Anyone at all familiar with the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling knows "the Night Bus." Israel's Egged bus line has its very own version of the Night Bus, albeit it has no shrunken heads, doesn't physically shrink and has no beds.
Before I made aliyah, I made my husband promise that we would never ride the buses. They blow up, you know. He agreed. My friends and family made me promise I would never ride the buses for the same reason. I promised.
I ride the buses in Jerusalem. It took only a very short time to realize the futility of NOT riding the buses here. The buses are ubiquitous. The run along every major arterial and navigate some of the lesser roads as well. Everyone rides the buses and NOT riding the bus because it might blow up is simply ridiculous. Not that it can't blow up--they have, and frequently, thanks to the brainwashed psychotics, rejects and simpletons mass produced by the Islamofascist terror industry.
No, the futility of avoiding death-by-bus lies in the fact that buses are everywhere. This came to me very early after my arrival in Israel, when I realized that I could avoid riding a bus but that didn't mean that the bus wouldn't blow up right next to me as I'm (a) walking down the street, (b) riding in a taxi, and (c) sitting in my favorite sidewalk cafe as the bus goes by.
Not only that, but it's a long, brutal walk in the hot sun downtown to the various ministries olim need to deal with.
Everyone takes the buses here. Parking is non-existant; gas is something like $6.00/gallon; gridlock reigns; Israelis drive like kamikaze pilots on speed. Except the recent imports from New Jersey. PLEEEEASE--if you didn't drive in New Jersey or New York, don't start here! You're a public menace! Get OFF the road and let the rest of us who grew up with cars battle it out.
So I take the buses. I'm still alive to say so, so far. (No guarantees--see today's Jerusalem Post Palestinians Promise New Wave Of Suicide Bombings For Israeli Efforts To Defend Civilians Against Endless Palestinian Rocket Attacks . Actually, that's not the title; it's a paraphrase of the story. Another variation of "Arabs (Still) Want To Kill Jews (Again)." Yawwwwwnn....)
The buses are a wonderful microcosm of Israeli life. Everyone takes them, except the tourists, the infirm and the very late, who opt for taxis. The Orthodox, the secular, the Arabs, the working stiffs, the students, the businessmen, the bankers, the waitresses and professors--you'll find everyone on the buses. Well-dressed Orthodox women have studiously ignored me while staring out the window, while better-bred secular girls have offered me their seats. Arab women have greeted me warmly and moved over to make room for me, while fat Russian Jewesses have rolled their eyes and grudgingly moved their groceries off the unoccupied seat beside them at my pointed demand they do so. I've seen girls dressed like Britney Spears reading Tehillim while while older women in traditional clothing gossip over their agulot (shopping carts).
But I want to, I must, salute Jerusalem's cousin of the Night Bus--the 8 (or Eight, if you prefer). The 8 whizzes up and down Chanoch Albeck every morning at roughly 10 minute intervals, swings past the Tayelet and down into East Talpiot, a neighborhood once part of the orchards of Kibbutz Ramat Rachel and the No-Man's-Land between the Jordanian and Israeli armies prior to 1967. East Talpiot is steep and winding--but the 8 plunges along, in both its simple and articulated forms, and takes the kikars and winding roadways with aplomb. It also serves the citizens of Sur Bahir and Arab es-Sawahira, two Palestinian neighborhoods within the Separation Fence geographically, if not spiritually.
I pick up the 8 on Chanoch Albeck to get to central Jerusalem. The bus doesn't really slow down so much as glides to a stop, long enough for passengers to get their feet off the asphalt before the doors slam shut and we are off in a downhill rush to Derech Chevron (Hebron Way, which actually does go to Hebron, I'm told). At this point in the trip, most people at my stop are standing since the bus is already packed. The art of standing on the bus is an acquired one, especially with the roads the 8 navigates. One learns to stand with one's feet braced in such a way that 90 degree corners, sudden stops, lurching fellow passengers, and sudden accelerations don't change one's position from the vertical. It reminds me somewhat of sailing, where one develops 'sea-legs' except in Jerusalem one develops 'bus-legs.'
There are some interesting thoughts on the 8 -- is the guy in the black-hat garb really a suicide bomber? Is that a gun under that worker's shirt? (Yes, it was--he was undercover security.) Is this Derech Chevron built on the same Way that our forefathers walked on their ways down to Egypt, to Hebron or up to Shechem? What would Abraham or Jacob say if they could see their descendents today riding diesel-belching wagons that bring dozens into this city which has grown up to be the Holy of three major faiths descended from that first call of his Maker to Abraham?
"I am here," Abraham answered. Lots of us are here now, as the parking situation attests.
But I salute the 8 -- nowhere, except once in a New York City taxicab, have I had such fun on a ride. The bus snakes through traffic gridlock, which given its size is an amazing feat, takes sharp corners in a single, smooth and rapid pirouette, stalks openings in the morning maze of cars and taxis and capitalizes on any hesitation expressed by the smaller cars, who think twice about cutting several tons of fully loaded steel off in traffic. Last week, the 8 took the outside lane of traffic as that was moving fastest, and in a move worthy of one of my son's videogames, swung out of line, crossed the intersection at Keren Ha-Yesod in one smooth, quick strike, cut off four lanes of traffic and a really ticked off taxi-driver, squirted into the bus lane and continued gleefully up the hill. No gridlock for this bus! Uh-uh, no way! Mapitom! I sort of expected to hear laughter from a shrunken head as we made the corner.
Photos courtesy of Egged Bus Lines