Snippets from America – Part 2

by Brian on September 30, 2009

in Just For Fun,The Old Country

Following up on my post from earlier this month, here are a few more snippets from our recent trip to the States.

Mordechai and Esther in the desert

One of the highlights of our trip was a stay in Yosemite, a stunningly beautiful national park located mid-way between Berkeley (where we started after visiting my mom) and Los Angeles (where Jody’s mom lives). That meant a lot of driving through flat, boring countryside.

Finding a decent radio station became a family quest. It was about 9:00 PM as we were searching through the dial that we heard a deep voice. “Then Mordechai said to Esther: Do not imagine that you will be able to escape in the King’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews.”


Mind you, this was August, a half a year from Purim where we traditionally recite the Scroll of Esther from which this passage was taken. The booming voice continued, proceeding to recite the entire story up until the death of Haman.

Was there a Chabad outpost out here in the middle of the cornfields, we wondered? Of course not.  This was a Christian radio station and the reading was part of its regular on-air Bible series. We tried to stay tuned for the next story, but the station faded out and we were reluctantly obliged to switch to more standard Classic Rock fare.

Interestingly, our August mini-Purim shpiel ended abruptly before the “real” conclusion of the story. The part about the Jews rising up and slaughtering those who had come to kill them – conveniently missing. Best not to make any allusions to those modern Israeli oppressors, I suppose…

Super sized

With the entire population of Israel less than that of many metropolitan centers in the U.S., the contrast between our little country and “big” America has always been clear. From cars to homes to restaurant portions (and the bellies of the subsequently exiting patrons), we were immersed in the super-sized culture documented in Morgan Spurlock’s fast food tragicomedy.

What really drove it home for us, though, was the rice milk. We’re accustomed to our little one-liter cartons here in Israel and, indeed, that’s what I remember from when we lived in the U.S. 15 years ago. Rice Milk abroad now comes in a super sized half-gallon box – that’s twice the size of its puny Israeli cousin. Water bottles have jumped to as large as 2 gallons! Even Ziplocs are bigger.

During our trip, 18-year-old Amir was eager to try out his new driving skills on American highways. I’m no stranger to a California freeway, but watching my son trying to change lanes across a six-lane road packed with fast moving traffic was enough to scare even the most introverted back seat driver.

On the flipside, we were overjoyed at our movie theater experience – stadium seating with a huge screen and an audience that actually turned off their cell phones before the movie starts! (Upon returning, Amir went to see Inglourious Basterds here in Jerusalem. The screen was tiny, the sound went in and out, as did the focus. Back to DVDs for us…)

Personal De-Entertainment System

When we booked our flight on Delta, we had the choice to fly through New York or Atlanta. I had taken the Delta NY flight in March when my father died. It was an old plane, with uncomfortable seats and a few inconveniently spaced TV screens for the evening’s movies. So when we heard the Atlanta route flew a spanking new 777 with a state-of-the-art personal entertainment system with tens of movies on demand, we said “sign us up.”

The flight to Atlanta adds an extra hour to the already 12+ hour flight from Israel. But we were looking forward to using that time to squeeze in at least six movies (me in particular as I can’t sleep on planes). I started with “17 Again.” Jody chose “Sunshine Cleaning.” Everything was going fine until about ¾ of the way into the film, it abruptly froze.

I looked around. The rest of the passengers were happily watching their films. It turned out that just the two rows we happened to be sitting in were stuck. I called the flight attendant. She was apologetic and promised to “re-boot” the system.

The screen went dark and Linux code began scrolling across the screen. I don’t know who designed this, but consumers should never see computer language on a movie screen. It took nearly half an hour for the system to start up again.

Unfortunately, those same system designers had inexplicably linked the light controls to the touch screen display. That meant that we couldn’t turn the lights on to read. The kids nodded off, but I was stuck there, a chronic insomniac, sitting in the dark with absolutely nothing to do. A classic Jewish mother joke (“don’t mind me, I’ll just sit in the dark, it’s OK”) except I wasn’t laughing.

When the screen was finally active, I quickly turned on the lights. They were staying open in case of another malfunction which, I am sad to report, was quickly forthcoming. It took another three re-boots before we had our movies back. Total number of movies watched on the flight: 2

Three weeks later, assured that the problem had been addressed, we eagerly anticipated our return flight and its assorted films. We got through the first flick fine. But during the second – wham – another frozen screen. And again – it was only our rows (OK, I exaggerate, it was actually our section – but just the right side, not the middle or left).

The flight attendant this time was more loquacious and admitted that the entire Panasonic-made system was subject to similar temper tantrums on a regular basis. I thought about writing to Delta. Instead I posted about it to Facebook where at least one of my friends wrote back to say the same thing had happened to her.

Lesson: don’t pick your flights based on the amenities. And bring a flashlight.

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