Stefanella's Drive Thru

Israel, U.S., conflict, war, peace, humor, travel, romance, fashion, fun

Church Meetings July 29, 2008

Last week I was slated to get together with an acquaintance at a Cincinnati church.  It’s where this particular person happened to be on that particular evening so we agreed I would meet her when she finished with her particular business in a back room of the Holy Building.

She gave me the church name & address and I ran a Mapquest search;  the directions put it a few scant miles away from my parent’s home where I’m currently vacationing so I budgeted 20 minutes for driving there on the appointed evening at the appointed hour.

Mistake.  I missed the meeting, missed the acquaintance and had to reschedule.  And it happened because I live in Holy Land Central aka Israel, The Promised Land, God’s Monkey House . . .whatever.

Although I took the directions with me when I set out for my destination, I didn’t take the establishment name.  Mistake.  How many churches could there be? my Tel Aviv dwelling glib self thought. Because in Tel Aviv, non-Jewish places of worship are conveniently concentrated in Jaffa.  So although the port city is somewhat of a navigational headache, it’s not so overflowing with praying spots as to render the area thoroughly confusing.

In the part of Ohio I happen to be visiting however, the setting is not quite the same.  Some long and busy roads host multiple churches; they’re across the street, down the block, down the road and even next door to one other.  The Methodists and Baptists and Catholics and Lutherans have laid claim to a whole lot of real estate in these parts so for someone who has fallen “out of practice” vis a vis churches as an everyday part of roadside scenery, it can get confusing.

I know:  I live in the place where Christianity is rooted.  But surprise surprise, it’s not a place rife with churches.  At least not in Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem and the Old City, that’s a different story.  And even then…

Why didn’t I rely on the street number to find the spot?  That was a head-scratcher too.  The numbers descended and ascended in seemingly illogical order and the distances and gaps between buildings were  broad.  So when I got to 3300, passed 3500 then hit 50, I had no idea where to find my 2350 destination.  I pulled into a Christian Funeral Home parking lot but. . well that did me little good.  And no, I didn’t have my acquaintance’s cellphone number with me either.

A week later I set out with the name of destination in hand and I made it to the meeting sans incident.  As we sat speaking I glanced up at a map on the wall.  “The Holy Land”. . well well.   Familiar terraine.


Elder Care Perils July 22, 2008


Stefanella: Middle aged single mom supporting self and son via a writing and journalism career. Stefanella is energetic, cynical, oft unecessarily stressed & sometimes abrasive. She has a wicked sense of humor and a keen appreciation of the arts and fashion.

Raphael: Stefanella’s mature-for-his-age 6-year-old son.  Raphael is sensitive, flexible and very friendly.  He laughs often and gets along well with peers.  He plays fair and corrects his mother when she doesn’t.

Savta Rutee: Stefanella’s mother, Raphael’s grandmother.  Rutee nee “Patricia”, as she’s referred to by people other than her grandchildren, retired in 2007 after a decades’ long career in senior care nursing.  Rutee is kind and considerate and tries her utmost to “do the right thing”.  A model citizen, she follows the rules and doesn’t drink, swear or run red lights.


Breakfast table in the kitchen nook of Savta Rutee’s semi-ornate suburban Ohio home.  It’s a bright summer morning and sun streams through triple bay window panels.

Stefanella and Raphael, visiting from Israel, are readying themselves to go out for the day.  Stefanella prepares Raphael’s summer camp lunch, Savta Rutee pours coffee and Raphael, seated in his place at the round table, maneuvers toys between bites of buttered bagel and watermelon cubes.  Beside his gold and maroon place setting he has laid out several 1.5 inch diameter, gray and brown stones retrieved while hiking the previous day.

Rutee (moving closer to Raphael, alarm in her voice): “What’s that next to your plate!?”

Raphael: “They’re rocks.  Aren’t they pretty?”

Rutee (sighing with relief) : “Oh thank god.  I thought it was fece– Well never mind”

Stefanella (eyebrow raised): “Are you kidding?  Why would you think something crazy like that, Mom?”

Rutee: “It used to happen all the time in the dining room at the home.  Good old Mr. Weinberg or Mrs. Keltisch would be sitting there eating breakfast and right next to the plate would be a few–

Stefanella: “Okay.  Thanks.  You can spare the graphics.  We ARE having breakfast.”

silence ensues as Stefanella contemplates.  Raphael, not mature enough to have honed in on THIS talk, continues eating & playing with his toys

Stefanella: “But wait.  How on earth did it get up there on the table?”

Rutee: “They’d pull it out and put it up there.  Just like that.”

Stefanella: “Oh god.  Thanks”

–cut to black–


Save the Forests July 21, 2008

Filed under: Humor,Quirky — stefanella @ 1:39 pm
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They were all in the napkins we got yesterday at the drive-thru window when we ordered a mere. . . 1) diet soda and  2) ice cream cone


America-nomics July 10, 2008

My friend Liza returned to Israel from a U.S. visit this Spring talking about rising gas prices and Americans feeling the crunch.

Gas stations that can’t compete are going out of business. Lines of drivers wait to fill up at stations offering a few cents off the rate the guy a block away puts up.

One time we saw a bunch of cars making U-Turns into a station where the price was remarkably lower than the going rate. We followed because who doesn’t want in on a good deal? It was a real life “too good to be true” scenario: The station was shut down but the owners hadn’t covered the pumps or taken down the last posted price.

Visiting my parents in rural Cincinnati this summer, I am coming face to face with Liza’s description. It’s one thing to read about record high $145 per barrel oil prices and quite another to see the effects.

I could reason that my mother’s precautionary strategizing – “You’ll need to plan out what you do and where you go while you’re here; gas is expensive” – is tied to her fixed budget status.

But she’s been a retiree for several years. This is the first summer she has prodded for mindfulness over the odometer reading or fuel tank fill-ups.

And it’s not just my mom. I asked my brother Josh for his Infiniti keys so I could make a dash to the local produce farm 10 miles down the road. He handed me the keys to his girlfriend’s Honda Accord instead. “Take the other one,” he offered. “Mine inhales gas.”

My sister, prior to offering up her compact model SUV for an outing, queried: “How far away is your meeting?”

I filled the tank of my mother’s Toyota yesterday. Kroger’s post-July 4th basement bargain rate of $3.86 per gallon put me out by $50 for the tank, already a quarter full before I started pumping. Last summer’s tank fill-up ran at about $35.

Prices are relative, of course. Where I come from, petrol rings in at an alarming three times the going rate in Ohio. Green-promoting, Jerusalem-based Benchmark Capital partner Michael Eisenberg takes Israel’s government to task for not rising to the occasion.

I filled up my tank the other day on my Volvo S40. Over 400 NIS. With the weakening dollar that is about $120! Gasoline here is now $8.50 per gallon . . .and is showing no signs of stopping.

With that as a backdrop, Prime Minister Olmert’s decision to stop building the high speed rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (link in Hebrew) is worse than bewildering. It is downright dangerous.

Given the neighborhood we live in, we should be doing everything possible to reduce oil dependency in Israel.

Maybe the PM’s busy with Iran’s testing. But hang on to your rail passes because if per-barrel prices really do end up rising from the current $137 to $170 by summer’s end as forecast by OPEC president Chakib Khelil last week, it’s going to get tighter still.

Israelis may be price-gouged but they haven’t yet been hit with the doldrums of job slumping, property foreclosing recession.

Which is also in your face here in middle America.

“For Sale” signs rusty from over-exposure pepper front lawns, the local evening news routinely carries stories of families in despair and Oprah is hosting guests lamenting their loss of fortune during the current economic downturn.

Americans are all sticking closer to home these days – air travel’s down and Amtrak Rails is setting records for the first time in years.

During chance meetings last week, three different people voiced deep concern over job safety and finances.

Some days I want to scream at the salaried employees: ‘FOR GOD’S SAKE YOU GET A PAYCHECK. SHUT UP AND SAY THANK YOU!'”, Sales rep Barb** told me, worry lines furrowing her brow. It was evening but she had forgotten to remove the first financial bank pin from her blouse. “I didn’t take a salary this month. And I don’t know what’s gonna happen next month. But I guess I should be thankful for not having a mortgage I can’t pay. I’m scared.

And there was George, a middle management plastics industry professional who told me all he wants is to retire with his company. But recent cuts are rattling his nerves. There’s no job security, even with twenty years’ seniority.

Frightening stuff when viewed up close.

And if, after all the proof I still doubted America’s tough times, the niggling was quelled last week when I heard NPR’s report that Starbuck‘s is planning to shut down 600 stores.

Ach, who wants to waste the gas driving there anyhow?


Bless America or Here & There July 6, 2008

Now that I’ve been living in Holy Land Central (HLC or “Israel”) for a few years, the differences between my former U.S. life versus the adopted Middle East Alternate Plan are becoming more acutely pronounced each time I travel to my parents’ for vacation.

One of the most obvious differences lies in the concept of customer service.

The U.S. model seems to be moving away from “the customer is always right” and thank goodness for that, after all, because it’s a lie. But even in Lebanon, Ohio versus Tel Aviv, Israel, behind-the-counter types are more compliant when compared with their Middle Eastern counterparts.

On July 4th, North America’s Independence Day, I headed to the local outdoor pool to swim laps. It was a chilly gray, drizzly day – 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 Celsius).

When I entered the half-Olympic sized pool area that on sunny days hosts dozens of exuberant kids diving from the boards, scaling the climbing wall and swooshing down the slide, I was the lone patron.

The place was deserted save 3 front desk attendants and 8 on-duty lifeguards – three of them sitting aloft in rain diverting, umbrella-protected chairs dutifully eyeballing. . . an empty pool. Two other lifeguards stood poolside with life-saving rescue tubes strapped across their torsos also staring at. . . water with nothing in it.

Coming from where I come from, i.e. HLC with its lacking sentry-like sense of obligation, I was a bit taken aback. WTF? Where is the common sense in this? I internally dialogued, dutifully pulling my 750 meters through the nippy water.

Once finished, I threw a towel over my shoulders, slipped into my clogs and headed for the parking lot. I was still solo at the club.

“I’m really sorry for not having the concession open while you were here,” a congenial fellow carrying a tray of plastic-sealed hamburger buns remarked in passing as I headed to my car.

Um, it’s okay. Really. I replied, too stunned to come up with anything more intelligent. It seems kind of unnecessary.

Well thanks for understanding anyway,” he countered.

I chuckled as I got behind the driver’s wheel and switched on the heat. Had this been where I LIVE in Tel Aviv . . Well heck, it could’ve been a jam-packed-maximum-capacity day at the club with a line stretching to Oman and the concessions guy on a half-hour coffee break but there’d have been neither regret nor apology.

And the lifeguards standing guard over an empty pool? Well that WAS a trifle excessive by any standard.

On a different note for my Israel-dwelling friends: Go see Wall-E when it opens there on the 10th. Yeah I know it looks like a kid flick but it’s multi-level with a somewhat formidable message.

My wee self-schvitz: Years ago I had the good fortune of interviewing John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton for a Reuters story I was working on; in continued deference to their brilliance as a creative team, I’m semi-plugging Wall-E as the latest notch in the duo’s collectively expanding belt of film gems.