Three days ago it was Saturday, my last day in Tel-Aviv before taking up residence on a Kibbutz in the Negev (my cousin’s idea, not mine!) My plan was to zoom zoom around the city on my rented electric bicycle with my new gal pal, Jo. I befriended the guy who owns the bike shop and in one of our conversations he mentioned I’d probably get along with his mom. I jumped at the opportunity to meet an American born local with her own electric bike. I offered to treat for tea in exchange for a few hours of peddle-peddle -zoom and for whatever her reasons, she agreed. He was right; we did connect and after touring around the Old City that first time, we set up another afternoon of biking on Saturday.
My cousin is renovating his home and construction was beginning any minute so I decided to move in with his parents before the weekend. Fit as fiddles at 85 and 91, the elders prepared a Sabbath meal when we arrived on Friday night with my luggage –and it was actually interesting to watch them light the traditional candles (something we never did in my house growing up) and recite the evening prayer (also something we never did). Personally, I would have preferred a nice Merlot to Manochevitz but that was not to be … The elders gave me keys to their apartment the first time I stopped in for tea on one of my first days wandering about the city . . . now I had my own bedroom there too. In fact, the same bedroom I had when I was 22, heading in a similar direction for a few weeks on different Kibbutz . . .
My last Saturday in Tel-Aviv was sunny and warm, so I packed a small towel in my backpack and peddle-peddle-zoomed over to the beach an hour or so before my meeting time with Jo to soak up some Middle-Eastern sun. I stretched out on the soft white sand and took a short nap. When I woke up and sat up I noticed an age-appropriate guy (aka Speedo) sitting nearby motioning me to come over to him. “Me??” “Yes, you,” he laughed. Broad daylight, seemed harmless enough –so I wandered over . . . “Yes??”
The conversation was short lived, silly, flirty and flattering. Speedo is fluent in English and charming enough to be distracting but I had a date with my electric bike and a gal pal so I trotted off promising to return to the same spot later in the day – and it was a beautiful day for biking.
“Tel-Aviv looks Jewish” was the giggle I had in my head as I hopped on my bike, zooming past Saturday afternoon stroller – informal, smart, confident, comfortable, almost sloppy. It seemed like Israeli fashion, Israeli jewelry, Israeli produce, Israeli coffee, anything and everything Israeli was on display. It’s a resort city – white buildings, blue skies, sandy beaches, busy sidewalk cafes, fabulous restaurants, nightclubs, theater, cinemas – it’s modern, hip and unique in its blend of middle eastern cultures. Israeli salad and falafel… smell the citrus, the olives and more.
Jo and I biked along the water, south, past Jaffa, weaving through Arab and Israeli neighborhoods –past antique markets and fishing wharfs …We peddle-peddle-zoomed for an hour or so before taking a salad break and sharing stories about our sons and daughters. It didn’t take long for politics to invade our conversation; we both live in democracies threatened by terrorists albeit theirs actually sits in the middle of a hot pot. Despite the liveliness of a busy city, it’s hard to be here and not feel it. I’ve gotten used to the sight of security guards posted at every entrance, front back and sideways, to every pharmacy, grocery store, train station, bus terminal, restaurant, mall, etc. – bag checks, body checks – a constant reminder of how precarious life here is. We lamented a growing population that uses words like “pro” and “anti” in lieu of the words like “peace” and “neighbor;” the many sides to every story and the truth that lies somewhere in the middle. We’re mothers of sons. We worry.
The air cooled as we rode back north, weaving through throngs of people enjoying the late day sun — we parted as friends with a deep connection — and I headed back over to the beach where I found Speedo in the middle of a soccer game with a bunch of guys who were having an absolute blast chasing a ball into a make shift goal. His team won and he glowed – “I’m 62” he hollered out to me. “Aha” I replied with a nod . . . “You just missed a good moment,” he noted a bit sulky as he came closer to me . . . “You should have said ‘you don’t look any older than 55!’ ”
“Ah,” I said sympathetically . . . “I just turned 60.” “Oh” he said, surprised, leading me to his blanket . . . “You look great too” (“oh yeah baby!” as Karen would say . . .) We sat down for a few minutes to chit the chat, but despite his very corny attempts to sucker me in to what could eventually turn out to be an awkward situation, I had no hesitation turning him down. My heart had a tag on it that read Bond, James, and my mind was very much focused on a bus heading south the next morning. Before the sun set, I peddle-peddle zoomed home to finish packing.
The taxi arrived on time to take me to the Central Bus Station, which had to be the safest place in town on a Sunday morning (the beginning of their work week) bustling with hundreds of young Israeli soldiers boarding buses back to their military bases. (I smartly used one to help me get my heavy bag up the escalator.)
More modern than their intercity counterparts, the long haul buses are surprisingly comfortable. I settled back in my assigned seat next to the window, with nothing on my mind except the forward motion. I had no idea where I was going, what it would be like to be back on a Kibbutz at my age, but I was ready for change.
The view out the window was stunning as we left the city and exchanged civilization for a seemingly endless road with miles of camel colored sand dunes on either side — the shadowed outline of the Jordanian mountains visible to the east. I relished the thought of heading into the unknown … why not?
Four hours later, the bus stopped at a junction between two roads, on the side of the 2-lane highway we’d been travelling on and I got off — in the middle of nowhere. As I watched the bus pull away and drift out of sight, I stood by my luggage and waited, alone on the empty road, for my ride 11 kilometers to a place called Neot S’madar — and a work schedule with my name on it. In Hebrew.
NOTE TO SELF: Should have brought a hat.