Sunday, May 22, 2011

Learning the Hard Way

Who knew? Without a driver's license, you might as well not exist.

I made the mistake of misplacing/losing my purse the day before I left for New York. I was positive it was in the house, but no one could find it. I retraced my steps the day it went missing, and called each one but no one had seen it. So I grabbed my passport for ID and headed to the airport. Good enough, right?

Not if you want to rent a car, apparently. I only realized as I was on my way --  literally in the air -- to Ft. Lauderdale to speak at the Women's Conference for Conservative Judaism.

I suspected that not having a driver's license would be a problem. But I had my passport. And even better, I knew my driver's license number! (I know that's weird, but I also still remember the phone number of the first house I ever lived in, from age 3 on, xx years ago, and yes, it was already a 10 digit phone number back then). I thought I'd save the rental agency some trouble by going directly to the California DMV website and try to pull up my license, but there's no such option. So I kept my fingers crossed, waited in line for half an hour, smiled brightly at the representative who was free -- who told me very kindly that there was no way that anyone would rent me a car without my license, knowing the license number notwithstanding. In fact, even if someone else rented a car for me, the car rental police would never let me out of the rental garage without my license.

Now my purse had turned up by then -- in San Diego -- but I was in NY at the time, making do with a Ziploc bag as a wall; there nothing I could do about it then, so I agreed to leave it in the safekeeping of the manager's locker until I returned (I had forgotten that we ran out to dinner at 5 Guys the night of the "Day the Purse Went Missing"). But I hadn't realized the urgency of having my license until too late. But surely having the license number... I seem to recall once getting stopped by a cop when I didn't have my license on me -- maybe we were going to the beach (and if it's the time I'm thinking of, that's a story unto itself!) -- but knowing my driver's license number back then was good enough. But it wasn't good enough for Budget Rent-a-Car (not that I blame them)..

I'll spare you the rigmarole of seeing if I could borrow my in-laws' car while they were out of town; I could -- except that I had no way of getting to their apartment (and would have been an exorbitant cab ride). I ended up having to ask my sister-in-law if she would rent the car for me and add me as an additional driver. Worked out fine -- once we found each other at the airport rental counter; it hadn't occurred to me that she, as a Florida resident, had never needed to rent a car at the airport before, and the Ft. Lauderdale airport has an entire, 4-story building that you have to take a bus to, and which she'd never  had reason to know about before. But once we found each other, she got through almost all the paperwork BUT still needed my driver's license to add me as an additional driver...

Back to square one. I was embarrassed to do so, but had no choice other than to ask her if she would rent the car for herself (with me paying for it, of course) so I could borrow her car, and that's what we ended up doing. My sister-in-law was so gracious about it all; I'm just plain exhausted. I ought to get some sleep before I speak tomorrow. And it would be nice if my throat didn't hurt in the morning like it did today, but I don't expect to get everything I want. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Speaking Tonight at the Museum of Tolerance in NY

The Museum is located at 226 East 42nd Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues. If you're in town, come join us. I speak at 6:30 p.m.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Will We Never Learn?

We've heard it so many times that it has become 'white noise,' but if there were ever a time to learn that History Repeats Itself, and those who don't learn its lessons are condemned to repeat it, it is now. The same political, social and economic conditions that led to the Russian Revolutions of 1905 (unsuccessful) and 1917 (successful) exist in the African countries currently undergoing revolution. It's so formulaic that it's predictable:

Political: Dominance of an individual, family or party for decades to centuries +Social: Suppression of political dissent + Economic: High unemployment = Revolution for change.

Take a look at Libya where Qadaffi has ruled for 41 years. The unemployment rate is 30% (and that's only because 10-20% of the population works in surveillance for the government. In Egypt, 90% of the population, which is Muslim, has been prevented from having political influence, despite their obvious majority. Similarly, Bahrain's government is Suni while 70% of the population is Shia, and the ruling family has been in power for around 200 years. Yemen has been under autocratic rule for 32 years, living conditions are poor, and a large percentage of the population is uneducated or illiterate. And in Tunisia a street vendor set himself on fire to draw attention to the fact that the government wasn't allowing him to make a living.

There have been demonstrations, possible precursors to revolution, in Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and Morocco, and people are talking about Angola being the next country to have a revolution. And now the uprisings in Syria are becoming more violent ( don't "we" (the countries that assume some responsibility for restoring 'order' and 'democratic' rule, get involved earlier, when there may be opportunity for change instead of bloodshed? (I know; it's easy to say, but as world leaders watch governments fall, they might be more receptive to preemptive change).

I'll have more to say about this topic in upcoming posts. (And to think, someone once told me that I was wishy-washy, and needed to form some strong opinions!)

Monday, May 2, 2011

I Have Been Guilty of Stereotyping, Too

A few weeks ago when I wrote about my late nephew, I remarked on how unusual it was for his parents, who are Orthodox, to have let their son pursue the non-traditional (for a nice Jewish boy) career as a winemaker. It wasn't as if he left Torah behind, though. He had studied in Yeshiva in Israel in conjunction with being in the army, and maintained all the Orthodox practices (that was a given). But what it took me a while to realize (and even longer to get down to writing about) was that I had completely forgotten that my own brother, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, and his wife, have children who, even if they aren't pursuing non-traditional careers, certainly have excelled in non-traditional extra curricular areas. My 3 nieces, now aged 15, 17 & 19, had, by 2 years ago, each earned her black belt in karate. Definitely not something I saw while I was growing up. I don't know how long it takes to earn a black belt, but the sisters started on the process together and reached the same level of achievement together. There is no way you would guess from looking at these young women, modestly dressed with long sleeves and long skirts, had hands that could be used as lethal weapons. And their older brother, now 21, is quite accomplished as a magician, not just in performing sleights of hand but even inventing new tricks. When I went to see them about 2 weeks ago when they were visiting my mother, my nephew showed me a publication for magicians (I didn't take much note of the title because I knew I wouldn't remember it) in which his trick had been published.

So whereas I had operated from the assumption that everyone Orthodox followed a straight, or conventional, (which is actually the meaning of 'orthodox') path -- toward law, medicine or Talmudic study, for boys, and teaching for girls) there is a wider range of practices and opportunities that some families provide for their kids. And it isn't to the exclusion of being religiously observant; rather it is on the side, an opportunity to do things that a lot of kids take for granted as being available to them, and have applied the same diligence to their hobbies as they have to their studies, and excel there, too.

My youngest nephew, only 12, hasn't defined his unusual calling, but once he does, I have no doubt that he will excel at it, too.