Friday, December 17, 2010

The Worst Friday in the World

The worst part is that the day began so well.

A huge crowd for the bus to Jerusalem greeted me when I arrived at the Beersheva bus station. It was Friday morning and so the crowd of green uniforms jostling to get home was no surprise. As I walked toward the crowd, I saw the bus everyone was waiting entering the station. Not skipping a beat, I slipped through the crowd and was in the perfect position to be the first on the bus when it glided to a stop alongside the surging crowd (see below, for my tips for conquering the bus crowds).

Good got great when a pretty blond katzina, a female lieutenant, took the adjoining seat. An easy lead-in question led to conversation that lasted till she had to go at Latrun. I had mixed feelings watching this complete stranger slip so quickly out of my life. Little did I know that the day would slide downhill fast.

My bus arrived in Jerusalem. Ten stairs took me to the food court where the grim reality of the day first hit me: today is Asara B'Tevet, the Tenth of Tevet, a minor fast day commemorating the siege (and eventual fall) of Jerusalem by that evil old Babylonian, Nebuchadnezzar. A fast day. A day when food and drink, twin symbols of all that can be enjoyed outside the army, are off-limits. A soldier's day of celebration had been transformed into morning. Sunlight into storm-clouds.

Damn you Nebuchadnezzar, I whispered as the day refused to die. You and your conquests. Ah, history hates me.


If you take inter-city buses in Israel on Thursday evening, Fridays or Sunday mornings, chances are you are familiar with the crowds, nay hordes of travelers seeking one of the precious few seats on any given bus. Most of the travelers are likely uniform wearing soldiers, meaning your competition is a race of teenagers whose desperation to get onto the bus is fueled by the knowledge that missing the bus means incurring the wrath of their commanders for getting to base late.

That said, here are some tips for getting a seat on any bus, no matter the crowd. These tips may not sound like much. All I can say is I follow them and have never failed to get onto a bus, no matter the crowd size.

1) Standing as close as possible to where the door will open is key.

In large bus stations, this is fairly easy to accomplish since there is a designated space where the bus pulls into. Huge crowds often cause havoc, however, and bus drivers sometimes stop before the end of the designated space because foolish souls are standing in the way. One should never stand in the space reserved for the bus. That space, however, is the key to gaining the best position on the curb, right on the edge near the end where the door will be when the bus comes to a stop. To get this prime real estate, make your approach in the space where the bus will come to rest. Then simply hop up on the curb at the right moment.

Street stops are more dynamic and privilege quick reflexes more than subterfuge. The bus may stop before, after or right at the stop. Like a goalie facing a penalty shot, you cannot be sure. So you have to trust your hunch and then when the driver makes his move, have the quickest jump in the direction the bus is heading.

2) In a crowd of soldiers, there is always at least one old civilian granny waiting to board. This is important because soldiers will make room for her, clearing space so she can board first. If granny is absent, chances are a few bozos will make room so a female soldier can get on first. Either way, same tactic applies. Trick here is simply to get behind the old lady and like an ambulance through busy traffic, follow her onto the bus.

3) Do not travel with a large bag. If you must, have a buddy put both your bags under the bus while you get on the bus and save a seat for him. If you are alone and the situation is desperate, then you have no choice but to face the anger of the driver and attempt to board with your large bag. In this case, sling the bag off your back and carry it with one hand, trying it keep it behind your leg and out of the main line of vision of the driver. If he complains, be apologetic, mumble something in a mixture of Hebrew and English, give him the sad puppy face and scoot onwards. As for the bag, the best place to stash it is next to the small trash bin by the rear door.

4) Crowds lead to pushing and shoving. Never sink to this level. Instead, use the jostling of the crowd to your advantage. Let the pushing of the horde ease you into position to board the bus. Think of the shoving as a wave and your body as a creature far more skilled than anyone else in this maritime environment.

5) Believe you will get in. Picture yourself sitting down in that bus. Then make it happen!

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