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Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Night Bus

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


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Eight has been part of my new morning bus routine to ulpan! Will I ever see you on it in the am enroute?

Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 8:00:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

That would be great, but I doubt it can happen--we're coming from opposite directions! You're still in MZ, and I'm coming from Baka, so we're meeting in the middle!

I hope its as fun from your direction as it is from mine!

Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 8:47:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too funny how I'm absolutely clueless as to which directions anything is, ya know? hee hee

Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 10:29:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Excellent. I used to ride the buses all the time and knew the routes by heart.

Now, I spend my time trying to find parking for my van and avoiding the always growing number of bus/taxi only lanes.

Just wait...the Jerusalem lightrail train is coming soon :)

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 11:47:00 AM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

soon Jameel? Isn't it coming in like 2010? Or is that the highspeed to TA?

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 3:21:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Mia said...

You made me home-sick!!! And right you are to ride the bus. I always have to laugh about those tourists who tell me that they did everything in Israel, expect riding buses - ridiculous!

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 6:27:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Jack Steiner said...

I always rode buses in Israel, but coming from LA I admit to being a car lover.

I just hate being without one.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 9:10:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger westbankmama said...

What a wonderfully descriptive post! Just to remind you, I am looking for "only in Israel" posts for my one year blogiversary - deadline November 19th. I would love one (or more) written by new olim....

Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 1:05:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger aliyah06 said...

jameel--I've only got the southern lines memorized and then only to Yafo; in time I hope to be able to 'tour' Jerusalem by bus. I'll be a vatikah when I can cross Jerusalem east to west on the bus without thinking about it twice.

emahs--I've heard both 2007 and 2009. I seriously doubt 2007--that's two months away and they're still digging up streets. 2010, huh? (sigh) Long wait.

mia--the buses will still be here when you visit. Yes, you're right--the real slice of Israeli life is on the bus!

jack--my husband is also from LA; as Californians we went through car-withdrawal at first. Now we're used to walking or bussing everywhere. Like you, we'd like the comfort of a car--I just don't know what I'd do with one in Jerusalem.

westbankmama--I'm flattered that you think these posts are good enough for inclusion. Want to take this one, or want a new one?

Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 1:40:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Unknown said...

You should try the double-bus that swings through Meah Shearim. It's the most impressive driving you'll ever experience. I'm AMAZED it hasn't killed people yet.

Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 8:23:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Yoel.Ben-Avraham said...

Thank you. Your post brought back memories.

The very first bus I ever took in Jerusalem was the Number 1 very early in the morning the day after I arrived in Jerusalem.

For years I described it as the Kotel Express. I wasn't so much amzed as I was in shock! The speed, the near misses, the scraping roof in the old city streets.

Thanks again!

Thursday, November 30, 2006 at 10:03:00 PM GMT+2  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shopping the cheap battery,you can see from here.

Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 12:11:00 PM GMT+3  

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