I'm the newest member of Club 18-13, that elite band of turncoats who made the switch from the No. 18 bus to route 13. When I boldly defected a month ago, I was proud and defiant. Now, however, I'm missing my old mates. Upon waking in the past, it was with a sense of trepidation that I'd trudge down Rehov Ben-Zakai to the bus stop outside the betting shop. I'd haul my tired body into prime position for the 18's arrival, my iPod inuring me against the high-pitched cacophony of my rivals for a place at the front of the queue. All eyes were focused on the corner of the street, awaiting the bus's lumbering into view with an almost messianic zeal. So, as the bus pulled up, wing mirror parting my hair down the center as the driver attempted to lighten his load, I would prepare mentally for the battle that lay ahead. One false move, and it was all over - trampled savagely by the passengers behind me, stabbed in the ribcage by walking sticks, laughed at mockingly by the lucky few who'd managed to secure themselves a precious seat for the ride. I'd be left to surf the waves caused by the driver's Formula One approach to steering, all the while trying to avoid brushing up against the gaggle of seminary girls who seemed not to realize that shomer negi'a laws are suspended when packed like sardines onto a bus. By the time we hit Rehov Emek Refaim, I'd be resigned to yet another half-hour's torturous journey - and by the time we'd reached Kikar Zion I would stop bemoaning my fate as we passed the beggars on the corner. My only solace was the fact that I was decked out in my Armani sunglasses, which afforded me the opportunity to check out any recently boarded females and rate them in my unofficial No. 18 league table of beauties. Except, more often than not, the dearth of suitable candidates would reduce me to rating the grandmothers aboard in desperation. The journey home would make the morning's trip look like a walk in the park. The shuk returnees would swamp the bus's interior in their hundreds - all toting enough plastic bags to close the hole in the ozone layer, and swinging their purchases around their heads like David with his slingshot. They usually were just as deadly accurate as the monarch of yesteryear - I suffered multiple depressed fractures of my cheekbone after a particularly vicious assault from a shopper armed with a sackful of potatoes before Rosh Hashana. That particular attack proved to be the final nail in my No. 18 coffin. I'd heard rumors of the utopian existence aboard the No. 13 that ran through Katamon's leafy avenues, seen the smiles on the faces of those who alighted from its doors near my house, and decided it was time to defect. Feeling like a modern-day Judas Iscariot as I sneaked the other way up my street for the first time, I was apprehensive about how swift my acceptance would be by the 13 veterans. As it turned out, I couldn't have been made more welcome. Men and women smiled sweetly as I passed them on my way to a vacant seat, even the driver had a few kind words as he overlooked the annoyance of me paying with an NIS 200 note. I couldn't believe it - this was paradise, on wheels and with air-conditioning. But, within a fortnight, I was pining for the inferno of the 18. I was bored with the beatific smiles of the pampered and prim, tired of waiting for the yeshiva students to finish praying before circumventing them to reach the exit. I yearned for the aggression and passion of the bad old days, where sticks and potatoes could break my bones, and words could hurt me too, where the pretty young things who occasionally hopped aboard weren't wrapped up from head to toe in modest dress, where you could speak your mind as long as you had the fists to back up your opinion. Where Tfilat Haderech (Traveler's Prayer) was said not to ward off suicide bombers, but merely to counter the driver's desire to break the land speed record with scant disregard for his quarry's safety. I just hope they take me back.

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