Sunday, June 12, 2011

Ofana'eem, Part 1: Entirely Lacking Bicycle Content

For those not fluent in the language of the Chosen Folks, that's a transliteration of the Hebrew word for bicycle -- which will serve as a flag for all posts about our staff's recent trip to the other side of the planet.

However, since my teaser post started with scooter flash mobs, I'll follow my own random self-imposed order and start out with a post entirely lacking in ofana'eem content. Here in the States, the cyclist may be the renegade scofflaw of the streets, but in Israel (or at least on the streets of Jerusalem, Haifa and Tel Aviv) that role seems to be taken by the scooter driver/pilot/psycho.
These bleating little buggers were EVERYWHERE. Solo dudes, solo women, mixed doubles (as pictured), two guys, laden with cargo, whatever... and always running with the throttle wide open, slipping through gaps in traffic with inches to spare.When I thought about the "scooter culture" (quotes intentional) back home -- which seems to be made up of aging hipsters pretending to be bad-ass mod kids from the 50s -- I had to laugh. In Israel, your average takeout delivery guy pulled stuff that would make our scooteur poseurs soil their vintage denim.

Note also the paradoxical approach to safety... the full-on motorcycle helmets paired with bare legs and -- yes -- flip-flops. You're seeing one at rest, but the flip-flop dangling inches from the pavement seemed to be a default pose whether the vehicle was still or traveling at 50 miles per hour (er, 80 kilometers per hour). I guess these guys don't hang out with the recumbent bike crowd and learn about leg suck.

The unspoken rule of the road pertaining to scooters seemed to be "if it can fit there, it can go there" -- which meant you had to sidestep impromptu scooter parking lots on sidewalks all over the place. Case in point, here's what appears to be the employee parking for some kind of delivery service:
Now, I've ridden a loaded touring bike, and I've seen some cargo bikes in my day, but THAT is some epic portage. I hope these guys deliver styrofoam packing peanuts or something -- otherwise, their scooters would tip over backwards whenever they stepped off. The John Deere racing stripes on the cargo boxes are a nice touch, too.

Finally, there's the phenomenon I mentioned in my teaser, the scooter flash mob. Sadly, I was unable to capture this ballet of the streets on film (er, in pixels), so I'll have to use my words. Imagine you're riding in a taxi through a major metropolitan area. You arrive at a red light, first in the line of stopped cars. Curious as to the time, you glance down at your watch -- and when you look up, a crowd of six scooter ninjas has magically coalesced in front of your cab. The light turns green, and as quickly as they appeared, they're gone, with only the whine of their two-stroke hamster-wheel motors fading in the distance to indicate they'd ever been there in the first place.

As far as I can tell, it is accepted practice on a scooter to simply lane-split your way to the front of an intersection during a red light, meet up there with your other scooter buddies, and tear off when the light turns green. Cars seem oblivious to this little dance -- rightfully so, as it doesn't impede traffic in any way. But man, imagine if you tried to pull something like that here in the States. On a scooter, maybe you'd have half a chance to escape. On a bike, you'd be run down (literally) in a half a block by some arrogant, "how dare you get in front of me?" driver. But on the streets of the Israeli cities I visited, drivers took this behavior as normal and didn't give it a second thought. It was an interesting study in how the shared social space of the road is constructed... sure, there are the written rules, but we also have huge amounts of unspoken cultural expectations. Play along and you'll do fine. Bring the wrong social toolkit to the road (like I would have if I'd tried to bike or drive in Israel) and you'll have trouble.


bikelovejones said...

Jason -- Shalom! M'daber Ivrit?
Seriously, how'd you get to Israel? And will you get to talk about riding actual Ofanayyim?
L'hitra'ot! --Beth

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

BLJ -- Lo Ivrit. Englit? Toda. :-)

The trip would have been a LOT harder to pull off if my better half didn't have a lot of wonderful relatives in Israel. We stayed with (and were fed and driven around by) generous cousins during our week in Jerusalem. Haifa and Tel Aviv were on our dime, though.

We've talked about going for years, so there was a lot of saving and planning that went into it too. Plus, gotta admit, we both work for The Man (in addition to my lucrative -- snort! -- gig as a world-famous blogger), which doesn't hurt. Not sure how we would have pulled it off in my bike shop days.

Actual bike content coming, I promise, though I didn't actually turn a pedal myself during the trip.


bikelovejones said...

Sweetie and I are talking about a "someday" trip to Israel, and a rabbi friend (who thinks the Birthright program is wasted on the young) is going to help us figure out how to make it happen while we're still young enough to enjoy it.

Seriously -- you make money off your blog?

Motorcycle Helmets said...

This is some interesting stuff, I'll have to check back in to see how the trip is going.