Flight home & talking to strangers in Tel Aviv

Friday, August 17, 2018 — Pages

Today has been a marathon of a day. I never really went to sleep after Grace left. She got onto the train at 2:09pm in Tel Aviv on Thursday. I saw her off, waving Goodbye and remembering the last time we split up when she went to Madrid for a few days.

I took the bus back to our Airbnb, picked up some juice on the way. When I got home, I wrote all the stuff above. I told Avi that I would come to check out his gym but got lost in writing for a few hours, writing and surfing the web. I eventually hustled to get to Avi’s gym, which was about a mile away. I ran there. When I showed up, Avi gave me a brief tour, showed me where the lockers were, and I just hit the weights for a bit.

I hadn’t lifted in many months, but it was a nice reintroduction to an old hobby. I have been trying to implement this mantra of One breath at a time, which helps overcome some of the hurdles that I face when I stare down a daunting obstacle.

On the way home from the gym, I picked up a sabich pita, which is so yummy. They really make those pitas with care, placing in so many ingredients into that gluten pocket. I sat down outside of the small hole-in-the-wall restaurant and tried to take my time with it. It was gone too quickly though.

When I got back, I showered, did a few things on my computer, like make a list of things to do when I arrive in San Francisco, appointments that I have coming up, and I handled a few tasks for Burning Man. I wondered whether or not I should go out as it was getting later on in the evening. I still had the last spliff that I had yet to smoke but was uncertain that I wanted to put in all the effort to approach people to talk to.

I ended up going back to the Prince, a bar that Kevin Hsieh had introduced us to. He said that had he not met up with us that night we saw him in Tel Aviv, he would have drank alone, probably at the Prince. I figured that if I didn’t make any friends, I would be drinking alone so I headed there. It was also very close to our Airbnb, just two blocks away. I went and sat at the bar. I ordered a small draft beer. I looked around, everyone had come with someone else and folks were consumed in their own thing. I decided to just look at my phone. I had wished that I had my kindle with me. Instead, I opened up the NY Times app and scrolled through a list of the headlines and found an article about shit that is happening around data privacy that I found to be interesting.

Before I started reading the article, even while I was reading it, I felt self-conscious, like I wondered what people thought about me and the image of an Asian dude in Tel Aviv just hanging out alone on his phone. I know that when I see others alone or unusual characters that might be out of place, I tend to make up stories about them in my head. I could see people doing that to me, and a part of me (a big part) wanted that story to be a cool one. I tried to let it go and succumbed to the fact that I was just the guy at the bar drinking alone on my phone. I embraced it. I feel like when you’re alone, the phone isn’t that bad of a crutch, especially if you’re reading something educational. At least, that’s what I told myself. The article was long. I took a break to start smoking my spliff at the bar, and I ordered another beer, which I didn’t think that I was going to do so at the end of two beers, I had a nice glow going and a solid buzz.

The article was eye-opening. It was about a guy in the Bay Area who had found himself going down this rabbit hole on data privacy after having dinner with a friend who worked at Google. He realized that there was really no constraints on what these tech companies had and who they were selling consumer data to, and his mission was to put into effect some checks and ways to keep the tech companies accountable. I learned that there is so much money poured into state and federal legislature from tech companies so that they can manipulate policy to be amenable to their bottom line, basically not get in the way of Silicon Valley making money. Silicon Valley has been, interestingly, non-partisan, both Democrats and Republicans find themselves supporting technological innovation. The guy that this article was about, a real estate businessman by the name of MacTaggart, funded a campaign to get something on the ballot to have voters in California be able to vote on this way to keep tech companies in check. My takeaway was that we have so much of our data given to advertisers and third-party companies, and it’s all used to sell us something or to predict our behavior, and we currently have no control over or insight into what information is collected on us and who it is shared to. This is scary if you think about it.

A bunch of organization and companies tried to get in MacTaggart’s way, playing games with him to squash what he had developed. Organizations with serious money at stake were involved trying to make it difficult for his initiative to get on the ballot because had it made it and passed, many companies would suffer financially. You have organizations that look like they’re looking out for our best interests on the surface, but when you look more closely as to who they are getting money from, who is keeping them afloat, sustaining jobs for that entity, then you see that all these organizations, even the ones that are supposed to have the people’s backs, are compromised. Obama was even compromised. Of course, he’s a politician.

That was probably the longest article that I had read in the NY Times in a while. My attention span for reading long-form stuff in one sitting is very low, but at this bar, I somehow got through it. Might have been the alcohol and spliff that helped. I eventually settled up and left the Prince.

Instead of going back to the main road that I had come from, I took an alternative route to a destination that I had in mind. I was going to check out this restaurant that has a “trendy” crowd at night, a place called Port Sa’id. The bar is like too cool for school, the wait staff are kind of bitchy (they’re hot but they’re mean), everyone is dressed in 90s clothing, donning denim like true hipsters. On the way there, I saw a gay bar which I hopped into for a second. I wanted to see what the feel was like. There weren’t many people inside so I made my way to Port Sa’id.

I still had half my spliff left so that was my crutch at Port Sa’id. Instead of standing in the corner like a complete loner, I could grab a beer and look occupied as I was having a smoke. Once I got the beer, the challenge was trying to figure out who to engage with. I saw a bench in the entrance to the bathroom where I sat down, next to me were two women. When it looked like they were bored, I asked them “What are your names?” One said something long in Hebrew, and I basically thought she was saying, “I don’t want to talk to you.” I responded, “I’m sorry. I don’t speak Hebrew.” She repeated what she had just said, and she added, “That’s my name.” “Ahhh,” I said, and I apologized. I looked at her friend, and she said her name was “Shila.” I tried to have conversation with them but they weren’t that friendly. I learned that they worked at the restaurant and were there on their day off to drink for free and see their friends. It was the most scene. I tried not to ask so many “yes-no” questions, but as I got the sense that they didn’t want to chat, I tried to drift away even though I was still physically sitting next to them. They spoke to each other in Hebrew, laughed, which I assume was at me, I smiled. I eventually turned to my other side and these guys were sitting there. I introduced myself because I heard English. They turned out to be three guys from Australia, two of whom were living in Tel Aviv. The conversation was also short. They didn’t feel like chatting it up with me, but they were cordial at least. The guy next to me told me that he was just passing through Tel Aviv to see his mate and was meeting up with his family in Pulga, Italy in a week. I told them that Italy is the bomb and that he was going to have a great time.

I looked down at my glass, it was almost empty, which meant that I had a choice. Since my spliff was done, I could go home not having really connected with anyone or I could linger a little longer and see what happened. I wasn’t done with my beer so I postponed the decision and just stood there until it looked like someone was seeking a friend. It’s amazing how much courage even I have to drum up to start random, out-of-the-blue, completely spontaneous conversation. There is a bunch of things going on, the first for me is wondering how I am perceived and trying to disarm the other person’s force field, security system. I want to communicate that I am not a threat and am interested in conversation. Some people are so mean, they don’t even look at you, they just ignore you completely, which I get but also don’t get. The second thing happening is once you are involved in conversation, how do you break in to have enjoyable conversation where you’re past talking about where they’re from, the weather, who they’re with, etc. The quickest point to a laugh usually is the best route — I think that this is true whether you’re approaching a man or a woman. However when you’re turned away and it doesn’t go as expected, you start all over, and you’re also left wondering whether your approach worked or not. I would love to be approached more often. A part of my quest for contentment, however, is being okay with not being socially engaged. When I am not socially engaged for a long period of time, I do tend to get bored. I suppose that I could combat this with observing my breath and present moment, but I also wonder what it means about continuing to hang out, seeking something else out, or just calling it a day and going to bed. I don’t know. I guess the whole point is that there is no wrong answer. I wouldn’t say that I suffer from social anxiety but when I get into this place of not knowing what to do next, I then default to the stories of what I should want to do.

Back to Port Sa’id, I saw these two girls talk to the hostess, it looked like they had put their name down with her. They walked my way, and I asked them, “Did you just talk to the hostess? How long is the wait?” They told me that she said it was 10 minutes. I pretended as if I had just talked to her about a table and was put on hold for a minute. The wait looked longer than 10 minutes as well, so I was actually surprised to hear that it was so short. I ended up lobbing a question out there to see if they’d bunt a response back, like a easy pitch to see if folks are down to play. I think that I asked them if they had been here before or if they were from Tel Aviv. They smiled and responded, they reflected the question back at me. I responded and one of the recurring items of the night was that the staff at Port Sa’id was bitchy so that became a joke. Their names were Sisi and Moran (pronounced like “Mo’an”), and they were Tel Avivots (Hebrew for women from Tel Aviv) who met through work and had become best friends. Moran’s boyfriend was at his bachelor party in Belgrade so they were having a ladies night. They had just come from Rothchild Street and wanted to grab a second dinner. We talked about Israel, the United States, I told them about my trip, and they were like friends that I knew back home. It’s interesting how similar people of the same demographic are across cultures. 30-something-year-olds living in urban areas tend to be secular, they tend to have the same attitude toward work and career endeavors (that they are important and a priority but there’s a longing for more), they tend to be liberal and supportive of rights for all, and we default to caring about the same things, trendy restaurants, music festivals, Instagram, etc.

I sat down with Sisi and Moran as they had dinner. I ordered another beer, and we chatted while they ate. They offered me a baked yam, which I had. I was hungry so it was super yummy. We lingered, talked, and eventually said our Goodbyes. I had to only walk two blocks and by the time I got home with four slices of pizza in hand for the next day, I only had like 40 minutes before I would be catching the bus to go to the airport shuttle.

I was actually pretty nervous about getting to the airport. I had intended on getting some sleep but that went out the window when I went out. I also have this tendency to not know what the heck I am doing when I have consumed either alcohol or weed. The last memory that I have of a near serious blunder was when I went to see Beyonce at Levi’s stadium. I left the stadium early to catch a cab to go to the airport but I couldn’t read the map on my phone to know how to get to the Uber. After running around the area, back and forth down the same street, I basically wasted 30 minutes of a heads start that I had on all those leaving the concert. Then, I got caught with the rest of the crowd leaving the concert and I got into a slow ass Uber. I eventually got to the airport, almost peeing my pants, and I think I made my flight. The time before that was when I was supposed to go see Grace’s parents to ask them permission to propose to Grace. I got too drunk at happy hour and got to the airport only 30 minutes before my flight. I missed my flight, got put on another flight where I had a long layover in Houston and got to her parents house like four hours my planned arrival time. Mixing alcohol and a trip to the airport do not bode well for me.

My trip to the airport consisted of a bus to the train station, then finding the shuttle that came once an hour to the airport, then finding the correct terminal, which I didn’t look up in advance, checking my bag in, and going through the intense security screening they have in Tel Aviv for Americans. Long story short, I took a 20 minute nap at the Airbnb, left the apartment at 4am, the bus arrived five minutes late at 4:18am. I got off at the stop that I was supposed to but had this long-roundabout way of getting to the front of the train station after being directed by a security man with a gun for wandering into a property that I wasn’t supposed to. Then, I got harassed by a taxing driver who was desperate to make a buck and drive me to the airport (the discount was pretty steep though, 80 shekels which is half the price of a normal fare). The shuttle eventually arrived, I found the correct terminal and after an hour of screening (and me personally fearing that they would take away the four slices of pizza that I had bought for the flight), I was at my gate. When I fly out of SFO, my goal is to not be there more than an hour before my flight takes off, but I had so much anxiety about missing my flight and messing up getting to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport at the crack of dawn that I got to the airport 3.5 hours before my flight. They didn’t board my flight until 9:30am so I actually had arrived four hours before I boarded the plane. What a doozy!

I had a connection in Iceland, where I filled up my water bottle (Thank God I did this. I can’t fly without water.) and grabbed a salad for my bare bones WOW airlines flight. I got a window seat and the guy who sat next to me was a Middle Eastern gentleman. And I’m not going to lie, as a liberal man who has lied in New York and San Francisco and that has Muslim friends, I still had this split-second fear that this guy was a terrorist or a “scary Arab.” I’m ashamed to admit that and there is no one in my life that reinforces this stereotype so I assume it’s the media and our portrayal of people that have this color skin that has conditioned me to think this way about a racial category of people. We ended up talking, and I asked him where he was from. He said that he lived in Belgium but was from Afghanistan originally. He told me about being a refugee in many countries and having to bounce around until a country gave him and his family status. What a crazy story. One thing that I notice is funny (without having a better way to describe it) is that most guys like women, even the ones that are married. They like commenting on how attractive a woman is, and I haven’t been educated as to how misogynistic this is. My understanding is that comments like, “Icelandic women are beautiful,” and “She has a lovely face” aren’t too bad or toxic, but I could stand to be corrected. I guess the problem is that we have a tendency to objectify women, and we live in such a bad culture maybe it’s better not to talk about them at all. I don’t know what the rigth answer is. Is appreciating a person’s physical appearance akin at all to appreciating the taste of wine or the way that a car runs?

All this to say that my friend next to me, the Afghani one, made a comment about the attractive Icelandic stewardess, and I don’t think the guy is a pervert but he also ended up showing me music videos with a singer name Lexxy Pantera who shakes her booty. I just could envision other people around us watching this Asian guy with a Middle Eastern dude watching a PG-13 rated music video with the sound up on a plane full of people sleeping. I didn’t have the heart to tell Musud that the music was a little loud. I could tell he was enjoying sharing Lexxy Pantera with me. I had never heard of her, but she’s apparently a big deal.

I have two hours left on my flight, and a part of me is really hungry for Korean food now. I don’t know if it’s because I plan to make it or something else. I also am starving for some bomb ass Mexican food, even though it’s not healthy at all.