The Drive To Fit In

This is a guest post by Abigail Pickus, a writer based in Jerusalem.  Check out her site:  This article originally ran in The Jewish Week on April 3, 2012 and is being reprinted with permission.
A funny thing has come over me recently.
I’m suddenly way into cars.
Well, let me qualify that. I’m not into cars. I don’t particularly like to drive them and I never liked to ride in them. In fact, I’m the world’s worst passenger on account of a certain vomiting problem.
But it’s like I’ve opened my four eyes for the first time and noticed that Jerusalem is chock-full of the cutest little cars I’ve ever seen. Or maybe it’s that the country suddenly erupted in adorable specimens of motor vehicles.
All I know is they’re everywhere.
And by everywhere I mean, when I walk my plump pickle of a dog around my tree-lined neighborhood, they’re backed up in heavy traffic on Emek Refaim Street or parked every which way on the sidewalk, in that charming way Israelis have of parking wherever they damn please. It’s like every possible square inch is a potential parking spot, even if you happen to be walking on it. (Especially if you happen to be walking on it. Which is another way of saying: Pedestrians, beware!)
You’re probably wondering what I mean, exactly, by “cute” in the car department?
I’m so glad you asked. Because it turns out I like my cars the way I like my men: Little, lithe and compact. And in bright colors.
Like an Ibiza. What in the bleep is an Ibiza? Except for the island where every dastardly Mordecai Richler character sows his wild oats? And what about these Suzuki Altos I see everywhere? Or their close runner up, the Suzuki Swift?
But I think my heart really belongs to the Peugeot. How Frenchily the name rolls off my American tongue! I never once thought about Peugeots before — I don’t think I ever even heard of them — and then suddenly, everywhere I look, there they are. Kinda like, as the song goes, when you’re in love, the whole world is Jewish!
I should note here that I don’t actually own a car in Israel. From what I hear, they’re unbelievably expensive to buy because of the taxes, which makes me wonder how all of these people living on Israeli salaries can afford all of these spanking new cars?
This isn’t to say I don’t drive in Israel. I do. I even got my Israeli license on a stick shift, please note. (For drivers licenses here, you have to test for either manual or automatic. This means that if you only have a license for an automatic car, you can’t legally drive a manual car. But if you have your license for a stick shift, you’re bound by nothing and no one!)
All I’ll say about driving in Israel is that it is never dull, which is a nice way of saying, you take your life in your sweaty little paws every time you get behind the wheel. I’ll tell you why. Because people here are animals on the road. And that’s downplaying it. You know the lovely expression derech eretz? Well, there ain’t any on the road here, and this lack of both civility and safety cuts across all ethnic, religious and gender lines. What I mean by this is you’d be surprised by the people who will cut you off in cold blood with nary a backwards glance.
Which reminds me that the whole reason I gathered you here today is not to bore you to tears by describing my most favorite cars, but rather to give you some hard earned advice.
Here we go. So if you ever find yourself in Israel renting a car and you feel like you have no choice but to pay that hefty fee all rental agencies slap on for the privilege of driving down Road 6, that major tollway that cuts through the entire country, rest assured that, like all things Israeli, there is a loophole.
Because for some reason this past time I rented a car, the young woman behind the counter happened to mention as an aside that if I call Road 6’s and give them my credit card, I’ll only be billed for the tolls I accrue — and save myself the additional rental car “because we can” fee.
She even gave me the number to call. Which I did, speedily and in our time, as they say. The whole thing went without a hitch. (You just might need someone who speaks Hebrew to do this for you.)
Be sure to cancel your account once you’ve returned the car, however, or else you’ll continue to be charged ad infinitum every time your former rental car hits Road 6.
And the moral? I think it’s that even Americans can buck the system. Which is another way of saying, “Who’s the freier (sucker) now?”
(Photo: Adib Roy)