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The Quirks of Israel: Riding the Bus

July 12, 2023

by: Peter Fast, CEO

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From the pen of CEO Peter Fast comes the eighth installment of the Quirks of Israel. Join Peter on a journey through the wonderfully peculiar culture, traditions, heritage and daily life of this singular nation as he unpacks, introduces and celebrates the quirky aspects that make Israel so wonderfully unique.

A crowd of people waiting at pedestrian lights next to a green Egged busWhen it comes to Israel, life is green, Egged green to be exact. I’m not talking about Dr. Seuss here, but about Egged, Israel’s official bus company. Egged [pronounced Eh-gehd] has both charter buses for the highways and city buses for urban areas. 

If you crave the experience of a lifetime, simply take your nearest Egged bus to the destination of your choice. Egged bus drivers are just like NASA astronauts—with a few notable exceptions. Of course there’s no anti-gravity, breaking through the atmosphere, going on a spacewalk, working in a space station, walking on the moon and operating a US $450-million-dollar spaceship on a crucial mission. But apart from all these differences, Egged bus drivers are just as experienced, professional and daring as Buzz Aldrin or Neil Armstrong. Why, you may wonder. Because these bus drivers are the heroes that help Israeli life continue and flourish.

Egged bus drivers drive like their bus is a Formula 1 race car and they are seconds away from making a record lap. The agility and ability to catapult a 40-foot-long (12-m.-long) city bus—and sometimes an extended one—through the busy streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Eilat or Tiberius is amazing. Superman, Batman, Thor or the Hulk has nothing on these drivers. Let me paint you a picture.

At any given moment, you will find your average bus driver dodging a scooter, honking at a car, picking up passengers, taking a sip from an energy drink and ordering a slice of pizza—all at the same time. Then there are also opening the exit doors without pinning an old lady between the door and the inside of the bus, closing the door without incident, checking the rear view mirrors, changing the radio station and carrying on a conversation with a regular passenger lingering by the front door and another regular passenger seated behind him. Any driver worth his salt will also throw into the mix calling his mother to say hello and then switch to speaking with their spouse to take down a mental grocery shopping list—all while careening down the street like an asteroid.

These unsung heroes go to war everyday against the traffic of Israel and the elderly ladies shouting, “Regah nahag!” (wait, driver!) while pounding the ringer button for their stop. It’s impressive. The concentration. The focus of a sniper. The hands of a surgeon. These drivers keep the bus speeding down the street as the entire vehicle shifts and lurches, packed with passengers sleeping, reading, gazing out a window or chattering happily like a little bird in a fountain. It is almost like going on a rollercoaster to the grocery store to pick up milk. Of course, I may exaggerate a bit. But for you to discern what’s truth and what’s exaggeration, you’ll have to come to Israel and find out yourself.

Israeli bus drivers also are kindhearted people. A friend and I once missed our stop and then got confused about where we were. Slightly embarrassed, we made the decision to remain silently in our seats riding the bus until we recognized something. Our façade continued for about 20 minutes as passenger after passenger disembarked. Eventually, we were the only ones on the bus. The next thing we knew, we had reached the outskirts of the city. Worried that we were being taken to some deserted spot to be abandoned, I gulped, shook off my embarrassment and told my friend that I was going to have a word with the driver. As I made my way from my seat to the front to explain our predicament, I saw the driver’s dark eyes wonder my way in the rear view mirror.

“You’re lost, aren’t you, my friend?” he asked, flashing me a brilliant smile.

I sighed and answered, “Yes. We missed our stop and now we have no idea where we are.”

“Where are you going?” he asked, a little too cheerful for my taste.

I gave him the address, upon which he nodded dutifully, made a surprise U-turn and started heading back in the direction we had come. I made my way back to my friend’s side and together we waited. As we began to see civilization again, our hearts were filled with hope. He wasn’t going to abandon us. We weren’t getting murdered tonight. He was helping us, we realized. More than that, he wanted to help us, no, enjoyed helping us!

Moments later, we arrived at the city bus depot, where our friendly driver parked the bus, motioned to us to disembark and then told us to follow him. It soon became clear that our driver was escorting us to where we wanted to go! We were thankful for the help and he was thankful for the opportunity to practice his English. Our Egged saint walked us all the way to the front door. Then, with a final smile and a wave of his hand, he turned around and left. What a noble soul, my friend and I thought, a hero in shining armor doing his bit to make society a better place. And he was probably thinking to himself, “Oy vey, how are these two poor souls ever going to survive in Israel? These tourists need to learn the streets, to know where they’re going. How hard can it be? My abba taught me, ‘Eli, Hebron Street, is not Bethlehem Street, is not King George, and is certainly not Emek Rafaim.’ Simple as that!”

Israel is quirky indeed.

Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit

Photo License: Egged Bus near Jaffa

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