Thursday, May 15, 2008

How I learned to Drive Manual Transmission

Yesterday, I spoke with my ex-husband about his upcoming trip to Israel with our son. They needed a car, they needed trip insurance, they need some hotels, and he needed my professional help. Yes, I'm a travel professional. Don't try this at home. We talked about what kind of car he wanted to rent, and he said "Not a Fiat 500" and we both burst out laughing. We'd met on Kibbutz, in Israel, and that Fiat played a part in our story.

In May, 1969, I moved to Israel. I was 20 years old, a college drop-out, and an idealist who felt shattered by the direction the United States had moved: Richard Nixon was our President, we were enmeshed in a horrible war in Viet Nam, our nation was torn apart. What better thing for a young Jewish girl to do than move to a new nation, become a pioneer, farm, get my hands dirty. My parents dropped me at the airport, and off I went on my new adventure.

I met my ex- on the first day I arrived. He literally grabbed my art portfolio out of my hands and carried it to the housing block I was assigned. He was on a bicycle. He thought he was dashing. I thought he was an asshole. So began 22 years of ragged togetherness before it ended in divorce. Hell, we get along better divorced than we ever did married, but that's a whole nother story.

This story is about a four cylinder Fiat 500, a car that was manual transmission and only had two cylinders working. It wasn't our car. It didn't really belong to anyone, exactly. This girl purchased it in Spain for $500, drove the hell out of it until she appeared on the Kibbutz one day, parked it, and stayed for a month. She left, and somehow the car (and the keys) stayed. Somehow, we had those keys. So, we just sort of decided we had right of first whatever.

Israel in 1969 was very much a country on defense. Still bearing the swagger of the Six Day War, when the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank were captured, there was a bravado that defied the constant sense of looking over one's shoulder. We were not far from a small border town, and that town was constantly being shelled by Katusha rockets launched by Palestinians in Lebanon. It didn't stop us from hiking the hills - in fact, we felt in more danger from the wild dogs than from the rockets. Kids in their twenties feel immortal.

I cannot describe how beautiful this region was. The light, the colors of the land, the Jordan River - all of this begged for exploration. And we had a car at our disposal, so explore it we did. But there was the issue of the two cylinders - we would pull into gas stations not to fill up with gas, but because the radiator was about to overheat and we needed to add water, or coolant, or whatever it is you put into a car to keep it from blowing up. The other issue was that because Israel was at war, there were roadblocks set up all over the place. My ex- was without a driver's license; I didn't know how to drive stick. He decided there was no time like the present to learn.

Oh, there is a third issue. I don't like to take direction much. And one of the reasons he's an ex-husband is because he was a bit over-bearing. (I love it when I understate.) And I am a natural blonde.

So we pulled over into a secluded area to teach me the workings of manual transmissions, and clutches, and forward, and not grinding gears, and when to shift, and "GODDAMNIT, STEP ON THE CLUTCH AND THEN EASE IT INTO GEAR", and then it was time for my first roadblock. It did not go well. I lurched the car forward, I jerked it and it stalled. I tried again. Stalled again. The soldiers told my ex- to get me out of the drivers seat or they would run me in. We decided that my driving was not so good, and we'd be better off with him driving without that pesky credential. License? We don need no stinking license. Thus ended my driving experience in Israel.

I eventually taught myself in an emergency back in the States. My son spiked a sudden fever at age 4. My ex- had my car, I had our VW Bus, which was manual, and I needed to take my son to the doctor. I somehow managed to get there without a problem, except I couldn't figure out reverse. Later that weekend, I learned.

But we lived in Israel for a year before we moved back to the States. It was in Israel that I listened to Neil Armstrong's voice as he took his first steps on the Moon. The night of July 20th was hot, sticky and cloudless as we gathered around the radio - staring up at the moon - the first steps toward extraterrestial colonization after we completely fuck up Earth.

I was in Israel when my beloved Cubs folded to the vile, loathe and disgusting New York Mets. Not the Miracle Mets, no, nay, never: The MALEVOLENT Mets, forever evil in my book. I was in Israel when everyone was going on down to Yasgur's farm for the Woodstock Nation. I was in Israel for a year, and it changed me forever.

Last night, I was watching Neil Jordon's film, "Michael Collins." In the extras on the DVD, Jordon writes that Michael Collins developed new strategies for the independence of Ireland. His tactics include what are now recognized as urban guerrilla tactics - Jordan is firm in pointing out that Collins was a soldier, a politician, and would deplore terrorist tactics. In fact, in the 1940s, the underground Jewish militia, the Irgun, patterned itself after the Irish Republicans. Yitzak Shamir so admired Michael Collins that he took the nickname "Michael."

I believe that Yassar Arafat was of this ilk: he was a soldier, and his PLO employed the kinds of urban guerilla tactics that Collins developed. Not so the terrorist group, Hamas. Hamas straps explosives onto the bodies of young, disenfranchized men and tells them to go blow up a coffee house. Attack civilians. And then Israel behaves like the British did and bulldozes houses; cuts off water, electricity; builds a fence. Our world has gone insane.

This morning, Dusty sent me a link to this article from the New Republic. The article goes into depth about J-Street, the new lobbying group and political action committee that says it will represent the interests of liberal American Jews.
The group, according to its website, favors "diplomatic solutions over military ones, including in Iran; multilateral over unilateral approaches to conflict resolution; and dialogue over confrontation with a wide range of countries and actors when conflicts do arise." Perhaps most controversially, its founder favors negotiating with Hamas.


"It's true that American Jews are overwhelmingly liberal on most issues; the problem for J Street is that Israel simply isn't one of those issues." My own family is an example: my ex-husband and son support Israel and Israel's actions completely. My ex-husband speaks of Palestians as though they are less than human. Sort of the way Jews were talked about in the past. My daughter and I support a two-State, diplomatic solution and to me, this means that Israel must talk to Hamas. They must. To pursue a military stance will ensure the destruction of Israel. The only way for Israel to survive, nay, thrive, is through diplomacy.

What the Palestinians need is a Michael Collins, an Eamon de Valera, a Yitzhak Rabin. What Israel needs is some restraint, and a lobby like J-Street to make the Government listen. Most Israeli citizens support a two-state, diplomatic solution, as do a growing number of American Jews. J-Street supports peace, a two-state solution, security for Israel, and using diplomacy, rather than military force, to deal with countries like Iran and Syria. It is only the far Right wing (the millenialists, the Religious Right, the Rev. Hagee) who want Israel to keep Gaza and the West Bank.

Perhaps, as my ex-husband and our son drive around Israel in the car I've secured for them, they will come to terms with a more even-handed point of view. I can only hope.

25 comments:

betmo said...

i hope they get to see some live palestinian people. really see them as people. until both sides see each other as people- neither will work for peace. easier to do when you aren't starving and you have running water and hospitals. the iraqis are experiencing the same things. people do desperate things to save the lives of their children. terrorists on both sides don't care.

DivaJood said...

My ex- is one of the dwindling numbers of American Jews who takes a hard-line approach. My son might be more reasonable. I don't know.

an average patriot said...

I didn't know your heritage but I agree with you. There are a lot of hard line Israelis. that is only one of the problems, bush is another. On the other side you have Iran, Syria, Hamas, and other Islamists. There will never be peace there with the religious fervor Bush has awoken as well as the arming of whoever he wants to take on Iran. This mess is just beginning and will not be quelled.
I have a good friend you may want to contact. His link is on my Blog roll but I can't get it now without losing you. He is 90 now but even in your area does the lecture circuit. He is phenomenal as is his son Danny. Anyway his name is Jerome Grossman. You may know him you certainly know his work. His foundations donate a lot of money and he knows everyone in the Political world.He writes on his Blog about once a week and I am usually his only commenter as he gives ideas and is not interested in tit for tat. I leave that u to his son. Anyway as you can guess we generally differ but his interests are wide ans his opinions great but to me moot today! Almost forgot, on my blog roll he is "the Relentless Liberal"

DivaJood said...

Will check him out. How did I put "American" in your blog name? I have to fix it!

an average patriot said...

Funny! I probably mess more people that way. I just linked to you! my web site is http://www.anaveragepatriot.com
My Blogspot can be accessed from my site and vice a versa but it is http.anaverageamericanpatriot.blogspot.com
Thus the American!

an average patriot said...

I noticed you commented at Jerome's. I met him and he gave me his book. what a speaker, Had some great Conversations. All American.
I talk with Danny all the time and it is my main goal to interact with them both all the time and convince them we have never been here before as Jerome wrongly thinks and the grassroots activism that worked in the 40s and on are worthless today but we need someone with the connections, experience, and funding Jerome has.
we have to get this country out of the clutches of the right and There is no way I see it being allowed. You heard the idiot in Israel. He is going to lie to everyone so this so called new (dis)order aganda can continue!

Utah Savage said...

Diva, you crack me up, and that's not a "cracker" joke.

DivaJood said...

Patriot, I did go over to Jerome's, and I will visit often. He's quite articulate. Frankly, though, I think that we may be at the end of the line as far as our little experiment in Democracy goes. Major changes are required at this point, because we're just nanometers away from a Dictatorship.

Utah, I'm so relieved that isn't a cracker joke, because I'm still flummoxed as to how that derived.

enigma4ever said...

I loved hearing this...you are so good at remembering what matters and telling it with humor and flair...and man, you were a pretty gutsy 20 year old....and isn't it funny how a car can always tie your memories to a fella....

thank you for sharing that....and also weaving it together with Isreal...

Bush went there this week- and stuck his foot in it- leave it to him...he can not go and NOT be the center of attention..he could not honor the people, the moment or meaning of what they were celebrating it- he threw in warmongering, hate, and fearmongering and manipulated history in one fell swoop...unreal...

anways....thank you it was a beautiful post, I could almost picture it....and feel the sun..

an average patriot said...

Diva
Yes Jerome is quite articulate. We had a great conversation and were instant friends. You know he is 90 and has been a grassroots organizer for over 65 years. However he is more open to reality with Bush than his son Danny is. Having said that I am still trying to get them both and their many Political relatives many of which you know that we have never been here before and are in serious trouble Bush highlighted yesterday. We will not get the Presidency because it ... Oh I'll leave it alone for now. I have discussed it a thousand times all the way back to 1970.
Anyway yes we are at the end of the road and we will not go into that good night gently. I did so many versions of my Life Cycles I am sick of trying to wake up the people, Politicians, MSM, everyone.
I was going to do an update or maybe conclusion to my conversations of late but this is a tight day so we'll see when. I am a little slow but I see my good friends here and you will see me too.

DivaJood said...

Enigma, thanks - and Bush was absolutely shocking in what he said. Anyone who says that diplomacy is the wrong path is himself delusional. At this point, in the Middle East, diplomacy is the ONLY solution.

Patriot, I hear your frustrations loud and clear! I'm right there with you, my friend. The only solution is diplomacy, and I am horrified that this President and his cronies are such evil, greedy bastards to value war over diplomacy.

Frederick said...

Wow, what a post. Thanks for sharing. I may have to do one on my trip to Jordan now.

DivaJood said...

Fred, when are you going to Jordan? And if you do need to get a car, make sure it's running on all cylinders. Unlike Bush.

Dusty said...

He thought he was dashing. I thought he was an asshole.-WOOT!!!

I love your humor sista..you spin a great yarn :)

DivaJood said...

Dusty, thanks. But it's not a yarn, it's a true story!

Dusty said...

Well, I didn't mean it wasn't true ya Silly! :)

DivaJood said...

Dusty, I know, I was just making fun.

Stella said...

Aw, gee, I really enjoyed the manual transmission post. So, if you don't mind, divajood, here's my off-topic story. If you do mind, delete me.

What a wit, Utah. Diva, you crack me up, and that's not a "cracker" joke. Damn, you are awesome.

I have a manual transmission story. When I was 17, my parents took me to the dealer to buy the car with the money I earned working. They kept asking me if I knew how to drive a manual transmission.

"Sure mom," I said (lied), "I learned in school.

We got to the dealer and I saw this wonderful Fiat 850 Spyder convertible. Love at first sight. Mine was butterscotch with a black top. The sales rep asked if I wanted to drive off the lot. I said rather coyly, "No, that OK. Why don't you take it?"

We got to a quiet street, where I announced, "OK. I want this car. If you want to make a sale, you'd better teach me in five minutes."

By the time we got back to the dealer, I was driving a stick. Not that I was all that great on hills, but I really wanted that car! Just a side note: it got 50 miles to the gallon on the highway.

I've got a 1986 Brat now: it's a stick we've been together for 22 years. I'm the original owner and bought it because I can't drive automatics all that well.

DivaJood said...

Stella, why is it always Fiats? That's funny, and thanks for coming by.

Agi said...

Great post, Divajood.

DivaJood said...

Agi, good to see you. And yes, I do expect you to visit J-Street.

D.K. Raed said...

What wonderful memories! And you write it so well, I can almost picture myself there.

My husband is one of those who got so fired up after the 6-Day War, he had a hard time figuring which way to go after college. Israel or the USMC? He chose USMC & ended up in Vietnam. I didn't know him back then, but either choice was dangerous. He tells me he is an automatic dual-citizen of israel if we ever decide to leave the US. If that's true, I guess I'm an automatic dual-citizen of Ireland. You are soooo right about Eamon de Valera and Michael Collins! It was never about indiscriminate killing, it was about demanding the right to have your own country.

I was never taught how to drive a stick-shift. I kept watching others, a boyfriend especially, and asking questions. Then one day when I was 20, I walked into a sports car dealership & asked to test-drive a little blue austin-healey bug-eyed sprite that caught me eye. We were about 3-blocks away when I hit the first red light & forgot to put it back in neutral. The saleslady who'd accompanied me asked how long I'd been driving a stick? I said, this is my first time! No seat belts back then, but I noticed she grabbed on to the armrest quite strongly! I ended up buying that car & loving it until some idiot in a supermarket backed into it & destroyed the front end. Her excuse? I couldn't even see your car, it's below my line of sight! She had a flock of kids screaming in her big station wagon. A policeman was nearby, but he didn't want to give her a ticket. He told me I should tell my insurance company it was damage done by an unknown person! (sigh) ...

Naj said...

I am happy to have read this post ...
thank you.

I just wished all Jews and Israelis knew that Iran is NO threat to Jews or to Israel ... this whole muddying of water is only to serve those who hang to power by deceit at the expense of innocent lives, and life's innocence.

DivaJood said...

DK, I understand your husband completely. My brother, older than I am, also wanted to go to Israel in 1967. He never did, until two years ago when he spoke at a conference. I lived there, and believe me, I know the difference between guerilla warfare and random terrorism. But the insane escalation - pope soap on a rope, it makes me crazed. Somebody (Israel) has to step up to the negotiating table. Love your car story, too.

Naj, good to see you. Most Jews and Israelis know that Iran is not a threat. Most intelligent people know that the real threat sits idly in the White House, picking his nose while America tries to bring his brand of "democracy" to the world. You bet I'm bitter.

Frederick said...

Oh, I went to Jordan in 2003. Memorable though.