Garry had a prescription to pick up in town. No big deal except he wasn’t feeling good and just wanted to get the errand run, come home, and crash on the sofa. He couldn’t get into town. On the Sunday before Veteran’s Day a parade was in progress. He asked the local cop how he was supposed to get into town.
“You can’t,” he said.
“But what,” asked Garry, “If this was an emergency? I mean, I need my medication.” The cop shrugged.
“You’d still have to wait till the parade passes.” Garry didn’t like the answer, but there wasn’t much to do about it. He went to the other grocery store, the one just across the border in Rhode Island, picked up a couple of things and came home.
“I couldn’t get to Hannaford’s,” he said. “There was a parade.”
I nodded. “Veteran’s Day.”
“One of the problems of living in a small town.”
“What, you never tried to get somewhere in Boston on Patriot’s Day? Or any day when the Red Sox were playing? How about when President Clinton visited the North End? They closed the entire city. You couldn’t go anywhere until the Secret Service cleared the area.”
Garry grunted. “Still,” he said, “What if I needed those pills and it wasn’t just a refill?”
“If you were that desperately sick, you’d be in a hospital, not on the way to the pick up a prescription.” He harrumphed.
“Did I ever tell you about the day I had to sign for my new car in Jerusalem? I had just gotten to Israel and it had taken me a little while to get everything in order. But now, it was March 26, 1979 and I had ordered my new car, a white Ford Escort. And I absolutely had to get to the Ford dealership, sign the papers and give them money.
The dealership was across the street and down the road from the King David Hotel, so I hopped a bus. The bus stopped about 100 yards before town. A policeman came to the door, told the driver he had to stop. We were told to get off the bus. We weren’t going any further.
“But,” I said, “I have to get to the Ford dealership. I have to sign for my new car and give them money!”
The policeman shrugged. “Your President is here. Anwar Sadat is here. Begin is here. You can’t go.”
I looked around. There were snipers on the rooftops. The area was crawling with Israeli armed forces and the secret services of three countries, all of whom looked ready to shoot me. A lot of fire power.
“And that is when,” I told Garry, “I knew I absolutely, positively was not going to sign those papers or make that payment on my new car.”
“You win,” said Garry. “You trumped my story.”
I remembered watching the cars sweep by, the big black limos each carrying a head of state with the flags of their respective nations affixed to the front. I caught a glimpse of each man as they took those corners at remarkably high speed. No one was taking chances. It was such an optimistic time in Israel. Everyone thought we would have — at long last — true peace. Not a cease-fire, but the real deal.
Moshe Dayan — Israel’s negotiator — was glowing. Carter was smiling. Sadat looked content. The crowd cheered for each car as it flew around the corner. Then, gradually, the military withdrew. The road opened up. I went home to return the following day.
On October 6, 1981, Sadat would be assassinated. Ten days later, Dayan would be dead too. Technically it was his heart and the cancer he’d been fighting for a long time, but I knew it was the same bullet that killed Sadat. When they shot Sadat, they killed Dayan. And killed the hope of peace.
Under the weight of the Iran Hostage Crisis which dragged on for years, Carter’s presidency would be in tatters. The optimism of March 1979 would be replaced by sadness, bitterness and pessimism.
For one bright afternoon, a day on which I absolutely couldn’t get where I needed to go, Jerusalem was full of joy, hope and celebration. And I had a new car waiting for me at the Ford dealership across from the King David hotel.
I knew at the time I was witnessing history. I know I wrote letters home to tell people what I’d seen. And then, for the next 34 years, I forgot it — until Garry was talking about not being able to get to the store. Strange, isn’t it? That I forgot such a big moment for so many years. I’m glad I could share it. I never have before.