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The Brownsteins in the Land of Israel

Chapter 10:

The Big Yellow Taxi – Meter/No Meter?

October 10, 2003





Dear Friends:


Today I had the bittersweet experience of being among the first customers at the rebuilt Cafe Hillel on its reopening day.  The food was delicious.  The people were sad, but vigilant. 


Jerusalem Post, Oct. 10, 2003

Cafe Hillel Reopens After Bombing, By ETGAR LEFKOVITS

"Exactly one month after Cafe Hillel was destroyed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, the eatery in Jerusalem's German Colony reopened its doors on Thursday, with patrons pledging their unequivocal support... 'There is no way that I would not come here on the day of its reopening,' said Rich Brownstein, who moved to Jerusalem this summer from Oregon, and was at the cafe the morning of the attack. 'We are here for them,' he said motioning to the owners and workers."


Now a few of your letters:

Holly in L.A. wrote: "Dear Rich and Sara, You are living the dream, my heart sings for you and your children even as it cries for me and mine. Our time has not come yet...too many still need us here. You have made the right choice.  Kol HaKavod. I don't have words to describe what is in my heart.  But I don't think that I need them.  Thank you for sharing your deepest, most heartfelt experiences and feelings with us all.  It means so much.  Love Holly."  Thank you Holly!


Rebbitzen Chana Heller (Rabbi Dov Heller's wife) in L.A. wrote: "Dear Sara and Rich, I must tell you that you were an important part of our Rosh Hashanah service at the hotel. Before shofar, Dov read [to the congregation] an e-mail Sara sent us. It was the one you wrote about your experience sitting in ulpan and how proud you were to be making aliyah and how, after so many Jews came during many different periods, it was now your turn. You ended with 'and we will win'.  Dov cried as he read it. And he asked people…'so what will WE win at this year? What do we want to win at this year.' It was very powerful. So thank you for the inspiration…Love, Chana"


Again, I strongly encourage any of you who have not written to Sara to be on her list to do so at


Finally, Sherie in L.A. wrote: "Thank you again for these emails!! I love them!!! It's ironic that I  know more about your life now that you're in Israel than I  ever did while you were here... As I read the letters you sent, one of them had the phrase 'change the voltage' and that particularly struck me -- isn't that what you've done with your whole life -- change the voltage? Isn't that what this time of year is about for all of us? I will contemplate that idea today, this time between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur, I will focus on how to change the voltage in my life...."


Feature Presentation

“The Big Yellow Taxi – Meter/No Meter?”

We were warned: don't let them know that you're a gringo.  Well, maybe that wasn't exactly the phrasing they used, but I think you get the gist.  Top on the list of potential rip-offs was taxis, which lived up to the billing, and then some.


The first week here in Israel in July we were staying at a hotel while waiting for our house-to-be to empty.  A day into our stay we needed to go from Baka (our neighborhood) to Bayit Vegan, another neighborhood where we needed to do some shipping paperwork. 


So we grabbed a cab that happened to be a nice Mercedes.  Although we don't notice those things until we are buckled in and off, eventually I can feel the discomfort seep in.  For those who don't know, the Germans -- after killing 6 million Jews during World War II -- tried to make it all up to us by sending Israel lots of money and getting us they stuff that our slave labor once manufactured -- like their cars -- at a great discount.  So, about $50 billion later, even though I know that the Germans seem to think they have made up for what cannot be made up, I still hate sitting in their blood money.













Regardless, I asked the driver, CabDude1, "Please take us to 42 Bayit Vegan St."  Then came the question that would haunt us until we learned the score: "meter or no meter."  In other words, "Let's play a game, you and I.  You can either overpay me by agreeing to an inflated rate, or you can run the risk of being late due to an exasperating yet spontaneous grand tour of Jerusalem, where few streets are straight and there are a dozen ways of getting anywhere."




As you might have guessed, my overamped hubris coupled with my enthusiastic sporting nature led me to accept the challenge.  So we started negotiating.  CabDude1 says "50," meaning 50 New Israeli Shekels (NIS) (about $11).  Gringo counters with 40 NIS.  CabDude1 is not thrilled, but Arafat has so cut into his business that he accepts, which I learn later through experience means that I was just 5 over the going rate.












But two minutes later he seemed just a bit edgy(er).  I watched CabDude1 a few moments to see him send a few painful glances back at my fidgety 4-year-old boy, Yehuda, in the back-seat who seemed to be kicking the back of my seat.  Well, in fact, my discomfort was not the issue; CabDude1's fine German leather was the issue.   "Sweet Boy," I said nicely, "please stop kicking Daddy's chair."


But Yehuda takes direction about as well as his father, especially after a long day doing nothing fun at government offices.  Not knowing much about our genetics -- yet -- CabDude1 was getting more and more upset, all the while checking for scuffmarks.


Then, out of the blue, I thought I recognized the scenery.  It looked like we are very near our hotel.  So I said to CabDude1, "How about you drop off the wife and kids at the hotel and then we will continue to Bayit Vegan?"  It's a classic kill-two-birds scenario, right?  "Sure, for 10 more."  "No," I countered, "how about 5?"  "Well, I really shouldn't, but..." kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, "okay".  Good choice, CabDude1.






"Hey," I added, "maybe if you turn left up there we'll be right at the hotel entrance."  Left it is, right onto "The Begin", a freeway named after former Prime Minister Menachem Begin (  It is an amazing thing to be on a freeway with almost no exits.  You can imagine that CabDude1 is now furious.  "Hey, you're the cabbie here.  This is your city.  Who told you to play the "no meter/no tax" game?  Huh?  Who?  Why did you get on the freeway?  Huh?  Why are you looking at me like that?  Why are you screaming?  Why are you pounding the very expensive German upholstery?  What's with the gun?"  No, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but CabDude1 was really fuming.  "This will be 10 more!" he yelled, "this will be 10 more!"  "No," I calmly told him. "Drop off my family at the hotel and after we'll talk."  "This will be 10 more!" he yelled again.  "Did you hear me?  I said 'drop my family off and then we'll talk'."


A minute later Sara and the kids were liberated and off to the pool.  And I was alone with CabDude1.  Back on the road, CabDude1 wasted no time in demanding more money.  I again pointed out that this is his town and that listening to Gringo about his streets is a little foolish, no?  "This will be 10 more!" he yelled.


"Dude, I've got two things to say to you.  First, you have wasted so much time already that I don't have enough time for Bayit Vegan.  So just take me back to where we started so I can deal with other administrative crap down there." 















"And," I continued, almost in a whisper, "yelling at me will do you no good.  I dealt with network executives for years!  Now look, we are closer to where we started than we are to Bayit Vegan, so just take me back.  When we get there I will give you 45 Sheks."  He slammed his fist on the dashboard, yelled something in Hebrew that can't be repeated, and took me to the starting point, all the time shaking his head.  Once I was back in Baka, CabDude1 did not say so much as "todah" (thanks) when I handed him a 50 and said, "Keep the change."









Trying not to repeat the same mistake on my next attempt two days later, when CabDude2 started the game I told him "meter, please."  This was especially important," I explained, "because you have to wait in Bayit Vegan while I do some paperwork, so you should turn on the meter for the ride and keep it running until I finish and then take us home."  I firmly repeated, "Meter."  Okay, he said, as he reluctantly started the meter.  And then, as if just for my amusement, about 10 minutes later, I looked down to see how much that ride had already cost and, believe it or not, the meter was off!


 "DUDE!  We agreed on the meter."  "Oh, it must have turned off by itself."  "Right.  What should we do now?  "You can trust me.  I'll take care of you.  Forty for the trip."  Well, I don't have much of a choice now, do I?


Once in Bayit Vegan things did not go as planned.  As mush as I tried to get out quickly, the wait was closer to 25 minutes than to 10.  So when I finally got back in the cab, CabDude2 was not thrilled.  "That will be 50," he insisted when I got back in the cab.  "Hey, I didn't tell you to turn off the meter, dude!  I went as fast as I could."  When we finally got back to the house, getting out of the cab, CabDude2 did not say so much as "todah" when I handed him a 50 and said, "Keep the change."


Next, a week later, we found ourselves at a nearby mall, with Sara and the kids and me loaded down with a ton of groceries.  On the side of a very busy street, in a somewhat hazardous spot, we jumped in to cab, trying not to spill or forget anything.  Fortunately, about 30 seconds into the ride Sara noticed that the meter wasn't on; we hadn't bothered to play the official game yet.  Apparently just going and seeing if gringo notices is a fun derivation, like in Monopoly when players get to keep the money in free parking when they land on it.  "Hey," I said to CabDude3, "turn on the meter, okay?"  "Too late, mister. It will be 20 Sheks."  "Look, CabDude3, this is a 12 Shek ride and I'm in no mood for this game."  "12!" he insisted, adding, "Why don't you take the bus if you want to pay 12!"  "Fine," I spat back, "let us out."  Instead, he turned on the meter.  Dropping us near our house, the meter displayed 11.  I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised when CabDude3 did not say so much as "todah" when I handed him 15 and said, "Keep the change."


The last encounter of the same ilk was during the ride from the Ikea near the coastal town of Netanya back to the train station.


 "I'll do it for 45."  Meter, please.  "45."  Meter, please.  It was 15.  No tip for CabDude4.


All of this stopped when we started each trip by speaking either French or Hebrew.  It seems I have American written all over me.  I don't know why.


As you know, I always try to end these little stories on a positive note.  And you might think that being confronted with dozens of Israelis intent upon ripping off tourists and evading taxes could never end positively.  However, within 10 days of the first experience in the Mercedes, not once but twice did we happily ride again with CabDude1 in his Mercedes.  We all made up happily, even though Yehuda kept kicking my seat, and the cabbie doesn't even ask before turning on the meter.










Anyway, thanks again for reading this far.


I appreciate and look forward to your comments and greetings.


The part of the cab driver was play by none of the drivers mentioned, but one of 50 that we had absolutely no problems with!  The part of Menachem Begin was played by the Internet.


As you know, we are in the middle of a membership drive, so please get me the e-mail addresses of people whom you want to add. (Let them know ahead of time, so I don't get in trouble with the Spam-police).


Please stay tuned for Chapter 11: “Class Lessons”



All the best,



Rich Brownstein

PO Box 8130

91081 Jerusalem


Phone: 011-972-2-6733-491




No cabbies were harmed in the photography of this reenactment.

All characters are purely fictional.

If you want to add someone to this list, or remove yourself, just e-mail and let him know.

Please freely distribute to those with too much time on their hands.


Copyright (c) - Rich Brownstein 2003


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