Posted by David
I would never claim to have a good driving record, or that I’m a good driver. I’ve had my run ins with the law in half a dozen States in the U.S as well as in at least three other countries. I’ve pleaded, bribed, cajoled, and angered law enforcement professionals the world over. But, I’ve never had an encounter as interesting as the one I had in Tel Aviv two nights ago that almost landed me in an Israeli jail.
It was our 18th day in Israel and probably our 8th day driving our own car. The weather was unbearably hot as it had been since we arrived in Israel. By 3PM you begin to see smoke rising from the bottoms of your shoes if you happen to be dumb enough to walk outside. The Israelis go barefoot which only ads their mystique as some of the toughest SOB’s in the World. I had been driving all day and had already made more illegal maneuvers than I can count when I found myself running late to meet our friends, the Zetlands, for a nice farewell dinner overlooking the Mediterranean.
Before I describe the encounter, let me say that in Israel, the “Do Not Enter Signs” look a lot like stop signs, there are streets designated only for busses and taxis that are not marked AT ALL, and it’s nearly impossible to find a place to take a legal left turn. Oh, and one more thing….in the States we are warned that a light is going to turn red by a brief yellow light. In Israel, they are warned that the light is going to turn green by that same yellow light. This means that as soon as there is yellow light, the cars behind you begin to honk, which when translated into words means, “Nu? Shlameel, the light is ALMOST green, get moving!”
Okay, sounds like a lot of excuses, right? Maybe so, but it aint easy driving in Tel Aviv, I’ll tell you that.
So, we are running late, we have circled the same block four times trying to find a parking lot, and I’m more than a little irritated. Amy is in the passenger seat and the three girls are in the back. I make what I think is quite an elegant move first dodging the motor scooter on my left before darting right and then gliding into the parking lot. No sooner do I enter the lot when I hear the sound of the police sirens. I stop the car and am approached by a man half my height, I’m guessing about 63, slicked back grey and black hair and a sort of Danny Devitohobble with a scowl that tells me he either (a) he just got kicked out of his house and is going to take his frustration out on an unsuspecting citizen (b) has been passed over a coveted promotion for a desk job for the 15th time, or (c) he genuinely believes in the virtues of Israeli traffic law and is going to TEACH ME A LESSON for my own safety and the safety of 300,000 other Tel Avivians. By the way, he also has Barney Fife-like side kick.
So, the cop comes over to the car, asks for my license and insurance and then starts in on me. He wants to know why I made a left turn from the right lane and then entered the wrong way on a one-way street before turning into the parking lot. I tell him I didn’t see the signs at which point he becomes incensed and asks me to get out of the car (but not before insisting I put on the emergency parking brake). He marches me over to the area on the street where my transgressions occurred and points to a sign. He asks me what this sign means to me. I tell him it looks a lot like a stop sign to me at which point he blows a fuse. He begins yelling at me that I am stupid and how can I be so irresponsible. I tell him I made a mistake, I’m sorry and I don’t know how it happened other than that I didn’t see the signs. He tells me that his has never seen an individual make so many driving errors in the course of 10 seconds before in his entire career (if this is true, it’s impressive as Israelis as don’t think Israelis are known for their driving). He asks if I have been drinking and then marches me back to the car where he begins to berate Amy and ask her how I could have done something so aggregus. I suppose this was a very Jewish move, if you can’t get through to the man…talk to his supervisor. Amy tells him I haven’t been drinking and that it was just a mistake. Rikki begins to cry, she is scared. I pull Barney Fife over and tell him it was a mistake, I’m sorry and I will be leaving the country shortly and they will be done with me. He says he will try to reason with his ‘bad-cop’ partner. Bad Cop wants my passport, which I don’t have. I ask him for some rochmanus at which he says, “would you ask a police officer in America for rochmanus?” I tell him I would and I have (and it has worked!) but he just storms back to his patrol car with my license in hand.
Barney emerges several long minutes later and tells me, very gravely, that this is an extremely rare case but they have come to a decision and are going to let me off with a very strong warning. If I was an Israeli, they say, I would be on my way to jail. I take my license, park the car, calm Rikki down. I ask the other girls if they are scared and Eva says, “I just assumed that you would have a run-in with the police in every country we visit, so I wasn’t scared.” I vow to drive more cautiously and to fane more respect for authority in the future.