A Town

It was a beautiful little town. No wonder, really, since it was the richest one in the state. Still, if you could forget about all the money that must have exchanged pockets in order to make the town look the way it did, you might just fall in love with it.

The best way to describe it would be old-town America. There are no high-rises; the tallest building in town is the bell-tower of the church, still tolling the hour to this day. There are just two main streets, really, both filled with quaint buildings, all low to the ground. Around Christmas-time, all the windows and doors are decorated with wreaths and big, red ribbons. The shops are varied, supplying the residents with everything they could want – from specialized yoga clothing to vintage fur coats; from good quality generic groceries to specialized health-foods; from magazines and sweets to books and toys; from sushi to Italian to Mexican to baked goods to good, old diner fare.

The town’s small train-station is quaint, no doubt about it. Standing on the platform, you can easily imagine an old steam-engine pulling into the station while men in suits and bowler hats and women in dresses in muted hews get ready to board it to go into the big city a few stops down the line. You can imagine parents sending their child off to the big city’s university in a train like that, with a steamer trunk loaded and a handkerchief waving goodbye out a window. Even today, the platform seems to contain ghosts of those people from other decades.

The town is beautiful, almost like a real life Disneyland.

Trance

It is night. I am alone. I am in my car. The time is 1:23 AM. My car is dark blue and no doubt looks black in the darkness of the night. There are no roadside lamps on this stretch of highway. I am utterly, completely and undoubtedly alone. The road stretches in front of my car. It seems to go on forever. I cannot see the end of it. All I see is the few feet in front of my car, where my headlights shine on the black asphalt and the white lines drawn on it, passing me by one by one.

My vision blurs as I try to count the white lines passing by on my right. One. Two. Three. Four. But no, they’re going to fast to count. I’m going to fast to count them. The speedometer shows me I’m going too fast. I slow down.

The radio in my car isn’t working. Way out here there is only a fizzle and crackle from any of the stations. My CD player is broken. The only noise I can hear is the sound of fast wheels on cold asphalt, and the sound of my own breathing. In and out. In and out.

The highway is taking me from one home to another. One home, the one I left, is broken, destroyed, a-shambles emotionally. My mouth curves into a wry grin before I can stop myself; after the confrontation tonight, it is a-shambles also physically. Not my problem anymore. I glance back, suddenly worried, but my suitcase is still in the back seat, holding every possession I own. The home I am going to is an old home, a half-remembered home, a home where I don’t know if I will be welcomed. The smile disappears. I was a disappointment. Surely I will not be welcomed. But there is no other place to go.

I jerk. I look at the clock on the dashboard. It is 3:44 AM. I cannot remember the last hour and a half. I’ve heard of this before. It’s called road-trance. Your body drives without you having to pay attention. Your mind sleeps and your body works on its own. Figures. That’s what the last four years of my life have been like, after all. Damn it all to hell. I keep driving. Maybe there will be something worthy at home. My old home, or rather, my renewed home.

Across Five States: Into Virginia

It seemed that the moment we crossed into Virginia, we hit real life. For real. We were stuck in a monstrous traffic jam of people leaving Washington D.C. for the day. So many people commute there, not to mention the fact that tourist season had begun, and so we felt that we were slammed back into reality, along with all the inconveniences it brings. As we sat on the sixty-six highway, we inched forward and began to cruise the local radio stations. We found some good easy listening, and settled in to wait.

The highway was bordered by high walls, and the directions were separated by hedges. We rounded a bend, and suddenly there it was. The Washington Monument. We could see its peak all the way from the highway, jutting into the sky like a beacon, heralding that we’d reached our destination. It was an exciting moment for all of us.

Soon enough we were taking the badly marked exit – Virginia seems to have a dark sense of humor and enjoys luring newcomers into a false sense of security by marking the exit well before it comes and then putting a tiny sign at the actual exit so you undoubtedly miss it – and driving into Arlington County, which was to be my brother’s new home. After some more muddling around with befuddling directions, we reached his apartment and discovered yet another thing about Virginia – the lack of parking, and the importance of tow trucks, which will tow any car that’s not marked by the right stickers placed in the right ways in the right corners of the right window.

This forced our hand. My brother and I unloaded the U-Haul at superhero speed, while my mother guarded it, just to make sure no policeman or tow truck would catch us unawares. Loading the truck had taken the better part of five hours. Unloading it took an hour, and we were drenched with sweat by the time we were done. By this time, night had fallen and we were all ravenous. We piled back in the U-Haul and found a dingy place to eat at, and afterwards found the only U-Haul drop-off spot in the area. It was a relief, seeing that truck for the last time, but we all felt a bit of a pang. It had safely conveyed us across five whole states, and as ungainly as it was, we had become proud of it – especially as we had the coolest U-Haul in the lost because ours had a picture of snakes on it instead of a U-Haul advertisement.

We took a taxi back to my brother’s apartment and, just like that, our move was done. We still had unpacking to do, we still had furniture to buy, we still had a whole county to get to know, but we were done. We’d moved my brother from Chicago to Virginia in two days. We accomplished what we’d set out to do. It was marvelous.

Across Five States: Into Maryland

We entered Maryland in the early afternoon. We drove on a main highway, and the biggest change I noticed was the lack of trucks and the return of cars. Regular cars, small, light, compact and sane – unlike the monsters we’d been driving with for the past day. Suddenly, we were the biggest on the road, including the SUVs, and there was a feeling of fear as we wove through the growing traffic that we would crush one of these tiny aluminum vehicles. It felt also like a return to civilization – we were suddenly around pleasure cruisers, commuters and road-trippers, instead of being around people who were doing a job as they drove.

All this, of course, was only because we were again on a smaller freeway, but commingled with the knowledge that we were so very near our destination, it caused a bit of a shock. It felt like we were almost done with this magical trip, so short but yet so full of experiences. When we stopped in Maryland at a Waffle House for coffee and sustenance, we came very close to deciding to stop at a motel again for the night and drive into Virginia the next day. None of us admitted it, but I felt that none of us really wanted this road magic to end – the feeling of being severed from any one time and any one place, belonging instead to constant movement.

In the end, though, we decided to push on despite everything. We still had unpacking to “look forward to” and we wanted to get it over with as soon as we could. We payed for our coffees, climbed back into the truck, and after some frustration over the rats’ water bottle leaking we set off again, knowing we’d be seeing another state in just a few more minutes.

Across Five States: Into Pennsylvania

A new morning dawned, bright and crisp – though the only reason it was crisp was the air conditioning which we’d left on all night. The moment we left the Day’s Inn, however, we realized just what kind of weather we’d stumbled into. It was hot, unbearable so, and humid to boot – and this at only seven in the morning! We loaded our essentials back into the U-Haul, blasted the air conditioning once more, and were on our way.

We were looking for a decent place to have breakfast, but we didn’t find any place that wasn’t fast food until after we’d entered Pennsylvania. When we crossed the state border, though, our hunger took a backseat in our minds as we gazed in wonder at the vistas around us. Almost immediately after crossing the border from Ohio, the mundane and endless flat-lands disappeared, giving way to rolling green hills. It was countryside at its most beautiful, alternating between vast expanses of grassy knolls and forests, dark and dense.

It was stunning, to say the least. There was so much wild vegetation that many of the trees were being choked by ivy climbing their very trunks, beautiful but deadly to the trees themselves. Here and there we could spot gorgeous houses perched between trees or amongst the hills, old-fashioned and grand. In the valleys between the hills we saw some large farms as well, which resulted in our delighted cries of “Sheep! Horses! Look, brown cows! More horses!” We were like children, seeing this foreign life that we’d all read about in picture books more often than seeing it around us.

We began musing about how someone would come to live here, and whether or not we would ever want to live in such an isolated place. We all agreed that we would love to live in a secluded and cozy house and write there for a season. I imagined what the winters would be like in such a place – wind and rain whipping the trees mercilessly, snow piling up and muffling the sounds of animals and the rustle of leaves. It would be like living in a fairy-tale, and yet, characters in fairy-tales always seem so lonely in the end.

We continued onwards, trying to solve crossword puzzles and keep out of the way of large trucks, and eventually we gave into our hunger and drove off the highway and entered a town. The name of the town eludes me, but we found a Denny’s there. I’d never been in one of those either, and it was another experience of discovering America. Our waitress was a darling, grey haired, plump and gruffly kind. She brought us all steaming mugs of coffee, which we were all desperate for. We ate a pleasant meal, finishing it off with a delicious Hershey’s chocolate cake, and made our way back to our seats in the truck that was already so familiar to us.

Across Five States: Into Indiana

Soon after beginning our drive from Chicago in our great, big, lumbering U-Haul, we passed through the border into Indiana. Here was strange country – mile after mile of flat land, soybeans and grass being grown around us for health nuts and golf courses respectively. Sign after sign advertised fireworks for sale in big block letters accompanied by smiling clowns or circus animals. We passed by rest-stops, termed in Indiana and thereabouts as “Service Plazas.” McDonalds, KFC and Wendy’s seemed to be the favored restaurants at said plazas, and although we stopped for coffee and fuel once, we kept driving past all these, choosing to wait for a real diner to show up.

We were in luck! A big sign by the road showed a picture of pancakes and bread read “Cracker Barrel – 20 Miles!” We all cheered. Our stomachs were rumbling, and although we were in good spirits and enjoying the smooth road and the fellow trucks rumbling along with us, we were all ready for some protein. When we eventually reached the exit, we turned off and followed the signs right to the snug parking lot surrounding the Cracker Barrel. As I found out later, every Cracker Barrel has a store filled with “old timey” sweets, tourist t-shirts, cheap DVDs and plastic souvenirs – all these in contrast to the truly beautiful rocking chairs that were lined up on the porch for sale and looked genuinely old.

We entered the restaurant, and for the first time, I understood and believed that there is an obesity problem in the United States. I never disbelieved it, per se, but I’ve always been in the big cities across America – Los Angeles, Chicago, New York – and in the big cities there are enough foreigners and enough so called “enlightened” people who are aware of their health and so I never witnessed more obesity than I would see anywhere else. But inside that Cracker Barrel I saw just how real this problem is.

We sat down at a table and were served by a nice young fellow whose name tag read “Chris.” It was wonderful to be sitting on wooden chairs surrounded by the smell of food after having sat cramped for hours in a small seat in a truck with the faint smell of my brother’s rats to keep us company. We ordered, we ate, and we went blissfully on our way, full of nutrients and renewed energy.

Independence Day

Independence Day in Israel falls on a different date every year. It is celebrated on the same date in the Jewish calender, but it’s very different from the common calender that most of us use – the one with January, February etc. The Jewish calender is actually based on the cycles of the moon – by looking at the Jewish calendar I can always know when it’s going to be a full moon and when there isn’t going to be a visible moon at all. It’s quite comfy.

No matter when Independence Day falls here, though, whether in April or May, it is always celebrated in the exact same fashion all over the country. On the Eve of it, there are performances in every city, some streets are closed off so people can roam freely in certain areas, and the same pointless, useless, dumb junk is sold all over. One time, I bought a headband with orange or pink pom-poms standing up on it. I think I purchased a necklace one time as well. Still, this year I saw my favorite pointless junk, but I refrained from buying it – sunglasses with little light bulbs all around the rims that flash on and off in different colors. Sensible, stylish and not at all tacky, I say!

That’s only one part of the holiday, though. On the day itself, the skies of Israel are blurred with smog and smoke – everyone, simply everyone, has barbecues. EVERYONE. There isn’t a free grassy knoll or an empty park bench to be found anywhere.

If someone could explain to me how any of this is supposed to symbolise patriotism for the state of Israel, I would appreciate it.