I can’t remember whose idea it was to go out for lunch. It might have been my idea. Who am I kidding? Of course it was my idea. I start thinking about lunch the second that last morsel of granola hits my taste buds and disappears down that endless cavern known as my belly.
Should we order a salad? Maybe a pizza? Chinese? Not today. Nope. Today I have the brilliant notion to go out for lunch. And why not? It’s only the CTO and me in the office. Everyone else is either on vacation or away at meetings. We might as well step out of the fluorescent lights of the office and experience the real world for a brief hour in our hectic day.
So it was my idea.
We spend a few hours in solitude leading up to lunch. Both of us hard at work on some project. Both of us staring at the computer screen trying to figure out something or other. There is a certain zen to that silent meditation on some obscure piece of software. There is a certain satisfaction in working out a bug in the system without going mad. We don’t say a word to each other for hours. We’re in the same room but we might as well be a million miles apart. The only tether binding us is our plan to go out for lunch.
That’s the name of the place. Israeli fast food. I still can’t get over why a restaurant chooses to name itself after a city in Uganda. But this is Israel, after all, and everything has it’s origins in military lore. Operation Entebbe. 1974. Israel’s shining moment. A courageous hostage-rescue mission in the heart of Uganda. Now a fast food restaurant in Or Yehuda. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. The Old Lady comes in before we even sit down to eat skewered chicken and freshly baked pita bread.
I start getting antsy at noon. It’s the American in me. I like having lunch at noon precisely. High noon. I wait for the cue from the CTO. He’s deep down some technical rabbit hole. He’ll come up for air eventually and we’ll go to lunch. The timing is critical. Almost fateful. If he doesn’t look up at precisely the second as he does, we might have completely missed The Old Lady.
I was in the lobby of an old age home a year or so ago waiting for my dear friend Leon. We had set up a time to make a movie about one of his blogs and while I waited in the lobby an elderly lady struck up a conversation with me. She isn’t The Old Lady but she’s an old lady. She asks me who I’m there to see and we end up having a thirty minute chat about her whole life story. Escaped the Nazis in Czechoslovakia. Made it to Israel. Helped found a moshav. Married, worked, had kids, grandkids, retired, sold the house and here she was in an old age home. Leon eventually came down and I said goodbye to the elderly lady.
We leave at precisely 12:34 PM. I remember that detail for some reason. It’s important because had we left at 12:32 or 12:36 we might have missed The Old Lady. She was standing at the intersection looking confused. She tapped the window slightly and interrupted a deep conversation about artificial intelligence, which is what we do for a living.
“Are you going to Savyon Junction?” She asks.
How peculiar. An elderly lady, dressed very nicely, with a floral blouse and an expensive handbag hitching a ride. Her hands tremble as she grasps the open window. She’s somebody’s grandmother.
“Are you hitchhiking across country?” The CTO asks. She doesn’t respond. She gets into the car and casually admits that,
“You look very trustworthy.”
The Old Age Home
I finish interviewing Leon and the elderly lady is still in the lobby. I wave at her and call out her name. She looks at me with a lost look in her eyes. She has no idea who I am. She has no idea that we spent a half an hour together. She has no idea that I know about her daring escape from the Nazis. The moshav where she met her husband. The children and the grandchildren that don’t visit her anymore.
“Who are you here to see?” She asks again, as though meeting me for the first time.
I insist that we take her home in lieu of making her walk all the way from Savyon Junction. It’s early September and the dashboard reads 37 degrees Celsius. She lives in Or Yehuda, a five minute detour on our way to Entebbe. She tells us about her military career. 18 years working for the army. When she retired she went to work for Yad Sarah, a charitable organization that loans out medical equipment to the elderly and the underprivileged. My wife and I had borrowed a breast milk pump from them in the early days when our son was born. We were so broke then.
“Here, have a wafer”
She hands the CTO a chocolate wafer as we pull up outside her apartment building. She invites us up for coffee and cake. We can’t. We’re on our way to Entebbe. She thanks us and exits the car, extending her offer for coffee and cake to “anytime”. She lives on the 11th floor. Just stop by whenever we’re in the neighborhood.
The human mind is a baffling organ. We work at an artificial intelligence company and we spend days, weeks, months trying to artificially replicate the human mind. We do our best to understand it, at least well enough, so that we can create a virtual mind that mimics the human mind.
But the human mind is fragile. It is tragic. It is full of flaws. It is singularly organic. It is uniquely human.
I don’t know if The Old Lady really lives in the building. Maybe she used to live there years and years ago. Maybe she still thinks she does. Maybe she does actually live there. I’ll never know. My mind plays tricks on me. Have we done a good deed? Have we helped an old lady? Or have we done the complete opposite?
When we finished our meal at Entebbe neither the CTO not I had any room left for that chocolate wafer. We put it in the fridge and quietly resumed our work trying to figure out how to create an artificially intelligent mind.