Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ani Rotzeh Mechonit! (I want a car!)

Standing on the curb waiting for the number six, the future passengers peeked around the Jerusalem-stone lined edge of the corner building. Ears perk and twitch, listening for that distinctive diesel engine rev. A miracle of the human creation, the auditory system can learn to pick the exact frequency and volume of the groan of the double-long bus from two hundred yards. Between the mess of banging and honking in the urban jungle, the sound of freedom, or at least gradual forward movement, at last comes, as the bus roars around the corner and comes to a stop. The doors hiss open and the crowd floods in. Being the sucker American, I let the old ladies ahead, who promptly elbow me back out the door. I try to hand my ticket to the bus driver, but the five foot thick wall of sweating human flesh between us blocks me. As the doors hiss shut, again and again, trying to compress my square peg of a body into the round hole of a bus, I reach a decision. It’s time to buy a car.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’m watching the economy grow, massive new public works projects go up in the city, and better electronics fill the stores, but I will always associate life in Israel with poverty. It stems from my time in Be’er Sheva, when I lived in a working class neighborhood on a paltry research stipend. I remember the feeling of knowing that the food I had in the house wouldn’t be enough to last the week. I remember the woman who slept in her car under my bedroom window, the stray dogs, and the slums. I remember buying a bag of potatoes and then taking ketchup packets from burger king to make dinner for a week. I really didn’t mind so much, since the Talmud tells us that three things are bought with hardship: Torah, Olam Hab’ah (the next world,) and Eretz Yisrael.

It makes a car seem, well, haughty, like I’m cheating the system. After all, I don’t have army or reserve duty, I don’t have many problems with the language though I’m far from fluent, and I came with a great job already in the bag, so where’s the suffering? Not that I’m volunteering, it was just expected.

The fact is, I’m spending an hour each way on the bus to get downtown. That’s two hours to get to yeshivah and back, four if I want to go back into town later for a shidduch. Speaking of shidduchim, “I’ll pick you up in a fully-functional motor vehicle,” sounds a lot better than “I’ll pick you up on the number six.” So I thought I would buy a used car, like the old, unpretentious rust rocket I used to drive in Walnut Creek. But cars in Israel have a very high resale value, and I have immigrant benefits which reduce the taxes on cars from the astronomic 77% down to the merely stratospheric 50%. (Don’t quote me on those numbers. They could be higher) The discount makes it cheaper for me to buy something brand new.

And so the next aliyah phase begins. I’ve already started the process of transferring my California license over to Israeli, first by going to the driving school, then the eye doctor, then getting my physical, then going to the licensing office, then going back after they sent me home with the wrong papers. Next come lessons, the test, and the car purchase. It’s a major pain, but the freedom of the open road beckons!

No comments: