Out in the sticks

One of my American Facebook friends – she knows who she is – lives in a very small town in Arizona’s countryside, and writes fantastic stories, among others about her well-planned and meticulously prepared forays into the city nearest by, an hour plus drive, for all the shopping and services she cannot get in her home hamlet.

Living in Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, I’ve always thought this to be so amazing, that people would need to drive almost a hundred kilometers to get ‘somewhere.’

But a few weeks ago, I realized, for the first time, that I too, now live in the country side, out in the sticks, as my friends see and call it. Admittedly, Mitzpe Ramon – which I jokingly call the ‘Tucson of Israel’ –  counts more than 5000 inhabitants, but there is no car repair shop of any sort, no office supplies store, no place to fix your glasses or your smartphone, a narrow choice of doctors, just one dentist – a good one – only one expensive supermarket, and no mall at all….

During the past month, my shopping and to-do list was getting longer and longer, but I kept putting it off. During the first months in Mitzpe, I had regularly made the trip to the center of the country, driving, or driving and taking the train. I was still settling in and often needed to take care of chores and ‘left-overs’ following my divorce and consequent moving out.  But during the past month, I hadn’t traveled out at all and, as more veteran residents had warned me, I soon would resent traveling up north…


So one Thursday morning I got up, as usual at half past five, but instead of working out and going to the pool  – we have a great 25-meter public pool here –  to swim my daily mile, I took my ice box, filled it with cooling elements from my freezer, loaded all I prepared and needed into the trunk, checked the car tires and got behind the wheel of my 10-year old Honda. At ten to six I was en route to Be’er Sheva, with the early morning sun changing the colors of the glorious, mountainous desert views every minute.

An hour later, I arrived at the gates  of  the “Sol Test Institute,’ one of the companies that executes the annual “road-worthiness’ inspections of private vehicles, happy to be the first in line. Twenty seconds later, a taxi drove up behind me. The driver got out, greeted me, offered me a cigarette – a lot of older Israelis still smoke – and asked how long I had been waiting, saying that in all those years he had perused the institute he had always been the first to arrive.

“Waze got me here in 59 minutes,” I said, “and I wanted to be early so not to waste time, as I have a whole day of chores ahead of me. It’s an hour’s drive from Mitzpe Ramon. “

“Ah,” the taxi driver exhaled, “Mitzpe Ramon, what the hell did you lose there?”

“I am a Digital Bedouin,” I replied. “Almost all of my clients are abroad. I either work at home or fly abroad….”

By the time the place started operating, 15 minutes too late, there were two dozens of cars in line. Somewhat apprehensive –  after all a ten-year old car, while well maintained, can always present you with surprises – I moved the car from checkpoint to checkpoint, relieved that I was sent off without any demands for repairs, or upkeep deemed necessary. It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d been sent off with the instruction to change all four tires on a car……

Next was the Honda Car Service Center. Sounds fancy, and it is, in Israeli terms. Courteous staff, a proper customer waiting room, with strong wifi and excellent coffee. The car needed its annual check and tune up, and I duly reported some noise coming from the right back wheel, a noise that increased when accelerating, which had caused me to deduct there might be problem with the ball bearings. Naturally, fancy always pairs up with pricey. But they came highly recommended and in conversations with other ‘patients’ in the waiting room I heard only positive feedback.

Around half past ten, I was released, leaving a good chunk of monthly budget behind, and on to the next chore.

Truth be told, I had never been to Be’er Sheva for chores. So everything I did that day was ‘new:’ the visit to the supermarket, finding the location of the local branch of a household ware chain that I like, running into two adjacent stores going out of business and buying too much stuff…  I had a late brunch – as I had skipped breakfast altogether –  at a fantastic falafel place and polished it off with a run on the newly opened IKEA branch.

Then, in spite of being exhausted, I remembered my Facebook friend’s habit of catching a movie while in town. Saw “The Leisure Seeker,” with a fantastic performance by Dame Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland.

By the time I got back home, it was pitch dark…