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CHELM-ON-THE-MED©, April 2010 - Column 1


   Spring's here - the season when marathon races are all the rage. But there is one universal problem for sprinters: like shrouds, most jogging apparel has no pockets*...
   So where exactly does one stash the car keys* in the interim? Two Israelis came up with a perfect solution: Safe-to-Go - banks of little mailbox-size lockers ‘on wheels' which they rent out for the duration of the competition for a small fee - strategically parked at the starting point of the race, then driven to the finish line where participants can pick up their ‘stuff.'
   There were 10,000 participants in the 2009 Tel Aviv Marathon. Do the math. It's a pretty safe bet.

* ...and one's wallet and cell phone - without leaving them in the car trunk... if one has a car.


   The ‘life cycle event' that Israelis dread the most is the process of getting a driver's license - a Via Dolorosa that involves a minimum of 28 driving lessons* before even facing the dreaded ‘tester.'
   Most Israelis don't pass on their first try, or even their second. Failure is often chalked up to ‘infractions' such as "lack of confidence behind the wheel"- not because the examinee failed to master double-parking or forget to signal before switching lanes. Is it any wonder that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles now seeks to raise public confidence in The System by putting its examiners (and other public servants who have direct contact with the public) in uniform?
   In 2010, all driving examiners began appearing in identical shirt and tie (or scarf for women), matching vest and pants (skirts optional)... topped by a blazer - as if they were English chauffeurs. Or the butler. 
   This hardly suits Israeli temperatures or the Israeli temperament. Indeed, in deference to the climate, blazers are optional during the summer (which lasts six months). But the BMV is leaving nothing to chance: a special ‘user manual' on how to maintain and wear uniforms was prepared. It not only stipulates ties are mandatory even in summer; it goes on to tell laid back Israeli employees that it's forbidden to wear one's shirt and tie with the shirttails hanging out.

* with a certified commercial driving school, to the tune of $700.


   What's the favorite beverage of Israelis? Well, despite a plethora of media stories warning that Israeli youth are drinking too much, it's not vodka. Not even Coca Cola. Israelis consumed NIS 1.15 billion worth of milk in 2009, and only NIS 449 million worth of Coke.


   A devoted daughter decided to check her elderly mother's telephone bills from Bezeq. Puzzled by a NIS 6.32 ($1.66) monthly surcharge for ‘Zamir Shaked,' she called Customer Service. Who or what exactly was Zamir Shaked? He wasn't in the phone book. Turned out her parents had been paying monthly maintenance charges for two antiquated Zamir and Shaked model telephones her late father had bought from Bezeq - in 1972.
   The NIS 3.16 maintenance charges on each 37-year-old corded touch-tone telephone, no doubt long-buried in a land fill, had filled the coffers of the telephone company to the tune of NIS 1,403 NIS ($369) - not counting interest.
   Computer error? No, Bezeq claimed the charge was totally justified, saying the company couldn't know whether the customer was still using the phones "which could still be fixed at any of the company's service centers"... The company added insult to injury by offering to cancel the ‘secret service' while reimbursing the client to the tune of NIS 18.96 NIS ($4.99) - the last three months' maintenance charge!


   What makes or breaks an outstanding athlete? Two members of an Israeli championship soccer team were frustrated and fit-to-be-tied: the coach said they'd be left home when the Hadera Princes junior soccer team went to participate in the biggest world tournament, held in Miami.
   Had they sustained injuries? Committed too many fouls? Bad-mouthed a referee? No. Neither had they lost their touch. Their feet were as agile as ever on the playing field - but alas, the clumsy pair was hopelessly tongue-tied and had failed a compulsory crash course in English ordered by their coach to ensure his athletes wouldn't make a bad impression as ambassadors.


   It's common knowledge that fishing isn't as lucrative as it used to be. Fishing for a more profitable catch, the skipper of a Haifa fishing trawler - the Marline Haifa - refitted his vessel's holds to carry 150,000 liters of diesel oil instead of fresh-caught fish.
   The plan was simple: the crew bought fuel in nearby Cyprus for NIS 1.50 (40¢) a liter, then chugged home under the guise of a fishing vessel returning to its home port, and off-loaded its real cargo to tankers when no one was looking. Delivered to petrol stations in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Cyprian fuel sold for NIS 7 ($1.84) a liter in Israel - most of it taxes that were also pocketed by the ring. Somewhere, someone smelled something fishy, but not before the gang sold an estimated one million liters of bootlegged fuel.


* Copyright© 2010 by Daniella Ashkenazy. All rights reserved worldwide. For limited usage, see FAQs. All stories are completely rewritten by Daniella Ashkenazy from news items gleaned from Yediot Aharonot, unless another news source is stated.