Chapter 13 – The Road to Tel Aviv
The car worked its way down the poorly-maintained coastal highway to Tel Aviv, the driver weaving to avoid drifting sand dunes on the road, or hastily-cleared rubble from collapsed overpasses. George was in the front passenger seat, and I in back. The car radio was tuned to a station calling itself the New Voice of Tel Aviv. In between a singularly eclectic collection of songs, an Arabic-accented Hebrew voice read news “from the Northern Province,” including updates on the fighting against the “radical Persian-led Shiite coalition.” The voice also declaimed, in an appropriately grey government-issued voice, official statements regarding water usage, movement restrictions, and the virtues of cooperation with the authorities for mutual prosperity and safety.
Our driver was a thin, stony-faced man wearing dirty jeans and a rumpled tan t-shirt. He was making a concerted effort to distance himself from any passenger interaction, though I wasn’t sure if this was his own initiative, or his employer’s instructions. He didn’t look at me when I climbed in the cool car, but did exchange a brief, meaningful glance with George. Despite his outward frigidity, I noticed an ironic glint in his eye as he glanced in the rearview mirror. And I watched as his right pinky finger tapped the rhythm on the steering wheel to whatever was on the radio – a sole pinhole leak, or perhaps relief valve, in his emotional pressure suit, I wondered?
As the scene around me unfolded from the happily familiar, through the utterly foreign, and ultimately arriving and remaining in the realm of apocalyptic, nightmarish horror the farther south we travelled, George seemed happy to play the dual role of tour guide and Minister of Propaganda. It was clear that he was intimately familiar with geography and recent history. But it was even clearer that every tragedy he related to me, every outrage he recalled, every veiled lament for better times – all were aimed at swaying my resolve.
The radio announcer finished the news, and Jim Morrison started crooning that the clock said it was time to close now. The driver’s pinky began working the steering wheel, silently tapping with the tune, and occasionally bringing in the adjacent ring finger for support.
When I first came to Israel in the mid 1980’s, there were two smokestacks at what was later named the “Orot Rabin” power plant near Hadera. They added the third some years later, creating a triad of erect, uncircumcised phalli which greeted all travelers at more or less the halfway point between Tel Aviv and Haifa. Majestically spewing sulfuric smoke – which usually, thankfully, blew out to sea – the plant produced almost a third of the country’s electric power. All three smokestacks had collapsed in the Shakeup, falling directly onto the power plant itself, and there was never talk of rebuilding. The Egyptians, George said, wanted a new market for their natural gas-fired power plants – despite being unable to even provide enough electricity for Egypt proper, and lacking the infrastructure for transmission of so much electricity over such a distance. The result was intermittent power in the Protectorate, at best – even where the infrastructure was still intact. And when there was power, George said, the voltage fluctuations resulting from poor transmission fried most home electronics and appliances. Many homes relied on solar power from rewired photovoltaic cells, like I had in Tzippori – here it wasn’t illegal. Many – notably the vast majority of people still living in Tel Aviv – simply went without.
As we crawled by the power plant, Jim Morrison faded out, still preaching “learn to forget,” and Simon and Garfunkel faded in, belying the fate of a little sparrow, “who’s traveled far and cries for rest.” The driver’s pinky slowed to a gentle walk as he deftly navigated around a burnt-out petrol tanker truck blocking the right lane.
There was a sparse but slow line of cars waiting to pass through the Egyptian checkpoint at the intersection of the coastal highway and Road 65. To the east on Road 65, a long line of dusty crawling vehicles passed by an equally long line of abandoned or burnt out vehicles on the side of the road. To the west, I could see dozens of workers swarming over the giant, twisted frame of Orot Rabin, extracting entrails like some medieval disemboweling. The Egyptians, George said, had been systematically stripping and selling the plant’s metal piping. There was still a lot left, apparently. “There’s still a lot of everything left,” George said, ironically, “but they’ll get it all eventually. Building materials, consumer goods, cars, you name it. Remember the looting in Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion? The rape of Israel is biblical by comparison. In Kuwait, they were limited to what wasn’t tied down. Here, anything still in one piece after the quake is fair game. This is not a Protectorate, my friend, it’s a giant fire sale.”
Steven Greenberg is a professional writer and an Israeli. He is also a full-time cook, cleaner, chauffeur, and work-at-home Dad for three amazing young children, and the lucky husband of a loving and very supportive wife. Born in Texas in 1967 and raised in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Steven emigrated to Israel only months before the first Gulf War, following his graduation from Indiana University in 1990. In 1996, Steven was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, where he served for 12 years as a Reserves Combat Medic. Since 2002, he has worked as an independent marketing writer, copywriter and consultant.