Commuting to work every week day from Jerusalem to Airport City, one develops a practical set of behaviors and habits, meant to deflect sharp, incoming elbows and muffle the cries of angst-ridden teenagers. As a public service then, I humbly submit this handy how-to, guaranteed to ease tensions, smooth ruffled feathers and perhaps even subdue that twitching vein in the middle of your temple.
1. Thank you for smoking: Evidently, the 27 “No Smoking” signs that cover large swaths of wall across the Jerusalem Central Bus Station are friendly suggestions — not finable offenses. Occasionally, a feisty octogenarian with fine leather skin and wraparound sunglasses will call out a Noblesse-smoking soldier waiting for his bus-ride back to base. In general, however, the pervading attitude among the platforms is that of “live and let smoke.”
But have no fear: By 2017 the NIS 6 billion high-speed train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv will be completed. Until then, simply breathe (shallowly) whenever in the vicinity of the Jerusalem CBS platforms. However, please note that extreme shallow breathing over a prolonged period has been linked to heart palpitations, amnesia and sexual impotence.
2. The sweet spot: Upon entering the belly of the green beast, head straight to the sixth seat on your left side. This is the bus’s sweet spot, situated directly in front of the belching buggy’s back door. Settle in, sit down and tune out. This is mass transit at its most tranquil: no Ritalin-deprived yeshiva bochur rattling off Biblical proverbs to no one in particular; no fussy tike from New Rochelle kicking up a storm while mother suckles baby sister; no gold-toothed shyster flamboyantly cutting a deal to bring in knockoff “tablets” from China.
3. The usual suspects: Should an eagle-eyed passenger zig and zag his or her way to the sweet spot ahead of you, brace yourself for a menagerie of potential traveling companions. While sitting is preferable, standing stoically is recommended if the only available seats are next to a:
a) Phlegm-addled pensioner with a wet and wild cough
b) Plumpish guy or girl zestfully unwrapping a pastrami sandwich
c) Recent college graduate sporting a Taglit-Birthright baseball cap and an “I Get Frisky when I Drink Whiskey!” T-shirt
d) High-powered executive assistant grandly “closing the deal” on her boss’s acupuncture appointment at Jerusalem’s Nekudat Maga message parlor
e) Pale-faced middle management type, texting on a Blackberry, speaking via Bluetooth and uploading on a MacBook Pro
4. Ride the wave: Catching Egged bus #947 from the El-Al Junction back to Jerusalem can be a tricky proposition — part Russian roulette, part mosh pit. There is an element of randomness at play in that the bus stops at a slightly different spot every day. A few inches (or centimeters) here or there can change the entire course of your journey home: ensconced in comfort as enjoyable snapshots of Abu Gosh, Beit Zayit and Moza roll by your window, or standing with your nose inches (or centimeters) from an armpit.
Are we merely prisoners of fate?
Yes and no. I’ve found that the best way to move up the food chain, from standing target to sitting pretty, is to engage in a bit of crowdsurfing. Being so close to Ben Gurion Airport, the #947 bus stop is frequently visited by groups recently arrived from across Israel and around the world.
As such, seek out the roving band of towel-wielding, flip-flop-wearing scamps on their way back from Haifa’s Dado Beach; be on the lookout for recently arrived Christian tour groups, excitedly discussing the Jesus connection to Jerusalem; hone in on the pack of soldiers heading home from the nearby Ben Ami military base.
Once you’ve locked in on a target, simply harness the group dynamic to your advantage. Shift, wiggle and surf your way to comfort by riding the human wave. Pay no mind to the slings and arrows being hurled at you from the eyes of those with feet of clay. You just put on a clinic! Behold the symphony of slickness, this masterpiece of malleability.
5. Accentuate the positive: Lest the impression be made that Egged bus #947 is Thunderdome on wheels, rest assured that the benefits of public transportation are numerous. Listening to my Sansa MP3 player, improving my Hebrew by reading about former president Moshe Katzav’s latest attempt to get out of jail free and gazing out the window are three small delights that make the daily trek not just bearable but an actual joy.
To maximize impact, it is strongly recommended that you burn this document after reading.
View other essays of mine that have been published in the Times of Israel here.