And just like that it’s November. Sheesh, time is flying by. Next thing you know I’ll be talking about Christmas decorations on the house.
But first up, I can tell you that after my work project went live, work remained busy for a couple weeks and then I spent a week getting my stuff parceled out because it was time for me to go on VACATION. Back in April, my sister had called me to gauge my interest in accompanying her mother-in-law on a two-week trip to Israel and Jordan. Apparently her bucket list included going to see Petra in person, and this trip included a side trip to Jordan in order to do just that. Unfortunately, she was unable to travel by herself due to her age (late 80s) and some memory deficit issues she has been struggling with. Still well able to take care of herself, she needed someone to help keep her on task throughout the trip (“AJ, we need to go meet the bus in ten minutes,” or “AJ, we are going in this direction, not that one.”). I was asked to be that person.
I counted my to-be-earned PTO at work, checked my work and home calendars to see what was taking place during that time, mentioned the trip to my boss, verified it was okay with my husband, and voila – next thing I knew I was renewing my passport and putting in for two weeks of PTO for parts of October and November.
For me, the trip started on Sunday, October 23, when I drove to Virginia to spend the night at my sister’s house. Our flight to NYC to meet up with the tour group was not until Monday, but I wanted to get there early in order to meet AJ and enable her to get comfortable with the fact that she was traveling with a virtual stranger. Fortunately, AJ is such a sweet woman that she took it in stride and we ended up getting along really well during the entire trip.
On Sunday and Monday, I helped AJ finish packing her suitcase – I had traveled light, myself, with plans to wash my clothes via the hotel laundry services throughout the trip. Since I was to be the one schlepping the luggage, I wanted AJ to pack light as well. One suitcase and one carry-on was all I wanted to manage for each person, and we got that accomplished. I actually had space in my suitcase for any purchases I would make during the trip.
On Monday afternoon my brother-in-law drove us to the airport, where AJ and I quickly found our departure gate and sat down for a long wait. It quickly became apparently that AJ’s memory issues were a bit more advanced than I thought – she asked me the same questions multiple times, and told me the same traveling stories multiple times just in the two hours we sat at our gate. We began talking with a young man sitting opposite us in the waiting area, and mentioned that we were going on a tour of Israel and were meeting up with the group in NYC. At that point a woman nearby stood up and came over to me. “Are you going on the Lon Solomon tour of Israel?” she asked.
“We are!” I exclaimed.
“My husband and I are also going on that trip.”
This was Letha, and her husband Alan. This was their fifth time traveling on a Lon Solomon tour, and became our first friends on the trip. We ended up eating dinner next to them in a JFK Airport diner, and talked and sat with them throughout the 12-day trip. Sadly, I never did get a picture of them. After she went to sit back down with her husband, AJ turned to me and said, “It’s nice to know we’re in the right place!”
The flight to NYC was short and uneventful, and upon arriving in JFK we picked up our luggage and made our way to the El Al counter. A line was already forming, but we had hours to go until check-ins would begin, so we opted to go find a place to sit down. That’s when we ended up having dinner with Letha and Alan, who had the same idea. After a leisurely meal, we went to the check-in line at El Al.
Check-in was interesting. Obviously El Al is famous for their very tight security, and I got to witness it first hand. Those folks are SERIOUS about who they will let on their plane. When our turn arrived, we stepped up to the podium in front of a young woman who took our passports to review. Due to AJ’s memory issues, I had to answer most of the questions, and I got the first one wrong.
“What are your names?”
“Jaynee Cootiehog and AJ Mother-In-Law.”
“AJ?” she asked, looking at the passport again. She looked at AJ. “What is your name?”
AJ told the woman what AJ stood for, but at that point the agent was giving me the stink eye.
“Do you two know each other?”
“AJ is my sister’s mother in law – I’m acting as her traveling companion because she has some memory issues.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because no one else was available to go with her, and so my sister and her husband asked me.”
“And why would your work let you take two weeks’ vacation do go to Israel?”
“Because I had saved up enough PTO to take the trip, and as long as you have the time saved up, you can take off from work as much as you want.”
She then began peppering questions to AJ, but they were questions that I knew AJ could not answer because of her memory, so I kept answering for her.
“Who packed your bag?”
“We packed it together.”
“Why would you help her pack her suitcase?”
“Because she needed assistance.”
On and on the questions went, and I continued to answer because I knew AJ wouldn’t remember. I knew that was probably suspicious that I wasn’t “letting” AJ speak, and I tried to not answer, but had no choice.
FINALLY a question came that AJ could answer on her own, and with that, after a 10 minute interview, the El Al agent let us through security. I texted my family to say, “Well, I have never felt safer about flying than I do right now!”
Then came the next hiccup. Once checked in and at the gate, I looked at our boarding passes and realized that AJ and I were not seated together on the plane. In fact, we were about nine rows apart on opposite sites of the massive plane (3 seats, 5 seats, 3 seats). That was NOT good. I spoke to the gate attendant who said that it was too late to make a change but that I could ask the flight attendants to possible see if they could move a couple passengers around so that we could it together.
Once on the plane, with the attendants agreeing to try to seat us together, I realized that the seat next to me (the middle seat) was a single flyer. After a few short minutes, a woman approached my row. I jumped up and said, “Are you by any chance willing to switch seats? I have a traveling companion with a window seat but she needs to sit with me. Would you take her seat?”
“Absolutely!” the woman cried excitedly (I later found out her name was Shelley – she was on our tour as well). And with that, crisis was averted. I gave AJ my aisle seat and I took the middle seat, sitting next to a window seat woman who seemed cranky at first but ended up being really friendly once she got in a long nap at the beginning of the flight (which was a red-eye flight to Tel Aviv lasting 10 hours).
When we finally landed in Tel Aviv, it was after 5:30 p.m. their time (10:30 a.m. ET). It took about an hour for everyone to get through security again, and everyone was exhausted by that time. But after a brief one hour bus ride to Tiberias, a town on the Sea of Galilee, we were dropped off at our hotel where we enjoyed a quick dinner before going to bed for the night.
We had made it to Israel!