Sunday, March 27, 2011

IDF storms bus; civilians victorious

Yom rishon, 21 Adar bet 5771.

Multiply this little group and all their luggage by eight; pack them into the smoke-filled parking garage of the bus station; and you'll have an idea of Sunday bus travel in Jerusalem.
Some occurrences that would be bizarre in America are part of the normal landscape in Israel.  Waiting on a Sunday at the Central Bus Station for your usual, scheduled bus is one such event.  One learns over time that Sunday mornings are not reliable travel times from and to Gush Etzion.  There are so many soldiers traveling that there is likely to be a shortage of seats, if the bus even comes into our small town.  (If it doesn't, you can assume that the bus picked up so many soldiers going back to their units after a Shabbat at home that there simply isn't a seat.)

In America, soldiers rarely traveled on public transportation en masse.  That's what troop transports are for.  In Israel -- for reasons of economy, I presume -- there are not enough such vehicles available.  Instead, soldiers travel free (when in uniform) on regular city and intercity buses.  For reasons I cannot fathom, increased troop movement does not consistently mean increased transportation.  The word balagan was surely invented for what happens at the bus platform on days like this.

Today, the Dearly Beloved and I had a lovely morning in Jerusalem.  We waited until the 13:45 bus (a quarter to two, for those of you still operating on US time), sure that by early afternoon, soldiers would mostly be back on base.

As we approached our bus platform, we saw -- conservatively -- eighty soldiers waiting outside and inside.  Soldiers in Israel don't wait like American soldiers, in a tightly regimented file.  They wait like Israelis.  Imagine puppies surrounding one mother dog, gazing balefully Heavenward as she tries to understand why the good Lord gave her nine puppies and an insufficient number of spigots.  The only people who understand the concept of waiting in line in Israel are olim chadashim.  And they do NOT get on the bus.
"If we stand in line, you can and I can [accomplish whatever]."  Nice sign.  NOT an Israeli concept.
I looked at my husband, expecting to share in the reality that today -- as we were not pressed for time -- the plan would be to wander around the bus station mall for another hour or so.  Was that the light of battle I saw in his eyes?  My husband played American tackle football in high school, and soccer and rugby in college.  I could see him maneuvering himself into position for the next big game.  Following in his wake, I could see why he had a reputation for clearing a field.  In America, this well-bred, polite big man never cuts in line.  In Israel, he comes just short of flinging combatants from the gridiron.
Don't mess.
So there we were, suddenly at the front of the line.  The young soldiers and soldierettes, undeterred, began to crowd around, as if the door to the bus would be able to accommodate more than one human at a time.  The bus driver opened the door, and filled it with his entire self.  He started yelling at the crowd.  An advantage of not being very good at the language is that we operate on the few words we understand, and then act like Israelis.  (The definition of "act like Israelis" is that you believe that rules are merely suggestions -- and even these suggestions are for the other guy.)  He said the words "citizens" and "now," which we took to mean that people who lived in the communities served by the bus had preference.  Much sardinage happened next, with the Dearly Beloved blocking entry of anyone until his wife, two elderly ladies, a couple of clever soldier girls and he boarded the bus.  For another few minutes, soldiers shoved and vied and yelled at each other and back and forth at the bus driver, until the bus was full.  The bus driver proceeded to stand in the doorway again, exchanging heated words with the forty or so remaining soldiers.

Now, I know this will be hard for people who don't experience it regularly to believe, but somehow, this is all done with much laughing and good-natured yelling.  Shortly after closing the door (and sharing a few communicative hand signals with the soldiers who were banging on said door), the bus driver pulled out, making a call on his cell phone to the dispatcher to request more transportation for the remaining soldiers, and to explain why he wouldn't be stopping at his next regular stops.
One of the many Sabra (aka "prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside") bus drivers we have encountered in Israel.
At a stop light, he stood up, displaying a new sign that said that his bus was for IDF Army Service Only.  He made a little speech to the effect that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and received a round of applause and cheers from the forty soldiers and five civilians crammed onto the school bus.  (Oh, yes -- I forgot to mention that another special feature of life in Israel is that, when we run out of buses to serve a particular area, school buses are pressed into service.)  The bus driver turned on a radio program he seemed to enjoy, which caused him to laugh goodnaturedly as he navigated narrow pathways through deadly traffic.  I think he went through about four complete personality changes in forty minutes, becoming just the fellow needed at each juncture.
Sign on the back of the bus:  "I drive carefully.  What's your opinion?"  In my opinion?  These guys are heroes.
As we disembarked at our stop, I screwed up my courage and spoke to the bus-load of young people in my meager Hebrew.  "Thank you all for your service."  There were many sweet smiles; and the bus driver made a loud bracha for all of them, and for all of us.

Traveling in our own country with our own family sometimes takes a little getting used to.  But it's never boring, and it almost always reminds us of how very fortunate we are to be part of this slightly crazy people.

Glossary:
Balagan: chaos, utter confusion
Olim chadashim: new immigrants
Sardinage: a self-explanatory Ruti word, which I like almost as much as "techneptitude"
Bracha: blessing
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