The morning rush for the bus is a special experience on the Number 1 Line in Arad. It sets out at 7:30 am and is not listed on the regular bus schedule. You have to really hunt for it. It’s listed under “1-א”.
The 1-א runs only twice a day, actually, and the afternoon route is totally different. Unless you are a kid, it is impossible to understand. I have missed that bus while standing in the center of town at least half a dozen times because I couldn’t figure out where the bus stop was.
Like today, for example. I got lucky because the driver saw me sitting at the wrong stop as he passed by on the way to the starting point for the route. He waggled his finger at me to let me know that I had blown it again, and then pulled over to let me on anyway. And it wasn't even one of the morning drivers.
“This is NOT the right stop at this hour,” he scolded me.
“Well, where is it then?” I threw back at him, exasperated.
“Where your kids are standing,” he said, as if I should know where that is. “Next to the bakery across from that alley that leads to the mall, the one near the town square,” he elaborated, seeing my blank look. He shook his head. Clearly convinced that I should know better by now. “But only at 1:50 pm,” he added.
I would never have known, of course. I begin now to understand my small son’s frustration with trying to catch the bus to come home from yeshiva. It’s like trying to catch a mink in a rainstorm while it’s swimming in oil.
But that’s not what this story is about.
We are talking here about the Morning Bus, the one that my kids too often “almost miss”, the one with drivers who will someday earn the Medal of Honor.
The “Big Green” bus roars its way down the hill toward our stop approximately seven minutes after it leaves its starting point, the Yefeh Nof Hotel. My kids time their wake-up, breakfast and leaving the house in precise milliseconds in order to make the bus without having to wait at the bus stop. I know this makes no sense, but this is an ADHD household, where the time spent getting from “here” to “there” is never taken into account. “Between times” do not exist for the ADHD person, be he child or adult. Trust me.
Anyway, the bus winds through our neighborhood, picking up the early commuters, driven on alternate days by two Arad natives, Shlomie and Coby. Both are the most friendly, tolerant and patient bus drivers I have ever seen. I know this first-hand, having occasion to test that patience more mornings than I care to remember.
The first time we “almost missed” it, we actually thought the driver wouldn’t wait for us. Laughable thought, I know, but there it is. Newbies to the Number One always think this way, coming from cruel cities where bus drivers don’t know and don’t care.
Our entire bus knows better, of course. Both Coby and Shlomie now stop at our corner and look down the block to see if we are straggling up the hill, late again. If we are, they wait. So does everyone else.
One of the regulars, Tzipi used to get very irritable. She scolded my kids at least twice a week for being late to the stop. “But she lives between two stops,” my kids complained. “She can always catch the bus at the second one if she is late for the first,” she said. Somehow my kids consider it an inalienable right to be late for the bus and still expect it to be there.
“What can you do?” shrugged Coby the first time it happened. The next time, Shlomie just sighed and then chuckled. “Kids,” he said philosophically in the way that only Israelis have. The rest of the riders nodded. They’re Israelis too.
Today they all just laugh when they see us struggling toward the bus. I am not sure this is better. Even Tzipi has come to pity me as I race up the hill toward the corner of our street, (forget making it around the corner to the bus stop), urging my kids to keep moving. My harried, bedraggled look as I drag myself up the stairs to my seat, panting like a cat in labor, is too much even for her tough Israeli attitude to chide.
Every rider has their own story. We’re a little community. When one is missing, everyone else wonders why – and asks the driver. Today Tzipi didn’t come. So we asked Coby where she was ----- as if he could possibly know. It felt like a piece was missing.
Tzipi has been a metapelet and ganenet (babysitter and nursery school teacher) for decades. Red-haired Rachel (who has to be over 50) fought valiantly with the Egged office over the lack of a Friday 7:30 am bus, which meant my kids were late to school every week. She was magnificent. (No, it didn’t change anything. You need the Ministry of Transporation to harass national Egged to do that.)
Alicia, a Black Hebrew and a native-born Israeli, is also a regular. She is a member of the large community from Chicago that settled in Arad several decades ago, and is bilingual. Alicia is used to dealing with kids and lateness; she is a dental assistant and X-ray technician in the local clinic.
There are, of course, others. Rachel’s daughter and grandson used to come and Rachel would take the baby while her daughter caught the #386 to Beersheva with the rest of the commuters. She moved recently, partly because she couldn’t take the suspense of wondering if she would make it to the #386 every day.
It’s always a race to catch it, in truth, since the routes intersect at only one point, literally within two minutes of each other. Getting us to the stop on time is an art form which Coby and Shlomi have both mastered. We do not have a good day when there is a substitute driver.
I am sure that Rachel’s daughter left Arad because of the substitute driver. He is unfamiliar with the route (read: chooses not to learn it) and drives like a snail. Worst of all, he absolutely refuses to vary the route to make the shortcut, even when there are no other riders left. That is not in keeping with Arad etiquette. And he doesn't smile. The ultimate transgression.
Even the drivers who take the evening run back from Beersheva know how to behave better than that. (After 7:00 pm, the Beersheva-Arad bus makes the rounds of the entire town, because the local lines quit at 5:30 pm – another silly Egged quirk in Arad).The evening route trundles through some neighborhoods but doesn’t even enter others, stopping instead at the intersection where the offending neighborhood begins.
There are ways to deal with this, however, as any Aradian knows.
“Anyone getting off in Neorim?” calls out the driver when we reach Arad.
“Nope,” answers one of the riders after polling the others.
Scratch that neighborhood, on to the next.
“Check and see if anyone needs Maof,” the driver quietly requests.
I go down the aisle, waking up sleepers and asking the rest: “Nu? Maof?”
Heads shake negative. I return to my seat behind the driver.
“No one for Maof.”
Scratch that one too.
If it’s a quick ride, sometimes you can talk the driver into “adjusting” the route to enter the excluded neighborhood. Yeah, okay, it’s breaking the rules, but...
Aradians gotta stick together, after all.