Sunday, March 25, 2007

All in a Day's Work

What an exciting day I'm having . . . I came with my laptop to The Coffee Mill, a cute little cafe across from the music conservatory on Emek Refaim Street, to get a quick 12:30 breakfast (cough cough) with Chava, and then stick around and work on a few articles I need to write. Chava got here first and saved me the seat directly next to an electrical outlet, and we caught up on each other's news, surrounded by about 100 "New Yorker" covers adorning the walls. This place is really very cute.

As I was munching on a bagel and sipping cappucino, the owner came over and asked whether the black briefcase sitting under the next table was ours. Um, no. Did it belong to the man sitting by the window? Um, no.

Uh, oh. A suspicious object.

"Suspicious object" in Israel is not exactly a thing, it is an event. Once it is ascertained that no one nearby can claim ownership of the bag, the cafe proprieter must call the police, who typically call in the bomb squad. They, in turn, clear the area and make quick work of said bag in a controlled explosion. Happens all the time. Normally, the bag turns out to be perfectly harmless, something left behind accidentally by a harried customer. But meanwhile, the accidental leaving-behind of the bag has wasted many man hours, as the police and bomb squad staff carry out their jobs. Plus, in a place like, say, a bus station, it causes travel delays. In the street, it causes traffic delays. In a place like a cafe, it means that the owner loses business because everyone must clear out for the bomb squad. It is a pain in the neck.

Another customer said that her coworker, who is affiliated with the music conservatory, had been sitting at that table, and she thinks the briefcase might be her coworker's instrument. It sure would save everyone headache if she could reach her coworker to confirm that the briefcase is hers . . . but meanwhile, the cafe owner has her own responsibility to call the police. The lady customer tried to reach her coworker, but the coworker wasn't answering her cell phone.

So it became a race: Would the owner surface before the police blew up her sheet music?

While the police hovered around the place and spoke into their walkie-talkies about the briefcase, I hung out on Emek Refaim with the wait staff, who seemed content to have a cigarette break. One of them went into the place next door and bought two large chocolate-rum balls from the ice cream place next door. On principal, I hung around so that after the drama, The Coffee Mill would get my business; terrorist groups have created an environment in which we must fear innocent briefcases, but I'll be darned if I'll let an atmosphere of fear take business away from a fellow Israeli. Besides, I was curious to see whether the bag's owner would ever see her bag again.

Just as the waiter and waitress were sitting at an outdoor table and about to dig into their chocolate treats, the lady customer managed to get hold of her friend, who confirmed that yes, it was her bag.

So I'm writing this from a corner table in The Coffee Mill, which is, after all, safe and sound. New customers are filing in, and the lady customer who saved the bomb squad a trip is getting help on her Ulpan homework from the waiter.

Another day, another suspicious object.

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