Good Morning, Israel

The cars of early morning are special, different, cars among which I feel comfortable in my 1990 Mitsubishi, with its screeching tires.

For months, I have been waking up at four in the morning. For months I have tried to convince myself that I am capable of going back to sleep, and then I lie in bed for half an hour with open eyes that refuse to shut, start to think threatening thoughts, and get up. For months I have been watching television between 4:30 and 5 without actually knowing what's on, having a cup of coffee and smoking from 5 to 5:30, and leaving for work at 6. For months I haven't been there when the family gets up, haven't said good morning to my wife, haven't helped get the kids ready for school and kindergarten and kissed them good-bye.

I am now one of the morning people. During the half a year in which I have been leaving for my office in the center of town early in the morning, I have realized that people are not divided into groups the way I had always thought. The division is not by gender, nationality or religion. People are divided into groups according to when they wake up and start their day.

Each morning anew, I pass my neighbor, a truck driver, who is sitting in the cab of the vehicle with a cup of coffee, waiting for the engine to warm up. Half a minute's drive and I am at Tantur junction. By now I recognize some of the workers who are waiting there and exchange good-morning greetings with some of them. Dozens, and at the beginning of the week maybe hundreds, wait for employers to pick them up. Only people who get up at 6 know of their existence. They don't survive long: the sunlight makes them evaporate.

Every morning I am surprised anew by the number of cars waiting at the traffic lights of Patt intersection so early in the day. Many people set out at sunrise. The cars of early morning are special, different, cars among which I feel comfortable in my 1990 Mitsubishi, with its screeching tires. I am not embarrassed when the car dies as I start to pull away - the looks I get from the neighboring drivers are filled with understanding and compassion that you will find only at this time of the day. It's okay to be driving a jalopy that blocks the intersection; don't worry, we will even get out and help you if necessary.

True, sometimes at the intersection of the Valley of the Cross, which connects the south of the city to the center, I see ladies in track suits who are out for a morning run, and I always wonder about their social class. Are they with us? Do they belong to the morning nation? I sometimes think of conducting a survey.

It's only in the morning that you see the newspaper boys. The vegetable distributors removing sacks of peeled and sliced potatoes, bags of cabbage, onions and eggplants from their vans. The people who deliver eggs and milk. Only in the morning do you see the bags of vegetables, the cartons of milk and the stacks of newspapers lying on the sidewalk in front of the cafe or restaurant. Morning people do not steal.

It is very quiet when I get to the office, quiet enough to hear the ticking of the traffic lights across the whole city center, quiet enough to hear the keys turning in the locks of the stores and people clearing their throats. From my office window I see the kitchen staff enter in regular clothes and mostly emerge wearing aprons and having a smoke before work. I see the street sweepers exchanging greetings with half-asleep policewomen. I watch them getting the city center ready to absorb the next group that wakes up.

Soon the noise of the buses will start, and soon new groups will be getting up - schoolchildren, students, the saleswomen from the Mashbir department store, the security guards at SuperPharm, the clerks from the Interior Ministry. People look different and wear different expressions according to their wakeup time: the color of their clothes, the clicking of their shoes, the bags they carry, their hair, the wrinkles in their skin, the thickness of their eyeglasses. It will not be long before the quiet is shattered: radio broadcasts will blare from stores and music from cafes, and everything will blend into a familiar racket.

Soon I will go down to the cafe across the way. I will exchange greetings with almost the same people, sit with lawyers, accountants, owners of real estate and tourism agencies. They will ask how I'm doing, I will nod and ask how they are doing. I will have my coffee, peruse the usual newspaper, order a croissant and a coffee to take out, and drive back home.