Israeli bus drivers are notorious for being…well…Israeli. Their personalities come shining through in many ways. They have saved lives – one bus driver “hijacked” a bus and its passengers to become an ambulance to take a passenger to the hospital when she suddenly became ill. He saved her life and gave everyone on the bus something to talk about for years.
They have their own way of showing respect. The law tells them to follow a specific route, no exceptions. Stop at the bus stations and nowhere else, or risk getting fined. But then, there’s the former prime minister taking the bus. How could he not drive her TO her house? Or the children who missed their stop. How could he not stop the bus before the children start to cry? There’s the child who missed his stop completely…and oh yes, the driver turned the bus around and took him back to the applause of the passengers who understood the frightened and panicked child didn’t know how to get home otherwise.
There’s the time my son’s soldier forgot his backpack on the bus – and the bus driver radioed back to another driver who stopped, they transferred the backpack and brought it forward to where the bus waited a few miles (kilometers) ahead. And there are the drivers who have gotten out of their seats, pushed a terrorist out of the bus and slammed the door shut so that all the passengers were saved.
And yesterday, so much less dramatic than many of the examples above, there was the driver who passed a station but stopped a few meters ahead when the passengers all called out that there was a man waiting in the station to get on the bus. As the man entered, the driver called out – “he had his head turned away, didn’t you see?”
And he kept explaining. He had looked to see if anyone wanted the bus to stop. He had seen the man, but the man was facing in the other direction and didn’t signal. The people on the bus had to reassure him, “it’s fine” and “nothing happened.” And someone whispered behind me, “he feels bad but he didn’t do anything wrong.”
As we weaved our way through Maale Adumim, an elderly woman approached the bus driver and asked him to stop. “Here?” he asked.
“Yes,” she answered. He looked something between amused and confused, but he stopped the bus and let her get off.”
And then, a minute or two later, two little girls cried out, “We missed our stop. Stop!” and so he did.
A few months ago, I was on a bus going to my daughter’s school in Kiryat Arba. As everyone was getting on the bus at the Central Bus Station, a man climbed aboard and the driver, obviously familiar with the passenger, asked him, “where’s my cake?’ The man probably shared a treat with him but that day had none. Instead of simply smiling or apologizing, the man turned to the 20 or so people on the bus and asked, “who has food for this poor starving bus driver?”
A cupcake, a cookie, a chocolate bar, offers of puddings and a sandwich flooded forward. The driver pulled out of the bus station, and aloud, said the blessing we say when we each a cookie. The passengers all answered “amen.” And then the driver entertained us with what we call a “Dvar Torah” – something like a sermon, or wise words that offer insight into our traditions. All while driving the bus.
I’ve been living in Israel for 24 years but I can’t remember any other place where the bus drivers are so human, so much a part of our society.