Friday, June 09, 2017

Notes from my 1-Day NC Business Trip

Notes from my 1-Day NC Business Trip
Martin Bodek

As usual, I arise before dawn and have a hearty breakfast like it’s a fast day.

Abel picks me up in his Uber three minutes before my lawn sprinklers start. Nice timing.

TSA yells at people. That’s what they do. It’s part of the job description.

Now, I always say, life never happens in a straight line. You can’t just go get gas, get the gas, and come back home. Something always has to happen in between.

George Costanza was wrong. There’s no such thing as a show about nothing. Life is everything.

So, here’s what happens: I want to get through security, so I do what I’m told, and everything will be okay, right?


I thought I had this whole process down to a science, but life, John Lennon said, is what happens when you’re making other plans.

TSA loses my shoe.

That’s right, they lose my shoe. All my belongings go into the scanner nicely, then I go through unimpeded, and everything comes through the other side, except for my left shoe.

Here we go.

First thing I do is tell myself to be patient with every idiot I encounter. That’s the fastest way to get through this.

I also look at the clock. I give myself a deadline, after which, if I don’t have my shoe, I’ll just lose the right one too, buy some slippers in the terminal somewhere, and figure the rest out later. I’ve got a plane to catch.

Now I predict what’s going to happen: anyone I ask for help will pass me off to someone else.

That’s exactly what happens.

This is how it goes for me, as I approach TSA ninny #1:

Me: “Excuse me, hi, I’m sorry to trouble you, but it seems my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I’ve got everything else. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA1: “Ah can’t leave mah post! You goan make me leave mah post? I gotta stay right here! You ask that guy there!”

Me: “Excuse me, good day, I’m sorry to bother you, but it seems my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I’ve got everything else. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA2: “Nuh uh, sorry, I can’t leave. Talk to him there.”

Me: “Hello, sorry to trouble you, good morning. My stuff came through the scanner, but it seems my shoe got stuck there. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA3: “Talk to him over there, the guy checking bags.”

Me: “Good day sir, it looks like my shoe got stuck in the scanner. I have everything else with me. Can you help me out, please?”

TSA4: “Wait.”

So I wait.

And I wait.

We’re now moving in on shoe-chuck time.

And TSA4 gets my shoe, plucking and handing it to me with that metal reacher thingy.

You see what I’m saying?

Now I’m going to just go ahead to my gate, right?


Because I’m in the wrong terminal!

Now how in the world did I go and screw this up???

I didn’t. I check the four different methods of confirmations I received. Two have me in Terminal A, and two in Terminal C. To add to the fun, United has planes in both terminals.

Who designs this stuff?

I locate a shuttle that ferries travelers between terminals.

I anticipate I’ll go have to go through security again, maybe lose my other shoe this time.

I’m spared the agony.

The driver of the shuttle bus drives directly under the wing of an airplane en route to our gate. I have to imagine he did that because he’s a moron.

As I board, I hear someone behind me say, “Is there such a thing as an Unknown Crew Member?”

I look aft, and I see a porter with a “Known Crew Member” ID badge.

Ha! Good question!

I don’t even get to finish the magazine crossword puzzle when we start to land. The trip is that short. Then I think, who would I show off to anyway if I finished it?

I’m rotten egg off the plane. Non-membership has its privileges.

I’m in RDU. I love some small airports. Love them. Staff has time to deal with you if you have issues, and everybody is friendly and nice. I’m not in EWR anymore.

I get my car rental, then I realize work is 3.1 miles from the airport. I can run there in 22 minutes. Next time I Uber. Uber is the best.


Upon leaving for the day, I discover that my 3.1-mile ride results in my gas dropping significantly below the full mark. Seriously now? Someone is cheating.

En route to the car rental place, I encounter no gas stations whatsoever, so I’ll pay the $872.32 fine. Whatever.

I get patted down by security. Always a, ahem, pleasure. The dude begins the encounter by saying, “I have to pat you down.” Nice come-on line. I could have thought of something better.

Cultural faux pas: while waiting at my gate, I overhear the following: “Would passenger please report to gate C15. That’s Charlie 15.”

You do not refer to an Asian as Charlie. You dig? Do I have to do all the sensitivity work around here?

My flight is delayed. Uh oh. The flight after mine is delayed too. Uh oh uh oh. But the flight before mine is delayed too!

“Can I get on that one?”, I ask the nice lady. Yes I can! I love small airports!

As I wait five minutes instead of two hours to board my new plane, they announce that my old plane – and the one after it – are both delayed further. My new, delayed-perfectly plane that’s working out for me? I’m already on, baby. I love it when a plan comes together.

I fly, I land, I Uber, my driver passes wind audibly (not kidding), I’m home in time for dinner, and for kiddy bedtime.

Really, I just replaced my regular train commutes with a couple of planes.

All in a day’s work.

Notes from my 4-Day UK Business Trip

Day 1:

3:45 AM: Rise and shine, slightly later than
Roher Standard Time (vehamayvin yavin) and have an early meal like it’s a fast day.

Bukola is my Uber driver for the morning. He doesn’t smell and gets me there in one piece. That’s worth five stars.

TSA proves, once again, what a fun-loving on-the-same-page bunch they all are. 50% of the scowling, hollering staff yells at you to move forward, whilst the other 50% snarls at you to step back. Which is it? Literally a coin flip, isn’t it? I go wherever the heck I feel going, when I want to. That works out for me this time.

I pass the United customer service desk en route to my plane. Not a fun place to be these days, I presume. Nobody’s being dragged past the desk, so that portends for a good flight, I hope.

My kosher plane meal is nice and cold, as it shouldn’t be.

I watch movies to pass the time:

Allied: ooh, intense, and sexy. I’m talking about Brad Pitt, of course. I met him in person a few years ago (He asked me for directions to The Waldorf); his goodlookingness isn’t normal.

The Magnificent Seven: fun, cool, heartbreaking.

I also beat the whole plane on the in-flight trivia. My last Jeopardy! test was 6/1.

I also continue reading Digital Gold, by Nathaniel Popper because I’m a nascent Bitcoin nerd.

I hate turbulence.

Landed safely in an alternate universe called Heathrow Airport, where everything is described with extra words. Examples: Car park, baggage reclaim, moving stairs. This funny guy is partially right, but the Brits are worse offenders, and I’m available to debate him:

I see a BA Airbus A380 on the tarmac, in motion. The largest plane in the world. It is…leviathan.

I realize I left the US before dawn, and landed in the UK after dusk. Wow. A whole day in flight, technically.

Plan A: If early enough in the evening, grab a shuttle bus to Oxford, then grab a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. Too many hops, and too late at night. Scrap that.

Plan B: Grab an Uber from the airport. I can’t figure out how to navigate out of the premises, and find myself a spot from which to be picked up. Scratch that.

Plan C: Grab a taxi and take it straight to the hotel in Oxford. That’s the option I use. You don’t wanna know how much that cost.

I get to the hotel. My room has no fridge. The hotel doesn’t allow it. Great. However, Hermolis has responsibly delivered half of my 3-day order of food, and the hotel was nice enough to place it in a corner of their fridge, accessible to me. Fantastic. It’ll do for my stay. I grab a quick meal from the pile, then Facetime with my family, and it’s lights out.

Day 2:

5:45 AM, rise and shine, greet the day, and see where I actually am. Weather is cool, but, having, just two days ago, run 42 miles in celebration of my 42nd birthday, I’m not up to running just yet. I didn’t even bring my gear. Feeling how I feel – about 90% - I might come to regret that.

I grab my breakfast from the hotel fridge, then load up my lunch and dinner, and I’m off to work, just about a mile away. I walk. It’s lovely.

Turns out I’m in The Shire. Everything is lush and green and wet and aromatic and small and gorgeous.

I panic when I see several cars that kids are apparently driving. Then, I realize, oops, duh, they drive on the right here.

I pass lots and lots of colleges and lots of coffee shops. Nice to see some non-Starbucks ones for a change.

Looks like the median, mode, and mean age of everyone is 20.

Along the way, I find still water (Mineral water and I are not on speaking terms) in a “cooperative,” an alternate term for “grocery.” Who knew?


I learn that my Plan C option was the right one, as Uber drivers don’t drive from London to Oxford. They stop at the border. Tax reasons or something. Pshew.

Post-work, I’m scheduled for dinner with my mates (Look at me, talking all British already!), but I call ahead to the restaurant to see if I can bring my own meal. Absolutely not. So I have my meal in the office, head over to the restaurant and sip Tiger Beer (All good on, while I watch everyone else scarf away until I’m free at last.

It’s 1.5 miles from here to the hotel. I’ll walk it with my flatmates (Okay, seriously, do I even know what a “flat” is?).

I walk past the bus station from which I’ll alight back to London. Turns out, you can’t book a bus if it’s not the day of. I don’t think this is as efficient as they think this is. Whatevs.

I notice that people don’t walk around here with their head in their smartphones. I’m told the folk here in this little town are conditioned this way because the narrow streets demand vigilance, lest you get whacked with a bus mirror. Perhaps, but I just think these people here are extra chill.

We walk past The Eagle and Child, the bar where Tolkien, Lewis, and Carroll drank together, and received inspirations, and noodled over ideas. I did not know that. That is cool. I knew I was in The Shire!

Back at the hotel, I grab another dinner. It’s been hours since my last one.

I check out what’s on the telly (Seriously, how long have I been here?).

Let’s see:
  •          Talk shows with bearded hosts.
  •          Game shows galore. All of them of the quiz variety.
  •          Law & Order all over the place.
  •          BBC1 through 234. Do they not have unique names for channels here?

I settle on nature documentaries, before I Facetime with the fam again and hit the sack.

Day 3:

The weather is gorgeous again, and cool, and this is the stuff I just love to have in my lungs, and I’m at 95%, and really, I should be running, but I don’t have my gear, and this seems to have been a big mistake. I consider going barefoot, but that might be an even bigger mistake. Live and learn. Next time I visit, I probably will not just have run an ultra a few days prior.

I take a different route to work, get a feel for the neighborhood. Pretty and peaceful no matter where I go.


People like to say “X, y, zed” and “A to zed” a lot here.

The night is young, but no good movies are playing in downtown Oxford proper, and no good shows to see.

I pass The Phoenix House, and according to the posters, Antony & Cleopatra is playing tonight! Ooh! Shakespeare! I’m in!

But wait! It’s simulcast across UK movie houses from another location. Bah. I want the real thing.

Back to the hotel I go.

Know what’s cool about this town? When pedestrians press the button to cross the street, it actually works!

Back at the hotel, hooboy, Hermolis has delivered more food! I eat like a king, catch up on e-mail, flip through the channels, watch more documentaries, and then I find a great movie:

Run Fatboy Run. Anyone ever hear of this? Thoroughly charming, and a good amount of silliness, with a nice dose of gravitas for balance. Check it out.

Facetime, and sleepytime.

Day 4:

I pack up while mumbling and grumbling to myself over my lack of running gear. It’s even gorgeouser today than it has been all during my stay, and I need to breathe this delicious air deep into my lungs. I won’t make this mistake again. My gear will come with me every time.

On my way out, I thank the hotel staff profusely for allowing me free access to their fridge.

I boinkadoinkadoink my luggage for the mile walk to work.

I notice the runners in this town don’t use devices much. No dangly thingies pouring out of ears, no armbands holding phones, no beep-a-bleep-boop. This town is truly chill.


Done with work. I say my goodbyes and walk over to the bus depot, Facetime with the fam one last time, and it’s London, ho!

The bus rumbles by Alice’s Shop, whose interior, apparently, was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland! Check it out: I’ve got to stop this bus and have a look! Okay, I’m not that desperate, but I’ve got a growing list of things to see and do when I return to this place. Problem is, like Washington D.C., everything closes at 4 PM. Arrgh.

The Great Hall, from the Harry Potter mythos, is also somewhere ‘round these parts.

I zone out for the trip, admiring the Britty Britishness of the lush countryside, and before I know it, I’m back in Heathrow

Now here’s the interesting thing: the signage for getting you out of the airport completely stinks, but the signage for getting you in and through is fantastic. Supwiddat?

The “TSA” in this place practically commits random acts of lovingkindness. EWR this ain’t.

I get to my gate two hours early, because I’m like that.

I’m sitting comfortably in my seat, when suddenly the world’s largest Guinea-Bissauan, or perhaps Central African Republican, squashes me into the fuselage. Behind us are 30 empty seats, but I don’t want to confuse the crew vis-à-vis my undercooked kosher meal, so I endure. I’m not asking a giant Sierra Leonian to go sit elsewhere.

The Israelites aboard try to put together a mincha minyan before taking off. The operation is shut down by the flight crew, who actually understands what they’re trying to set up. Rescheduled for in-flight.

I get my kosher meal, and my new Djiboutian friend asks me if I paid extra for it.

For this codswallops? I don’t think so.

He’s confused, the poor guy.

I lose myself in my movies. My ribs hurt enough from being squished. Conversation will only exacerbate the issue.

Let’s see, I enjoy:

Jason Bourne: too formulaic at this point. How many more people can he hunt down? Stick to great films like The Martian.

The Shallows: a quick popcorn fright, but the protagonist’s resourcefulness is most entertaining. Good film.

Doctor Strange: fun, and a shtickel different from the usual fare. Tilda Swinton is clever casting, and chews through every scene.

I hate turbulence.

We land. I get my bag fairly quickly, get quickly through passport control, land an Uber lickety split with Paola (her last run of the day, which started at 4 AM. That doesn’t make me so comfortable), and it’s home sweet home in a flash.

Nice way to stick the landing.

Glad to be home. Who needs Facetime when I can have the real thing?

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

My Book is on the Shelves in NYPL!

OMG OMG OMG, my book is on the shelves in the New York Public Library. It is on the shelves. Of the NYPL. N. Y. P. L. I am self-actualized. I have made it to the promised land! I have reached Valhallaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Somebody tell me what to do with myself, because I am going to just expLODE.

Siyum TaNaCH Speech in Honor of Our Daughter, at Her Bat Mitzvah

Good evening everyone, and mazel tov.

I will be conducting a siyum on TaNaCH in honor of our Bat Mitzvah girl, but before I do so I wanted to take a minute or two to express some thank yous and appreciations.

Firstly, I want to thank everyone for coming, for partaking, and for being here. I appreciate the various tirchas you’ve endured to make it, and to spend your time with us. I have kids, I know what it’s like.

As for the British contingent – who are today’s recipients of the S’char Halicha Award – you’ve had to deal with airport security. Now grant you, it’s much easier at Heathrow, as I’ve recently experienced, but it’s not going to be pleasant for the way home. It’s going to stink. I apologize for that.

I also understand that we have parties joining us from Washington and Boston – and even the Upper West Side. Vehamayvin yavin.

I’m also thankful to those who have spent the weekend with us, and to those who have hosted all our guests. Thank you for opening your homes and being so welcoming.

Secondly, I want to thank my wife, in general, but particularly for the incredible efforts she put forth to assemble this phenomenal weekend. She probably doesn’t want me to prattle on too much, so I therefore looked for as concise an expression possible that fully expresses how exemplary the work has been.

I could simply say she’s “geshikt,” and everyone would probably understand what I mean when I use the all-encompassing word, but I found a pasuk fragment in tehillim which gives perfect expression to how I feel.

In Tehillim 19 it says, “הָרָקִיעַ מַגִּיד יָדָיו וּמַעֲשֵׂה.” The expanse proclaims your handiwork. It should be self-evident to all, simply by observing how this weekend has gone, how fantastic your vision, leadership, organizational skills, kindness, and elevated sense of hachnoses orchim actually are. Underlying all this is the reason all this came to be!: the pure, true love that you have for our daughter. I continue to be the beneficiary of your gifts, as does your extended family. I’m grateful for you, and I love you.

Finally, before my siyum, I want to thank Naava for being an amazing girl. She has been into this event. She has made it a joy to put together all the prep work. She hasn’t sat idly by while her mom did all the work. She sought to be actively involved.

Again, I prefer to be succinct so I don’t embarrass her too much – I’ve been embarrassing her enough with my dancing – but it’s apropos to say that she is proving to be as geshikt as her mother before her, and her grandmothers before her. I continue to grow in the presence of such women, and it looks like – as you grow up – I will continue to.

I also want to thank you for learning Maseches Peah with me. It was a delight and a joy. Peah has eight perakim. It was just around Perek gimel that I suddenly realized that you were my first true, regular chavrusah since beit medrash, and that was just a joy for me, an absolute joy. Thank you for partnering in Torah with me. Thank you for taking on the responsibility. I’m very proud of you, and I love you.

This brings us to the siyum, which I’m dedicating to Naava today.

Now the learning isn’t just a nice thing to do for our daughter. There is a message and a purpose behind it.

L’ma doover domeh?

A few months ago, I decided to take on an indoor marathon. 26.2 miles around a 400-foot, banked track. It was quite an insane undertaking, and it was physically and mentally taxing.

One of the amenities they had at this race was a live feed, which you could view on their website. The runners were easy to keep track of, as they were making 211 hakafot. You couldn’t lose sight of a runner, unless he or she took a bathroom break. My wife watched some of it, along with our children.

I finished the race. When I came home, my wife gave me a compliment. She said that until she saw me running around the track at this indoor marathon, she had only ever seen me at punctuated points during a marathon, and that, for the large part, I also usually looked chipper and merry. But when she saw me struggle and fight and endure, she had a better appreciation for what it takes, and was proud of me for finishing.

Now it was true what she was saying. My family meets me every year at the NYC Marathon at mile 22.5. At that point, it’s gotten a little tough for me, but nevertheless, no matter what I’m going through, I like to run the last few blocks to them, and meet with them with a sever panom yafot. I don’t want them to see me suffer, because I’m actually very happy. So I might as well look happy too.

So, Naava, there’s a subtle difference in our approach to life, between your mother and me. When it comes to many different things – and they are too many too enumerate – whether it’s personal, leisure, business, family-oriented, what have you, I like to set up things, and begin to go for them. Your mom loves that too, but what she really likes is sticking the landing, finishing what you started.

The gadol hador, Alec Baldwin, once said, “Always be closing.”

For me, the thrill is to start something fun, interesting, and meaningful. Finishing is just something I have to do, because I started it. For Mommy, the thrill is finishing, because that’s what matters.

Of course, we can differ on the subtleties of this, but that’s how I feel it breaks down. Feelings aren’t facts. Right, Tati?

Naava, every day, we try to inspire this in you and in your siblings. Set goals up; knock them down. That’s my six-word life lesson for you.

This is what you showed us when you started and finished Peah with me, and when you started and finished your chesed project, and when you start and follow through on all the things that you’re interested in.

And this is why finishing TaNaCH in your name is such a pleasure for me.

For those of you who are not friends with me on Facebook, this is what I posted on May 1st, 2017 (bear in mind, I’m quoting myself from a few weeks ago. Otherwise what I’m saying today doesn’t make sense):

“Hadran aluch Sefer Divrei Hayamim Beis, U'slika luch Ketuvim, umesayim TaNaCH, B'H, for the 2nd time!

The learning was done in honor of our beloved daughter, on the occasion of her upcoming bat mitzvah.

Two years ago, she overheard me mentioning to my wife that I intend to finish Shas again in time for our eldest son's bar mitzvah. She approached politely and said, "Can you finish TaNaCH for me?"

How is a father supposed to decline such a beautiful request?

I reprioritized all my learning and reading, and made deadline with weeks to go.

My wife and my children are marbitz my torah to me. My cup runneth over, and I feel blessed, for it is they who have helped me to start other tractates and books, and to complete them, to learn and to teach, to observe and to enact and to fulfill all the words of the teaching of the Torah, and of the secular, with love.

I will make an official siyum during the Bat Mitzvah event.

Mazel tov to you, Beautiful Light of Mine, and thank you for inspiring me.

The first time I finished TaNaCH, I was inspired to do so by a bar mitzvah boy. The second time I finished, I was inspired by a bat mitzvah girl.

Aizehu chacham? Halomed mikol adam. Perhaps if I continue allowing inspiration to motivate me from anywhere, I'll be zoche to be one.”

With that said, b’rishus my wife, Harav, my mothers and fathers, v’chul hamesoobin kan, and lichvoyd biti Naava Leora, let us finish TaNaCH together…

(Mention ups and downs of Jews, and rewards and punishments; mention how history repeats itself, and this may be the first such instance in history)

(Conclude by saying that summary of all Torah seems to be an invitation to ascend to Jerusalem and rejoice with the Lord)

(Add to conclusion by saying that we, too, will be ascending to Jerusalem later this year to celebrate Jordy’s bar mitzvah, and bless everyone to be able to travel far and wide to attend family simchas)

(Switch to Yiddish, complete last pasuk, remember chazak part and to insert Torah, Neviim, Ketubin anywhere it says Bava Basra)