“Where does the bus go?” she says in Hebrew. The elderly woman, sitting in the row in front of me, interrupts my train of thought and I try to stammer out a reply in Hebrew.
“Tachanah merkazit.” The central bus station, though I hate saying it, because the way I pronounce the ‘r’ quickly identifies me as a North American.
After a moment passes, she says, “sorry if I bothered you.”
I must have looked confused because then she adds, “some people don’t like it.”
I smile politely and say of course not. Besides, I’m not quite sure what she means.
I stare out the window and wait to see the behemoth that is Tel Aviv’s central bus station.
In a metropolis without a subway, the terminal acts as a nerve centre for a fleet of local and intercity buses. In the grand tradition of failed urban renewal megaprojects, the new station was built in 1993 smack in the middle of a run-down working-class neighbourhood. Half of the cavernous structure is empty. The upper floors harbor colourful discount clothing shops, bakeries and fake DVD stands. Israelis on day-trips, Thai and Filipino migrant workers, Mizrahi shop-owners and off-duty soldiers shop and mingle. It gets dustier, spookier and more desolate the lower you go.
You can see the seven-story structure from several blocks away. In a neighbourhood of three or four story apartments, you can see the bus ramps stretch out like tentacles between the crumbling buildings. It’s as if an alien ship took out half the neighbourhood when it crashlanded. That is before decaying for 20 years to match its graffiti strewn surroundings.
Of course not long after the bus station’s crash-landing, a different sort of unwelcome guest came to change the neighbourhoods of Shapira, Neve Sha’anan and Hatikva in South Tel Aviv.
More to come.