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Monday, October 31, 2016

The Day Bubby was (Almost) Arrested

Jerusalem’s light rail is amazing, really. It takes me to where I want to go in minutes. The busses — they jerk their way through traffic as I hang on for dear life. More often than not, as I place my magnetic public transportation pass on the little machine that takes my fare while simultaneously grabbing the receipt (we women are born jugglers!), the driver abruptly pulls away from the curb, only to jam on the brakes a moment later to let a car through.

But the light rail! Ah, the light rail speeds smoothly through the city. The cars are immaculate, the air conditioning is just right — not too hot, and not too cold — and its big, wide, clean windows let me enjoy the scenery, which of course is magnificent. After all, it’s Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh. What could possibly compare to the towering walls of the Old City?  

Yes, the light rail really is wonderful. Yet, each time I alight, I secretly tremble that I might have another encounter with (rolling drum sound, this is dramatic) THE TRAIN GUARDS.

Jerusalam’s light rail operates on an honor system. There are several automatic ticket readers at the entrance to each train, and it’s the passengers responsibility to pay by placing his Rav Kav (a magnetic public transportation pass) over the ticket reader upon entering the train. I’m an honest citizen – I pay my taxes, I pay my library dues, and I even somehow manage to pay my grocery bill – and I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to cheat the train system. At least not on purpose.

And here begins my tale of woe. It all started out when I did something really stupid: I went to a doctor when I wasn’t feeling well (Nothings worse than dealing with bureaucracy when all you want to do is lie in bed and groan). The problem was that a huge levayah was taking place at the same time that I finished my appointment. Many streets were closed off, and I knew from experience that traffic would be a nightmare. It would be much easier, and faster, for me to get home with public transportation rather than with a taxi.

Of course I paid my fare upon entering the bus. The fare included an automatic transfer to the light rail, which is probably the reason why, when I placed my Rav Kav on train’s ticket reader, I didn’t really notice if it was followed by a green light.

The two train guards, a young man and woman, strutted into the car at the Shivtei Yisrael station, one stop before I was supposed to get off. I saw them coming toward me, checking Rav Kavs, and since I was afraid of missing my stop, I quickly handed my Rav Kav to the female guard, before she even requested it.  

The guard placed it in her electronic ticket reader. But instead of handing it right back to me, the second guard immediately appeared at her side and together they ordered me to get off the train. “That’s exactly what I’m doing,” I replied. “This is my stop. Please give me back my Rav Kav.”

 “You’ll get it back when, and if, we decide to give it to you.”

Huh? This was not what I was expecting.

The woman sitting across from me whispered, “Run quickly! These guys are dangerous.”

Me? Run? I could barely walk.

“What did I do?” I wasn’t feigning innocence. I really had no idea what they wanted from me.

The female guard glared at me and pulled out her cell phone. “Come with us. We’re calling the police. You rode the train without paying.”

“Huh? What are you talking about?”

I still didn’t get it.

As I struggled to my feet, she shouted, “You got on the train without paying.”
Around me, there was utter silence. Everyone was staring at me. I was afraid that she’d handcuff me.

I tried to argue.  “But I DID pay. And besides, if I was a thief, I would never have shoved the Rav Kav under your face. I would have stood by the door and raced off the train.”

“You can tell that to the judge.”

By this time we had gotten off the train and were standing on the platform. “The judge?” I gulped. “You mean for two shekels, eighty agurot (the equivalent of about $0.60) you’re going to take me to court? That’s insane.”

“Ah, so you’re claiming that we’re insane! You’re going to have a lot of explaining to do in front of the judge.”

I was speechless.

The guard extended her hand. “Teudat zehut, please.”

Gulp. “I didn’t bring it with me.”

The guards looked at each other. “Well, now,” they said with a smirk, “how often do you travel on the train?” Every day?” It was obvious that they were thinking, “Without paying.”

“I don’t know. Not that often.”

Another smirk.

By now I was feeling really, really sick. I was beginning to see double. The world was turning black. I wanted my Rav Kav back, and I need to get into bed, NOW.  

I respectfully asked the guards to please return my Rav Kav and let me go home. I was about to continue to say that I’d pay whatever fine they’d want me to pay, just let me go home so that I can get into bed, but before I had a chance they started to laugh at me, and then repeated that I could tell my whole story to the judge.

In their eyes I was a convicted criminal, and all because of two shekel, eighty agurot!

I really didn’t plan to burst into tears. It just happened. I had a total meltdown. “I don’t feel well,” I managed to blurt out between heaving sobs. “I’ll pay the fine, I’ll do whatever you want, but please don’t make me stand here any longer. I have to get into bed, NOW.”

The two guards glanced at each other. “You really aren’t feeling well. I guess that’s why you forgot to pay (hmmm….).” The woman gave a slight, almost imperceptible smile. “Just don’t do this again. You have to pay each time you get on the train. Make sure that the green light goes through.”

The male guard interrupted her. “We’ll let you go. But first, you have to pay. I’ll get on the next train and put the card through for you.”

The next train wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another ten minutes. By now the tears were coming fast and furious.  I really, really needed to get into my bed. Immediately! “I can’t wait another ten minutes. I don’t feel good. I need my bed. PLEASE let me go home!”

A train traveling in the opposite direction was pulling into the station. The male guard ran across the tracks in front of the incoming train, jumped on the train to put my pass through, and then gallantly ran across the tracks to return my Rav Kav to me.

 “Refuah shleimah,” he said with a smile as he me my Rav Kav.
“Just don’t forget to pay next time you get on the train,” the female guard added.

I thanked them and then turned around to walk home. I went straight to bed.

I learned an important lesson that afternoon: Tears can penetrate even the thickest walls and hearts. After all, the gate of tears is never closed. Even if it’s after Hoshanah Rabbah.


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