Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Car is Getting Closer

A Plus: 8 Months, 1 Week, 2 Days

Before deciding to call our dating off, probably due to my droning on about how badly I want a car, one of my previous shidduchim gave me the number of an English-speaking driving instructor way out in Talpiot. Having just descended from the Talpiot Licensing Office, completed paperwork in one hand, cell phone in the other, I stood on auto row, drooling over the87-octane fueled chariots glistening in the windows, until I heard a frantic honking sound. Running across the street I jumped into the slowly moving vehicle with the giant cardboard letter "lamed" on the roof and the "Nahag Chadash" (new driver) sticker.
"Give me the paperwork."
His student, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia, was having trouble navigating the crowded traffic circle.
"You've driven before? LEFT!" Strange. His accent is Israeli, but his name is Martin. Not an Israeli name.
"BRAKES! Automatic or manual?"
"Good. I teach manual. There are two types of licenses, there's a manual license which.. now turn to the right SLOWLY... lets you drive either a manual or an automatic, or there's the automatic license which doesn't let you use a manual. I can only give you a manual license."
I think about it for a second. Yes, it would be convenient to have a manual license, but I'm already in the car, and I don't want to waste another few weeks or months trying to find an instructor for manual.
"Sounds fine. When can I start taking lessons?"
"It's a problem. I have to bring your papers to the licensing office to schedule a test time. Pesach starts in a few days, and then there's Chol Hamoed," the intermediate days of Pesach, "so they're closed for at least seven days. And they're planning a strike after. And then they will have a backlog of work from the past few weeks. Just give me your papers. Don't call me, I'll call you."

Three weeks later...

I'm in the middle of calculating fan sizes for an electrical room cooling system, chewing on rasin bran in my pajamas at two in the afternoon, wondering what I'm going to do with my free time now that yeshivah is on break, when my cell phone jumps to life.
"Ephraim, it's Martin. Be at the bridge at French Hill at five thirty tomorrow."
"But that's just an hour before Shabbat (sabbath) starts."
"No, I meant five thirty in the morning."
"WHAT!? Why?"
"Because your test is at seven, and you have to take a lesson before they give you the test."
I consider my options for a moment. Being there at five thirty means leaving my apartment at at four thirty. Which means waking up at four. I'll be trashed for the test, but they give you two chances. If you fail to pass on the second time, you have to start from the beginning and take twenty six lessons. It's a risk, but I'm sick of waiting. What the hey, I'll sleep it off on Shabbat.
"Okay," I tell him.
"Great, now you have to pay. But wait... BRAKES!..." (I hear break screeching in the background) "you have to pay at the post office before the lesson, and the post office isn't open tomorrow at five in the morning."
"I'll go downtown now, I'll be there in an hour. You'll give me the bill, I'll bring it to the post office, and I'll bring you the receipt tomorrow."
"Great! Call me when you're here."
I get there, call him, turns out there will be a half-hour delay until he can do the handoff, so I buy some combat boots for my hiking trip to Safed in a couple of weeks (this was a couple of weeks ago, so it starts tomorrow.)

The handoff goes smoothly. It's the same setup, with him quickly opening the car door and me jumping into the back seat as his student jerks and rattles the vehicle along. He hands me the bill, I jump out, and I don't think the Shabak (Israeli FBI) spotted us.

Friday morning, my bill paid in full, I begin my lesson. As it turns out, starting before dawn was a great idea. I haven't driven in seven months, and I need some warm up, but we're the only car on the road. I was concerned that I would have difficulty with the test being in Hebrew, but there are only four words you need to know, "Smolah" (left), "Yaminah" (right,) "Kadimah" (forward,) and "Atzor" (stop.) Nearing the end of the test, his coffee cup running dangerously low, he breaks into English, "Go faster! Go FASTER!"

I was worried about having passed the test, realizing I had forgotten to use my signal and gotten confused as to which lane I was supposed to be in on Israel's bizzare traffic circles, but Martin reassures me.
"Did the tester ever touch the wheel?"
"Did he touch the breaks?'
"You probably passed."

And sure enough, I did. I'm still procrastinating heading all the way back out to Talpiot to the licensing office to get my newly minted Israeli driver's license. And now for the next challenge... selecting and financing a vehicle. I spoke with my rabbis and decided to wait a while. We are now in the period of the Omer, a period of trepidation as we count the forty nine days between Pesach, the festival of the Exodus from Egypt and Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. During this period, or at least until the thirty third day (Lag B'Omer,) we don't shave (my beard is already getting nappy) or make major purchases, such as motor vehicles. But the day is coming.

Anyway, I'm off to go on a big hike through Tzfat, where I will spend shabbat. Pictures will be forthcoming, but I won't be back until Sunday. Shabbat Shalom!

What I learned in Yeshivah today, now that the new semester has started:

I learned NOTHING today because I had vast quantities of work to do and couldn't spare the two-hour round bus trip. If I only had a car, things would be much, much different.

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