I had the opportunity in late September to cover Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to the UN and the White House, and I won’t lie: There’s a thrill in flying with the prime minister.
Granted, it’s not an Air Force One type of thrill.
The plane in which the Israeli prime minister travels is not outfitted with wood-paneled rectangular rooms, conference tables, couches and a prime ministerial seal engraved – as US columnist Roger Simon once wrote about the ever-present presidential seal on Air Force One – on everything but the air-sickness bags.
Also, there is no press cabin as there is on Air Force One, with 12 first-class seats in the back of the plane, where wise and seasoned journalists – men with sleeves rolled up and ties casually untied just right, women smartly attired – engage in friendly chitchat among themselves and with the president’s entourage, while magically producing one scoop after the next.
No, Netanyahu – like his two immediate predecessors – flies in a chartered El Al plane. The prime minister, his wife and his staff sit up front in the firstclass section, while the press and bulk of his huge security detail sit in coach, though with enough empty seats to allow them to spread out.
While it might be nice up front, and surely it is when the plane is fitted with a special sleep compartment for the prime minister, the back of the plane is nothing special. No bells, no whistles, no special perks, just a few weary-eyed journalists in jeans, T-shirts and sandals; and cookie- cutter-looking security personnel relieved they can fly a few hours without that walkie-talkie thing jammed inside their ears.
And all that is an upgrade.
EHUD BARAK, and all those who preceded him as prime minister in 1999, used to fly in an old air-force plane that did not have the fuel capacity to make a nonstop flight to the US. This meant that while Uncle Shmulik and his kids could fly nonstop to New York, the prime minister of Israel and his entourage had to stop to refuel either in Ireland or Italy on his way to and from Washington.
Call it Air Force Minus-Ten.
But I am not complaining; not by any means. Because, as I said at the outset, there is a thrill in flying with the prime minister. It has nothing to do with the physical comfort of the plane, but rather the idea of flying with the leader of the country. At the risk of sounding adolescent, it’s just cool.
And if that’s cool, then what’s even cooler is riding in his motorcade.
Here’s how it works. The prime minister’s plane flies into any given airport, and you don’t have to rush to baggage claim past gift shops and Auntie Anne’s soft pretzel outlets. Rather, there is a convoy of cars and vans on the tarmac waiting for you. Well, not actually waiting for you, but for the prime minister. But since you’re there, you can surf the wave.
And that’s one fun wave to ride. Of all the immeasurable perks in this job – the free notebooks, the complimentary diaries at the end of the year, a discount on my newspaper subscription – driving in the prime minister’s motorcade through some of the world’s major cities, especially New York, is one of the best.
There you are, in the middle of Manhattan’s rush hour, just buzzing through town. OK, not exactly buzzing through town – this is New York, after all – but not getting stuck in traffic like everyone else, as police cars with sirens wailing are driving on either side of the long procession, and folks on the streets stop, gape and wonder who in the world is in those cars.
AND IF the motorcade is cool, what is even cooler still is going into the Oval Office.
That’s right, The Oval.
I can’t help it. Having grown up in the US, reared on stories of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln and Kennedy, I developed an awe and respect for the president and the trappings that come with his office.
So going into The Oval – that iconic room where so much history has been made, so many leaders have sat, so many conversations were taped – is rather exciting.
The office itself is nice enough, as far as white-carpeted, tastefully appointed oval rooms go. But here, too, it’s more the idea of being in the room, than the room itself. The Oval certainly has mystique.
“Honey,” I said to The Wife over the phone as we were traveling to the White House. “How was your day?” “Fine,” she said, seven hours in front of me. “I had some appointments. Where are you?” And that was the question I was angling for, the one I was dying to answer.
“Me?” I said, ever so nonchalantly. “I’m on my way to The Oval.”
I loved saying that: “The Oval.” I’m a fan of phrases, especially pretentious ones – it’s a shtick I have. Certain combinations of words, enunciated just right, can entertain me for hours on end, even days.
For example: “Where were you today?” “The Oval?” “How was it?” “You mean in The Oval?” I came home from the States, and for days regaled a bored and overburdened family with tales of my 10 minutes in The Oval.
“Well, last week in The Oval,” I said. Or, “When I was in The Oval.”
Or, “On the way to the Oval.”
Oval. Oval. Oval. My kids don’t have that great an English vocabulary, but they surely know what the word “oval” means today.
ANOTHER PHRASE I’ve taken a liking to of late is “moving units.”
Ever notice that businesspeople – say the guys selling air conditioners – never talk about selling air conditioners, but rather about “moving units”? I’ve always noticed that, and harbored a secret envy of folks who put their feet on their desk, peer over their glasses and holler down the phone to an underling, “Are you moving your quota of units?” Yes, I’ve always loved that phrase, but never really had the opportunity to incorporate it into my daily conversation.
Until recently, when I published a new book.
“Honey,” I said to The Wife last week, “have you moved any units today?” “Abba,” my youngest son said, overhearing our conversation. “Why do you say ‘units’? Why don’t you just call them books, like a normal person?” Because, I explained, seizing the opportunity to use my two new favorite phrases in one brief conversation, “that’s just not the way they do it in The Oval.” A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is now available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com