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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: El Al from New York

Fear of Flying - Bucket Shop Blues
John M. Edwards

Daring  to save deflationary dollars during a worldwide recession, John M. Edwards tries a risky “bucket shop” for cheapo airfare to Amsterdam, ending up on a white-knuckles chariot charter flight from hell.

For the umpteenth time I must reiterate: It is now high time to cash in and use up all those Frequent Flyer Miles. But with a worldwide economic disaster grounding us with nightmare worries about the future and regrets about the past, no one knows where to go.

Maybe we should just stay home and watch Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”?  Or, even better,  “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches”! All the empty prattle in consumer glossies about favorable exchange rates and stretching vacation dollars rings hollow in the ears when basically things are pretty much the same, It still costs ten bucks for an English breakfast in London (the pound is behaving like a pussy), five bucks for a bungalow on a Thai beach  (there is no bang for the baht)., and it’s still pretty much free to get a lapdance in Manhattan (the dollar is diving down deep).
       I’d like to fly somewhere cool, too, but I also want to save money to buy Lithium, Smokes, and Penthouses.

       Flying is a little dear when the Stock Market crashes like a flight over Lockerbie, especially for a writer demanding a mere dollar a word. So if you really want cheap, say hello to the somewhat sinister “bucket shops,” and their criminally negligent “operators.” Most of us don’t really care whom we fly with, as long as we get there.
       Caveat Emptor!

       Now that the greedy airlines are stiffing fat people, charging them for two seats, and making us shell out for drinks and pillows and barfbags, we have to protect ourselves and our baggage also from ending up in an infernal aerial carousel spinning out of control—perhaps from a friendless loser disgruntled baggage handler hijacking the plane to Havana or Kabul with fingernail clippers.

       I have to admit, though, I was a little taken aback when I wanted to fly from New York JFK to Amsterdam Schiphol—and ended up, courtesy of a bucket shop run by a guy named Ramon, at the last minute--you have to wait to find out which carrier you are flying on as the bucketeers shuffle around blocks of seats like unscrupulous MSG scalpers--on a flight with, ta da!
       El Al.
       “El Al?!” I raged on the phone to Ramon.
       I’d say the brave Israeli airline’s idea of security is a little too strict an interpretation for the average bohemian backpacker looking for good value and “ease of comfort,” whatever that is.

       Even though they didn’t exactly hassle me, since I managed on the spot to somehow come up with the name of an Israeli friend from college, “Yael,” which the arrogant hotbod officer said was a common name there, some poor lout, with dusky skin (razor stubbled), a locked briefcase with a single sticker (in Arabic), and an ill-fitting imitation Oxford shirt (light blue), was indeed asked to accompany a soldier, with well-defined biceps and a superior scowl, into a dank backroom. You should have seen the look of surprise on the hapless anti-Semitic-looking Semitic businessman’s face as he was led off, with an inarticulate cry (rather: a squawk), pretty much at gunpoint.
       I dunno, maybe the poor guy, obviously a swarthy Palestinian “native” of some sort, was suffering from nicotine withdrawals or depression or something. Anyhoo . . .

       Off we went to the lonely gate full of nervous-looking tourists, all obvious terrorism targets, going to Amsterdam, and after that, I imagine, to Tel Aviv. I would make sure I wouldn’t fall asleep and miss my stop.
       The not-very-large plane, model unknown, seemed airworthy, but the seats were cramped and the legroom a shade short of amputee length. But the worst thing was: even though the friendly skies were united in clarity and blueness, with only a thin shy veil of clouds, the plane shook. Yes, shook! Why? Why? Why?

       And at one point the cross-like clunker passed through a way lengthy bit of turbulence which provoked a young attractive college student with a pert nosejob, probably off to work on a kibbutz in Eilat for the summer rather than lie on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, to exclaim “Oh my God. Oh my God? Oh, my God!” My white knuckles knishes, I clutched the armrests with my mouth agape. Mama!

       Meanwhile the loopy airplane engines whined like Woody Allen playing persistent klezmer on his clarinet. At times like these, you kind of wish you had paid attention to the leggy flight attendants acting like vapid Vanna White game-show-model mimes going through the motions on how to use the oxygen masks, slip on those life savers, and find them thar emergency exits in the dark, or, alas,  underwater.

       And while we’re on it, what was wrong with calling flight attendants “stewardesses” and scribbling our telephone numbers on the cocktail napkins in the glory days of Pan Am, Eastern Airlines, and People’s Express? This is as much of a mannerism as a female calling herself an “actor,” making us wonder if we have a transvestite or shemale on our hands as we vigorously rub off the lipstick. Or, Miss California telling Perez Hilton, who certainly resembles a hysterical "flight attendant." she doesn't believe in same-sex marriages, no offense.

       Now in the Age of Boeing and Airbus (not to mention NASA), PC should only apply to computers and “rainbow” printer cartridges. (Damn, I’m out of Magenta!)

       I imagined the aging pilot was some sort of ex-fighter-pilot ace from the Israeli Air Force, flying high on Maneshevitz (whatever that is), just frigging showing off. His crackling voice, more fluent in Hebrew than the language of Shakespeare's "sceptr'd isle," assured us things were "okay." You betcha!
       But finally there was a smooth landing at Schiphol, plus the inevitable applause—as hokey as Midwesterners waiting for Les Miz to at last end, so they can raid the saldad bar at Applebee’s.

       Even so, I think next time I’ll pay full fare and fly with KLM—of course, with my wildly friendly and well-meaning soccer hooligan pals, who are addicted to airplane food, TV dinners, and chain hamburger outlets no matter where in the world: even in the naughty Netherlands.
       “Archers or Crown, mates?”
©   John Edwards May 1st 2009     

How to make sense in the Caribbean
John M. Edwards
The next day I spotted the General wearing only shorts running down the beach like an Olympic athlete on steroids, closely pursued by two policemen, who tackled the General and handcuffed him. As they hauled him away, he bawled out, "I’m innocent!"

Bio: John M. Edwards has traveled worldwidely (five continents plus), with adventures ranging from surviving a shipwreck off the coast of Thailand to getting caught up in a military coup in Fiji. His work has appeared in such magazines as CNN Traveller, Missouri Review,, Grand Tour, Islands, Escape ,Endless Vacation, Adventure Journey, Condé Nast Traveler, International Living, Emerging Markets, BootsnAll, Verge, Slab, Glimpse, Stellar, Poetry Motel, Hack Writers, Road Junky, Richmond Review, Go Nomad, World Hum, ForeWord, North Dakota Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, and North American Review. He recently won a NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) Award, a TANEC (Transitions Abroad Narrative Essay Contest) Award, and a Solas Award (sponsored by Travelers’ Tales). His indie zine, Unpleasant Vacations: The Magazine of Misadventure, went belly up. He lives in NYC’s “Hell’s Kitchen.” His future bestsellers, Fluid Borders and Move, have not hit the tray tables. His new work-in-progress, “Dubya Dubya Deux,” is about a time

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