Well, we all knew that it was bound to happen sooner or later. And just last week, I was wondering what would happen should my car decide to die while en route to some destination on the outer limits of Afula. Maybe I jinxed it. Because yesterday, I got to learn first hand just what you do when your car dies on a highway, as Shabbat approaches, and you are on your own.
First thing to remember— You’re rarely on your own. If you are in need and ask for help politely, someone is bound to help you. Just remember to take deep breaths and hope that you’ve brought some emergency money for you for tips, etc. And fortunately, the onset of Shabbas is not a problem when your car breaks down just as you approach a gas station run by Arabs. Their sense of urgency about the impending twilight on a Friday evening is not the same as yours..
I was on my way to a CPA in Nehariya yesterday. For those of you who know me, while I love Stanley Carp, who has been my CPA for twenty years, each and every trip to the accountant is preceded by weeks of stomach aches, nervous palpitations, and general irritability as filing taxes makes me dwell on my financial situation. So you can imagine my delight in having to find a new account in Israel and figure out how to file for the first 6 months that I lived in the US before making Aliyah. Surely it would be fraught with its own demands of certificates, documents, and other bizarre requirements that would leave me stunned. Surprisingly, I was able to get my tax information gathered with a minimum of anxiety. Perhaps it was due to having met most of my fears head-on while selling the house and preparing to divest myself of everything before making Aliyah. Thank you, Immersion Therapy.
So, when I realized that my car’s usual get-up-and-go had gotten-up-and-gone, I went into triage-mode, and tried to figure out what to do next. Good luck was with me as I spied the universal sign for a gas station (the ubiquitous gas pump drawing) just ahead of me. Muttering quietly, “I can make it, I can make it, I can make it . . . .” I urged the car to creep ever so slowly into the service station in the run-down town of “Olga,” where it proceeded to literally blow it’s top, spitting billows of white smoke from under its hood. An attendant came over to me right away and asked me, in Hebrew, what was wrong. All I could gather myself to answer was, “Ani lo yoda’at. Car met.” (I don’t know. Dead car). It was one of those occasions when fewer words had greater power.
The attendant smiled, signaled for me to get out of the car, opened the hood, waved away the white smoke, and opened a few valves. After a few seconds and some water poured into the radiator tap, he signaled for me to put the car in neutral and touch nothing while he pushed the car to a spot that was out of the way. Once safely parked, I took my insurance cards out of the glove box, and then had to figure out which of the many numbers printed on it to call. As the explanations were all in Hebrew, I was a little stumped. And of course, because my phone is connected by blue tooth to the car (hands free phoning), every time I tried to make a call from the phone, it got jammed into the blue tooth, which wouldn’t work because the car was dead. It took a few minutes to figure out how to circumnavigate this process and move on. Fortunately, the attendant couldn’t have been sweeter in helping me to make the calls and get some information.
First call was to the Israeli version of AAA. I know I paid for this service. But they said I hadn’t. “No service since 2010.” “I wasn’t here in 2010” I answered. “No can help you.” they replied. Hmmmm. Quiet panic beginning to push at my stomach. The conversation then proceeded something like this:
“Can I rent a car? ”
“No. It almost Shabbat. Nothing to do. ”
“How do I get home?”
“I have no idea.”
Not great answers.
Next call was to the insurance company (I just kept calling all the numbers that were printed on the insurance card . . . eventually one of them had to be right).
“Hello. I need some help, please.”
“Yes, what is your number?
“Which number? I have many numbers? Phone number? Teudat Zehut?(aka Israeli I.D. number))?
“No. Car number.”
“Eck, Eck??” (What, what?)
“I don’t understand. What number for the car?”
“License plate number.”
“Phew. I can do that. Hold on . . . .”
. . . .and while I was walking to the front of the car to read the numbers on my plate, it struck me that I was in the midst of an incredibly busy gas station where scores of cars were being driven by pink bunnies, Native Americans in war paint, cowboys, gorillas (one sporting a huge penis hanging out of his boxer shorts), and scores of other fairy-tale characters, all busily driving their cars, looking at me, and laughing. For a moment I had a momentary panic as I though, I am having a stroke. This is finally it. My six months of happiness were careening to an end in a blaze of surreal hallucinations. . . And then I realized. It’s Purim. PURIM!. Breathe, Ellin. Breathe.
Ten minutes later, my heart beat having returned to a semi-normal rhythm, I was talking to “Steve,” who, in a very thick Israeli accent, told me he also came from Connecticut as well (perhaps I was still hallucinating???), but that he’d stay on the line and all would be fine. The tow truck would come, bring my car back to Afula (either that day or on Sunday after Shabbat . . . he wasn’t sure when and I’d have to ask the tow man), and that it would be OK.
“Thank you, Steve. And how shall I get back to Afula?”
“Oh. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that. You can ask the tow driver.”
. . . .In the meantime, between those phone calls, I had to call the accountant and tell him I wouldn’t be able to make it.
“Just leave the car there and take a taxi. You’re so close to me.” he replied.
“And how will I get back to Afula?”
“Oh. You can stay with me over Shabbas.” (I’ve never met this man). “You’ll take a bus after Shabbas.”
“That is too kind, but I need to stay with the car, and I have a dog to take care of back in Afula. But thank you so much. Shabbat Shalom, Purim Sameach, and I’ll call you next week to reschedule.”
Ten minutes later, another call back from the insurance company. “Stay with the car. The tow truck will be there in 15 minutes, he can probably give you a ride back if he doesn’t have someone else in the cab. Where do you want it towed to?”
Did I have the name of a car repair service in Afula? As luck would have it, the car wouldn’t allow me to put it into PARK a few weeks ago, and I found a Renault dealership within walking distance to my home. I had put the name and phone number into my contacts.
“Yes! I have the numbers! Can you bring it there?”
“No problem. It will all be fine.”
“And if there is no room in the tow truck, how do I get back to Afula?”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
Breathe. Breathe. What next? Call Shlomo. See what he suggests.
Ring. Ring. Ring . . . .Israeli music in the earpiece as the phone rings on Shlomo’s side. Shabbat is coming. I know he won’t answer the call if it gets too late.
“Hi Shlomo,” I say as he answers. A quite recapitulation of the story and then the question of the day, “How do I get back to Afula?” answered finally by, “Look at the highway. I know where you are. There should be a bridge over the highway. Walk over the bridge and you’ll find a bus stop (on the busy Highway 2!). Wait there. Flag down a passing bus and get on one that takes you to Afula. Should be no problem.”
“Phew. Thanks Shlomo. No more worries.”
Fifteen minutes later, a very sweet tow truck drive (also Arab) comes to the station, puts the car on a platform, helps me into the cab of his tow truck, and then treats me to one of the lovliest conversations during the ride back to Afula, to where he drops off my car, parking it perfectly right in front of the shop.
1. Don’t panic. It will work out.
2. Make sure you know where your insurance cards are.
3. Always have the number of a service station in your phone contacts.
4. Write all the important numbers on your hand so you don’t have to keep going through your purse or glove box to find them.
5. Make sure you’ve got lots of change to tip the sweet gas station attendants (who made sure I had a safe place to sit and who kept offering me water, coffee, and whatever else I might need) as well as the tow-truck driver.
6. Make sure you share this story with others . . . the ones who only hear the bad stories about the Arabs who live in Israel. They don’t hear about these strangers who go out of their way to help a single woman whose car has just died in some God-forsaken turn off on a major highway. The ones who smile, are courteous, and make sure to give you a hand. Who wave goodbye and say “Good Shabbas” to you when you are safely tucked into the tow truck and on your way home.
7. Remember that life is filled with adventures. Especially on Purim when six-foot tall apes sporting tremendous “jewels” drive Toyotas.
8. Have a happy Purim. Tonight I think I’ll fulfill the commandment to get a bit drunk on Purim. This year, I think I deserve it!!!