Thursday, March 21, 2013

Oh a Tremping We Will Go!

If there's one thing in Israel that I still haven't latched on to like a mosquito on fresh, pale skin, it's the entire concept of "tremping."

For the uninformed, tremping is when you stand by the side of the road, stick out your finger or hand or hold up a sign saying where you need to go, and hitch a ride with a perfect stranger to your destination. It's basically hitch-hiking, but much safer. Sort of.

My dad used to tell me about how he'd pick up hitchhikers in the 1970s, but nowadays in the U.S. it's highly illegal and incredibly dangerous to do so. In Israel, however, it's normal. In fact, some people get around solely by tremping, never needing a bus ticket or to buy gas for the car.

When I first moved to Neve Daniel, tremping became a necessary reality. Yes, Mr. T and his business partner have two vehicles, but most of the time they're needed on the job site (and one of them is manual, which I just don't do). Every now and again, I wander up to the entrance of Neve Daniel and stand, somewhere between the tremping bench and the bus stop, hoping and praying that the bus comes soon so I don't have to tremp. Why?

I'm a scaredy cat, that's why.

I've tremped roughly a half-dozen times, and during all of them I've been perplexed. Do I tell them where I'm going? Where I need to get off? Do I just sit here? Do I say something? Do I offer a tip? WHAT DO I DO!?

Today, for example, I was at home and realized that the construction going on in my building was going to push me off the ledge for the umpteenth day in a row. The floor was vibrating, my head was banging, and I needed to get out. I packed my things and headed to the trempiada (the fun word for where people stand to catch a tremp). A few other women joined me there, and eventually a car came along heading to Tzomet HaGush, the central spot in the Gush where there's a grocery store, some restaurants, an electronics store, and so on. It's also a place where all of the buses in and out of the Gush always stop, and it's home to a gigantic trempiada. So I tremped to Tzomet HaGush and then walked over to the trempiada and hitched a ride into Jerusalem. Backwards way of doing things? Probably, but guess who was fresh out of cash for the bus? This chick!

Now here's the thing. The guy said he was going into Mercaz ha'Ir (center of the city), which can mean a lot of different things. So what did I do? I just stayed in the car. We kept passing places where I could have gotten off, but me not being sure how to say "Dude, let me out here, please," decided to just ride along. This guy could have driven to Taiwan and I would have sat there quietly like a nice, Midwesterner.

Luckily, he was traveling to a place where I could hitch a bus back to where I needed to be that we drove past. My carbon footprint was big on this one, and I feel bad, but seriously, I don't know how to get out of a tremp unless the other trempers say "I need out here." So that was the impetus for me to get out of the car -- someone else needing out.

I haven't learned all of the hand signs yet, but I've learned that they're largely irrelevant these days. People pull over, roll down a window, announce where they're going, and people either get in the car or they don't. It's a fairly efficient system, if you ask me.

The question is: When I'm driving, do I pull over and pick up trempers? When I'm alone, it feels really weird and unsafe to me. You can tell the girl out of Nebraska, but you can't take Nebraska out of the girl. The one time I did stop, no one needed a ride, and the only time anyone has ever gotten into the car was when I pulled in to Neve Daniel and gave a guy a ride up the gigantically ginormous hill.

Either way, tremping is something that I feel like I'll never be good at. I don't have the chutzpah or patience or ... whatever it takes ... to be a skilled tremper.

Is it just me (and the U.S. at that), or is hitchhiking a thing of the past? Is it common in Europe? Asia? South America?