We left Mitzpe Ramon on Wednesday, after a swim and a stop at the makolet for sandwich components. The drive was pretty easy if you don’t count the two wrong turns I took (Dad, I totally understand why Israeli road signs frustrated you.) And then we approached Jerusalem on Road 1. What a mess.
Jerusalem isn’t like Toronto or New York. The streets don’t all run straight; there’s no predictable grid that I can discern; some streets change their names every five blocks. It’s pretty hard to understand the instructions from Waze or Google Maps, because sometimes when they say “turn right onto Ploni Almoni Street” what they really mean is that the avenue you’re currently on will veer to the right and change its name to Ploni Almoni, and you need to stay on the road rather than turning right onto some other street.
We needed to return the rental car before the office closed at five. It was four twenty when we approached the city and got stuck in gridlock. Between the time pressure, the traffic, all the honking, and the confusing navigation, I was feeling very stressed. I think at one point I might have been driving in a buses-only lane—I’m not sure.
We pulled up at the gas station so we could return the car with a full tank, as promised. Mr. December hopped out, looked at the pump, and said, “I don’t see any diesel here.” He went inside to ask the clerk as I impatiently watched the time ticking away. He returned, having learned that the diesel fuel is called “solar.” We were immediately thwarted again: the pumps were pre-pay only, and they wouldn’t accept foreign credit cards. Mr. December had to go back inside and pay.
“Come on, come on, come on…” I chanted under my breath. It was 4:48. Mr. December came back to the car and started pumping the gas… but the gas wasn’t pumping. We pressed the button for assistance and I practiced some deep breathing while we waited. The guy showed up, did something to the pump, and left. Finally, Mr. December was able to fill up the tank.
“Okay,” he said at last. “That’s 300 shekels of gas. I hope that did it, because that’s the amount we pre-authorized on our card.” Naturally, it wasn’t enough—the gauge was only up to ¾ of a tank. He went back inside, authorized another 200 shekels, and pumped gas again. It was 4:56. We had four minutes to get the car back. Mr. December jumped into the passenger seat and I peeled out of the gas station.
The rental return place was only a hundred metres away—down a one-way (the wrong way) street. Frustrated, I turned right on King David and signalled for a left on Hess… but there was gridlock because of a tour bus that blocked the entire lane as its passengers slowly climbed aboard.
“Come ON!” I gritted out. “I have to return this thing!” The clock said 4:57. The driver of a car that was blocking my turn took a look at my face and started backing up. The lady behind him backed up to make more room. I shouted a grateful “THANK YOU!” out the window and sped towards the parking garage. The clock read 4:58.
At 4:59 we pulled up in front of the rental office. “We made it! Go team!” I crowed as Mr. December and I high-fived each other. We had beat the clock.
That’s not even the end of the happy ending: when we got home we found our missing B2 tourist visas, sent them to the car rental company and the hotel, and got our 17% VAT back.