Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Breakfast That Never Happened

This is a bowl I made, waiting to be filled with something yummy. The best laid plans of mice and men and motor scooter riders often go awry….
I decided to get up early today so that I could be a human being, sit down and eat my granola & drink a cup of coffee at the office while reading the NYT online.

Helmet firmly fixed in place, sunglasses perched on my nose, I drove through the unusually quiet streets of downtown Tel Aviv making my way towards breakfast. As I avoided the buses that roared and weaved their way through the almost non-existent traffic (think of Ernie and Knight Bus from Harry Potter and you have an idea of what Israeli bus driving is like!) I patted my back (in my head) and congratulated myself on the excellent batch of granola I had just made. Still warm from the oven, a small bag was toasting the middle of my back as I evaded the grasping hand and overwhelming reek of a thin graying Jerusalem syndrome wannabe.

Past the sweet stench of the Elite factory as it turned out Cow Chocolate (unlike some connoisseurs, I can't tell from the smell whether it is regular, orange or exploding) it looked like clear sailing ahead. And then, the traffic jam…

You might think New York traffic jams like you see at the movies, neat rows of yellow taxis lined up like ducklings. Or you might think of the jostling traffic of Delhi or Mumbai, where you are never really stopped dead in your tracks and there is always a way through or around or over. This, unfortunately, was nothing like those traffic jams… this was a "hefetz hashood" (חפץ חשוד) traffic jam. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a hefetz hashood is a suspicious object (a forgotten bag of groceries, or one of the 3 gym bags filled with laundry that someone was bringing home for mom to wash) that is usually left sitting amongst a crowd of people waiting for a bus.

Once this object is identified as being suspicious the police and bomb squad arrive in double quick time.

They stop traffic in both directions for a distance of about 200 metres from the forlorn package. Those who are stuck in traffic edge closer and closer to the car in front of them. Three lanes becomes four as people try to squeeze through the gaps. Within minutes there is nowhere for the cars and buses to go, so their occupants swing open their doors and crane their necks, trying to see what the problem is. Of course they make sure to leave the motor running so the air-conditioning can cool the outside and the inside of the car.
In the meantime, the bomb squad guys in their oh so cute uniforms and protective headgear complete with shatterproof masks) maneuver their robotic counterpart towards the unsuspecting package. Sitting in their mobile control center they make their observations: size, height, circumference, weight, potential explosive power, all through the eyes of their robot. There is lots of whispered conversation and communications on their shoulder radios and walkie-talkies. While all this is going on the scooteristes, such as myself, slowly weave their way past open doors, bus exhausts exhaling huge quantities of carbon monoxide and hot humid soot, we scrape between the cars that have decided to create a fourth lane, edging closer and closer to ground zero minus 200...

When we arrive we all jostle for the post position, eyes on the flag (well, the cop who will ultimately wave us forward). But after a minute or two, with the space between us decreasing and the number of us increasing, the first, most experienced rider, turns off his bike and lights a cigarette. Then the girl in the stilettos (on the bright green 50cc scooter) takes off her helmet and starts adjusting her makeup in her mirror, while others start talking on their cell phones. And everybody, the scooteristes, the drivers and passengers in the cars and buses, are thinking of one thing – the coffee they didn't have time for this morning.

Then the go is given, all eyes turn in the direction of the innocent package, a subdued bumph is heard (only very, very, very rarely do you get a big bang, but better safe than sorry…), the robots eye view of the scene is checked once more and the whispered radio talk reaches its climax. The scooteristes put on their helmets, the car drivers' start honking their horns, the buses rev their engines and finally, after being held up for 20 minutes, the race to be first at the next just-turning-red traffic light begins. My stomach growls along with my scooter because it knows I won't have time for breakfast now. Oh well, at least I have granola for lunch.

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