Sunday, August 08, 2004

Things My Shaliach Never Told Me

Friday. I wanted to go to Hashmonaim for Shabbos to visit Ari and Sarah Beth. I took a taxi to the Central Bus Station to get the public bus to their area. When I got there, the little hut for all the buses to Modiin and its environs was empty. Usually there are a lot of people, waiting to catch a pre-Shabbos bus to Modiin, Hashmonaim, or Kiryat Sefer. Emptiness is not a good sign. I waited around, watching all the other little huts emptying out, and I knew I'd missed the last bus. I'd have to see Ari and Sarah Beth some other time.

I was particularly disappointed because Sarah Beth's brother, Matthew, was going to be visiting with his wife and family, too; I'd met them years ago and found Matthew, in particular, to be a very inspiring person. His divrei Torah are great and there's something about him that makes me want to be holier. I'd been looking forward to seeing them. I silently cursed myself for not confirming the bus schedule on the internet that morning.

The local grocery store would be closing soon, so if I wasn't going to Hashmonaim, I knew I'd better be on my way to get food I could cook for myself for Shabbos. I got into a taxi and asked the driver to take me home to Katamon. He put on the meter, and I sighed and told him my tale of woe, how I'd been supposed to visit friends in Hashmonaim but missed the last bus. He said "well, I can take you to Hashmonaim, no problem." I said "I don't think I can afford that." I knew I could not afford it. It would be ridiculous to pay what cabs generally charge for a private ride from Jerusalem to Hashmonaim. He called the dispatcher.

Driver: How much is the fare from the Central Bus Station to Hashmonaim?
Dispatcher: It's next to Modiin.

[I mentally calculated how much I'd be willing to pay to get to Ari and Sarah Beth's house. How badly did I need to get out of the city? How much could I afford? How disappointed was I feeling?]

Driver: I know that. How much is it?
Dispatcher: 140 shekels.

Like I said, ridiculous.

Driver to Sarah: See, it's only 140 shekels.
Sarah: I'm sorry. I really can't pay more than 100 shekels.
Driver [thinking I'm trying to bargain]: I'd do it for 130.
Sarah: No, really, I can't pay more than 100 shekels for this. It's too much. Sorry.

At that point I called Sarah Beth on my cell phone to tell her what was happening. The driver started talking to someone on his cell phone. Just as I was apologizing to Sarah Beth for not being able to make it, the driver said "No! You can go! 100 shekels is OK!"

At first I thought that I'd successfully bargained without even trying. But it turned out that he'd found another driver who was willing to take me to Hashmonaim for 100 shekels. I was confused. Why would any driver take only 100 shekels to go to Hashmonaim, when the going rate was 140? And why was this driver willing to give up his fare to Katamon? The driver explained but I just couldn't wrap my mind around what he was saying. The driver pulled up at a bus stop a couple of blocks from the Central Station, and called the other driver to tell him where we were. I started to get out of the taxi, to wait for this other guy.

"You stay in here," the driver said. "You won't recognize which taxi is your new driver. I'll stay here with you to make sure you get on your way all right."

Sarah: Thank you very much. This is very nice of you.

Driver: I want to make sure you have a nice Shabbat with your friends. Not everything in life is about money.

So, this middle-aged driver sat and waited with me for a good five minutes while we waited for the other cab. Meanwhile, some people from the bus stop came over to inquire about taking the taxi to their destination, and the driver told them "I'm not available." To make sure I had a nice Shabbat, he not only gave up his fare to Katamon, he also gave up these other fares.

Finally the other taxi pulled up, and my driver wished me a Shabbat shalom.

"Let me pay you something," I said, "for the time you spent."

He said "OK, whatever you think is reasonable," and I gave him 15 shekels, a little more than half of what he'd gotten had we gone all the way to Katamon. I wished I could give him 100 shekels, too. I thanked him profusely and said "tizkeh l'mitzvot [may you merit many good deeds]."

The driver in the new taxi was a young guy. I sat in front, hoping he was talkative so we could converse on the way. It's a good 25 minutes or so to Hashmonaim.

The new driver's name was Yaron, and he was indeed a talkative, friendly fellow. He explained to me what had happened. Yaron heard the first driver ask the dispatcher about the fare to Hashmonaim, and when Yaron heard the answer on the radio, he knew that probably the passenger wouldn't want to pay that much. But Yaron lives in Modiin and would have to drive home pretty soon for Shabbat himself, anyhow. He's not shomer shabbat, he told me, but his wife is.

It's against taxi etiquette, Yaron explained, to offer a lower fare over the radio, since then the passenger would hear that another driver wants the fare, and it would start a bidding war. So he used his cell phone to call my driver, and privately offered to take me to Hashmonaim for whatever I was willing to pay.

"Wouldn't you earn more by staying in Jerusalem for another couple of hours?" I asked. "There are all those people there who need rides before Shabbat. I don't understand how this is cost-effective for you, going home early."

"It's nothing," Yaron said. "I want to get home early to see my kids. They've been in Be'er Sheva all week visiting their grandmother, and I can't wait to see them. This way, you have a nice Shabbat and I get to see my kids earlier."

Yaron and I spent the drive talking about the differences between how Israelis view religion versus how American Jews view it, our conversation punctuated by phone calls from his 6-year-old on the speaker phone. It was one of those great discussions where what matters isn't that you agree or disagree, but that both people in the discussion are nice, and respectful, and want to learn more. It was the first time in a while that I felt that I was really connecting with a non-religious Israeli and having a warm exchange. A connection. I started to feel that maybe God had his reasons for making sure that I missed my bus and had a chance to talk to Yaron for half an hour.

Yaron drove me straight to Ari and Sarah Beth's door, where their daughter Nechama came out to welcome me and give me a hug. Yaron smiled.

"How much did you and the other driver work out that you'd pay?" Yaron asked.

I realized that he'd never heard me offer 100 shekels. He'd really meant it when he said that he'd take me for whatever I was willing to pay.

I took out two 50-shekel bills and gave them to Yaron.

"Shabbat shalom," I said.

"It was very nice to meet you," Yaron replied. "Shabbat Shalom."

Yaron drove away.

And I did indeed have a very nice Shabbat.

No comments:

Post a Comment