It's a quarter to eight am, on any one of the mercifully cool spring mornings of 2011. I carefully navigate my bicycle from the relatively empty bedroom, where it sleeps by my side every night, through the crowded living room, past the table-on-wheels where my unemployed printer sits, between the heavy coffee table and the sticky black leather couch – two furnishings which came with the flat – pass by the pile of dishes drying on the counter, patting the pockets of my backpack to see that I have everything I need – a wallet, cigarettes, keys – and slip out the door of the subdivided apartment into the common corridor, its floor adorned by curls of dirt. The small stairwell is flooded with eastern light, and the carcasses of cockroaches who didn't make it through the most recent attacks of poison spray lay belly-up on almost every step. I reach the sidewalk, climb the too-high, flaking saddle of my bike and start riding.
Quickly I reach the end of my short street, Borochov, which sports an almost 1:1 air-raid-shelter to two-floor-apartment-building ratio. On the Corner of Rabbi Herzog stands a toy-like villa of decorated red wood, like the witch's house from "Hansel and Gretel", with a sculpted stork on its roof. Right and then left onto Henrietta Szold, a one-way tree-lined avenue where I ride against the traffic, trying to avoid the eternal puddle in the middle of the street. On the corner of Rambam, the municipal Rabbinate and across from it the commercial center of B Quarter, where I do my shopping. The center is not yet buzzing, but neither is it deserted. Kids on their way to school.
A left on President Weizman Boulevard, a name I always wonder at: the qualifier "President" doesn't distinguish between the two Weizmans it might be referring to. In Ashdod there is a definite contrast between the inner streets, like mine, which are dominated by a quiet neglect of weeds, rusty railings and hordes of cats – and the straight, wide, triumphal boulevards. I pass this one quickly, climb onto the sidewalk opposite and cut into the playground, whose centerpiece is a tall, symmetrical tower of colorful plastic, from which pipe-shaped slides extend. The playground is still empty, but the moment I pass it I am on a road again, across from Air Force Regional High School A. Here girls and boys wearing uniform t-shirts, some in black skullcaps, are crossing the road to the school's gate.
I pedal uphill to the corner of Bnai Brith, the bustling entryway into Ashdod. Across from it lies the ultra-Orthodox Area C. One of the buildings is covered by a gigantic ad for a supermarket. All kinds of people are crossing the road, mostly in the opposite direction, leaving the neighborhood towards the center of town. I wait for the left-turn signal or jayride, depending on my mood and the time.
Ashdod is a city of gentle slopes, and the next intersection is at the top of one of these barely-sensible hills. To the northwest the giant cranes of the port are visible, to the west lie the Heavy Industrial Zone and the vast commercial spaces of the Star Center. The sun has risen long ago, of course, but an early-morning cyan still lingers in the big sky and white clouds soar silently above the roaring road.
I have a short way to go on this main road before I turn right into the Light Industrial Zone. On the sides of the road, beside the many ordinary people huddling in the bus stations, begin to appear the black laborers. Some are standing, some sit or crouch on small cinderblocks between the bushes, awaiting employment. At the entrance to the Industrial Zone there is a small park with a high faucet, which appears, surprisingly enough, to have been put there for the workers' own needs, since nobody else occupies this space. This is the morning peak, and they are many. Some are African, some Palestinian, a small minority Asian. The Palestinians especially wear clothes that don't seem suitable for hard physical work: jeans, button-down shirts. Everything is faded and stained, but elegant nonetheless. Something is hard to define in the quick looks they give me as I pass by. I have no idea what they see in me and my kind, workers at a minimum wage which approximates their maximum wage, temporary manpower-agency laborers whose precarious income is a rock of stability compared to theirs.
Onwards, beyond the hummus and kebab eateries which line the beginning of the Industrial Zone towards the garages, construction material stores and other small and medium-sized businesses that string the majority of the road. Something is melancholy in the minimal effort these businesses expend on their esthetics; some don't even bother to spell their names the same way on both their signs, not to mention adhering to logos. The street is still mostly deserted; I pass it quickly. At the end of the road looms the gigantic Yaakobi Warehouses hangar, my workplace. I turn right, to the signpost where I always lock my bike – I have no competition for this spot, I'm the only one who comes to work by bicycle. If a bus has just arrived, there is a short wait at the gate. If not, I'm usually alone there, and still I have to wait a bit until the guard deigns to open the window and take my ID card. In exchange I get a yellow manpower worker card. I put the card in my wallet, bypass the guard's booth and walk towards the large yellow gate of the hangar proper, towards the beginning of the workday.