Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And the Winner is...

The ultimate number one worstest, most awfullest guided tour I’ve ever had....

Gentlemen, the envelope . . . please.

This year’s award for Christopher’s worstest awfullest guided tour goes to the I’m-too-sexy-for-these-old-tourists tour of Jerusalem!

Polite applause, a few boos, speaker feedback.

Jerusalem, ladies and gentlemen, is a city full of holy traffic and holier tourists. The city has made quite a bustling business of the whole God thing. From the Western Wall to the Via dolorosa, God is on sale in one form or another. Line up here for God! It would be shameful . . . if we weren’t pushing and shoving to be first in that line. At the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, I told a Greek Orthodox priest to stuff it. He was herding tourists past the purported place of Jesus’s crucifixion.

As a Christian, I sort of wanted a second or two at this place that has been so central in my life. How many times have I heard “Chris, lay your sins at the foot of the cross”? Well, here it was, and this priest was shooing me away from it. I held up a dollar and he let me stay. This is the reality of Jerusalem. And tour buses. Lots of tour buses.

“Hurry as you get out of the bus!” Zachi, our olive-oily Israeli tour guide yelled. “It will only stop for a moment as we are not allowed to stop here.”

Without challenging the illegality of stopping in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, thirty elderly tourists—and myself—scrambled to do as they were told. In seconds we were all standing on the shoulder of a steep road outside the walls of the city in the broiling sun. Oily Zachi was about forty yards away from us yelling “Come on! What are you waiting for? This way!”

This is my memory of Zachi: 100 yards ahead of the group and brawny. On the bus, he told us he drank six bottles of Israeli olive oil a day. Israeli olive oil is healthier than other olive oil apparently because it increases body hair by seven thousand percent.

My fondest memory of the I’m-too-sexy-for-these-old-tourists tour of Jerusalem is also my least. At the Western Wall there is a tunnel that connects the square to the rest of the city. I suppose Zachi suggested meeting there after our bathroom break because it was out of the sun. That was considerate, but it was also the most congested place in Jerusalem. In a matter of a few minutes we—my parents and I—found ourselves in a raging river of people.

The image of a man shoving my mother so hard that she spilled her water, lost her balance and screamed will stay with me as a symbol of Jerusalem. I shoved him back of course. (Eye for an eye.) Our eyes met, actually. He understood. Don’t mess with my mom.

Shoving in Jerusalem is par for the course. On the Via della Rosa, the path Jesus took to the cross, you will find nothing but shoving crowds. And you certainly won’t find Zachi. Like greased lightning, he’ll be miles ahead of you. This is not the place to be if you want to stroll through a market. You’ll be trampled to death (by some weirdo pretending he’s Jesus with a big wooden cross).

A local boy of about ten years of age thought it was perfectly acceptable to plow his way through our group. As he was shoving the woman in front of me with his forearm (so hard that she was screaming), I pinned the little pissant to the wall and said, “Stop . . . pushing . . . her.” And then I prayed, “Lord, please don’t let his father come and kick my ass.”

All this to say, if you’re looking for a holy place, it’s not Jerusalem. It’s the Sea of Galilee, it’s Bethlehem (hey, it’s Machu Picchu)—but not Jerusalem. The city is angry and crowded with merchants just trying to make a buck off your God.

The barrier between Jerusalem and Bethlehem

But let’s end on a positive note, shall we? The best guided tour I’ve ever had was in Tallinn, Estonia. I was checking out little clay houses in a shop window when I heard a German tour guide say something interesting about the city. Feigning interest in a doll shop, I inched toward the group. I tagged along, a bit shifty-eyed, as the group wound through the town. I pretended to ignore the tour guide the whole time, and he pretended to ignore me . . . but he never let me get too far away, and he never talked about how much olive oil he drank. Come to think of it, this was also the cheapest guided tour I’ve ever had.

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to K is for Ko Phi Phi Don.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day.