5.24.2009

Israeli bus ride

I had a great experience on the bus this morning. I had to wait awhile (as usual), and it was very crowded (as usual), and so I took my place, standing at the far back of the bus. There were a lot of us on the bus--again, typical for this line. This line also swings around two particularly sharp turns at breakneck speed on the way into town, and I am often afraid I will lose my balance and fall onto someone standing next to me during these turns. I try to hold on to one thing with each hand for these turns, and usually place my backpack on the ground for the duration of the ride--you physicists can explain this, but it's easier to stay upright while speeding around sharp turns when you're lighter. There is also a place where we careen over a bump in the road (I think we may actually lose contact with the ground--we're going very fast then, because it's a straight part of the road where the bus stops are spaced far apart), but there's not much I can do about that except regain my bearings once we touch down again.

Anyway, it was quite stuffy in the back of the bus. Most of the windows were closed. It was a sunny morning, maybe 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside. (I still don't know what that is in Celsius. 20-something?)

One of the riders, standing like me, a young man in his 30s, shouted to the front of the bus to ask the driver to turn on the "mazgan" (air conditioner). This is a normal occurrence on an Israeli bus. We'll call him "irritated passenger." The driver did, but then one the elderly people sitting at the front of the bus complained so the driver said he had to turn it off. I tried to suggest that we open all of the windows in the back of the bus instead (I think this would have solved the problem--we were moving quickly and it wasn't too hot outside), but clearly, irritated passenger had a point he wanted to make and he was not going to stop until he had made it. Irritated passenger initiated, through shouting the length of the bus, a conversation with the driver and other riders. This is roughly how it played out (although in Hebrew):

Irritated passenger: "Look, we're choking back here. We're standing because this bus is too crowded for words, and it's hot back here. Please give us some air!"
Driver: "No. Older people in the front don't want it."
Passenger in the front of the bus: "Here, there's a seat next to me. Why don't you take it?"
Irritated passenger: "No, I'm standing because I am young and healthy and lots of people older than I are going to get on at the next stop."

He was right. I started asking the people around me to open windows, which they did, and I thought that solved the temperature/air problem quite nicely.

Irritated passenger: "There are so many people on this bus, it's illegal! If we got into an accident, people would get hurt! There is a 70 year old man standing because there aren't enough seats!"
Another passenger in the back pipes up: "I waited 20 minutes for the bus this morning!"
Irritated passenger: "That's right! There are not enough buses in the morning. I have not sat down on a #X bus in the morning in months!"
A third passenger in the back pipes up: "I often wait 40 minutes to get back from town in the afternoon!"
Irritated passenger: "That's why we need to do something! I am going to pass around this piece of paper with my name and cell phone number and ask you to add your names and numbers, and I am going to take it to Egged and will SMS you all the results. This is outrageous! They promise the hareidim, 'Call this number and we will improve your bus service' because they expect to get money from the hareidim [presumably he meant the hareidi elements in the government] and meanwhile, south Jerusalem suffers! Do you know how much better service is north of Jaffa Street than south of it?! I've complained before and Egged says, 'It's just you, nobody else feels this way.' We need to show them that a lot of passengers feel this way. They can't keep getting away with this! We're paying for our tickets; we need better service!"

He passes the legal pad around.

Another passenger, suspiciously: "What are you going to do with this list?"
Irritated passenger: "I am going to take it to Egged and show them all the people who are affected by bad service. And I am a lawyer. I will sue them if I have to."

I was kind of surprised by how many people were willing to sign a blank piece of paper with their names and cell phone numbers. I mean, I did, but I was sort of surprised that so many people did. We'll see if anything comes of it. In the early fall, I saw a petition in the lobby of my building from people who wanted Egged to provide more frequent morning and afternoon service on this bus line and, as far as I can tell, nothing came of it.

Then the irritated passenger/lawyer started getting into a conversation with another passenger, who was an olah hadasha (new immigrant--she was in level "bet" ulpan so the conversation was in English), about her arnona (expensive property tax that everyone, even renters, pay) and why the government wasn't giving her the reduction she was supposed to get as a new immigrant (90% off). He told her his father was also a lawyer and specifically, an arnona expert, and gave her his card so she could call him for help/advice.

To cap off my day, I had a nice conversation with the cook at a cafe that I frequent about life, politics, Israeli vs. American customer service (here, they make it hard to buy things; there, they make it easy), Wisconsin (his brother lives there and he visited in 1994 and thinks its great but his kids live in Israel and he isn't about to leave them to go to America, even though everything is better there and three of his brothers live there, although another one of his brothers was killed by a mugger in Chicago about ten years ago--that apparently wasn't enough to sour him on America), studying, Obama, Iraq, Iran, working, and masters degrees (his wife is getting one; I don't have one). The conversation was all in Hebrew and I remembered words I needed about two minutes after I needed them. My Hebrew is good enough that I can usually figure out a work-around for words I don't remember. I still don't know how to say "index" (as in the list of subjects with page numbers in the back of a book) or "non-fiction" (as in the kind of book that would need an index) in Hebrew, though.

5 comments:

toby said...

Man, I miss taking the bus. Really, I do - it's a whole different life! Having one's own car is convenient, but not nearly as entertaining, I think :)

Tfb said...

Ah, I miss Israel! Thank you for the stories! Can't wait for you to come back to the states, even if not quite everything is better here :)

dpg said...

According to the dictionary, index, in Hebrew, is "tochen inyaeem," but everyone I know uses the cognate "index."

Non-fiction is "sifrut iyuneet."

Abacaxi Mamao said...

The cook at the cafe had no idea what "index" was. So maybe I will try "tochen inyaneem" the next time I need to explain what I do (sometimes). You meant "inyaneem," not "inyaeem," right?

dpg said...

Yes, "inyaneem." Sorry for the missing letter.