Chapter 2: Bagels and Nosh

Finally, June 15 rolled around, and we were off. Our schedule required us all to drag our tired butts out of bed in the middle of the night, some of us more so than others. I was "lucky." I got to sleep in until 3:30 in the morning. Ron was coming in from near Palm Springs.

For the flight to NY, we'd hunted down a "bargain" airfare, and wound up on National Airlines. I find airline seats narrow and uncomfortable even on good airlines, the ones on the National flight were just miserable, easily the worst airline seats I'd ever encountered. Our flight had a stopover in Las Vegas, so a good number of people onboard were on their way there. Sitting right behind me was a noisy gaggle of late- twentysomething party girls. One of them was getting married in August, and they were heading to Vegas in June to get a head start on getting drunk. Despite the fact that it was 8 in the morning, they couldn't even get through the brief trip from LA to Vegas without drinks.

After a one-hour layover in Las Vegas, where we resisted the urge to play the "convenient" slot machines in the terminal, we pressed on to NY, and arrived late in the afternoon to typical June weather there, hot and humid. We made our way to the baggage claim at JFK airport and waited for our bags...and waited. And waited. Every once in awhile, one or two bags would come dribbling down the belt, but it took over an hour before we finally had everything in hand. Then we went to get the shuttle bus to take us to the rental car center. And we waited. And waited...but this time, outside in the stifling humidity. We finally discovered that you actually have to CALL the car rental company to pick you up, and by the time we made it out of the airport, it had taken more than three hours, nearly as long as the cross-country flight itself.

We headed out to Long Island and checked into a dumpy budget motel in Massapequa that featured a handwritten sign in the office reading "no refunds after 10 minutes." Yeah, one of those kinda places. Ron had grown up in the area, and much of his family was still living there, so he headed off to bunk at his brother's place. Much later, we finally sat down to dinner at a real NY-style diner, where we found the food surprisingly good.

Saturday morning, we headed out to Port Jefferson on the northern part of the island, one of those quaint little seaside tourist-trap villages, and spent some time wandering around. It was just warm enough and just humid enough to be unpleasant. Later, we headed south and drove along Fire Island.

Montauk Point

Sunday, we schlepped all the way out to the end of Long Island, to the Montauk Point light house. There was a light fog, which cut down the heat considerably. After touring the light house, we walked the beach below the cliffs, all the way around the point. Just about the time we decided it was time to go, we heard the first clap of thunder, so we hightailed it back towards the van, and almost made it before the sky opened up and a heavy rain started pouring down.

The light at Montauk
Photo by David Lindquist

Ron walks down the hill from the lighthouse

We'd noted earlier that the traffic heading away from Montauk was quite heavy, and with the downpour, it was miserable. We crawled along for a couple hours before making it back to the freeway.

Ron, like most native New Yorkers, was always going on about how Californians can't make decent bagels, and was keen for us to nosh on some real NY bagels and kosher deli. We stopped by a bagel shop on our way out of Montauk, but by the time we finally made it back into Massapequa, we found that all the kosher delis were already closed. Between the bagels we had Sunday and the ones we got the next day, I have to say that I just don't see that much difference between NY and California bagels. The NY bagels were a bit larger, but that was about it. Mind you, I'm making the comparison here based on good California bagels, not the pretend ones you find in donut shops and the 7-11.

Monday was our day to leave for Africa. So OF COURSE the humidity broke, and the weather was quite nice. We didn't need to be to the airport until the afternoon, so we finally got our kosher deli and some more bagels, and found a spot by a marina to have lunch. Like the bagels, the NY kosher deli stuff was good, but I think the places along LA's Fairfax Avenue could compare favorably. I remain skeptical that New York is keeping any fantastic kosher deli or bagel-making secrets from the rest of the country.

By late afternoon, we were in a holding pattern in the airport terminal, waiting to board the plane, and we met some of the other people on the tour, about 20 in total. We had more worry as we waited, because Jim Huddle, the tour's official astronomer, hadn't shown up yet. In addition to being the tour's official rep, he also was holding all of our in-Africa plane tickets and such. Finally, he did show up. Turns out that he and several other people on the tour had taken flights from their homes that had narrow connection windows to the Africa flight, and some of the flights had been delayed. But by boarding time, everyone was there.

Although we were all excited about finally getting on with the trip, none of us were thrilled with the immediate prospect of spending some 14 hours cooped up on a plane. See, coach airline seats and me just don't get along. I have fairly broad shoulders, considerably broader than the width of your typical airline seat. So if there's anybody next to me, I have to scrunch in my shoulders, which gets excruciatingly painful after a surprisingly short time. Getting an aisle seat helps matters a bit, but long-distance flying still remains low on my list of favorite activities.

As the boarding moved along, we had a brief moment of hopefulness when we noticed that most of the rear of the plane was unoccupied, promising the possibility of actually stretching out a bit on those Clive Barker torture racks the airlines whimsically call "seats."

Alas, it was not to be. At the last minute, like a biblical swarm of locusts, a jabbering horde of Teenage Mutant Christian Missionaries descended on us, and filled nearly every last seat. I got several next to me, oh joy, oh joy.

These stalwart little Soldiers for Jesus were heading to South Africa to teach the good word to the heathen savages. I would have thought that they'd already heard it, what with TV and the Internet, but what do I know? Anyway, it really made one long for the days of cannibals and big iron pots...

Just to add to the fun, take-off was delayed for nearly an hour, and we finally got off the ground around 6:45 in the evening. After take-off, the wardens, or shepherds, or whatever the twentysomethings who were in charge of the missionaries were called, came around and gathered up all their passports and reminded them of the rules--for example, they couldn't watch the in-flight movies. Guess an edited-for-airlines version of "The Wedding Planner" was just too racy for their impressionistic young minds.

When you're flying within the US, or say, from LA to Europe, you get to expect that the airline is going to make one or more stops, which seem mostly calculated just to honk you off and make your travel ordeal longer, and gives the airline more opportunity to misdirect your luggage. But if you refer to a map of the world, you'll see a rather noticeable lack of land between New York and South Africa. I believe they call it "the Atlantic Ocean." Anyway, you would expect that a flight between those two points would be nonstop.

And you'd be wrong.

Because of fuel shortages in Africa, we had to make a stop at a mid-Atlantic gas station on a teensy little rock in the middle of nowhere, the island of Sal in the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal. We came down at something like 1 in the morning NY time, and were allowed to actually get off the plane for an hour or so while they refueled. The missionaries were not allowed off the plane, guess the shepherds thought they might be corrupted by the lure of cheap Toblerone in the duty-free shop.

Even though it was something like 4 in the morning local time, it was nonetheless hot and humid on Sal. Never quite figured out what time it was, as the only clock in the airport was stuck on 17:23.

Sal Airport, 4 a.m.

Back in the air again, and more endless hours of flying, and we finally met the Sun coming up over the southern Atlantic. I was getting pretty loopy by that time. I've never been able to sleep on an airliner, no matter how tired I am. On top of everything else, I was now south of the equator for the first time in my life, so the Earth was turning backwards to boot...or something like that.

I'd left my watch on New York time, and when we finally touched down in Johannesburg, it was showing 10 a.m. Tuesday. But it was late afternoon local time, and my head just didn't really care at that point. Then, it was more mind-numbing waiting for our flight up to Harare, and then another too-small, too-crowded airline ride north.


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