Thursday, June 5, 2008

The MonsterMobile Has Hit the Road

A break from the heavy, meaning-of-life stuff. This is an email I sent to my friends back in 2003, when I bought a car. It turned out to be a complete lemon and money-pit, but that is another story.

I have a car.

It is not new, and it is not that nice. It is a 1991 Peugeot 405. It doesn’t have a CD player, a nice shiny paint job, pristine seats or a nice, new car smell. In short, it is the stereotypical Israeli car—a random assortment of tires, motor, steering wheel, loud horn, tattered interior and a banged-up exterior all purchased from a family member. (In this case, my cousin). What can I say about it? It runs, and has a radio with extremely effective speakers. I love her. I want to name her. I am trying to come up with a good French name but I cannot think of one that is French enough. I thought about Pepe le Peau, but I decided against it. For one thing, Pepe is a boy’s name, and cars are girls. For another, I think Pepe is Spanish, not French and I am aiming for authenticity. For now, I just call her the MonsterMobile.

Before anyone breathes a sigh of relief because “Whew! She is finally off the exploding buses!” keep that breath nice and bated, because if you were losing sleep over the possibility that I might be injured in a suicide bombing on a bus, you should be a positive insomniac now. Israeli drivers are notoriously wild and death defying (read ‘insane maniacs’), and the bus drivers are the worst. In fact, one of the major benefits to riding on the bus is that it is ten times less stressful and a thousand times safer than trying to dodge them on the highway. I have spent my first week of car ownership almost exclusively in the right lane with the large trucks and the little old ladies, my two white-knuckled hands clutching the wheel for dear life, and just generally trying to stay out of harm’s way. Of course, technically speaking, the buses can try to chase me down there, but since there is a good possibility they will encounter a far less crunch-able large truck in the process, they normally leave me alone and content themselves with terrorizing the cars in the faster lanes. Think of it as an ocean. The buses are great white sharks, the trucks are whales and the normal cars are abnormally fast and aggressive fish. Piranhas, if you will. Me…well…I’m just a terrified little plankton trying to get to Ramat Gan in one piece.

Aside from learning to maneuver in Israeli traffic, I have been busy with three main car-related tasks in the week since I bought my car: learning how to get places, learning how to program the radio and defending my car against the evil eye. The first is damn near impossible for a woman with no sense of direction. The second one is complex, but I trust I will eventually be successful. The last one has been, by far, the easiest. I purchased a little glass eye, strung it onto a piece of red ribbon taken from the spool my stepmother sent over with my father when I was injured in the bombing, and hung it from the rearview mirror. I also have a tehillat ha’derech (prayer for the road) which I keep in my wallet at all times, a picture of the Lubovitcher Rebbe which I am going to stick in the glove compartment and a red string on my wrist. The first day, I made sure to wear a hamsa as well. To be honest, the red string is so I get married, but I figure that if it is powerful enough to find me a husband, it should be able to protect me from the demon buses as well. I look silly enough with one string around my wrist—I’ll be damned if I am going to walk around with a whole collection.

To digress a bit—here is how the red string works. You have friends (Yael and Edith), who go to the Kotel (the Western Wall) one fine afternoon to pray. They, wanting to do more than just stick a note in the Kotel for you, give some shekels to a local schnorer who gives them a piece of red string which has allegedly been laid upon or otherwise blessed at Kever Rachel (Grave of Rachel). The next time your friends see you, they tie the string around your wrist while praying for whatever you need. I need to find a husband. Now here is the rub: I cannot take the string off! I have to leave the string on, and when it falls off, that means I have met the guy. In the meantime, I am walking around with a bedraggled red string around my wrist. It has been about a month so far, it does not match ANY of my clothing and I really want to cut it off but I am afraid that if I do, I will invite the evil eye and will never meet my husband. So I am leaving it. Fortunately for me, there are lots of equally superstitious people around, so I don’t look quite as idiotic as I would back in DC.

Okay, enough digression. As I said, the first item—learning my way around—is the toughest. You may be surprised to know that it isn’t because the road signs are in Hebrew; most of them have Arabic and English translations as well. Rather, it is because 1) most of the road signs are either misleading or downright wrong and 2) because there are only three road names in Israel: Alozorov, Jabotinsky and Begin. (Like in Virginia, where every single road is named after Robert E. Lee). The first time I tried to drive from Jerusalem to my class in Ramat Gan, I got lost twice just trying to get out of Jerusalem. In the end, after driving aimlessly around the Jerusalem forest for about 25 minutes, I ended up back where I had started across the street from the office where I work. I took this as a sign from G-d, ditched class and went to visit a friend instead. Since then, I have managed to get lost at least twice on every trip to Ramat Gan, but since it has been on the Ramat Gan end of the journey, I really have no choice but to get myself un-lost and go to class anyway. I have a very large and expensive atlas, but it is of limited use. On the bright side, I have been able to put my hard-won skill at making illegal U-turns, which I picked up in DC, to good use. And on the even brighter side—the country is small—so long as I do not wind up somehow in Ramallah, Bethlehem, or another equally friendly Palestinian neighborhood, there is only so lost I can get and I will can be reasonably assured that I will someday figure out how to get back to Jerusalem.

Happy trails to me! Vroomvroom!!!!!

One funny, and only slightly related postscript. Some years ago, when I was still living in Maryland, I arranged with my friend Jonathan to meet him for a movie in Arlington. I literally got so lost that I arrived an hour late. (The amazing thing is that he was still there waiting when I got there). Anyway, I got so frustrated and upset that I literally started screaming and crying while driving my car. Just then, a news blip came on that Federal Express drivers, who can be expected to have a better sense of direction than a the general population and certainly better than myself, reported getting lost more in Virginia than in ANY OTHER STATE. I immediately felt better. Don’t get me wrong, I was still lost, but I stopped screaming and (I assume) freaking out the other drivers.


Anonymous said...

Wow. Sounds like quite the adventure. Do you still own a car now?

ilana m said...

Haha that's hilarious about how Israeli street names are all the same... so true, and so confusing. Though in the Northeast, everything's named after trees.

Anonymous said...

I hate driving in this country, and will do whatever I can to avoid it at all costs.

The funny thing about driving around Jerusalem is that it's one of the few cities I've ever been in where no matter where you go, there are signs pointing you in the direction of another city (in this case, Tel Aviv).

Whatever happened to the string?

Anonymous said...

As a native Bostonian, the drivers here aren't any worse than what I grew up with. And I can navigate without any problem anywhere in the country, except for Ramat Gan. No matter where you are in that city, you're always confronted by a one-way street going the opposite direction of the way you want to go, with no alternative but to take it. It is - without a doubt - harder toget from point A to point B in RG than the Old City.

Anonymous said...

When visiting Israel we find that once we are out of the city the directions are great (probably to keep you from ending up in Ramallah or Bethlehem). In the cities it is another story. So far we have gotten lost in Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Haifa and Tel Aviv and Tzfat. We will work on getting lost in Netanya and the Golan this summer.

So did you name the car? Did you give her up because she was a lemon? Did you smack your cousin upside the head for selling you a lemon?


orieyenta said...

I have heard about Israeli drivers...could it finally be that there are worse drivers than my beloved Miami's drivers?

I love the red thread thing...maybe we should bring one back from the Kotel for you? Hee hee.

Baila said...

I honed my driving skills in New Yawk City, so Israeli drivers have nothing on me. I am not an aggressive driver at all, I take my time on the roads and well, the rest of 'em have to wait their turn. And I curse like a drunken sailor on the highways and byways. Totally fun and relieves stress. I just hope everyone reads lips in English.

Batya said...

I'm convince that most people can travel by cabs for what it cost to own a car here in Israel.

RivkA with a capital A said...

I’m just a terrified little plankton trying to get to Ramat Gan in one piece


typo alert: "tefillat haderech" is with an "f"
tefillat haderech: prayer for the road
tehillat haderech: praise of the road

Anon from Boston -- you MUST be kidding. In Boston, drivers let you pull out in front of them!

And what about one-way streets in Jerusalem?? -- have you ever driven in Rehavia?? Make a wrong turn during rush hour and you could be stuck there for all eternity!!

The Old City, for what it's worth, has only ONE street with ONE way to go! So you don't need to be a rocket scientist not to get lost there!

For a pleasurable driving experience, drive around Ranana -- it's a grid and even the traffic lights are numbered!

Baila -- you go, girl! (I would curse more, but there are usually kids in my car! So, I make up obvious lies like "maybe that driver is rushing to an emergency..." -- yeah, right.

Muse -- it is cheaper to take cabs. But then you need to deal with cab drivers.... (who are, as we all know, a highly honorable lot...)

We bought our first car (also a Peugot clunker) because I could not deal with the stress of getting into yet another cab whose meter conveniently broke just a few moments ago....

OK -- that's enough procrastinating for this morning... gotta go make Shabbat....

(Gila, when are you coming again?)