Paula R. Stern – The Bus Driver
Bus drivers in Israel are…well, somewhat unique in many ways. Many people have stories of amazing things they have done – in terror attacks, they have risked their lives to get their passengers to safety. They’ve slammed doors closed before terrorists can get in; they’ve hit the gas pedal to move out of range; they’ve hit the brake when a terrorist was on-board hoping, and succeeding, to cause them to fall, while opening the doors so that passengers can escape.
And in less turbulent times, they have been known to turn the bus around because a child forgot to get off the bus and is crying; they have parked the bus and told passengers they won’t move until someone gets up and gives a pregnant woman or elderly man a seat.
They have been known to completely leave their route (with passengers going along for the ride) in order to drive a former prime minister to her home, or take a woman to the hospital after she suffered a heart attack, thus saving her life.
Many are greeted by name as they drive the same route for long periods of time. So many stories and now I have one too. The first inclining that this driver was special was when the bus started to pull out of Ammunition Hill this evening, and then stopped. Many drivers try to get going because the rule is that once they are “out” of the station, they don’t have to open doors for more passengers.
Tonight, the driver closed the doors, drove about 5 yards and then stopped and opened the doors to let two more passengers get on. And then, as we wound our way through Maale Adumim, people got off, calling out “good night” or “thank you” as they left. One person got off two stops before mine.
When she got off, I looked around and though I couldn’t see all the way to the back of the bus, I thought she was the only other passenger on the bus besides me.
As the bus continued down the road, I heard the driver ask “Is this your stop?” I wasn’t actually sure he was talking to me but I answered, “no, the next one.”
And, as he continued to drive, I asked him, “am I the last one?”
He answered that he thought so and continued. I live in a neighborhood that is a “figure 8” – two circles joined together. The bottom circle is where I live, and no buses go there; so the buses travel down one side of the top circle and then curve around and climb back up the hill and out through the same traffic circle that begins the 8.
My stop is located after going down the hill, around the curve and a bit up the hill and so going home involves a bit of a detour back down the hill (not far at all) and through a park to join up with the curve of the lower circle of the 8. As we approached the traffic circle (roundabout, kikar) that marks the point where the upper and lower circles join, the driver stopped the bus in the middle of the traffic circle and asked me if I wanted to get out here. It saves me a bit of a walk (maybe 2 minutes down the hill and through the part) but it was still such a nice thing to do, thoughtful.
I smiled, showing him my surprise, thanked him, wished him a good night, and got out of the bus there in the middle of the traffic circle (which is at the very end of my neighborhood, at the very end of my city, and, at that hour, very quiet.
He said good night, closed the doors and drove away as I walked towards home. In so many ways, this is what Israel is about – thinking of others, that thoughtful gesture, that open communication.
Thinking and doing. A moment of kindness that really cost him nothing and yet helped another. In a job that is very routine – drive, listen for the bell, pull to the side, open doors, check to make sure passengers disembark safely, other passengers get on, take their tickets, close the doors, drive. Again and again and again for hours at a time. It would be normal for the driver to be one with this huge vehicle; a part of a chain of actions done without thought.
“Do you want to get off here?” is the driver saying, I’m human. I’m thinking. I’m a kind person and I can do this small thing to make it easier for you. It’s late at night and you’re probably tired. Would this help you?
It helped…I walked home smiling. An Israeli bus driver and my own little bus story!