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.

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


Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

I'm wearing a big big smile from this post, Ruti, and I needed a big smile today. Thanks...

sparrow said...

Ah, yes, the buses in Israel. I LOVE travelling on them because I come away with a story EVERY time. The Jerusalem bus station is also a conucopia of "bussy stories". More please, when you have time:-)

The Sussmans b'Aretz said...

hysterical...I remember these days well from when we first made aliyah...but then we were pushing with two babies and a pregnant belly : ) My car feels very good today - but no where near as exciting as your experience!

Hillel Levin said...

Love the post and you Sis. Give a hug to that Mensch of the Gridiron.

Bro in Shiloh

'bara said...

Many years ago, I boarded a corwded bus in Ramat Gan. I had a full cast on one leg but no one got up to give me a seat. The driver called out for someone to give me a seat but (unusual for Israel) no one rose. The bus driver then stood up and demanded that everyone stand up. When everyone was grumbling and standing, the driver turned to me and told me to choose a seat!

the sabra said...

HAAAA my word moderation is "brucha" !!

Isreview said...

I really enjoyed reading that ... well written. I can totally envision it as I read it:)

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I think the correct translation of the poster about standing in line is more like this:

"If we stand in line, so can you (male) and you (female)."

Papersmith Howarth said...

God bless you, every one!

Miriam said...

Egged and Metropoline bus lines are our mode of transportation. Traveling on the bus in Israel is not like taking the bus anywhere else in the world.
Many years ago, before the bypass was built, I was on the 440 from BeerSheva to the Gush.Most of the other passengers were soldiers.As the bus went thru Diarrahia camp [outside of Hevron]...the arabs starting throwing rocks at the bus.In a split second, all you could hear were guns being cocked and soldiers yelling everybody get down. Another only in Israel story.

Batya said...

I love it. Such an "only in Israel" story.

Anonymous said...

Clever...soldier girls...(*sniff*)
Pierre (SNIFF...)

westbankmama said...

ahh, the Dearly Beloved. I still remember coming back from meeting you both the first time, and my husband asking me if Mr. Mizrachi was a small, dark guy from Yemen. After I stopped laughing (a good few minutes) I explained the reality.

Great story!

Gilly said...

Love the puppy analogy!

Have a wonderful week.


rutimizrachi said...

YSRM: Glad to give back as good as I get from you, Girlfriend. :-)

Sparrow: You are right. The bus and taxi cab stories in Israel are some of the best in the world.

Romi: Every trade-off has its advantages and disadvantages, doesn't it?

Hillel: Love the new nickname! Back atcha, and to my Amish sister.

'bara: Love the story!

Sabra: Of COURSE it is. :-)

Israeview: Thank you!

Anonymous: Thank you for the translation. That sounds more Israeli, and therefore pointless. The Israeli response to that would be, "Yeah, sure. Y'betcha. Or not..."

PH: Amen. You, too!

Miriam: Great story! I do feel pretty comfortable knowing that 30 or so of my fellow passengers are locked and loaded and on my side. Love the name of the camp!

Batya: Thank you!

Pierre: You delight me. Come home. The most beautiful girls in the world DO live in Israel.

WBM: I just fell off my chair!

Gilly: Thanks fer noticin'... :-)

Anonymous said...

I know...I know...when one of them, a potential shidduch cleverly disguised as a young woman trying to do her job in the airport interviewed me, I shattered her facade by answering her query of what I was planning on doing that evening - that it depended on what she was planning on doing that evening - I earned nary a blink nor smile, and immediately message was broadcast spanning klal Israel - "Here be a cad - swarthy b'not melech of Eretz Israel; cripple him with looks of bemusement and contempt with your dark, doe eyes". It was as if I'd shot an albatross at sea (lets see if I lost anyone with that reference)...and from that day forth, I have NEVER received a kind word from a female Sabra between the ages of 8 and 30.

Anonymous said...

Spigots... sardinage... I just love your way with words and wish I had thought of them!

I have been on that bus full of soldiers at least one time or another, all over this wonderful country, so I so empathize with you. It's frustrating to board the bus, but so wonderful to be surrounded by all the khaki, all of them our boys and girls.

Great post, as always! Keep them coming!

rafua said...

That's my boy!

Robin said...

Sardinage - I love it! (here via Haveil Havelim) Your description brings back memories of my bus-traveling days. Would you mind if I went downstairs and kissed my car now?

My photography is available for purchase - visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!

Jack said...

This was great.