Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Egged Files

Oh Egged. You had to know I'd get around to writing a blog entry about you eventually. The bus company, whose tagline should be: “Egged- sending passengers into a homicidal rage since 1933!” is the largest bus company in Israel and provides most of the intercity bus service in the country. They are also subsidized by the government. According to Israeli law, rule of thumb, and international consensus, this means that they don't have to pretend to care about customer satisfaction. And believe me, they don't.
My story starts 3 years ago, with the introduction of the “Rav-kav,” the personal transportation card which can be used on all public transportation. All you need to do is load it in every different zone you travel in. Deciding how many trips you wants to buy- 1, round trip, 5 (so that you can't get back to wherever you started on that last trip), or even 10 or 20 in certain zones. You can even buy a monthly bus pass for a certain zone and load it on the rav-kav. And as opposed to the paper cards they used to give you that you only had to wave past the driver, these you actually get to run through their nifty technological advanced machines. Sometimes, when their machines don't work you even get to ride for free. This has happened to me at least 4 times. The theory was that this new card would save time. Well, that's true sometimes.
They also had a brilliant idea, which was to put out a student pass available either by semester, or for the whole year, at a very reduced price (half the price of buying a monthly bus pass). Any student who lives off campus, or even occasionally leaves his student cave, would be well advised to acquire one. So the genius minds at Egged decided to create the most inefficient, homicidal rage inducing method of carrying such a task out. Because they wouldn't be Egged if they didn't.
The first thing you need is a multitude of forms and photocopies of things that you don't always have yet because the minds that run the universities are not much different than those that run the bus companies. The first year, many people didn't have a rav-kav yet, so you had to fill out an additional form and bring it to the central bus station in Jerusalem (for the people who lived in the Jerusalem area). No one told us where exactly they were taking care of the student rav-kav so I went to the counter where they sell tickets and monthly bus passes. I was somewhat miffed when they told me (after waiting in what passes as a line in Jerusalem) that I was in the wrong place and then directed me to a back alley at the end of the 3rd floor that I didn't even know existed. The place was mobbed. It was every single person in the Jerusalem area who a.) wanted to get the new “it” card and b.) every student in the Jerusalem area who wanted a student pass. I had left myself an hour before work to get a student pass naively assuming that it wouldn't take longer than that. I was wrong. It took me 3 days. I took a number but when I realized that my number was 300 numbers away I gave up and left. The next day I went back and took another number. I didn't make it that day either. My number was 800 or so numbers away. I kid you not. I had brought a book and some lunch. I ordered myself a coffee. Read the newspaper. But they closed the place before my number was wrong. I was pissed. The next day I got there at 8:00 in the morning (I'm not even functional at that time of day) however, they weren't honoring the numbers from the previous day so I took another one. Then I did some errands in town, wandered around for a few hours, explored the bus station (which alas, is not quite as much of an adventure as the central bus station in Tel Aviv) until they called my number some 10 hours later.
I shoved my way through the mob of perturbed Israelis (and trust me, that is not a place you want to be) and just about collapsed at the rav kav lady's desk. I handed her all of my documents and rooted around for my rav-kav for a few minutes until I had to finally accept the fact that it wasn't there. After 3 days of bedlam, havoc, and a new eye twitch, I couldn't find the card they were supposed to load. I think the woman realized that I was about to turn into the incredible hulk (I may have started turning a bit green and the eye twitch probably didn't help), and quickly assured me that it was no problem and that she would just print me a new one. I thanked her and started my meditation breathing exercises.
The next step, was to wait in another half hour long line so that they could load it. I was about to tell them that that was certainly a load of something, but I restrained myself and tried to quell the rising urge to start throwing things, including my new student card.
And that was year one. I made myself a promise then that if they tried that with us again I wouldn't buy one. Instead, I would pay with a 200 shekel bill every single time I got on the bus. And then I would spread my new movement amongst all the students, gaining momentum and political proficiency which would launch my future career as the prime minister. As the prime minister, I would fire Egged and publicly ridicule their incompetence. Not unlike what I'm doing now, except that when I'm prime minister my word will hold more weight.
Lofty goals, I know. Unfortunately for my cause, the next year they set up stations on the various different campuses in Jerusalem as well as in the bus station and a few other places and it only took me an hour or so on line to get it (I got there early in the morning).
Egged must have been disappointed at the ease with which we were able to get our bus passes last year so this year they decided to “improve” the service by combining the place where you give them your forms and they change the status of your card and the “loading station” where they actually make your card usable. The purpose of this announcement was only to make us more optimistic about our chances of getting a bus pass easily and smoothly than we have any right to be when Egged is involved. In actuality, what it meant was that for the few thousand or so students on the Givat Ram campus who wanted a bus pass, there was one guy sitting at a desk doing everything by himself. There were 2 options: 1.) write your name at the bottom of a 4 page list and drop in occasionally to check progress in the hopes that you wouldn't be in a class doing some actual learning when they called your name, or 2.) leave all your documents and rav-kav in an envelope and they would do everything for you and return it within 24 hours. This was a no-brainer. I would have left them my wallet and my firstborn to avoid the line. So I left them my documents at 10:00 on Monday morning and a few hours later I got an sms that my rav-kav was ready. I was very relieved (not to mention smug as I cut the line to pick it up). I put the whole experience out of my mind and went about my daily business.
Until Wednesday when last year's yearly pass ran out. I don't have classes this year on Wednesday, besides a few labs, so I don't need to go in to Jerusalem at all on those days. I decided to help my dad with the shopping (this nets me a free coffee- I wouldn't want anyone to be under the mistaken impression that I'm a better person than I actually am). We came out of the grocery store loaded down with a cartload and market bag worth of food and decided to take the bus home. No big deal, the bus comes every few minutes at that time of day and we both have bus passes.
The bus comes and I heave the cart up the stairs and confidently place my rav-kav in the machine. A red light flashes. I try again. The red light flashes again. The bus driver looks at his machine and says, “your card is empty.” I go, well that's not possible, and put my card in the machine for a 3rd time. The driver is getting impatient.
“There's nothing in it, it's empty.”
“But I have a yearly student pass.”
“It expired.”
“But I bought in Monday!”
“What, it's my fault it's empty? You're blocking the door.”
I heave the cart up the last step and call my dad back to pay for me (he's the one with the wallet in our relationship). The driver goes, “You're not going to pay? Fine!”
I yell back at him, “I'm paying!” while picturing myself strangling every person involved in this fiasco (including the driver). After laying out 1,400 shekels and printing out form after form, they're telling me that my rav-kav is empty?! Someone's going to pay for this.
I decided to check the Egged website to find a phone number to call so I could yell at someone. They had put up an announcement that there was a bug in the system, and that everyone who had gotten their student pass between Sunday morning and 12:00, Tuesday afternoon had to come back to get their card fixed. They were very sorry about the mess and hoped for our understanding, etc. etc.
Facebook was abuzz with messages of denouncement towards Egged, a couple of which I have shared for your reading pleasure:

“I'm not usually in favor of capital punishment, but whoever is in charge of Rav Kav needs to be publicly beheaded.”
- Sarah

“Egged, I love you. Said no one, ever.” (rough translation from Hebrew)


Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Summation After My Resignation(s)

In preparation for the upcoming semester, I have quit all my jobs in order to have time to concentrate on my studies (not to mention breathe, eat, and sleep). For anyone who didn't know, yes I am going back to school again to study biology. Ever the optimist, I'm convinced that attempt number 4 will be more successful than attempts numbers 1-3. The alternative is too bleak to contemplate, even for a confirmed cynic such as myself. Considering I've spent a total of 2 and a quarter years in college, I haven't gotten very far. I'm going for a world record, you see.
So in summation of a year of working at the vets' office in town, I've compiled a list of highlights for your reading pleasure:

  1. The time a hairless cat on a leash walked into the clinic. I almost screamed and climbed out the back window. There's a reason that cats are supposed to have fur.
  2. The time I had to make licenses for a guy who had 10 ferrets. I can't imagine he has too much company over.
  3. The time I had to make licenses for a guy with 20 camels. See above comment
  4. The first operation I helped with. Doni (one of the veterinarians) asked me if I had a strong stomach. I answered “I'll warn you if I'm going to faint. Or I'll just faint.” But I didn't faint and it was way cool.
  5. The class rabbit that had fallen into a vat of paint. A woman knocked on the door and said, “I have a little problem with this rabbit.” I responded, “Really? Is it that it's blue?”
  6. The sheep. Doni and Marc walked in, each hefting one side of a large tarp. I asked who'd stopped paying them “protection money” and if they wanted me to “take care of it.” But when they put the tarp down, a very perturbed sheep popped out.
  7. The time I lassoed a chihuahua. This story starts with a crazy chihuahua who just needed to get his nails clipped. He was not very cooperative and had to be anesthetized so he wouldn't chew any hands off. They didn't even have a leash for him, so we weren't sure exactly how to get him out of the cage we'd put him in, when he woke up. The man was like, not a chance in hell am I going in there. We looked hopefully at his teenage daughter but she was in the midst of a mini breakdown. When Doni approached the cage, the dog went nuts, barking and jumping around. When I approached him, he only growled threateningly. Which meant I was elected to get him out. Doni sent me to the hardware store to buy a length of rope and then tied it into a loop at the end. I was like, “so we're going to lasso this dog then?” He looked at me and went, “we? Who's we? You're going to lasso this dog.”
I'm honestly going to miss this job. At least the animal part of it. The other part of my job was calling people up to remind them to vaccinate their pets. This was not my favorite aspect of the job. Lord knows how much I dislike the phone. And talking to people. And especially talking to people on the phone.
A typical phone conversation went like this:
Me: Hi, I'm calling from the vets' office in Ma'ale Adumim. Your dog is due for his shots.
Client: What? Who is this?
Me: I'm calling from the vets' office. You need to vaccinate your dog for rabies.
Client: But my daughter just got her shots last month.
Me: No, not your daughter, your dog.
Client: I don't understand. How did you get my phone number?
Me: You're a client of ours. Your name is in the database.
Client: What office are you calling from?
Me: Dr. so and so's office.
Client: Oooooh, Dr. Doni! When can he come over to vaccinate Lucky?
Me: I don't know, you'll have to ask him.
Client: Can I ask you a question? Lucky's been throwing up a lot lately. And running around in circles with one paw in the air. Also, his eye is red and puffy and he sneezes a lot. Do you think he's allergic to our laundry detergent? Maybe he has worms? Do you think it's contagious whatever it is? My daughter's rabbit has been acting strange lately, too. Does the doctor deal with rabbits? And gerbils? What about trolls? Homeless men who have lost the capacity for rational thought due to cheap vodka? And so on and so forth.

As for my job at the restaurant, there's not much to summate. Every day was a circus. You have to be slightly insane to work there and if you aren't to begin with, you will be when you're done.
There are the questions that remind me why I'm not a people person, such as, “do you have anything that isn't steak? No, I don't eat chicken either. Or fish.” Well then I think you've come to the wrong place, my friend.
And then there are the other questions, such as, “is the steak off the bone? What about the chicken wings?” that make you question Darwin's theory about survival of the fittest. I don't know how these people made enough money to eat at an expensive steak restaurant, let alone put their own pants on in the morning.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

That Alien Species Called Children

Children are something of a mystery to me. This is coming from a camp counselor of 3 summers. The more time I spend with them, the less I understand them. In a society that so highly values familial ties and generational continuity, such as Israel, one is expected to know about children. And not only to know what to do with them, but to actually like them. Especially as a female above the age of bat mitzvah.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not exactly the maternal type. I never had any younger siblings or cousins and admit freely that I know nothing about child rearing. As a teenager, I would get calls from young parents who were referred to me through friends, asking me if I wanted to babysit. I don't know why my friends referred me. Or why we stayed friends after that. Probably a mother gorilla would have done a better job than me as a child-minder. And after an unfortunate incident with a prank 911 call and a visit from the police, I stopped taking babysitting jobs if the children were conscious. I would only babysit if the kids were already asleep. Basically I was only there to fight off any would-be house burglars, or call the fire dept. if I smelled smoke. And frankly, I would rather attempt to fight off a burglar than be forced to entertain 6 year olds for 3 hours.
Here in Israel, people are even more trusting of strangers with their children. I was waiting in the Jerusalem bus station with my mother one day, waiting to get on the bus to Tel Aviv, and a woman shoved her baby into my hands and said, “hey, could you hold him for a moment?” while she folded up the stroller to put in the baggage compartment. I was holding the baby as if it was an explosive device, somewhat horrified, until my mother informed me that you have to support the head. I was like, “the head? Which side is that?!” It turns out I've been putting the diaper on the wrong side of the baby for 26 years. Just kidding- I don't do diapers.
Or, considering how ill behaved most Israeli children are, parents know that if their kids were ever kidnapped, an hour later the kidnapper would have crawled into the police station, bloody, broken and deranged, begging to give the them back. It's also entirely possible that some parents just wouldn't mind all that much.
Case in point: One day I was standing on the sidewalk minding my own business, when a 5 year old boy ran up to me, kicked me in the shins and ran off. I yelled, “hey! What was that for?!” as he ran away and his parents, who were standing right there not paying any attention whatsoever to their own offspring, turned to look at me as if I was off my rocker. Like I wasn't the victim in the story.
It always amazes me how much trouble kids can get into if you don't watch them every single second of the day. You turn your back to say hello to someone and when you turn around, the kid has ripped up a bunch of cardboard boxes and used them to start a forest fire. One day, I was watching a little Ethiopian kid running around with a plastic arm in his hands. His father found him, yelled “what are you doing?!”, found the mannequin that was minus one limb, stuck the arm behind it, looked around furtively, and then grabbed the kid's hand and hurried away. Another time, my mother and I were taking a shabbat walk, when we encountered a man reprimanding a bush. Obviously we stopped to watch, curious about any possible outcome of this conversation, when suddenly the man reached in and pulled out an 8 year old. That was the one thing we were not expecting. To this day, neither of us can figure out how he got in there.
A Moroccan jewelery once decided to “read my palm.” He informed me that I would have a long life and many children. I just gave him a look horror. He then offered to read my tea leaves, but I declined. He gave me a knowing look and said, “it's ok, many women are afraid of knowing their futures.” Well certainly, if it involves that many children.

I declare with out any shame whatsoever- I don't like children. And I've come up with a line of defense against being shown baby pictures. I keep photos of my cats on my phone, and if anyone pulls out pictures of their kids, or nieces and nephews, or cousins, etc., I pull out the pictures of my cats and say, “oh good! When you're done showing me pictures of your baby, I'll show you pictures of my cats!” They generally sidle away and mumble something about being busy, maybe later. Of course if they're cat lovers, I'm stuck.