The trip from Jerusalem to the kibbutz in the lower Galilee was slightly more eventful than I had planned. The battle for seats on the bus from Jerusalem to Tiberius began in earnest. A platoon of soldiers shoved their rucksacks into the luggage compartment before shoving everyone in their path as they made their way onto the bus. I followed in their wake with a few other civilians, and after only a few elbow jabs to my abdomen and knees (those eleven-year-old Bnei Akiva girls are tougher than they look), I scored a seat in the back row, with the butt of a Tabor assault rifle in my lap.
Two and a half hours into the two hour and twenty-minute bus ride, we pulled into the Afula central bus station for a well-deserved rest stop. According to the official timetable given to me by the friendly lady at the Egged information booth back in Jerusalem, I had fifteen minutes to stretch my cramping legs and make use of the public restrooms.
I set the timer on my watch and headed for the restrooms. Entry cost a shekel (exact change only), yet the dutiful custodian neglected to provide paper-towels for the sinks. Nevertheless, I emerged from the rest rooms feeling refreshed, and grateful for the opportunity to relieve myself of the liter of water I had consumed in Jerusalem. As I wiped my hands on the back of my pants, I saw my bus pull out of its parking spot on the other side of the station, turn left, and exit through the main gate.
Wait, the American half of my brain told me, that can’t be right. There are another eight and a half minutes left to the scheduled fifteen-minute rest stop. It says so right here on the official timetable from the friendly lady at the Egged information booth in Jerusalem. You idiot, the Israeli half of my brain chided, the driver is trying to make up time after all the traffic on kvish 6.
The sight of a wheeled suitcase shook me from my reverie.
My suitcases! All of my stuff was on that bus: my laptop, my notes, my clothes, my books, my Tefillin, my… everything. !&?@#!#%&!
I needed a plan.
Yes. A plan. Of course. I’ve spent the last five years studying plans in the Middle East- the partition plan, the Roger’s Plan, the Alon Plan, the Baker Plan, the Shamir Plan, the Sharon Plan, the Olmert Plan, the Mofaz plan… I’m getting a doctorate in Israel Studies, for hummus sake, all I need to do is come up with a plan.
Okay, I thought to myself as I headed to the little ice cream and drink stand. My baggage is on the bus and I need to find my baggage. So, I need to find the bus, but I can’t find the bus on foot. (Mmmm, the chocolate cone looks really good) I also need to get to my sister’s kibbutz, but I can’t walk there.
can’t catch the bus by foot. (Is that pecan ice cream? Ich, I hate pecans.) I can’t get to my sister’s kibbutz by foot. Eureka! I need a cab (and something to drink, I’m really thirsty and its kinda hot out).
“How much is the chocolate ice cream cone?” I asked the woman behind the counter.
“12 shekel,” she replied.
“And the big bottle of water?”
“Do you know where can I find a cab?”
“Outside the bus station.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes.
“Leave the store yeminah, then go yashar, the exit to the street is yeminah, then go yashar, and the taxis are smolah.”
I handed her a 20-shekel note and raced out of the bus station. Lo and behold, a row of taxis were idling precisely where the ice-cream-lady said.
What I needed at that moment was one of those insane Israeli cabbies who think they’re tank drivers. I jumped into the first cab I saw and prayed that he was “The fast and the furious” kinda guy.
In broken Hebrew, I explained the situation as quickly as I could while crunching on my ice cream cone. “The bus left me. It has all my luggage. I need to get catch it before it reaches the Lavi junction.”
The driver flashed a confident smile, and assured me that if we drove straight to the Lavi junction, he could catch the bus. He pulled out of the parking spot so fast that I was thrown against the seat in front of me. I fastened my seatbelt and thanked G-d for delivering me into the hands of a cabby with a need for speed. Maybe, just maybe, we would catch the bus and get my stuff back.
About a minute after we pulled out, we were weaving in and out of traffic and running through yellow lights. The crazy, tank-driver cabby’s phone rang, and he reached for the handset while changing lanes and making a left turn. After muttering a few indistinct phrases into his iPhone, the cab slowed down while the driver caught my eye in the rearview mirror.
This can’t be good.
“My wife just called. I have to go home right away. Don’t worry, though. I’ll give you to the next cab and tell him your situation.”
“But, we don’t have time,” I pleaded. “I need to catch that bus. All of my luggage is on it.”
“Teehye b’seder,” he assured me. “Do you have anyone you can call who could meet the bus at Lavi Junction? Why don’t you call Egged, so they can contact the driver?”
These sounded like reasonable ideas, and the driver seemed particularly anxious to rush home. What could I do? I muttered my assent as he executed a highly illegal U-turn and sped back to the taxi station.
As I switched cabs, driver number one explained the situation to driver number two.
“Do you think we can catch the bus?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said driver number two. Then he fastened his seat belt, straightened the back of his chair, adjusted the mirrors, and took his time easing out of the parking spot.
As driver number two drove luxuriously through Afula, stopping at every yellow light and meticulously obeying traffic regulations both real and imagined, my heart sunk. First the bus left me behind, absconding with all my stuff. Then my tank-driver cabby bailed on me, sticking me with the only cabby in Israel who drives like there’s a DMV examiner in the front seat. G-d, why couldn’t I catch a break?
It had been 15 minutes since the bus absconded with my stuff. I had a better chance of bringing about Middle East peace than catching up with the bus at the Lavi junction. My, like every other plan in the Middle East, was relegated to the dustbin of history. It was time to call in the cavalry- my little sister.
Of course, my soldier-sister had just got home from her base and was getting ready for a wedding when I called. After explaining what happened, she let out an exasperated sigh. She agreed to catch a ride from the kibbutz to the junction so she could meet the bus and get my stuff. If that didn’t work, I’d have to go to the end of the line at Tiberius and hope that my stuff would be there.
Meanwhile, cab driver number two was still driving as though he were on a sightseeing vacation in the countryside.
“Is it possible to drive a bit faster?” I asked.
“Mah Pitom! No! I’m already driving at the speed limit. If I go faster the police will take my license. I’m not like those bus drivers: they don’t have to follow any rules or listen to anyone. They just leave passengers behind whenever they want. It’s terrible. So, is your sister going to catch the bus at the junction?”
“I hope so,” I replied. “If not, we’ll have to go all the way to Tiberius.”
Driver number two smiled as we reached the Lavi Junction. I craned my kneck, looking around for the sight of see my sister tapping away on her blackberry while standing watch over my precious suitcases.
“Nu,” the driver asked. “Is your sister here?”
The driver smiled and reminded me of the insane amount of money I had agreed to pay for the ride to the Lavi junction. He then offered to take me the rest of the way to Tiberius for only [sic] fifty shekel.
I tried to call my sister, but the phone went to voice mail.
Okay, I told driver number two, an extra fifty shekel. Just hurry to the central bus station in Tiberius.
I’d never been to Tiberius, and my first glimpses of the city, framed by the Sea of Galilee, were literally breathtaking. My phone went off as I took in the magnificent vista. It was my sister, and she had news. A kibbutznik with a car had rushed her to the central bus station in Tiberius, where they found an irate bus driver from Jerusalem. All of my bags were accounted for.
The taxi dropped me off outside the Tiberius bus station, where my sister was waiting with a tall, lanky Israeli. I paid the insane fare for the ride to the Lavi junction, plus an additional fifty shekel. As I exited the car, the driver shouted after me: “Next time you’re on the bus remember this, and you’ll be careful not to get left behind!”