Monday, April 16, 2007

Friday the 13th Meltdown

So, we all have bad days. Somehow, when traveling, a bad day often feels like a really terrible day, even if it just a run of the mill bad day. It wasn't until I was in the middle of a pretty bad day that I realized it was Friday the 13th.

I had packed an overnight bag and was on my way to Tel Aviv for a relative's Bar Mitzvah. The plan was to give him a gift (of cash) so I went to an ATM in downtown Jerusalem before boarding the sheirut (shared taxi). The ATM said that my financial institution wasn't available. No cash. I tried one more time at a different machine. No cash. Arriving in Tel Aviv an hour or so later, I tried again. Still no cash.

Concerned, as I knew that I had not exceeded my daily withdrawal limit, I called the number on the back of my ATM card. It turned out that my bank accepts collect calls, so I hung up and tried to call the operator. Except I had no clue how to call the international operator in Israel. I thought maybe my fancy rental cell phone would have instructions or a number? Clicking through the menu, I found nothing. Remembering I had a guide book, I checked for guidance. Voila.

Dialing again, this time connected by the operator, I enter the long and irrelevant menu of automated options. No, I didn't want to check my balance, transfer funds, verify the latest transaction or order a pizza. I wanted to speak to a human being. Finally, a human being is on the line. After verifying that I am who I say I am, by providing all sorts of numbers, codes and my birthdate, and after telling him what the problem is, he says he'll forward me to another department. Except he wasn't really paying attention and he sends me back to...the main menu.

I take a deep breath.

Yes, you probably know what comes next. The second customer service person I finally get a hold of does the exact same thing...sending me to the main menu.

On the third try, I beg the next person to please not to leave me dangling. After verifying that I am who I am YET AGAIN, this time even being asked to provide my driver's license number (luckily I have it with me!), I am actually connected to the correct department. Baruch ha'shem. I am told that the computer is showing a pending transaction, that I did withdraw money that morning in Jerusalem, which is why all my subsequent attempts to take out cash were denied. Except that I never received any money, which is why I'm calling. So, I am in limbo, waiting to find out if the system will actually take the cash out of my account or if the error will be discovered. If the former, I need to initiate a claim.

Exhausted (this took about an hour), I head to the beach in Tel Aviv to chill out, enjoying an iced coffee while watching the parasurfers. On the way to catch a cab to my relative's house, I stop at the city market to buy some flowers for them. I asked the vendor if he could combine bunches of different colors, making a nice arrangement.

"I'm a flower seller, not a floral designer," he growls. "How many do you want?"

I hesitate.


The man really is yelling at me.

Pressed for time, and with many shops already closed for Shabbat, I grab two bouquets and hand him a bill.

"Shabbat Shalom," I say, forcing myself to smile at him and not get sucked into his angry mood.

He scowls back.

Weary, I hail a cab, get in and tell him the address. He at least admits he is new and doesn't know how to get there. I grab my bags and exit the cab.

The next cabbie seems to know where it is, but asks me to give him some general guidance. I had purchased a Hebrew map of Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan (where my relative lives) and after carefully looking at the index had found the street and circled it. I told the driver what the neighboring street was and he seemed to know how to get there.

We proceed to this location and I don't recognize it. There is no doubt we are in the wrong place. I call my relatives for guidance. It turned out that the address I had (spelled in English) could correspond to two different Hebrew spellings, of two different streets in different parts of the city. Reading the street index, I had chosen the wrong one, not realizing there was another. Later I learned that my map, although ostensibly covering Ramat Gan, ends before my family's neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the cab driver is getting directions from the wife. We do a mid-course correction and head across town. He still can't find the street and asks me to call her again. Somewhat mortified, I dial another time. After he gets off the phone a second time, the driver tells me that she had failed to give him complete directions the first time. Sadly, this is probably the case (I've had my own issues communicating with her).

Finally, finally, after a very expensive cab ride, I arrive to the house, about an hour later than planned. I ring the bell and, for a long time, no one answers. I ring again. Someone does let me in eventually and tells me to come upstairs, where everyone is holed up in their respective rooms. I say my hellos and ask the oldest daughter if I might be able to iron my Shabbat clothes.

She sets it up and I get to work. After successfully dewrinkling my one and only skirt I proceed to iron my blouses. One of them, a stretchy black crossover V-neck which I bought for this trip, melts under the iron. Talk about a wardrobe malfunction. Moreover, the bottom of the iron now has burnt black nylon on it.

I feel like the guest from hell.

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