Tel Aviv, Monday 7-10-95 0900 local (Z+3)
Greetings from the land of "milk and honey". Pop quiz: from where did Israel get that appellation? See end of message for an approximate answer.
Landed here at 1730 local yesterday. Scheduled to depart at midnight tonight. Several pilots have indicated to me that Tel Aviv layovers were not pleasant, but so far I don't see the problem. I certainly wouldn't want to live here, but I don't see any problem with layovers. True, I can't eat what I want, but I can live with that for short periods. As for the other pilots, they've got their booze, and the girls (both professional and otherwise) seem to be in abundant supply. I'll have to ask more specifically why they don't like it.
A more correct statement would have been “I can't always conveniently find what I want to eat.”
The leg here was as exhausting as I had expected it to be, a midnight departure with 10 hours and 10 minutes enroute. I paid for a hotel room at JFK for 3 hours just to get 2 hours of rest, and I'm glad I did. I really felt awful by the time we got here, as does everyone. The captain started the trip in as bad a shape as I. He had come in from Amsterdam, and they told him he was going to have to do Tel Aviv. The Amsterdam-JFK leg is just under 8 hours, so that meant they only had to give him minimum rest (8 hours as opposed to extended rest of 12 hours). Even then, they had to delay departure of the flight by 16 minutes to get the required 8 hours between his arrival at JFK and his departure. During the leg as we talked, all 3 cockpit crew members agreed that Tower pushes too hard, but that's how they keep the cost down to 4.5 cents per seat mile - and it's all strictly legal, follows the FAA rules to the letter.
I soon learned that it wasn't all strictly legal. Tower did on occasion do the illegal if the FAA fine would be less than the cost of staying legal. However, I never saw them do anything that in my opinion compromised safety.
Though exhausting, it turned out to be a great leg in the end. The captain asked me to fly it since he was beat. I was beat, too, but not from actually flying. What was good about the leg was that I was having, in general, less trouble understanding the controllers than the others and even caught a minor error in INS entry the captain made. But what was really great for me was the approach and landing at Tel Aviv. The weather here is generally very good, and they prefer running visual approaches to runway 30 (on shore breeze, you land toward the Mediterranean). There is no instrument approach for that runway; you have to do it all visually. There is a VASI (Visual Approach Slope Indicator), but because of my color deficiency those things are useless to me.
So, as soon as we got the clearance to that runway, I killed both the autopilot and the flight director. The first you would normally get rid of for such an approach, but most pilots would probably leave the flight director up to help with speed, heading and altitude control until established on final. However, I knew this captain wouldn't mind doing it all with raw data, and the challenge of a totally visual approach to an airport at which I had never landed appealed to me. To make a long story short, it worked out great - nice tight turn from a left downwind holding the speed and initial flap extension until as late as possible, gear extension delayed as long as possible, landing flaps on short final, and then one of the smoothest touchdowns I've ever gotten in a 747 - a real roller. That moment made the 10 hours of drudgery beforehand all worthwhile - incredible feeling, almost a physical high, difficult to describe.
I collapsed into bed as soon as we got to the hotel, slept 7 hours and then went for a walk at 0300. Actually, my bladder woke me up, and I went out on the balcony of the room for a moment. The night was so incredibly nice I decided it would be a crime to stay inside. A quick shower and I was out on the beachfront walk along the Mediterranean. Tel Aviv's night life (which I'm told is considerable) was just winding down. This appears to be a very tolerant country, at least in terms of permissible behavior in the wee small hours of a warm night on the beach. I don't imagine the religious fanatics of the country (of which there are many of at least 3 religions) ever show up on the beach at three a.m. The young of the country (or tourists?) appear to take full advantage of this fact, and numerous couples appeared to be intent on proving that you can do anything standing up that you can do lying down when you're young and supple, although one couple apparently decided that it was more of a challenge to do it in the back seat of a Volkswagen bug than standing. They obviously felt this gave them sufficient privacy to remove their clothing.
All their clothing. It was one of the gal's bare feet sticking out of a rolled down window that first alerted me to their activity. I didn't stop to watch—really—but I might have slowed my walk a little.
As encouraging as all this was insofar as proof that there is freedom of action in Israel, the best (worst?) example was yet to come. Walking through a rather well lit beach front plaza, I came upon two shirtless young men and one woman. I'm not sure what she had on. It was difficult to tell since she was laying on a concrete picnic table pretty much covered by the young man laying on top of her. When they saw me approaching, the gal giggled and the guy watching asked if I had a match for his cigarette. I replied that, no, I didn't smoke and ambled on. I considered asking the girl if it wasn't a little uncomfortable on that concrete, but decided that might be bad form. I mentioned this incident and where I had seen it to the flight engineer on the trip. He said the girl was probably a Russian prostitute, that the place was where they congregate. The Russian Jews are the newest immigrant wave in Israel, and as always the latest group in has the problem of supporting themselves in any way they can. Tower Air, in fact, has been doing Russian Jewish immigrant flights out of Moscow both to Israel and to the U.S.
Went back to bed for 3 hours and then down to breakfast. I knew ham and eggs (at least the ham part) would be too much to expect, but I was hoping for some meat, but the buffet had NO MEAT other than a little fish. So, I have had a much healthier breakfast than I ever intended. Lunch will be a challenge. They will not serve beef and milk together. It seems there is a dietary requirement that you not eat the flesh of an animal and the milk of its mother in the same meal. I already surprised an Israeli flight attendant on the way over here by requesting milk with my meal (which happened to be beef). She laughed and explained that that was a no-no, but she would serve it to me anyway seeing as how I was a heathen (actually she used the word nonreligious, not heathen). I don't think the civil laws of Israel require this kind of foolishness. I believe it's just that the eating establishments do not wish to risk losing that part of their clientele that observes the religious dietary laws.
Okay, the plan of the moment is off to the beach in a bit for a little sun, then to bed by 1300 to sleep until 2100 for the 2200 show time in the lobby. Oh, yes, "land of milk and honey." In the Old Testament of the Bible, the children of Israel were promised by God that Moses would lead them out of bondage in Egypt to a land filled with "milk and honey." It must be true, Cecil B. DeMille filmed it that way. Next quiz question: did Moses make it? Answer will be in the next letter.
P.S. Now in New York, 7-11-95 0730 local. Had trouble hooking up with Compuserve from the hotel they put us in.
I was using Compuserve's network long before Internet access became ubiquitous, and I continued to use it until Internet availability became better than Compuserve.