shewing on broken glass than doing this as he tells me to raise my arms, runs the wand over me, covering each area efficiently, and finds nothing. He does it again, and then shrugs, and nods me to move on with my life. I smile, shrug, and say in Hebrew “Go figure.”
Apparently the man in front of me at the scanner is STILL figuring out how to retrieve his articles from the scanner – something I tohught we knew the mechanics involved by simply looking at the return capacity tray and seeing that if you leave your large items there, new articles cannot move into there until there has been room vacated. Instead, he reaches into the tray that is still halfway in the tunnel for his hat and jacket, puts them on, before pulling his bag and laptop from the tray area, allowing me and the fiive people behind me that have now built up a queue to get our stuff in a record time of 0.3 seconds and move on to passport control.
This spot is the one place that I can truly appreciate. Efficiency. Technology. Let me get on with my life.
About four years ago, the Passport Control Gang (I guess they are really the Border Police?) figured that despite having lanes for Israeli and Foreign citizens available, there was constnantly a delay in processing enough people to get through in a timely fashion.
They set up a series of automatic kiosk-style biometric scanners that validate your palm-print and spit out a border crossing receipt that is legally allowable and fast. To get a card, you simply had to wait in line at another desk for maybe 30 minutes for them to register your hand with your passport, magnetize the card, and you are on your merry way. Passport control, for entry and exit, takes me a total of under 60 seconds. I Like This.
You take your receipt and head through another gate where a border partol gal looks at the receipt, tears off a corner, and sends you along to the main hall – where you can now shop for perfumes and such, drink coffee, connect to the free wireless signal, even connect to well-places power ports to top off the charge for your laptop prior to your trip.
I spend some time musing around, take a bit of a jog through the area, find a new cologne, walk around and see that not much has changed since my last time here. There’s not much I want here. I can find virtually anything for sale here at my destination, and I don’t want anything here anyways. The only thing I do get is some Elite Cow Chocolate (named for the cow imprinted on each bar). Yummy. Something to munch on the plane.
Headed to my gate. There’s always a million people flying to New York. While there are many, they typically are easily categorzied just by looking at them. There’s the young parents with many children, the young couples with screaming babies, the old couples that don’t speak a word of English or Hebrew, and the Orthodox men – so easilty identified by their black hats, and The Israelis. I hate to say it, but this deserves a category of its own.
There is something very particular about the Israeli attitude – that usually exists with Israelis that are about middle-age, and traveling to New York. I don’t know where it comes from – whether there is some sort of meeting where everyone agrees that a degree of self-entitlement should be professed when having dealings with others, or that since they have shelled out their hard-earned money for a flight in economy class that they should have the height of comfort. I have no idea.
Then there’s people like me – the loners. People simply trying to get from Point A to Point B while retainig a modicum of sanity. Maybe we are going on a business trip, maybe returning from one, maybe a familial one. But basically, these people are usually the least hassle of all, because we recognize that everyone else is going to put that much more pressure on the trip that there’s no need for us to add to it. I just want to get out of this alive.
Invariably, no matter what seating arrangment I book when choosing my seats – front of the plane, back, winodw or aisle – I’m going to be stuck right next to either the young couple with the scraming baby or the family with a bunch of unruly children that insist on screaming about some sibling doing something to them.
Today I got the latter. The mother looks like she needs someone to take the kids, feed them some Xanex-laced chocolate, so she can finally get a couple hours of respite. The father simply looks clueless, and is trying to juggle too many seat assignments – who’s going to sit next to who, wait – she can’t sit next to him, because they will fight, he needs to sit next to mommy, she wants to watch the DVD, he needs his diaper changed, and on and on.
The mother catches my eye and I see a fleeting look of desperation, a silent cry for help, before she turns her attention abck to her brood. She glances at me again, I smile, and chuckle lightly. She smiles too, and seems to relax a little.
This flight, I was lucky enough to have an empty seat between myself and the older woman in the window seat. This hasn’t happened in a long time, so I revel in the extra leg room, the lack of fighting over the armrest, and the ability to drop some articles on the seat between us.
As the flight progresses, Flight Attendants bring out the drink service, and I get a tomato juice and water, and place them on my seat tray. That in of itself is rarely noteworthy, however, as I put down my tomato juice and rest my arm for a slight moment, one of the restless children in front of me decides that at this moment he must jump and climb over his mother, bouncing the seat violently, toppling my water on to my lap.
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a transatlantic flight when your pants are pretty soaked, but let me clue you in to something – it’s no picnic. After the initial cold spreads far enough that the pant material has soaked it all up, then the slow process of evaporation in a climate-controlled cabin can begin. And it will take forever. Ah well. At least it was the water, not the tomato juice.
Anyways, we are now only three hours into our flight, and I’ve written a bunch already.
What have you done in the last three hours?