If there’s one event that strikes fear in the heart of every Israeli, the drivers among us anyway, it’s the Annual Car Inspection. Although “The Test” takes place while the driver is fully conscious, and the prep is certainly a lot easier, there are many people who, given the choice, would much prefer undergoing a colonoscopy. A woman of my acquaintance, herself a therapist, has admitted that she finds the prospect of the approaching Test so daunting that she almost never manages to work up the nerve to get it done by the official deadline.

So it’s a stifling hot day on some side street in the Pardes Chana industrial zone, but I have the A/C turned off so that I can hear the staccato of the Tester’s instructions. Between the tension and the humidity, the back of my shirt is stuck to the seat. The car and I have almost finished running the gamut of inspection stations, when our Tester asks in an ominous tone, “So tell me, how do you prepare your car for the inspection?”

I’m completely nonplussed by the question, and don’t know how to reply. “What’s the matter, you don’t understand Hebrew?” he asks, though not unkindly. He knows full well that I do in fact know some Hebrew — after all, for the last 15 minutes that have seemed like an eternity, he’s been barking orders at me: “vinker y’min!” (right turn signal!). “handbreks!” (yup, hand brakes!). “titkadem ksat!” (inch up!) “lo, Smola! SMOLA!” (no, Left! LEFT!) “sim b’nutrol, v’sahek im hahegeh!” (put it in neutral and fiddle with the steering wheel!) — and I’ve more or less followed directions.

Still getting no reply out of me, he continues, “Should I speak to you in Hebrew or Moroccan?” Well, I just don’t understand what he’s getting at, because the car and I have indeed prepared for the big event. Our day at the car spa, otherwise known as “Miki’s Binyamina Garage,” has set us back some 700 shekel. Not only have Miki and associates changed the oil and the filters and all that good stuff, but they’ve even washed the car, something its owner typically does before certain major holidays in Hebrew-calendar years that are divisible by gimmel. The car is so shiny-white that it’s practically a gleaming Colgate commercial on wheels. So what more could this guy have expected us to have done in preparation? To have imitated one of King Ahashverus’ concubine candidates, and to have spent six months frolicking amidst fragrant spices, with another six months soaking in a bath of oil of myrrh?

Finally, recovering my Hebrew, I blurt out, “Look, I took the car for a tune-up just yesterday!” To which he replies, “Ah, the garage deals with the big things, but then you have to worry about the little ones!”

And, finally, he reveals the problem: the headlight covers are opaque, and need to be polished. To my relief, however, he continues, “But I’m not going to fail you for such a little thing.” I suspect that it’s a case of one greybeard cutting another some slack — because many times during the past 30 years I have indeed failed the inspection because of “issues” that have bordered on the nonsensical. And then he adds, “Pardon me for saying so, but you dati’im never prepare your cars properly for inspection. You seem to rely on God to get you through. My son, he’s the same way. I tell him, ‘You’ll see, one time I’m going to fail you, just so you’ll learn your lesson.’”

At that I chuckle, and he dismisses me with, “Sah l’shalom,” go in peace.

*With apologies to Arlo Guthrie.
“Alice’s Restaurant” by Arlo Guthrie, Copyright © 1966 (renewed) by Appleseed Music Inc.