Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Driving in Jerusalem: A True Story

To understand this article you really need to know that I am not one of those people who love to drive. I do it only because it is a convenient way to get from here to there. And since I grew up in Wichita, Kansas I really do not deal well with rush hour, traffic jams, parallel parking, or hilly roads. Jerusalem is full of all of those and more.

Shilo was a nice, safe spot with few cars, fewer streets, and no traffic lights. I could handle driving there. Sometimes, though, I needed to go to the city. And sometimes, the bus schedule just did not work right. And, since I did not have a private chauffeur I would end up driving in Jerusalem.
When we first moved to Israel we bought a big, nine-seat van that was often too wide for the streets I would find myself on. It was stick shift and there were many times the motor would stall just when the traffic light turned green. And it had no air-conditioning so the perspiration would roll down my face as impatient drivers honked at me.
Still, I persevered until one hot, spring day more than twenty years ago. 
It all began when I dropped my husband at his yeshiva located on a little side street. Then I took the van and was off to do some shopping. My first stop was at a large, discount supermarket. I felt a little like the women on Supermarket Sweepstakes as I rolled my cart up and down the aisles grabbing food items that we did not have in Shilo. There was no line at the check-out and I was soon pushing my cart to the van, anxious to get to my next stop.
Once at the van, though, I realized I would not be going anywhere very quickly. The front right tire was as flat as a piece of matza. Twenty years ago was a long time before the advent of cell phones. So I turned around and went back into the store. My intention was to call memsi, the Israel equivalent of Triple A, but the burly, macho store manager refused to let me use the phone. I could not believe him. Just as I was beginning to beg he announced he would change the tire.
Appreciative, and someone embarrassed that I had never learned to change a tire myself, I led him and his assistant to the van.
“Okay,” he said. “Where is the spare tire?’
“Spare tire?” I echoed.
“Doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. “I’ll find it.”
He did but then he had another question. “Where is the jack?”
Again, I echoed, “The jack?”
Again he said he would find it and he did.
I watched as the two men changed my tire. I felt that I should offer to help but decided the best help I could give was to stay out of the way. That was probably a good decision because in a matter of minutes the tire was changed and I was on my way.
Things did not get much better, though. I got lost once and could not count of the number of times I had irritated drivers honking at me. Was I glad when it was time to pick up my husband and turn the keys over to him! It was with relief I found a parking place a half a block from the yeshiva. The space was on a curve, and, as I already mentioned, I do not deal well with parallel parking. I made a valiant attempt, though, and thought it was not too bad. The truck driver coming down the street did not agree with me.
“Lady,” he called as he rolled down his window, “you can’t park like that. No one can get by.”
It had been a hard day. I looked at the truck driver. He was so big that he made the store manager from the morning look like Popeye before the spinach.  I looked at the van and knew there was no way I would be able to park it any better. In a split second I made a decision. I held out my keys.
“If you don’t like the way I parked do it yourself.”
I would have never dreamed of doing such a thing back in Wichita. But, I was not in Kansas anymore. Here, in Israel the drivers are reckless and the roads are bad but I can trust a Jewish truck driver.
He took the keys out of my hand and did not make off with my van. Instead he parked it beautifully and smiled as he drove off in his truck.
All’s well that ends well but it was many years before I ventured to drive in Jerusalem again.


Batya said...

Ester, what a great story. I remember the day when the supermarket guards also babysat the infants sleeping in carriages when their mothers were shopping.

Ester said...

Batya, do you remember when the bus driver babysat the kids whose grandmother did not meet the bus in Jerusalem?