The bike was lightweight, low, one speed, no gears, one foot brake, one hand brake, nothing to master except balance and fear. It was love at first site. I had wanted a simple bike that would keep me upright, close to the ground and here it was, a “city” bike for a price lower than that of used bikes. The salesman in the store in south Tel Aviv let me take it for a spin on the sidewalk, but it being Levinsky Street, I reached the corner and quickly turned around.
“The handle bars shake,” I told the guy, disappointed the bike wasn’t perfect.
He took it for a spin and said the handlebars were fine, meaning I was the one who was shaky. I owned up to my fear, bought the bike, a lock and rode it to a store on Shalma that sold blades for old Braun food choppers. “Rode” isn’t quite the right verb, because the sidewalks in commercial Tel Aviv are obstacle courses. I got off the bike at intersections along Har Zion Ave. and often, after a few cycles of the wheels on the crowded sidewalks, I slowed down, kept one foot on the right pedal and pushed with the left, as if my new bike were a kick scooter.
These precautions did not prevent me from rubbing against a school girl walking towards me. Panicked, I stopped, placed both feet solidly on the sidewalk and asked if she was OK. She continued walking in the opposite direction, seemingly unscathed, looking back over her shoulder to get another look at this crazy old woman who didn’t know how to ride a bike.
Tikuni Dani didn’t have the blade I needed, so I walked my bike down Shalma back to Mount Zion. It was teeming with people of all colors, speaking as many languages as there were spokes in my wheels. Young men raced by on one, two and three-wheeled vehicles. I pedaled to the first cross street where I was happy to stand next to my bike and escort it across the street.
My goal was Feivel, off Arlozorov, which I reached fifty minutes later, stupidly taking Begin, which is one elongated building site. I got off the bike, shaking mildly, but cogent enough to remember to lock the bike to the bike rack with my new super duper Cryptonite lock. The lock did not cooperate. We got into a fight. I lost my temper, swore, cried, and attacked the lock. The lock won, only after I realized I had been trying to open and close the damn thing with my mailbox key.
Isn’t it odd that the State of Israel tests drivers of cars, trucks and buses, but has no tests or minimal requirements for bike riders? Any idiot can go out and buy a bike and cause havoc.
All this happened during the week that racism and hatred stretched their ugly elongated arms, strangling the country’s streets, a week of bloodshed, death, grief and fear. The enemy Anarchy knocked at every door. Some people opened it, driven by fear.
After so many years in Israel, I refused to be terrorized, or so I thought. On the day I bought my new bike, I was busy with other fears. What I feared most was my losing control and because of that, seriously hurting someone else and knowing that that pain would inevitably hurt me for years to come.
But I couldn’t help wondering, too, if this fear was just another version or expression of the same fear others felt when they walked down the street and imagined a crazy kid rushing towards them, waving a knife above his head like a medieval sword and proclaiming the greatness of God. I wondered if there was any qualitative difference between one fear and the other or if the object of the fear was secondary and fear itself was enough to paralyze an entire nation.