With that, staring at strangers became dull, so I decided to see if I could at least drop my luggage off and explore for a bit. After a brief chat with an information attendant I felt confident that I could navigate my way to my hostel. Ha. An hour on a train later I was literally on the other side of the country-- keep in mind Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey. I failed to realize that I had hopped on an express train that skipped over my planned stop. Knowing that Israel is a small country, I realized something was extremely wrong when the cityscape of Tel Aviv abruptly shifted to greenhouses and donkeys and every other indicator that I had made a huge mistake. Part of me panicked, mainly because I had no idea how expensive of a error this might be. We passed Herzliya, then Netanya, then Hadera. This probably means nothing to you, but when I saw (and passed) the stop for Hadera all I could do was laugh and enjoy my baptism-by-fire into the Israeli landscape. To put it into American terms, imagine taking a train from DC to Baltimore but failing to get off until Boston. I knew Israel was tiny, but damn, I was going over a mental map and realized just what a minute place this was. My panic quickly turned into claustrophobia.
After what seemed an eternity, the train finally stopped in Binyamin. I jumped off with my years-worth of luggage, asked the first person I saw for help, and hopped back on a train on the other platform. The day before I had gotten away with two free bus rides in Poland (I'll explain that little slice of hell in a future post) and thought I was about to luck out again and not have to pay for the extra fare. About ten minutes into the return trip a woman came through our section of the train yelling in Hebrew and everyone started fumbling around in their pockets and pulling out tickets. Shit. I thought I was going to last at least a month in Israel without going to jail. I showed her my 15-shekel (roughly $4) ticket to Tel Aviv Central from Ben Gurion Airport. She frowned and just said "no". I immediately poured my heart out to her. "I have no idea what I'm doing I've been in Israel for five hours I don't speak Hebrew I'm lost I'm sorry Help me I'm poor". Nothing. She stared me down for what seemed like an eternity, stone-faced and pursed-lipped. Double shit. I pulled out my passport thinking that might help for some reason. She burst out laughing. "I thought you were a lost little boy! You're how old?" Leave it to my Benjamin Button disease to break the tension. She not only let me go without paying the extra fare, but was kind enough to write out directions for me. In English. Thank G-d.