Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Daily Wave
I have a fairly consistent morning commute.
Sure, there are rare days when I leave early to make a meeting, or late because of responsibilities at home. And once or twice a month I head west (instead of south) for meetings at my company's headquarters.
But for the most part, I leave within a 30 minute window on most days.
There's another scooterist who has a similarly predictable morning routine. He rides a non-descript black and silver Asian maxi-scooter (SYM, Kymco…?), wears a black full face helmet and black/gray riding jacket… and he rides north each morning at about the same time that I am heading south.
For the past few years this scooterist and I have passed each other most mornings somewhere between the mixed (Israeli / Palestinian) city of Hebron and the Palestinian village of Beit Ummar; which are about 20 minutes apart on the twisty road we both travel.
I had no idea where he was coming from or traveling to. All I knew is that I had never seen him further south than Hebron or further north than Beit Ummar. I didn't even know if he was a Palestinian or Israeli. And he was presumably similarly ignorant of who I was, where I was coming from or going to.
All I knew is that whenever / wherever we passed each other on that twisty stretch of road, we always waved to each other.
I can't even remember when we started exchanging this daily greeting or who made the first gesture. All I know is that Powered Two Wheelers are so ubiquitous here in Israel that scooterists and motorcyclists don't usually wave at one another, unless they are friends. So this daily greeting was notable for being out of the ordinary.
There was one memorable incident a little over a year ago when I thought I had finally met the mystery waver with the opposite commute to my own:
I was on my way to work at a lonely point in my commute where it would be normal to encounter the other rider, when I noticed a maxi-scooter pulled over on the opposite shoulder with the rider standing next to it. The color of the scoot, helmet and jacket all matched what I remembered… so I did a quick U-turn to introduce myself and to see if everything was alright.
The rider – a twenty-something Arab - was very pleased that I'd stopped. He explained, in accented Hebrew, that he'd picked up a nail in his front tire. I always have a patch kit (sticky string & CO2 cartridges as well as spray foam), with me, so together we got to work and quickly sorted his problem.
But while we worked together to fix the flat, I couldn't get a sense if this was the mystery waver or not. He was friendly and chatty…but I couldn’t tell if it was because of our 'history' or if he was just really happy that someone had stopped to help. When we were saying our good-byes I dropped a broad hint by saying "Looking forward to waving at you", but his response of "Yes, yes… see you", could just have easily meant he did or didn't get the wave reference.
The question was answered a few minutes later when I was back on the road when I saw another maxi scooter come around a curve up ahead towards me, and I received the familiar wave from the rider.
So as I said, this nearly daily greeting ritual has gone on for almost three years now… with neither of us having any clue who the other is, where the other is coming from or going to.
Until, that is, this past Friday.
I had done much of the weekend shopping in Jerusalem's 'Machane Yehuda' market. But on my way home my wife called to tell me about a few more things we needed. I told her I'd drop off what I had at home and then go to the local supermarket to get whatever else we needed.
After unloading my scooter at home, I rode over to the Rami Levi supermarket which is about ten minutes south of where we live.
I don't recall if I've ever mentioned Rami Levi here before… but this particular supermarket is a model of cooperation and coexistence which the media will never mention. The management, employees and customers of this large modern supermarket are a fairly even mix of Palestinians and Israelis. And despite whatever feelings/political baggage any of the managers, staff and shoppers might have in their personal lives… the atmosphere inside the store is as relaxed and cordial as in any big supermarket anywhere in the world.
But back to the story…
When I came out of the store with my shopping cart full of purchases, I noticed that there was another scooter parked next to mine with the owner still sitting astride it. The rider had on a gray and black riding jacket… and a black full face helmet hung from one of the grips.
When he saw me start loading my groceries into the saddlebags on my red Vespa, he jumped off his scooter and with a big grin on his face, walked over and extended his hand.
We shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder with hands that had exchanged anonymous waves for the last three years. We couldn't spend too much time catching up since I had some passion fruit sorbet in my saddlebags melting in the 90F+ afternoon heat. But we chatted long enough to exchange phone numbers and for each of us to tell the other where we live (he's from Hebron) and where our daily commute takes us.
And that was enough.
There isn't a scooter 'scene' here as there is in other places where I could ever see us going out for recreational rides together. And to be honest I can barely find the time to get together with the friends I already have.
But I'm glad I got to meet the guy with whom I've exchanged 'the daily wave'. He seems like a good person, and I know if either of us is ever stuck out on the road anywhere between our respective homes… there's someone who is just a phone call away, and who is bound to come along and lend a hand.