To catch up with the plot, I returned to Israel to work as a long-term sub for the last quarter of the school year, a span of 2+ months. To be more specific, three weeks ago, I flew to Israel from Michigan. My return ticket is for June 11th. In the best case scenario, it takes two flights that involve about 14 hours of air time and roughly 20 hours of travel time when factoring in layovers, getting to the airport early, and travel to/from the airport. For this very flight (i.e. not the one that brought me to Israel three weeks ago or that will bring me back to Michigan in June), my total travel time, including the train to Michigan, is somewhere around 28 hours. On the return flight in two weeks, it'll be about 38 hours.
I will presume that for the few (two?) people who have waded through the previous paragraph, a few questions might occur. Allow me to suggest the following:
"What are you, nuts?"
"Why the hell are you flying back to the states in the middle of a 2 1/2 month assignment in Israel?"
"Do you keep talking about yourself because you're incredibly self-centered, or just extremely so?"
"How do you manage to travel all that way without feeling terrible?"
Let's stop there. Let's say that I can't really answer the 1st and 3rd questions except to say, "Yes," and "Incredibly" respectively. That leaves us with the why and how of this trip. The why is the most frequently asked, the how more interesting to me at the moment, even if I don't usually go into the mechanics of traveling. So allow me to address those questions, the former with a brief, seemingly unrelated anecdote, the later with the rest of the post to follow.
Freshman year of college, I returned to school shortly after Christmas to be with the wrestling team. I wasn't competing then, taking a redshirt year at time (i.e. I didn't compete and just worked out with the team), but I wanted to be around the team when they traveled to dual meets in Columbus, Ohio (obviously, I just wanted to be at Ohio State; incidentally this took place just about when they won the Fiesta Bowl against Miami in a great game. But I digress). The whole story about that trip can be told another time, including the part about my pouting about the matches despite not wrestling, and the time we went snow tubing in West Virginia on the way back and our ailing 125-pounder, Mr. Tommy Hoang, miraculously recovered from the back ailments that kept him out of his last three matches the day before to not only ride on a snow tube, but to do so standing up and doing spins and so forth. For our belated purposes, one small moment from that trip will suffice.
On a drive that trip, I'm fairly certain this the night after the matches, we stopped at a gas station. As is my wont, owing to my sweet tooth, I went to the gas station store and bought a snack, almost assuredly a Reese's related product. Our coach, not being fond of poor eating habits, only let me pass because he wasn't watching when I bought it and got into the car. Instead, my triumph was aborted when, alerted by my backstabbing teammates of the possibility I had transgressed, coach's two middle kids, ages 7 and 8 roughly, climbed to the back of the van where I sat and inspected my possessions, successfully ferreting out my hoard of sweets.
Chagrined, I sat in the rump of the van as the butt of the jokes. I have served a long and distinguished career as butt of the jokes, but it does not come without its bad days. That day, annoyed about the totalitarian nature of the food inspection, I had to listen as one of my teammates, the aforementioned Hoang, decided to speculate on what I would be like in a relationship. Since I had only been in one dating situation of 1 month in high school, there was plenty to speculate about.
"Shortman is going to be so whipped," he said to quiet laughter and sleepy heads. "Can't you just see him running to his girl, doing what she commands, wearing what she tells him to wear, being just what she wants him to be?"
"Shut up, Tommy," I may have replied, thinking about how I would someday be a good partner, not a whipped one. Also that his back should have hurt too much to joke like this.
"Shortman, what are you going to do when she starts taking away the things you like?" Tommy continued on this bent for a while, all mostly in good fun, but based as all good humor on reasonably accurate observations. "What are you going to do when she takes away your sweets?" he said finally.
Chagrined, tired, riding the balance between playing along and getting annoyed, I buckled, replying in a somewhat unreasonable though hardly offensive fashion, throwing out a last, pleading rejoinder.
"She'll never take my sweets," I muttered, as most of the van passengers settled into the somber silence of a bumpy nighttime ride, Tommy cackling as he picked up on this feeble response.
I end the scene there, resuming my writing from the cozy casa violeta in small town Michigan, a day and a half removed from a 29 hour in total trip back to the states, to this home. I write hopefully that you will have caught the reason for the insertion of that anecdote, that you will grasp why I have gone from Ben Gurion to la CV, that some of this will make sense. The next step is to explain how I've managed to get up at Amy's silly early hours of 8:30 and 7 am, respectively over the past two days.
(And we will pass over the incident a few weeks ago where a mild dispute between the two of us led to me stomping on a Reese's Big Cup, and what that implies for "my sweets". Quickly.)
The Strategy - How to stay standing after a 6-8 time zone flight
(The reader is advised to consider that my age is 26. I.e., as much as I'd like to tout my strategy and experience and know-how and whatnot, youth may be the key ingredient.)
The westbound trip across 7 time zones is the easier one. If you have control over your itinerary, the best move is to fly in the morning, sometime around 10. Factoring in a stopover or two, you should be able to get to any destination Chicago or eastwards by 6 in the evening, on the late side. Factor in being at the airport 2-3 hours early, taking an hour or two to get through the airport and home if you live a reasonable distance from the airport, and you're looking at a, on the high end, door-to-door time of 21-22 hours. (My trip was longer because I finished it with a train ride and didn't have the ideal times, as will be explained).
Dealing with this travel and the jet lag, then, is fairly straightforward. Sleep a slightly less than full night's sleep, owing to waking up early and staying up late packing and being nervous about the trip. Get to the airport full of adrenaline, which wears off by the first meal on the plane. Then doze for a couple hours. Endure the rest of the day, with maybe one more short nap, arrive at your destination feeling like it's 4 in the morning and you've been up all day, go to bed shortly thereafter, and eccola!, you feel a little weary but more or less in gear.
As an example, on this last trip west to the states (I resume my writing already returned to Israel), I didn't get as much sleep as I'd like on the night before, due to going to bed later than necessary. I didn't sleep as well as I'd like on my first flight, a 4-hour flight to Warsaw, due to the two Russian Israelis behind me who were having a lovely but loud conversation about everything under the sun (they were strangers). I stayed awake for most of the flight from Warsaw to Chicago correcting tests and watching Bolek i Lolek, a Polish cartoon from the 50's (at least, I hope it's that old). The adrenaline rush from my only having an hour and a half to get from plane seat to train seat in Chicago reinvigorated me - and was also needless, as the train was delayed by an hour - and then I finally succumbed and dozed a little on the train ride to Holland, Michigan. That said, I lasted through a door-to-door trek of some 28 hours and had only one really sluggish day to follow, and no nights where my body thought it was 9 in the morning. Success.
(I can add here that while I am young enough to endure days like this, I have never been a natural sleeper, one of those who can nod off at any moment, on a bench, in a car, on a plane, etc. I've trained myself to be a better sleeper (i.e. I've aged?), but it's not an automatic process for me.)
Go Eastward, young man! (See, even the phrase is harder)
Indeed, going east is in its way more difficult. I find as a strategy, staying awake for a 30 hour day easier to adapt than what one has to do going east. To travel east further than a direct overnight to Europe, you have to go through a combo platter: not only does success ride on staying up for long hours on low sleep, but you're best off sleeping on the plane too. If you can't manage that, it's trouble. And if it's a direct flight to your destination, even then it can be tricky.
That is to say, take a typical transatlantic flight. Flying from an East Coast destination, NYC or Boston for example, to Paris is tough because the flight leaves in the early evening, so the traveler is coming off a partly abbreviated day. Still, travel adrenaline makes it hard to nod off right away. The flight will only end up being 7-8 hours. Not feeling like it is time to sleep until the plane is somewhere over the Titanic wreck, the traveler will get a mere 3 hours sleep, piled on top of the fatigue of the travel process. They will arrive to a bright morning, getting to their hotel/friend's home/apartment around 10:00 am. Exhausted, this person will decide they need to take a nap. I will watch this person (you?). I will scream, internally of course, "NOOOO!!!!"
The problem with this scenario, which is just as likely in the longer trips from deeper in the states or to deeper locations in Europe or the east, is that the type of person who thinks taking a nap immediately after a trip, when it's 10:00 am (or just 10:00, since we're in Paris now and there's not necessarily am/pm), is also the type of person who will say, "I'm just going to take a nap, wake me up at 11:30," and not budge until 3 or 4 pm. At that point, feeling almost completely refreshed, that person will stay up at least until midnight if not later. A typical rhythm, a workday rhythm at least, will be hard to find for a few days yet.
So, as Lenin and Chernishevsky both posed, Что Делать?, or in other words, what to do? Revolt against capitalism? Anger Vladimir Nabokov?
No, the solution is not so drastic. I propose two different approaches to handling an eastbound plane, if no help for a downbound train.
1. Mess up with your rhythm a little before the trip. Namely, don't sleep very much the night before. I've long believed something told to me when I was a wrestler, that the sleep you get two nights before is what affects your energy more than the sleep you get the night before. Adrenaline, grit, and determination can carry you through the day after. Two days later, your body has to pay the check, and is out of energy currency in its savings account (earned through sleep) to pay it, leaving you to suffer.
When traveling, sleeping little the night before shouldn't ruin your day. If you're traveling from burbs like, say, Grand Rapids, and you need to fly twice just to get to the NYC flight that will take you transatlantic, that might ruin your day, but one bad night's sleep shouldn't. It should allow you to fall asleep after the first meal served on the plane, though, which will allow for the necessary six or so hours of sleep to get through the next day, if groggily. Again, one long day to endure and then another to adjust the other body rhythms, and the traveler is back in gear.
2. As the clever reader might guess, the other trick is to just suck it up after the fact and endure through that desire to take a nap, then go to bed as early as reasonable. 19:00? 20:00? Whatever.
Again, an example, though one filled with mistakes or exceptions. For my return to Israel, I again went via Chicago and Warsaw. I didn't go to bed early enough the night before (largely Don Draper's fault) and only got six hours. While this looks like a strategy #1 prescription, it left me with a mild headache. I didn't sleep on the train at all, and then was active for a 6-hour layover in Chicago. Next, the flight to Warsaw, on which I got adequate sleep. I arrived in the airport a little fatigued, further exhausted by the long line to go through passport control, and found myself with 12 hours in Warsaw and a fading interest to go into the city as I had planned.
Instead, I dozed on an airport floor for about a half hour, hung out in the airport cafes and worked, pushing through my day as if a warm bed and normalcy awaited me. They didn't exactly await me. I still had a four hour flight that night. For which, though tired and blessed with a whole row of seats to myself (as was the case going the other way from Tel Aviv to Warsaw), I couldn't quite sleep enough. I only got maybe 90 minutes instead of 3 hours like I would have liked. Though I did have my last Lot Airlines meal, complete with a "salad" of one piece of lettuce, one slice of tomato, one of pepper, and two of ham.
All the same, I had no choice but to splice strategy #1 (the short sleep while still in Michigan) with strategy #2 (pushing through short sleep once on the ground in the eastern clime), as I had to go to work about an hour and a half after I arrived home in a cab (door-to-door travel on this trip ended up being 39 hours, give or take a few minutes). Youth and providence won out one more time, however, as I had a light load at work, and so by the time I got home at 4 pm, relatively relaxed, all I had to do was stay awake until 7 before I could have a full night's sleep. That was Monday; Tuesday was fine and by Wednesday I was more or less back to normal.
To summarize the message in this post, which is meant to share one of the few concrete skills I have certainly acquired over the past few years, traveling well, I say the following: sleep less before you go on a trip that spans 6-7 time zones, sleep little on the trip if you're going west and as much as you can if going east, and then do everything you can to stay awake for a full day before you go to bed in your new location at local night time.
Or be young. Either one.