Tel Aviv residents learned a valuable lesson last year on Yom Kippur and it had to do with bicycles.
After the spat last year over the city's Tel-O-Fun network of bicycle rental stations shutting down for the Day of Atonement, this year Mayor Ron Huldai proudly announced that he would allow the system to operate on the holy day.
Yom Kippur is an especially attractive day for Israel's non-observant cyclists as there is no road traffic on the streets except for emergency vehicles. In an effort to avoid desecration during the holy day and the wrath of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, special instructions were sent this year to Tel-O-Fun subscribers in Tel Aviv. Bicycle rentals on Tuesday, the evening of which marked the start of Yom Kippur, would be limited to the hours of 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. The bikes could be returned, the instructions added, until midnight the following day, well after the 6:09 P.M. conclusion of the Yom Kippur fast.
The four hours that the city fathers and mothers set aside for bicycle rentals were something of an illusion, though. The rental frenzy started at 10 A.M. and 15 minutes later, most of the city's rental locations were out of bikes. But there was still hope; according to the system, there were still a few left at Dizengoff Square.
Approaching the rental station there, one could see a crowd of people standing around. Others sat dispiritedly under a ficus tree across from the bicycle stand. It was filled with dozens of bicycles, but the computerized rental system wasn't allowing a single one of them to be rented.
A lively debate ensued. "They said they would come to fix it 40 minutes ago," said one frustrated customer, and then someone else chimed in that no one was answering anymore at customer service. A father there with his three children asked if someone could hold his place in line while he bought something to drink. His son was ringing a bell incessantly that he had bought for the big day, still unable to contain his excitement.
Someone else was trying to figure out whether there really was a line and who was the last one in it. Three people in the crowd simply gave up and left, to the delight of the others who moved up.
Customers on a nearby cement bench were sharing their experiences. Some had tried to snap up one of the few remaining bikes at several other locations before making their way to Dizengoff Square. The computer system at the other stations, they reported, didn't let them rent bicycles, either. Gradually others arrived, crowded around the Dizengoff rental station, making their way into a lengthening line.
And every couple of minutes, another frustrated newcomer would come by, ignoring the crowd, and try to rent a bike. "Are we sitting here for the view?" yelled one veteran in the crowd. "What? It's not working?" asked the newcomer.
Then all of a sudden the Yaacov Agam sculpture fountain in the square sprang to life, playing classical music in the now virtually empty expanse as Yom Kippur got closer. The last of the holdout cyclists sat under the ficus tree, waiting for the service center staffer. And then someone yelled, "The messiah is coming!" spotting the service guy from afar. When it comes to bicycles, it turns out, even the residents of Sin City have faith.
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