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Sunday, April 09, 2006

OJ on the freeway

Last week I drove a good portion of the way to work with a police car chasing me. 

OK, he wasn't actually chasing me so much as he was following directly behind me for about 20 or 25 minutes.

Anywhere else in the world this wouldn't be worth mentioning, especially since I've written in the past about how my feelings towards the police have changed since moving to Israel.   However,  I may have neglected to mention an important detail that strikes many non-Israelis as odd... and therein lays the reason for today's post: 

Israeli police cars drive with their flashing blue roof lights on all the time! 

I'm told that this is a fairly recent phenomenon (since the second Intifada began), but as a relative newcomer I still get a shock when I look in my rear-view mirror and see those blue lights flashing directly behind me.

The rule of thumb is that you only have to pull over if they also turn on their siren and/or hail you with their loudspeaker ("Hey you in the silver station-wagon... pull over and wait on the side").  But having learned to drive in a country where flashing lights mean PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY AND KEEP YOUR HANDS IN PLAIN SIGHT, each and every time I look up and see those flashing blue lights in my mirror I'm still programmed to obsessively check my speed and silently wonder if I've done anything wrong.

So getting back to my commute with the police car chasing driving behind me...

After about ten minutes I started to have a little fun with the situation.  Having never had the opportunity to drive for any length of time in front of a police car with its flasher on, I began feeling a bit like I was in one of those cop shows you see in the US where some dangerous fugitive is hurtling down a long stretch of highway followed by a bunch of police cars... with their flashers on. 

I could just imagine how I must look from a helicopter's vantage point.


Most of my passengers were asleep during all this, and those that were awake - being used to seeing flashing lights - didn't notice anything out of sorts.  But for the entire time that I drove in silence ahead of that flashing police car I pretended to be a dangerous fugitive running from the law. 

I suppose that the success of James Thurber's famous character lay in his understanding that we each harbor an inner Walter Mitty.

When the police car finally turned off and left me alone on the winding desert highway, I breathed a silent sigh of disappointment.  I'm ashamed to admit that there was a little part of me that got a thrill out of pretending to be an outlaw fleeing from the cops. 

For those of you who are Israeli (or long-time immigrants to Israel), what I've described here has probably left you scratching your collective heads.  But I assure you that for a new immigrant (or anyone reading this outside of Israel), the concept of driving for an extended period of time ahead of a police car with its flashers on is like getting to be 'OJ on the freeway' for a little while...

... albeit without having actually murdered anyone, of course.


Posted by David Bogner on April 9, 2006 | Permalink


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There are these theories out there that only tribes of the desert could construct the concept of a Gan Eden as we preserved it in our culture(s) (i.e. garden of plenty, all shades of greens, water and food, flora and fauna abundance...all that's impossible is possible).

So this is what the desert does to 21st century people...

Slightly off the topic -- there are plans here to have police cars 'upgrade' with American sirens and stuff, because some irrational statistics pretend that the average driver got too used to German emergency blinkies and sirens and doesn't pull over to the side anymore. :|

Posted by: Account Deleted | Apr 9, 2006 2:03:53 PM

I know exactly what you are talking about. It is always disturbing to me as well when that happens.

Posted by: Yaakov | Apr 9, 2006 2:47:29 PM

funny! this morning, i saw the exact opposite happen -- a first for me in israel. driving back home from tel aviv there was a police car cruising along 4 (all blue-blinkie bedecked) and no one wanted to pass him! it was too funny seeing all these insane israeli drivers driving along at a sedate 90 kph, with this cop car in the lead... great sight.

Posted by: nikki | Apr 9, 2006 3:21:49 PM

I become nervous when a police car is following me even without all the lights flashing!

Oh, and I've learned the hard way. When you are pulled over in the US, it's not a good idea to ask the officer, "So, I'm the only one you could catch?".

Makes the officer just a tad irritated. And even though I was not breaking the speed limit, improper lane changing or anything like that, he did notice my inspection was slightly out of date.

I learned that day that a ticket for having an out of date inspection sticker costs $75.00 USD.

Posted by: seawitch1261 | Apr 9, 2006 5:12:42 PM


I know exactly how you feel, except I usually got nervous about the police cars while walking down the street.

Posted by: Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) | Apr 9, 2006 7:17:28 PM

Bad Timing! I just got pulled over for the first time in my life (for speeding) on Friday, and you have to remind me!

Posted by: lisoosh | Apr 9, 2006 7:21:15 PM

Actually, I LOVE this Israeli phenomenon. It helps drivers like me avoid speeding tickets. With the lights always flashing, you can spot a "pig" with more than enough time to slow down without getting caught - and that's how my morning commute only takes 1 hour.

Posted by: Noa | Apr 9, 2006 7:44:07 PM

I am already getting nervous when a police car is next to me or in front or in the back, just the simple sight of a police car makes me feel I did something wrong, so I am glad they don´t use the flashlights in Switzerland or Hungary.

BTW the sirenes in Hungary sound the same as in Israel. Every time I hear one I feel like, hold on, where am I, this isn´t Tel Aviv.... in a weird way it makes me feel more at home hearing a familiar sound (I am not always weird....)

Pessach Sameach

Posted by: Mia | Apr 9, 2006 8:17:09 PM

Just taking a short break from turning my kitchen over. Wanted to wish you a Chag Kasher V'Sameach!

Posted by: Faye | Apr 9, 2006 9:30:54 PM

mademoiselle a. ... Have you watched any of the American 'Cops' style shows lately? They sirens and lights don't work very well there either. :-)

Yaakov... Actually, my point was quite the opposite. I kinda enjoyed it once I got over the initial anxiety about having the police behind me with flashers on.

Nikki... Been there, done that. That is universal.

Seawitch... Go read the post I linked to. It states some interesting differences between cops here and there. Also, where you live the cops seem to be a bit more intimidating than most places (at least to this northern boy). :-)

Steg... I hope you're not referring to the latest spate of rioting in Brooklyn. I've already deleted two rants about that and I feel another one coming on.

Lisoosh... I'm sorry. I guess it had to happen eventually. Hopefully it wasn't too traumatic (or expensive).

Noa... Just to remind you... someone you and I both admire a great deal is a 'pig' so I hope you meant that with lots of love. :-)

Mia... Hopefully they aren't turning their attention to you when you hear the sirens. :-) Chag Kasher V'Sameach.

Faye... Go ahead, make the rest of us feel inadequate. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 9, 2006 10:08:40 PM

The flashing lights on the po-po freak me out too. Plus I can't tell what they're saying on the loud speaker. It's all like Charlie Brown's teacher - wa-wa-wa-wa-wa. The same thing happens at the beach. I can't tell what the lifeguards are saying. I mean, my Hebrew is getting pretty good, I just can't make it out over the speaker. I DO need to learn the word for shark...

I can now tell what they are saying on the train station announcements though.

Posted by: John | Apr 9, 2006 11:01:25 PM

I've actually been INSIDE police cars three times in my life.

1st time was in Russia. I was just 10 years old. What did I do, you might ask? I overturned in a bus on the way to the airport to leave for the United States. That was a close call, but I loved sitting inside! It felt really cool!

The second time I found myself in a van for transporting prisoners on my way to Central Booking. But, fear not! It wasn't my fault. I was interning in the Brooklyn DA's office, and we were on our way to get a tour of the Supreme Court building, including the holding cells. It was raining, so the officer drove us over. It felt very strange.

The third time, I wasn't in an actual police car, but the driver was a detective! That was the same summer, when I got stuck with a drug ring case that took me the whole day to finish. I should have been out of the office by four, but I was only done at nine o'clock, so the detective on this case was kind enough to drive me home.

Yeah, so I know the feeling! : )

Posted by: Irina | Apr 9, 2006 11:13:26 PM

Oh, how deliciously American of you ... Now I'm not so ashamed anymore to admit that I often pretend to be a famous rock star, windmiling my right arm, a-la Pete Townshend, in front of a mirror.
And the dig about OJ in the end ... well, as Mastercard would say ... priceless.

Posted by: Erica | Apr 10, 2006 3:24:56 AM

Why do they do that? I pull over without even thinking.

Posted by: christopher | Apr 10, 2006 6:51:04 AM

Funny. Actually, I think they always had the lights on. At least they did when I was there last 13 years ago. I remember this because I still have a picture of me 'bopping' a cop on the head through his open window on Yom Ha'atzmaut (and the lights are on). Looking back, I can't figure out how I had the nerve to do that!

Posted by: Just Passing Through | Apr 10, 2006 7:35:46 AM

Treppenwitz wrote: "like getting to be 'OJ on the freeway' for a little while... albeit without having actually murdered anyone, of course."

The good man was proven innocent in a court of law, you right-wing, vigilante nut. :-)

Posted by: President, Kippot Srugot for Kadima | Apr 10, 2006 8:29:33 AM

John... Hopefully this isn't a big/frequent problem for you. :-)

Irina... You're quite the outlaw! :-)

Erica... just so you didn't start smashing up the 'stage' as part of your act! :-)

Christopher... Maybe someone else can chime in with a more definitive reason, but I've been told that it increased community confidence when the police presence was more visible. No idea if this is the real reason.

Just passing through... You may be right. Anyone have more info on this?

President... A civil trial found him criminally liable for the death of his wife and Ron Goldman, So his 'innocence' was/is ambiguous at best. My guess is that unless they are hiding out on Southern California golf courses, OJ has given up the search for the 'real killers'. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Apr 10, 2006 9:21:26 AM

I always thought the flashing lights were strange when I was in Israel... I always thought they were going to arrest people for tremping.

But almost worse now are the new headlights that some cars have: For some reason, someone thought it would be wise to give them a blue tint, so now when I drive, I keep having my heart jump because I see a blue light flash in my rearview mirror - only to realize it's just some stupid jerk in an SUV who, in typical NYC fashion, is tailgating me [even though I'm about 25mph over the limit already].

*grumble about N** Y*** *

Posted by: Ezzie | Apr 10, 2006 12:12:25 PM

when i was in sem (i won't tell you how long ago but it was before the second intifada) the police always had flashing lights going. and even when i came to visit before that, i remember being startled by the silent yet flashing police and MP vehicles driving around. my driving instructor here told me they do it make their presence felt... some cities in the US (wash. d.c., i've been told) have their cops do the same thing now, post 9/11. and yes, while i've seen the "no-passing-the-cop-on-the-highway" phenom before, notably on the LIE, i've never ever seen it here in israel! (ok -- back to the kitchen...)

Posted by: nikki | Apr 10, 2006 12:41:34 PM

The Washington, DC Chief of Police visited Israel some years back and loved the idea of lights always flashing atop police cars. So all DC metropolitan police department (MPD, as distinguished from Secret Service, Capitol Police, Park Police, etc.) cars keep their lights a-flashin' at all times, too.

Posted by: Drew | Apr 10, 2006 5:57:25 PM

Drew ...hmmm? I have never seen Wash DC cops with their lights on all the time. Believe me, with my driving record, I would notice that!

Posted by: Ledfoot Lilly | Apr 17, 2006 10:56:47 PM

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