Trip to the North

It is well-known that outside of basketball I live an extremely lazy life out here. To accomodate this life I went through great pains to black out my room by thumbtacking clothes over the window. With the complete blackness and the use of earplugs (so as to not hear the moaning, dying cats or the buzzing fridge) I can, and do, sleep uninterrupted for 10-12 hours a night.  It’s pretty awesome.  Except when you almost sleep through a pre-season game.  That’s when the plan backfires.

To be fair, part of the reason I almost missed my game was that NO ONE TOLD ME WHEN IT WAS.  My team has not quite grasped the concepts of releasing a schedule or telling people more than 24 hours in advance what time we have practice the next day.  It can be quite frustrating.  The problem is compounded when I spend most of my time practicing with Haifa, so I am out of the loop even more when it comes to Tivon related activities.

This particular incident actually started when I was informed that I would be going to training camp for 3 days with Haifa up in the mountains.  The place is about an hour and a half North.  I was fine with this.  It would actually be kind of nice to get out of town, get some nice free meals and be able to use a real shower.  (You can’t really do anything in my shower but slowly turn around with your arms at your side.  I think the previous tenant was a midget jockey of some sort.  (( I am almost sure you are not allowed to use parentheses within parentheses, but oh well.  Why has there not been a champion midget jockey?  Sorry, little person.  There has to be some athletic little person out there we can throw on a horse.  What a competitive advantage.  Once I become head of television somewhere I am going to introduce “I’m Not Here for the Ponies,”  a reality show where we follow 10 bitter, overlooked midget jockeys as they compete to win a mount in the Kentucky Derby.  I’m not sure why they have to be bitter and overlooked, but that’s just how it is at the moment.))  Back to the shower.  It’s almost like cramming into a really ghetto, semi-human sized washing machine of some sort.  I need to hire someone to sprinkle soap on me from above as I turn in circles so as to avoid smashing my knees and arms into the glass every time I try to wash myself.)

But, I got a call after the practice from a manager of Haifa saying that they had a new plan for me, which was this:

-Practice with Haifa in the morning.

-Drive my own car 1.5 hours into the mountains, behind the team bus so as to really rub in my inferiority and outcast status.

– Practice in the evening.

-Drive back 1.5 hours through the night on poorly lit mountain roads where one bad turn could lead me into Lebanon.

-Play a game with Tivon on Monday.

-Drive all the way back on Tuesday and practice some more.

All for a team I am not even on!  They assured me they would pay for my gas.  I felt this was a little unreasonable and said so to my coach, who worked out that I would just do the first part and not return on Tuesday, which is not the end of the world, especially considering I have nothing else to do with my life but follow around this team and be their little practice dummy. Really, I don’t.  There is only so much, Mad Men, Its Always Sunny and awesome old BBC documentaries about WWII that I can watch.

So I follow the bus up their on Sunday and try to take careful notice of the roads we are on so I will be able to navigate my way back.  I’ll discuss it later, but I think everyone knows this had about a negative 100% chance of working.  There were only 3 main roads for the vast majority of the trip, but I greatly overestimated my ability to find these roads by myself in the dark.

As we were walking to and from the hotel to the gym people were talking a lot about how this was one of the spots that got shelled by bombs from Lebanon a few years back.  From the gym we could see mountain that separates the two countries, and apparently Lebanon really went to town reigning down missiles on the exact spot we were standing.  It was not a very comforting thought.

I then got into a discussion with the trainer about war and such after he announced that “ehh, war every few years is not such a bad thing.”  Riiiight.

me- “Ya I guess not, as long as you always win.”

trainer- “Yes, and if we lose, we drop the A bomb and destroy everything.”

me- “Alright, mutually assured destruction, that’d be great.  (good naturedly egging him on) “Why doesn’t Israel just take over more of the middle east?  Just go grab Syria.”

trainer- “We did, but we always have to give it back!  They go whining to the United Nations.  They start the war, we win, and then we have to give back land!  The United Nations always fucks us!”

We then went on to talk about how the Arabs living in Israel have an infinitely higher standard of living than in any of the Arab nations.  It was nice to talk about something stimulating for a change.

After practice we got to eat and then we had to sit through a talk about the history of Haifa basketball.  This involved first listening to an older fan who went through in detail all the triumphs of Maccabi Haifa.  This wasn’t just basketball though. It started in 1918, and was mostly soccer until like the mid 1950’s.  And this list was thorough as hell.  I spent a solid 15 minutes learning about when the first gymnastics team was founded and how tough it was to get practice time on the one court in Haifa in the 1960’s.  It was kind of interesting but excessively detailed.  There was no need to recount every time the team moved divisions from 1980 to the present.

The more fun part of the talk was when we got to look at old newspaper clippings about Haifa basketball.  They mostly featured this one player who holds all of the big scoring records.  There was one particularly awesome picture showing this player after an important win.  He was standing in uniform and on the court with a lit cigarette in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.  So awesome.  This guy also apparently didn’t even play basketball until his 20’s, at which point he stopped being a soccer goalie and started being one of the best Israeli basketball players ever.  They didn’t really tell how this happened, or why he never realized he was that good before.  Maybe people cared so little about basketball that any decent athlete who could bear not being a soccer player could have dominated.

After this all ended the team offered to “let me stay for the night” considering it was 10:30 PM.  I didn’t know if that meant crash on someones couch or if they would get me a room, but I decided I didn’t really want to stay anyway.  So it was arranged that I would follow back our guest speakers from Haifa and thus could not possibly get lost.  If only.

I followed them for about 20 miles, but being older they were driving very slow, and I was confident I could find my way back without them.  I really don’t know why I was so sure of myself.  I struggle to find my way around the neighborhood I grew up in.  I have been forced to use a navigation system to find an In-n-Out I have been to close to a thousand times.  But for some reason out in the black mountainous middle of nowhere in Northern Israel I was absolutely positive that if I just made one left turn I would be basically home and that there was no reason to follow these old dudes.  The last straw was when they made a right, I followed them, and then they made a U-Turn, signaling they had erred and that they were no longer to be trusted ever again.  I followed behind a little longer and then broke off at the point I thought you had to make a left, and they continued straight.  I silently applauded myself for being so awesome.

But, lo and behold, I had no fucking clue what I was doing.  This road just meandered along and there were no signs pointing me toward Haifa.  There were signs to Afula and Nazareth, which are close by, so I thought I would make my way over there and then figure it out.  This backfired when after a little more driving the whole road came to a complete halt.  Not wanting to just sit around when I was already lost I made my first of many illegal u turns.  I don’t recommend doing this on dark mountain roads, but I am one of those drivers that always likes to be moving.  I would rather take the surface streets and have my trip take 10 minutes longer, but be always moving, then sit in traffic on the freeway.  I should probably try to curb this need to always be instantly gratified. Doesn’t seem like a good or healthy trait.

I retraced my way back to the road I originally turned off and followed that a while longer, secretly hoping I would somehow catch up to the car I was supposed to be following.  That never happened, so I made another left that turned out to lead nowhere, and had to turn back with my tail between my legs yet again.  I knew I had to make a goddamn left at some point!  It all seemed so easy when I was driving in the daylight.

The worst part about all this is seeing broken down cars on the side of the road and having to wonder what on earth I would do if I got stranded.  I am sure I could make some calls and get some help, but I would not be able to describe in any detail where I was, and who knows how long it would take for help to arrive.  That’s all assuming I would have service.  It would have been a long, terrible night to say the least.  A few minutes being lost in the night by yourself makes you miss civilization a whole lot.

It turned out that the original road I was on eventually had signs for freeways I recognized, and I thought I was home free once I got on Road 70.  But, as is known to happen in Israel, I got forced off of Road 70 by a police blockade.  They had a huge section of the road shut down, at midnight. Great. So I made another U-turn, got honked at by a cop, pulled up to another group of police cars and asked how to get to Tivon.  He sounded like this:

“garble garble garble garble smollah.”

I know that smollah means right, and he was pointing to the right, so I figured I would try that.  As I make my final illegal turn to go back that way a cop pulls up beside honking and flashing his lights.  I was sure I was going to get a ticket, but he just asked me in perfect english where I was going, and told me to follow him.  He escorted me all the way back to Tivon, and I cannot overstate how lost I would have gotten if he hadn’t helped me out.  It was much, much more than just a right turn. So, moral is, make a lot of illegal turns, look helpless, foreign and lost, and some awesome cop will always come and help your out of your jam.  Still, I am going to just follow someone the next time I am leaving the mountains in the middle of the night.  No need to be a hero.

To conclude, I got back late, slept late and then got a call from the manager of Tivon asking me where I was and telling me we had a game starting in 30 minutes.  I had to rush out the door and answer questions about why I didn’t know we had a game at that time.  No one really cared, because no one could prove that the game time had been announced at any other point besides the previous nights practice, which I was obviously absent from.  A simple text or email would have prevented the whole ordeal  But, I played well and we blew the team out, so alls well that ends well.

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