It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We're on a Road to...

Once in awhile Treppenwitz offers a "tremp" post;  that is, a hitchhiking experience that stands out for being unusual, humorous or just plain wacky.  I myself don't have many stories to tell since, I'll readily admit, I shy away from picking up hitchhikers.  I'm just too scared to let a total stranger into the car, and unfortunately I've heard enough worrisome stories to justify that fear.  

But in theory I think it's a lovely idea.   As an older teenager / young adult, I depended on others to transport me around this teeny tiny country, and nowadays I wish I felt safe enough to return the favor to society at large

I do feel safe picking up fellow moshav residents, which I often do on my way to work.  I leave the house early and at this time of year the sun is up but it's still chilly and these past few days -- hurray! -- rainy.   Sometimes it's a high school kid trying to get to school, or an older resident on his way to the local shuk for some shopping.  Often as not, it's someone trying to get to the hospital itself, to visit a relative or to keep a medical appointment.  

When I pull my car up to the bus stop each morning, most people come up to the window, ask where I'm going, and either reject the ride with a polite "Have a nice drive," or else they hop into the car, and off we go.   This morning, though, it was the other type of trempist (hitchhiker), that older, first-generation North-African immigrant Savta-type.  I could tell this was going to involve a process, and I stifled a groan.

I know, what's the big deal?  I feel extremely grateful to own a (mostly) reliable vehicle, and we're only talking about a few minutes of my time to help a fellow citizen get on with his life.  True, it's challenging enough, when it's still dark, to drag myself out of bed and make my way through the sleepy-crazy morning rush, out the door and onto the road, only to have someone waste precious time deciding whether to hitch a ride.  

Bottom line?  I have to admit it, I have a problem.   I hate it when people make me late to work.  

So I could see this passenger was going to be a problem.   First, standing outside the car with rain streaming in through the now-open window, she has to interview me:  Where are you going?  How are you getting there?  Are you going via the ----- route?  No?  Why not?  

Pause and grimace.  Are you sure you aren't going the ---- route?  Turns around to her companion, waiting at the bus stop two meters away.  Shouts, SHE'S NOT GOING THE ----- ROUTE.  SHOULD I GO WITH HER?  Pause for discussion.  Short argument.   Unclear resolution.  I yell out through the window, I have to go.  Are you coming or not?

Steps back toward the car.   Looks back at companion, then back at me.   OK, I'll go with you.Opens the back door.  Piles in two heavy bags.   Slams the door.  Opens the front door, sits down with a thud.  

Glances at me and remembers -- I'm that crazy woman who insists on using that silly device. Looks down, fumbles with the seat belt.   I have a wedding tonight.  My sister's daughter.  I have to get to the Central Bus Station by ten o'clock, there's a bus that leaves at ten.  I'm sleeping over there, at my sister's.

I nod.  I'm trying not to lose it, but I'm already running late, I still have to stop and fill up at the gas station, it's pouring with rain, and we've already wasted five minutes discussing route options, as if it's even up to her in the first place.  

I have to get to the Central Bus Station, she repeats.  The bus station.  To catch a bus.  To my sister's.  Maybe if we see the bus coming up the hill you can just drop me off and I'll get a ride from there to -----.    Are you sure you're not going via -----?

We have covered this material before, and so I feel obligated to clarify, more forcefully now, that yes, I'm sure we are traveling the very route I originally specified.  Maybe you could just drop me off somewhere along the way, she continues to mumble.  Maybe the bus will come by.  Meanwhile, my iPod is plugged into the car's speaker system and I am desperately trying to hear Ira Glass introduce Act One of the week's This American Life podcast.  

But my passenger does not understand English and treats the sound coming from the speakers as just that -- sound, without meaning -- so she continues this one-way conversation, competing at full volume with the podcast.  

So, you're going to work?  Oh, you speak English.  I know some people who speak English.  From England.  What do you think, the English they teach in schools, is it the American English, or the English from England. 

I force a smile and, not able to hear Ira, I pause the podcast.  

Well, I tell her, I wouldn't know.  I didn't learn English here in the school system, being that it's my mother tongue and all.   I figure maybe this comment would serve as a hint, that the noise coming out of the speakers is, to me, not some unintelligible cacophony or background noise, but rather, something I was in the middle of following, and I press play.  
North African Savta (continues the discussion, completely unfazed):  Oh, r i g h t. Well, you know, there was just this program on television, about this American couple, a twelve-year-old girl and a thirteen-year-old boy, in America, who had a baby, and they had to give it away.  Did you see that program?

ALN:  No, I didn't catch that one.  We don't actually have a television.  

NAS:  No television?  Really?  Why not?  Oh, just like my sister;  she's Haredi, she doesn't have a television.  She looks at me quizzically.  I'm clearly not Haredi, yet she just can't seem to alight on any other logical explanation.
(Short pause, to point out to our non-Israeli readers the common assumption among Israelis that if you don't have a television, it must be because you're ultra-Orthodox.  Never mind that one does not need an exceedingly conservation lifestyle to come to the conclusion that television here is, on average, a huge waste of time).
NAS:  So if you don't have a television, what do you do for fun?

ALN:  For fun?  Ummm....we read books.  Or we listen to radio programs.  You know,  just like the one I've been listening to, here in the car. 
Another subtle hint that simply does not get through, followed by one final attempt to put the program back on.  Oh, it's no use.   I sigh, shut off the radio, and glance at my passenger.
So, you say you're going to your sister's house for a wedding... 

Keep the balance,



RivkA with a capital A said...

I pick up "trempistim" (hitchikers) all the time. For a while, I stopped, but I hated it. I felt guilty every time I passed by our local trempiada without stopping. So, I pick 'em up!

I laughed a LOT at your description. I knew what you were getting at the moment you started....

You just gotta laugh!! ;-)

Batya said...

I'm the eternal trempistit. Sometimes I find it so demeaning. If I could I would only take buses, but sometimes I don't have a choice. There are drivers who want total silence and others think that our silence is nasty. I try to figure out where to get off in a way not to inconvenience the driver and some drivers want me to say where I need to get off.

But I'm very grateful for people's generosity.

A Living Nadneyda said...

R -- I was laughing, too, as soon as I managed to move past my own frustration. Ok, so that's my own package & I've gotta deal w/it.

M -- Savta was in the same situation -- most of the older moshavnikim do not drive, or couldn't afford cars even if they could drive. It all amounts to the same thing -- depending on others, not a nice feeling whatever the context. Just take care of yourself out there!