In favor of trains

"My biorhythms adapted to the train schedule – and I realized I was enjoying this way of reaching my destination."

A train runs parallel to the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A train runs parallel to the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv
I f I want to go from point A to point B, there’s no question: I do it by car. My trust in, indeed my love for, my royal-blue 2009 Chevrolet Aveo has never eroded over all the years I’ve owned it. Not once have its inner workings disappointed me; the occasional puncture may have interrupted a journey or two, but there was always someone around to change the tire for me. (I could probably change it myself but I’m not sure I want be coasting along in a car equipped with a tire I installed.) So for more years than I can count, I’ve been traversing Israel under my own steam, my chronic late arrival for an appointment due more to a lack of a sense of time than any deficiency in my mode of travel.
And it has to be said, the government has been considerate of my driving pleasure by continuing to build new – and expand existing – roads to help me make up for the time I lose by leaving home late. True, road works at times cause some inconvenience as traffic is diverted to a single lane; sometimes I am forced to wait in line while traffic from the opposite direction is given priority by the policeman controlling the flow. But I am mostly unperturbed because I know that when the new road is complete, I will be able to zip along, weaving in and out of four-lane highways and get to my appointment within a hair’s breadth.
For over a year, traffic was seriously disrupted at the Netanya exchange on the coastal road. Crawling along at a pace of around 15 kph, I would stay calm, breathe deeply and make good use of this gift of extra time to speak to friends on the phone. And then one day, wonders, the new road was complete and traffic flowed past Netanya.
It flowed, that is, at 8 p.m. on a Friday on my way to dinner in Ra’anana.
The same cannot be said at 9 a.m. on my way to work in Herzliya. Day after day, I sat in traffic jams at Givat Olga, fumed as I crawled past Wingate and illegally drove on the public transport lane. From time to time, I’d slip back into the legal lane – other drivers permitting (and they didn’t always) – and keep a sharp eye out for the police, who were slapping fines on drivers unlucky enough to be caught. What was the reason for these holdups? Why was a journey of 45 minutes taking an hour and a half? How much is there to say to friends on the phone that I haven’t already said? What is so fascinating about an accident that drivers have to slow down to stare at a bashedin fender? Why is it that for every road that expands, there are three times the number of cars traveling on it? And no, my breathing is not calm – it is staccato and noisy, especially when I curse.
“Take the train,” people told me.
“You live in Binyamina, lucky you. Take the train.”
I didn’t want to take the train.
There’s nowhere to park at the station and I’d have to walk in the August heat at the other end. And I get anxious about not making it to the station on time to catch the train I’ve decided to catch; the anxiety is irrational because there’s always another one not far behind, but knowing this does not calm me.
One morning, more than half an hour late for work, driving slow-mo along the coastal road because of yet another accident, my frustration level peaked and I succumbed. The moment I got to work, I checked the train schedule.
The following morning, I aimed to make it to the station in time to catch the 8:37 to Herzliya. First, I drove to my daughter, parked the car outside her house and set off at a brisk pace to the station, congratulating myself that I was in good time. But because I have a warped sense of time, I missed the train by five minutes. I waited in the searing heat for 20 minutes for the next one.
“Is this train going to Herzliya?” I asked anyone who looked like they might know. Because if there was one other thing about trains that sent me off in a panic, it was that I might be getting on one going in the opposite direction.
I settled in my seat and joined 99% of my fellow passengers in staring at my phone. I checked my email. I scrolled through my Facebook feed.
I played a round of Scrabble. And all the while, I remained aware of the stations: Hadera West, Netanya, Beit Yehoshua, Herzliya. The moment I heard Herzliya, I scrambled past my seat mate, interrupting her phone gazing, and stood swaying by the door from which I would exit the train. And swayed. Fifteen minutes later, I exited the train.
I walked to work from the station. It took about 20 minutes and I arrived with sweat pouring down my body, my face red as a tomato and my hair beginning to frizz.
Over the following weeks, I became aware of a transformation. As the sweltering heat began to dissipate and the weather more balanced, my biorhythms adapted to the train schedule, I realized that I was enjoying this way of reaching my destination. First of all, as a senior citizen, I pay halfprice for a ticket, saving big on petrol.
Secondly, I was compensating for sitting on my buttocks all day by starting and ending my day with a vigorous workout that rivaled any treadmill routine a gym could offer.
Workout No. 1 – To Binyamina station: park the car outside my daughter’s house (she lives closer to the station than I do), brisk walk, up steps, down steps, walk, down more steps and on to the train. Gaze at my phone.
Workout No. 2 – From Herzliya station: walk, up steps, incline, decline, skippity-do down steps, stride.
A half-hour workout, and all for free.
In the evening, more of the same in reverse, the only difference in the return journey being in the last leg, when I run panting and panicked to the platform and on to the train. Gaze at my phone. Sleep.
Sometimes, on the way to the Herzliya station, I stop and look over the bridge at the traffic jam on the coastal road and smile in a smug sort of way.
It took a while to realize that at the Herzliya end, I was walking on the bicycle path. As electric bikes, scooters and other modes of conveyance whizzed past me, I quickly learned that if I wished to reach work unscathed, it would be better to identify the pedestrian path and walk on that. The bicycle path is plain asphalt, as opposed to red paving for pedestrians, but it’s not immediately obvious that it is reserved for the bicycle and scooter riders.
There is a faded bicycle icon at the beginning and the end of the path to alert the uninitiated, but no reminder in the middle if you should happen to already be walking on it. Sometimes the bicycle path is on the outside lane and pedestrians on the inside lane have to dodge the overgrown foliage poking out of the residents’ front gardens.
At other times the lanes switch, and the bicycles and scooters are on the inside lane with pedestrians on the outside.
There is a remarkable variety in the means of transport chosen by people who prefer to ride the non-train leg of the journey. Bicycles can be folded and placed in the luggage section of the carriage; scooters so small they can be carried in a backpack when collapsed. One evening, as I raced gasping towards the platform for the homeward journey, a young man, preparing to mount a small round, robotic-looking device with flashing lights, winked at me and said, “Look what I’ve got!” I assumed he was referring to his means of transport.
At one point, the pedestrian lane almost disappears. Are we walkers expected to take a long jump or levitate for a few heart-stopping meters? And then, without warning, the lanes merge and riders, finding themselves bereft of a lane of their own, trespass on ours. The walk to the office becomes an obstacle course as I try to anticipate if a rider is speeding past me on my right or my left.
Once on the train, I enjoy the ride itself. I can doze and fantasize, check my email, scan FB, stare out of the window.
All around me, there is a veritable concert of ringtones accompanied by lively, one-sided conversations.
And when I take the last sprint of the day to pick up my car, I get to visit, kiss and hug my granddaughters before finishing the day’s travel in my faithful car.
I love you, my royal-blue Chevrolet Aveo. And I’m pretty darn fond of the train, too.