___ Drive: An Essay

This was the essay I submitted to the University of Chicago. It’s more of a creative writing piece than an essay, though, which is why I decided to share it here.

Nestled in the gorgeous hills of the city called Los Angeles, there is a street. It is a pretty street, suburban and colorful. It is called ____ Drive.
Many of the houses on ____ Drive are rather old, though you wouldn’t guess it by looking at them. In the fifties, all the houses were new and pristine, perfect little packages of suburbia. Young couples or families just beginning their lives moved onto the street, and made it what it really became – a homey, beautiful, precious place to live.
The street starts out with a wide bend, curving off the main street that leads up the hill. There is a store there, right near the corner, ridiculously overpriced and adorable, all brown wood on the outside and the good smell of bread and snacks on the inside. For me, that’s where the street really starts, at that store.
Right on the bend into the actual street, there is a single, solitary apartment building. It’s been renovated so many times over the years that it never seems to actually house anyone at any given time. After the building, the street starts proper, with a dip down straight off, houses looking crooked on both sides. There aren’t any sidewalks on the street – for why would there be? This is LA, the city of cars – and so you always need to be careful to walk against traffic, along the side of the road.
Every house on the street is different than its neighbor. There are no two alike, not even a little – each has its own unique brick patterns on the outside, its own colorful or bare garden, its tree or its bushes or its roses, the swing next to this house and the bench in front of that one. This one has a porch, the next might have a wildflower garden, and the next might have a collection of stones in front of it. Some of the houses are memorable, and some aren’t.
Although time has been kind to most of the houses on the street and they still look classic and well-tended, some newer families have moved onto the street and they decided that the houses they bought were too small. So what did they do? Why, what any upper-class family trying to live the American dream would do. They tore down the old, endearing, family-sized house, and built large concrete monstrosities with four garages and five stories, and park their Hummers on the street, because apparently the kids need the garages.
Still, if one can ignore those places, which stick out like sore thumbs, the street is one of beauty and tranquility. On Sunday mornings the grandkids come visit and ride their little tricycles in the driveways. Their parents sit back indulgently, speaking of times when they were that little with their own parents, the inhabitants of the street. On most other mornings, you will see sixty- and seventy-year olds walking briskly up and down the street with their usually-outdated portable music players, or maybe you’ll see them driving to work in suits and ties, with hair and mustaches sleeked.  You’ll see the younger families carpooling to work with their children bouncing in the back seat, watching Spongebob Squarepants on their portable DVD players.
The afternoons on ____ Drive will be quiet, people napping, resting, doing homework, relaxing and giving themselves alone time, swimming in their pools by the light of the setting sun and its reflection on the water. Occasionally the sound of a helicopter will break the peace of the quiet afternoon, but more often than not the street will be serene, almost eerily so.

So, the days. The nights are different. The nights might be noisier, as one house or another is bound to be having a dinner-party, a birthday, a casual get-together, a wild night of drinking in the house where the parents have gone on vacation. Even when it’s quiet, the patches of yellow glow from the windows cast a pretty light up and down the street. Everyone remembers dutifully to turn on the garden lamps as well, so as to help drivers coming down the road to see well.
There are walkers at night too, of course – the people with their music players, all bundled up now because of the cool, crisp mountain air. It is always cool at night up there, even during the height of summer. Some nights it’s foggy, making the air smell deliciously damp, like being in a real cloud.
If you walk down the street very late at night, it will be quite dark. Although many people leave their garden lamps on, their light is dim, especially at that hour of the night. Coyotes and raccoons often roam the street, the raccoons even opening garbage cans to rummage inside, and deer creep into the backyards to eat the flowers or drink from the pools. The man with the hybrid wolves will be walking down the road, taking them for their walk when the fewest people are around. The wolves are part dog apparently, but they look fearsome, even though they’re muzzled, and their size, their ice-blue eyes, and the ample amount of spiky grey fur on them isn’t very reassuring, though beautiful to look at.

There are two things that make ____ Drive the most wonderful, beautiful, splendid street in the world for me. The first is what you will see if you walk down to the very end, at night. Once upon a time, when I was very small, there was no gate there. There was just a long, long driveway, leading down to the biggest, ugliest house of all that sat alone on a huge plot of land, surrounded by out of place palm-trees and odd gazebos. Now, the house is the same, but there is also a gate before the driveway, a big black gate.
Still, nothing, not even the gate, can ruin that spot. You can stand there and see the whole of Los Angeles spread out before you, all twinkling lights. The lights are arranged in grids, little squares of suburbia similar to the one you’re standing in. It’s an astounding sight, awe-inspiring, especially when the air is clear and you can truly see so far. It is just a blanket of endless fairy lights, all seeming so happy.
The second reason for this street’s splendor is the fact that it was the center of my visits to the US all through my childhood; it was where my beloved maternal grandparents’ home was. The memories of it are now bittersweet. I will probably never venture up there again, as my grandparents have both passed away and we’ve sold their gorgeous, comfy house. Still, I will always and forever remember every detail of the street and its atmosphere, both with the sweetness and innocence of my childhood days there and with the cynicism of my older state today.

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 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.

Security, and Lack Thereof

As some of you may know, I’m flying to the United States in a week. I’m extremely eager for this trip, which, of course, makes the time move all the slower. I’ve been obsessing, planning and re-planning, mentally packing and making lists for days now – and with all that came the comparisons between here and NOT here. In musing about the differences between a country fraught with chaos, namely Israel, and a country fraught with a different sort of chaos, namely the US, I stumbled upon a very small but fundamental difference between the places. It’s something I almost never remember until I’m actually in the US.

When most of you walk into a grocery store, a theater, a mall, a cafe or any other public place – you just walk in. You open the door, and walk in. Here, it is not so. Here, there will be a guard. There is always a guard. There will forever be a guard. No matter what public place you enter here, you will have to surrender your bag, purse or back-pack to a guard’s cursory glance, their hands feeling inside it or weighing it to see how heavy it is. In places like the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, you’ll have to go so far as to pass your things through a metal detector. At the entrance to most malls, you yourself have to go through a metal-detector.

After being used to handing over your belongings everywhere you go, I’m always struck by how odd it feels in the US, or anywhere else for that matter, where you don’t have to do that. You can just… walk in. Incredible.