Going Solo

by Brian on December 16, 2009

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun,The Old Country

It’s been a month of firsts for our family. We sent our oldest son off to the army in November. Then last night, our 16-year-old daughter Merav headed out to the U.S. on her first airplane trip alone to visit her grandparents over Hanukah.

Living in Israel means that flying nearly anywhere out of the country entails a hefty trip. And heading to the States can be as long as 24 hours door-to-door. So it wasn’t surprising that Merav was initially quite apprehensive. We went over the itinerary for the tenth time on the drive from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion.

“When you get to New York, you first go to passports, then claim your luggage, then put it back on the conveyor belt…that is if it doesn’t get lost.”

“What!” Merav cried in a panic.

“No, no don’t worry, that never happens,” I replied, adding to myself the qualifier “much,” after having been the victim of too many items gone astray over the years.

Sure, Merav’s been to the States many times with us, but going solo is a big deal. I can relate. I remember my first time on a plane alone.

I was 17 and flying from San Francisco to San Diego to check out the University of California campus there. This was 1977 and security was a lot more lax. My mother actually came onto the plane to make sure I was settled in and buckled up. Nowadays of course, non-ticketed family can’t even make it past the Irish pub next to the metal detectors.

Upon landing, I stayed in a YMCA in downtown next to the Greyhound bus station. 30+ years later, I still can’t understand why my parents didn’t put me up in an at least a Motel 6.

On my first day in San Diego, I went to the bus station to make a call home. I entered the phone booth, spoke for a few minutes and then left to catch a bus to the university.

It was then that I realized I’d left my wallet in the phone booth. I raced back but it was already gone…along with all my cash and ID. Fortunately, I still had my plane ticket home and some loose change in my pocket. But my college visit was shot.

That was until I met Clifford, a down and out man who had the air (and smell) of a homeless vagabond. For some reason, I struck up a conversation and it transpired that he had a car. He offered to drive me to campus. And I, being young, foolish and incredibly naïve, accepted.

He then proceeded to drive me to UC San Diego…albeit with a lengthy stop on the way at a shady house in an even shadier neighborhood where he said he was checking up on his sick baby sister but for all I knew was buying drugs or procuring a fire arm to use in his nefarious kidnapping plans.

Clifford, however, was true to his word and my semi-homeless new best friend and I wandered through the tree-lined lanes of the school. We even stopped at a campus cafeteria where I treated Clifford to a Snickers bar with my remaining coins.

I didn’t promise to stay in touch when Clifford dropped me off at the airport later that day (I’m not sure Clifford had an address he’d be willing to share). But I thanked him profusely (perhaps as much for not killing me as for giving me a tour of San Diego). And I’ve never forgotten the inexplicable kindness by a man with very little who expected nothing in return.

Merav won’t have the opportunity to meet her own Clifford. She’ll be greeted at the airport by doting grandparents, and any stay at a YMCA has been replaced by the tonier Hampton Inn. And when it comes to communication, phone booths are nearly extinct of course. Merav will be calling by Skype video from her laptop straight to mine.

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