Requiem for Bus No. 11 / Into the Sunset

The new bus reform in central Israel is halting passenger's life-long routines and even worse, it's being carried out in summer.

It was Motti’s last run yesterday and his passengers’ last trip, too. Forty years with the Dan bus cooperative and 10 of them on the No. 11 route. Yesterday’s last run fulfilled a forgotten childhood dream of mine: The driver talked to me.

I had always looked on in envy at people the driver knew personally, who stood next to him, leaning on the pole that separated him from his public. He would talk to them through his rear-view mirror.

Nir Kafri

Motti talked to me yesterday. It was his final journey and the last run on No. 11. Today he will already be working a new minibus on another bus line. The No. 11 has been relegated off the urban landscape between central Tel Aviv and the city’s eastern neighborhoods. Its bus stops are already covered with black plastic, maybe in a sign of mourning. In its place, there will be a new No. 11, foreign and out of place, on other faraway streets.

I learned yesterday that reforms should not be carried out in the summer. The unrestrained anger of yesterday’s passengers, simple folk furious over the change, any change, was amplified by the summer heat. Everyone was upset. From now on, they would have to take two buses. One elderly man suggested that those responsible for the change be locked away and the key thrown into the sea.

It was early afternoon, and the passengers were mostly elderly. Motti was singing Mizrahi music as his bus plied the route that reflected his passengers’ routines. Ichilov Hospital, the National Insurance Institute, the electric company offices, the old age center. Nothing special. A small, neighborhood line, almost like family, suburban and gray. Everyone on the bus knew one another, and Motti was their man. One woman even handed him an emotional, handwritten farewell letter.

Yesterday was not exactly like the No. 11 of my childhood. Then it used to leave from the zoo on Shlomo Halmelech Street, traveling to distant parts, to the Yad Eliahu neighborhood where my parents had friends. Every trip had been an adventure.

There was a boy who dreamed of being a bus driver, or if not, at least the bus ticket vendor, with his rubber thimble, dispensing tiny paper tickets that passengers stuffed under their wedding rings. Some of the passengers held onto the overhead railing, exposing numbers from Auschwitz tattooed on their arms. That boy was me.

Nothing of all that remained yesterday on the No. 11’s last run. At Arlosoroff Street, the bus stop sign was covered with paper that read: “Notice to passengers: We hereby inform you that as of July 1, the No. 11 will not serve this stop. The closest alternate stop: None.” And with that, this dry, businesslike announcement signaled the end of the passengers’ world.

On that last run, all the way to Winter Stadium in Ramat-Gan, the grumbling on the bus would only intensify. All their lives, they rode this route and now it’s over. There was no relieving their distress. The 139? The 231? How would they get to Ichilov from now on?

“Tomorrow you will have to take two buses, but they will get there fast,” Motti said, in a failed effort to console. “Whoever drafted this lousy plan has never ridden a bus,” one woman with a walker exclaimed, as Motti, our driver, came to her assistance.

A young woman on the bus handed out brochures about the changes, but she didn’t seem to be able to answer passengers’ questions. “Why do these old people always get mad when they don’t get answers?” she asked. One woman recounted that she called the information hotline only to be given a different answer from everyone she talked to. “At least you got an answer. They didn’t answer me at all,” said another woman. “Is my monthly pass still valid?” asked another as she got on the bus. Motti tried to console her, but a wave of despair permeated the bus.

Soon the bus would approach Winter Stadium, the last stop. The bus was completely empty. Today Motti is already working another route, abandoning his former passengers to the 39, the 139 and the 231, new and scary alternatives.