[Taglit 5-Year Retrospective] The Travel To Israel

A reminder of yesterday’s post before I get started on the Retrospective.

Until the end of the month, I will be writing retrospective posts on my Birthright Israel trip, which occurred exactly five years ago, and fortuitously the days of the week also align (e.g., July 20, 2011 was also a Wednesday)!

I never posted my journal on the day before Israel, so I will post the journal entry here. For the remaining days, the following format will be given:

  1. A link to the original journal entry on my blog.
  2. A new reflection on my thoughts from that day in the five-year retrospective.

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From Chicago to Tel Aviv (Israel: Part 1)

For all of these journal entries, the numbers in [square brackets] refer to the photo numbers that I have on my Facebook page. All of the relevant ones for this entry are here on my Facebook page… feel free to follow along whenever a reference is given.  NOTE: Obviously, you have to be a member of Facebook.  I’ll try to find an alternative method for my friends not on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 20 / Revi’i, 18 Tammuz

The day began before it began!  I was jarred awake at around 300h as a thunderstorm had brewed.  Heavy rain, lightning, and thunder was evident.  Thankfully, I fell asleep easily thereafter.

I woke up “for real” at 600h, and the rain had abated.  For breakfast, I had yogurt and water, of course the former paired with Grape-Nuts.  While eating, I checked Facebook, and saw some encouraging messages about my trip.  It is almost on!  I equipped a “Go ‘Cats” T-shirt, zipoff shorts, applied deodorant, and ensured everything was packed.  I fear I will forget something important…

At 638h, I walked down Maple toward the Davis intermodal station.  It was already humid, but the heat hadn’t kicked in yet.  There were a few people about, but it was quiet.  Several Pace 213 buses came by, but the important-to-me 250 arrived at 655h.  I sat in priority seating, placing my backpack at my feet and suitcase underneath the seat.  The ride was uneventful, although I attempted to catch up on journaling in the ride, as I was three days of bullet-style journaling behind.  Once we got past Skokie, parts of Dempster were really bumpy to prevent me from getting the journal done.  Besides, I’ll have time to journal while flying.

The bus went on Dempster, very familiar territory as it changed to Miner, as we passed the Science Academy.  A little further on Miner was the Metra stop, at which the driver stopped for a smoking break!  Is that built into the schedule?  After the break, turning left onto Lee Street was halted by two Metra trains and a long red light sequence.  It was neat seeing this downtown area.  It may be a fun bike adventure later!  With a new camera, too, I’ve got new options!  Lee Street curved to Touhy, and Mannheim went toward the Kiss ‘n’ Fly.

Exiting the bus, I ascended an escalator to the tram boarding area.  The left doors would open when it came, and it took about four minutes to arrive.  I noticed texts from Dina and Allison Mocchi, the latter saying to have a great time, and the former to locate myself.  The tram took a stop at Terminal 5, and then 3.  I noticed old city buses transformed into shuttles.  Cool!  At the terminal, I asked an agent where JetBlue was, and was pointed leftward.  I found Dina and Allison (Morris) there, and the former had already checked her bag.

I weighed my bag, and dropped it with the TSA.  We (i.e. Dan, Dina, Allison, and I) walked to the security checkpoint, and in line, Dan’s hands were swept.  Lots of beeping was coming from the scanners.  When I got up there, I was asked to go through the backscatter X-ray.  I was also non-thoroughly patted down afterward. It’s annoying, but I didn’t balk about it.  Neither of the women required any extra procedures.

We walked toward Gate L5, and I took a stop in the bathroom.  Once I sat down, I didn’t do much—I think I was either collecting thoughts, retreating into my own world temporarily, or something similar.  The plane arrived a tad late, but I’m in no rush since there will be plenty of transfer time in New York.  It was 925h when they started boarding.  Row 14 was part of the last set called.  Oh well!  They called first 1-8, then 16-25, and then the rest.

The plane had fog coming out, clearly visible inside.  Each seat had a personal TV monitor that was provided by DirecTV.  I chose the Google Maps channel.  The flight took a while to take off, but the estimated time of flight was 103 minutes.  When I started the clock, Muthuswami was playing on my MP3 player.  During the flight, I caught up on journaling, and had PopCorners kettle chips with Coke.  I’m now fully caught up as we’re one hour and 30 minutes into the flight.  One cool piece of trivia: we were in Canada for a little while [1]!  Soon thereafter, the captain asked us to turn off electronic devices, but of course I tacitly refused to down the MP3 player.  I’ll have fun and go mad! (Indeed, that is the song that was playing at the time.)

The plane landed in New York after one hour, 44 minutes, and 49 seconds.  On time due to the secondary estimate of 1:45 that was given at the beginning of the flight!  Exiting the plane with Dina, we followed the signs toward baggage claim.  Down an escalator we went, past a secured door, and saw Dan and some of the other Chicago JetBluers.  In a circle we stood, just hanging out until the bags came.  All of our bags arrived quickly.  We then took the tram to Terminal 3, then up and down an escalator and elevator to street level.

Well… not exactly.  We had to descend another level in a capillary elevator.  Glad we have time!  To get to our part of the terminal, we had to go past a crosswalk dangerously, and some of us, me included, did it illegally by walking on DONT WALK.  After the crosswalk, there was an incline, and into the terminal.  Once there, we all congregated in a corner near the check-in kiosks.  Flushing our bags against the wall, we all sat down to burn some time.  It is 1400h now.

One suggestion was Bananagrams, and we got a set of eight to play.  Word games are fun, as are board games!  With 8 players, the games all went quickly.  I won the first one using short words that collaborated well with my letters.  Rachel won the second time, (someone else whose face from then I can’t recall now) won the third time, and I won the last.  There were not many strings of “Peel,” like what happens frequently when I play at Hillel.

The game took its own derivative around 1450h, but then Dan & Aaron alerted us to the availability of boarding passes.  This involved scanning our passports on the screens behind us, which was easy to do.  For Michelle, it failed, slowing Dina and me down, as we decided to navigate the airport as a small trio.  That’s fine, though.  Heading to security was quick, but the line took FOR-EVER.  Dina, Michelle, and I all managed to stay sane, and this time, none of us required additional screening.  Good—once is enough!

The secured area through, we searched for food.  A circular area showed only Burger King, Starbucks, and Relay, so we followed the arrows toward Gate 6.  An organic gift shop and bar were along this corridor, but then a food court came into view.  The only appealing-to-me place was Chili’s, so I got a bowl of chili as the others got Sbarro.  We ate in the food court area, and discussed locales, bluntness, and offense (or lack thereof to Michelle), and more.  It was a good conversation, but of course I need not include ALL details.

At 1710h, we walked around the bend and found Gate 6.  Toward the back, Brooke gave us all name tags, of which I proudly equipped.  Even with the tags, I know I will have difficulty with everyone’s names.  I’ll do the best I can!  Trying to gather us all in a non-noisy place was a challenge for Dan and Aaron, but we found a place to discuss.  The main point of the discussion was that our party isn’t complete until we get to Israel, and that money should not be an issue.

While waiting for boarding, random conversations abounded, in various circles.  All of them were partially introductions, partially other discussions, and none of them dug very deep.  Of course, recalling every detail is challenging.  With excitement running through my head, we’ll see if this journal turns into more thoughts than actions. I attempted to use the restroom before leaving, but nothing happened.

The flight didn’t even start BOARDING until 1930h, which was its scheduled DEPARTURE time plus five minutes.  Once that happened, the line moved quickly, but it was still rather annoying.  The security at the gate was easy, and we got on the plane.  It is a HUGE plane, with two aisles!  My 61D seat is an aisle seat way in the back.  In the other aisle seat in my section, a  man who was either Chasid, Orthodox, or Chabad sat, and the middle two seats were empty.  Lots of Birthright people were together, which may make it awkward to talk.

We left the gate around 2015h, as the screens ahead showed our route, distance to be covered, etc.  Despite the crew’s instructions, people were freely moving around the cabin.  Each time we inched forward, some of us applauded, but then groaned after stopping again.  (D’OH! Good thing I brought two pens—the Masa pen has failed.)  I was getting antsy, but obediently remained seated.  My stomach was a little knotted, but I am certain it is mental.

Finally, at 2121h, the plane took off!  Plenty of standard airplane announcements followed, and we ascended quickly.  It was bumpy, and hard to journal.  The estimated time-in-air is now 9 hours and 45 minutes, so we shall see what happens.  There’s no such thing as a midair traffic jam!  Once we were in the air, I had little trouble catching up to here, but as I got to this point (1 hour and 8 minutes in flight), some turbulence hit.  Be strong!

The seatbelt signs remained on, even after we escaped that turbulence, but plenty of people were up and moving.  I was reluctantly obedient, though.  The dinner came shortly thereafter, and it was mushroom chicken with rice as the main item, slaw as a vegetable, and coffee cake for dessert.  A dinner roll I chose to save for later.  Clearly my fear of mushrooms is unfounded—although I didn’t eat them, the sauce was no problem.

However, even worse turbulence hit around the two-hour mark.  Although it didn’t weaken my stomach, my bladder didn’t like it, nor did my sanity.  I’ve been obediently sitting for three-plus equicontinuous <note: that word is intended as an expletive!> hours. That apparent urge to use the restroom three hours ago that didn’t then come to fruition now certainly has!  This turbulence was so bad that the flight attendants were forced to sit down!  As we exited the turbulence, despite the seat-belt signs still being on, I finally chose to disobey the signs.  I got dibs on a lavatory and relieved the bladder, suffering a small cramp since I had to hold for so long!  After this, my watch said midnight, but my body’s clock interpreted the time as 2300h. Either way, it was time to sleep, so I popped in the Frank Prince MP3.