Sherut (photo credit: Michal Shmulovich)

My sherut life, by Michal Shmulovich

For anyone who’s visited Israel, or felt like making that bold journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv to Ashdod, or anywhere in the country, really, you might have vied for that easy and thrilling public transportation option: the sherut, a public taxi jitney. It’s not quite a gypsy cab, but almost…

Well, it dawned on me the other day that I spend about 12 hours a day working — that’s if you include the 8 hours a day I’m supposed to work and the 4 hours I spend reaching that fine place. Some people would go crazy. “How do you manage?” they ask me. “I couldn’t do it,” they sigh.

Yes, I’m one of those people who decided that living in Tel Aviv is good for my soul while working in Jerusalem is good for my career. So far, I still agree with that sentiment.

Yes, I’m a member of that bold and brave group that frequents this country’s sherut system. And in the process I’ve gotten to be  something of a conossieur of sherut drivers. I know them all – which, come to think of it, isn’t great, because I’ve managed to piss a few of them off.

Your main sherut drivers are either Arab- or Russian-speakers. They’re mostly old, grumpy men. But that’s not really a fair statement, because some are young and energetic. And then of course there’s my favorite. She’s a woman. Yes, indeed. A real woman in a man’s job! She’s Georgian, I think. She’s feisty and has sass. And she drives super-carefully but quickly, and listens to Radio Lev haMedina, Israel’s prime Mizrahi-music station. And i love it. She makes your ride feel like you’re on a voyage — a clubbing voyage.

Shame I haven’t seen her in weeks though.

My least favorite are the grumpy drivers. I never seem to get it right with them. In the mornings, when I’m panicking that I’ll be late — when every second literally counts! — they drive like they’re in a hot bath. This one driver — he’s definitely from somewhere in Central Asia — went through a whole bag of sunflower seeds while leisurely riding up the Jerusalem mountains. He wasn’t bothered with a thing and he never went over 60 kilometers an hour; okay, maybe 70?

Then there’s the young drivers — they take the night shifts — and if anyone wants to brace themselves for the scariest ride of their life, I dare them to take that sherut from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv at 2 a.m. I swear, they get me home in under thirty minutes!

My favorite ride, however, was a morning that made me super late to my old job. That’s the thing with commuting; you think you’ve done well and left your house early, but then you see it: a huge, stinking traffic jam coming up ahead… and you’re ruined. (It’s at moments like those that I wish I meditated more.) So the driver, I don’t really remember what he looked like, decided to take a detour away from the heavy traffic on Highway 1 and drive through the back roads of Bet Shemesh, a suburb of Jerusalem, to get us into Jerusalem faster.

He turned off Highway 1 into what was quite possibly the prettiest road I’ve been on in Israel. It was a hilly, zig-zaggy adventure — all at 8 in the morning — in a car filled with 10 rambunxious strangers. Everyone got involved: “turn here!” or “no it’s that way!” and more (that’s the thing about sheruts: they’re like mini-democracies. Everyone has opinions on a sherut – and no qualms about making them your problem, because you’re in it together.)

I made friends with the girl next to me — a rarity for me at such an unseemly hour — but I had recognized her from previous early morning trips. We were comrades in crime, it seemed.

And then the driver made a wrong turn – and before we knew it the guy sitting in the back row (the one where 4 people have to squeeze into tiny chairs, almost one on top of the other) was navigating him towards the southwestern entrance to Jerusalem, near Ein Kerem. Pretty soon everyone was talking and getting involved. We all agreed that the detour was worth it; it was pretty, at least.

Besides the stress of being late, it was heartwarming.

And that’s how sheruts are: an adventure. A little stressful and a lot exciting.