I ride trains, buses, and cars on Shabbat. (No airplanes.) (I think I'm the only person who has read the Mar'ot Chayim, an illustrated commentary to Masechet Kelim, on a bus on Shabbat.)
Don't ask me to justify this by reference to the 39 melachot. That's not the system I'm operating under. The philosophical underpinnings of this practice can go in another post. This post is about the wacky practical consequences.
Because this is an unusual combination of practices, I get into all sorts of crazy adventures. When I went to Boston on Friday, I knew that if I Funged Wah after work, the bus would arrive after sundown, and then I'd have to get from South Station to my destination. Plus, the place I was staying was out of walking distance from the places I was hanging out. Fortunately, I still had a stash of T tokens from the days when I used to make this trip more often. So I did extensive research beforehand to confirm that these tokens would in fact work for all three types of transportation: T stations that still take tokens, T stations that have switched to CharlieTickets (the machines let you convert tokens into CharlieTickets), and buses that take change. The Boston locals I had asked didn't understand why I was so insistent about the questions I was asking. ("If you don't have change, just give them a dollar bill." "Just take a taxi.")
Past experiences include:
- Driving around Chicago in a non-I-PASS-equipped car and going out of the way to avoid toll roads.
- Unlimited MetroCards make it very easy to get around NYC.
- Four summers ago, I went to visit my brother at Kutz. For some reason, visitors are only allowed during the day on Shabbat. I don't have a car. I found a bus to Warwick, purchased a ticket before Shabbat, and called the camp office asking for advice on getting from downtown Warwick to the camp. They said I could call when I got there, and someone would come and pick me up. Uh....ok. Isn't the office closed on Shabbat? I arrived in bustling downtown Warwick, dialed the camp's number on my cell phone, and sure enough, no one answered. Taxis existed, but were out of the question. I went into a store and asked for directions to the camp, and started walking, periodically calling again just in case. I ended up walking the whole 5 miles. It was a beautiful day, and beautiful scenery.
- I've made kiddush on a number of moving vehicles, and not just Fung Wah trips as discussed above. I had a beautiful Shabbat lunch with NAF and SBN on a MetroNorth train in fall 2003.
- Then there was the trip to IT. The doors opened Friday morning, and the shows were on Saturday and Sunday nights. We decided to be foolish and go to the Camden show on Thursday night, then drive all night and arrive in the (temporary) largest city in Maine sometime Friday afternoon (or so we planned it). Did I mention that Maine is a really big state? Also, we didn't anticipate that the last 20 miles would take over 12 hours. I had packed a challah and a bottle of grape juice, planning to do Shabbat with any other Phish phans who were interested. When it became clear that we weren't going to arrive before sundown, I thought to myself "Fine, so this will take another hour or two, and then when we get there, we can settle down and welcome Shabbat." And then midnight rolled around. I don't know if you've ever been in a 12-hour traffic jam before, but the way it works is you sit for 20, 30 minutes with the car turned off, maybe you're outside the car strolling around, and then you see the car 10 cars in front of you turn its lights on, and that's the sign to get back in your car and turn the engine back on, and then all the cars start moving, and you move forward maybe a half mile, then hit the brakes, and then all the cars shut off again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Very slowly. So midnight rolled around, and we were hungry, and I said "let's make kiddush." As it happened, all four people in the car were Jewish, but I was the only one who was so gung-ho about making all this portable Jewish stuff happen. Bechol makom asher azkir et shemi, baby. But everyone was hungry, and I think some of them also wanted some spiritual sustenance after all these hours in the car. So we made kiddush, drank the grape juice out of the bottle (we didn't have cups. oops!), and immediately the cars started moving again. It was a sign! Unlike Shabbat itself, this sign did not last forever. The cars stopped yet again. "Ok, now let's do motzi." Before we said the beracha, I was fumbling to get the plastic bag open, and before I could get it open, the cars started moving again! One of my traveling companions said "God appreciates the gesture." And so it went throughout the night. We arrived in the morning, slept all day, and went to some amazing shows. I made havdalah during the set break between the second and third sets.
- Then there was Shabbat at Coventry. This time around, we weren't stupid, and left on Thursday and arrived on Friday morning (after a similarly awful traffic jam), well before Shabbat. We did kabbalat shabbat in the rain, and had a sumptuous tailgate Shabbat dinner on the hood of the car. Others weren't so lucky (or didn't plan ahead), but this story (involving the disciples of Rav Shmuel) deserves its own post.