Thursday, November 25, 2004

In De-Nile

One of the hardest things about living in Israel for Western immigrants is not having access to the vast consumer marketplace we grew up with in North America.

I know, that sounds pretty trivial and maybe even a little petty. After all, we are living in another country. We freely chose to put 5,000 miles between us and the nearest Disney Store. But sometimes it can be downright hazardous to your health.

For example, last week my phone headset broke. I use this simple audio device all the time to keep my hands free to take notes when I’m interviewing people long distance for the various newspapers I write for.

No problem, you say. Order it online. Or head on over to the nearest Fry’s or Best Buy and pick up a new headset.

Except that the superstores that make life so convenient in North America just don’t exist in Israel.

Ah...Fry’s. I like to call it conspicuous consumption on steroids, but that barely begins to describe the place.

The Fry’s I used to shop at in the “old country” is something like three football fields long and maybe as many wide. Fry’s started off years ago selling electronic gear for geeks. Now they hawk everything from music CDs to refrigerators, 42-inch plasma screen TVs to candy bars.

And, yes, telephone headsets. Racks and racks of them.

Well, while we don’t have Fry’s in Israel, we do have Office Depot. I headed on over to our local store. I still had a good 90 minutes before the 4:00 PM interview I needed to conduct by phone that afternoon. I figured it would take a couple of minutes to sort through several models.

I figured wrong.

Ein lanu,” the perfunctory Office Depot clerk said. Meaning, “We don’t carry that.”

How could that be? I was sure I’d seen them at the Office Depot, wait a minute; that was in Los Angeles.

“Maybe try the Home Depot,” the clerk offered. It wasn’t far. So off I went, from depot to depot.

Ein lanu.” No headsets there either. “Have you tried the Sakal store?”

No, I had not tried the Sakal store. But I would now.

The Sakal store was closed for repairs. Mamash ein lanu.

By now I was getting a little panicky. The clock was ticking: I had little less than an hour until my phone call at this point.

What about the electronics store down the street? I headed towards my car. It had been raining off and on all day, and now it was coming down pretty hard.

The closest spot I could find was a couple of blocks away. I stepped out and – splash – I made contact with one of Jerusalem’s infamous puddles.

I don’t know if it’s the fact that the streets aren’t paved evenly or bad drainage, but trying to stay dry while crossing a street in this city when it’s raining is like playing hopscotch on your heels. Eventually, someone falls.

I felt the water seep in through my tennis shoes. It was cold and slimy (note to self: buy those waterproof boots already).

As I sloshed unto the Lior Electric store and held up my old broken phone headset, I heard a familiar refrain – now, don’t everybody shout it all at once – ein lanu.

“Any idea where I could find one?” I asked, desperation starting to mix with the mud in my sneakers. I was down to 50 minutes.

I could go on with the story for took another five stops, seventeen puddles and a street that flowed like a concrete swamp before I finally found a cell phone store that sold headsets. It wasn’t even what I wanted. But it would have to do. I had only 30 minutes left.

I ran back to the car and gunned it towards home. Only to find myself stuck in a long line of traffic waiting for a light that seemed to never change. But the digital clock in my dashboard sure did.

20 minutes. 10 minutes.

As we inched our way forward, fingers tapping nervously on the steering wheel, I thought to myself, would it be so much to ask for a CompUSA and a little valet parking? It's not that I'm in denial about the place in which I live; it's just that on a day like this, it felt more like wading through the Nile.

I made it home with minutes to spare before the scheduled time of my interview. I bolted up the stairs to my home office and plugged the headset into the phone. Hallelujah, it worked! I dialed the number...

...and was promptly shunted off into voicemail. I checked my email. There was a quick message. “Sorry, have to reschedule. Hope it wasn’t any kind of inconvenience.”

Inconvenience? Now why should it be an inconvenience?


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