If there’s one concession to which I would like to hold the rights to in Mexico, it’s the one that deals in manila folders.
I say this because no matter which of the many tentacles of the bureaucracy one has to deal with here, they all love manila folders. It seems to me sometimes that nothing is really done officially until a folder gets involved. Might be on the bureaucrat’s end; might be on that of the weary petitioner for some service.
The bureaucratic offices with which I have dealt during my time here are immigration (INM), government-sponsored health insurance (IMSS), the tax and water departments in Jocotepec, and, now, the driver’s license bureau for the State of Jalisco. When I have dealt with any of these agencies directly, they always seem to whip out a manila folder either containing information about me or in which to put the information about me that I am offering.
I’ve been in pueblos previously unknown to me and seen men in ties carrying numerous manila folders and followed them because I know they will lead me to the plaza around which the municipal buildings sit. And, generally, where there’s a plaza, there’s a great church that I want to see.
Today this fact of Mexican bureaucratic life was impressed upon me once again. It all started when my friend and helper Antonio and I went to Chapala to get me a Jalisco driver’s license. For numerous years, I’ve had an Arizona driver’s license. The absolute nicest thing about it is that an Arizona license is good for a looooong time. I mean, it’s good until you reach age 65, even if, apparently, it was issued when you were 30! (Although I do understand that you have to come in every 12 years or so and get your eyes tested and maybe get a new photograph that looks more like you 12 years down the road.)
But, sadly, my 65th birthday is nigh and, apart from going back to Arizona for an eye test to have my license renewed, it means I need to get a Mexican driver’s license. And since airfares to Phoenix, for example, are crazy expensive (i.e. $600 or $700US), I decided it was time to get a driver’s license here in Mexico.
Of course, I should have started this nightmare weeks ago. I mean, it’s not like I didn’t KNOW that my birthday was approaching. But, hey, I was busy! I had blogs to write, and beaches to visit, and slot machines to play on Facebook. And, of course, I had to continue to support the Mexican vodka and Kermato manufacturers and/or bottlers! I mean, I’d never forgive myself for not contributing to their well-being. But, admittedly, my support of them sometimes leads to siestas instead of dealing with bureaucrats.
However, today (Tuesday, 6 November) I decided that I just HAD to get a new driver’s license. Time was flying by. I only had a week to get it accomplished. So I coerced my friend Antonio into coming with me to Chapala to help me get this job done. And at 8:45AM this morning, we set off for the driver’s license bureau.
A few months ago, the driver’s license office left its long-time residence in another pueblo and established itself somewhere in Chapala. Neither Antonio nor I knew exactly where. My friends had told me “somewhere down by the American Legion” and Antonio’s friends had told him “somewhere over by Cruz Roja [Red Cross].”
I knew where both of them were, but when we got to the American Legion and I looked down the street to the left, I found that the calle was closed off by orange cones, so turning there wasn’t even an option. Given that, I drove down by the Cruz Roja office and clinic, thinking that maybe we would just see the driver’s license office on the way.
But we didn’t. What we did see was a young man in a white doctor’s coat outside Cruz Roja bending over a 15-year-old automobile under which another young man was laying on the ground. “OMG,” I thought, “we have come upon a true medical emergency!” But, no. After replaying the vision in my head a few times, I’m convinced that the automobile belonged to the “doctor” and the guy on the ground was repairing it.
At any rate, Antonio asked the “doctor” how to get to the license bureau and away we went. We found it easily a few blocks away and I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were lots of parking spaces available, none of which required me to parallel park [there will be more about that later].
I should have known that we were in the wrong place because nobody was walking around with manila folders, but I didn’t. So I parked and off we went to the office. There were three windows for transacting business open and only one person in front of us. “Oh, yeah, this is great!,” I thought to myself. “It’s gonna be a breeze!”
And, you know what? It was!
Within a very short period of time, Antonio and I went to the window and explained that I needed to get a Jalisco driver’s license for me, but that I still had a valid license from Arizona. The gentleman behind the counter smiled and nodded and then asked to see my Arizona license, my Mexican visa, and my passport, all of which I had with me. He then asked if I would be driving an automobile or a pickup. I was prepared for this. For whatever reason, if you are driving an 8- or 9-person SUV, you need only have a regular driver’s license. If, like me, you are driving a 2-seat small bed pickup, you need a “chofer’s” license, presumably because Mexican owners of small bed pickup trucks pack people back there like sardines!
Although I do not pack people back there like sardines, I did not mind paying the additional charges. The man behind the desk took down all my information, asked for 483 pesos, and handed me a receipt. Antonio and I both looked at it and then Antonio asked the Mexican equivalent of “okay, fine, now what?”. And the answer was “Now you need to go to the driver’s license bureau.”
Damn. I (and Antonio) thought we WERE at the driver’s license bureau. But, no, of course not. Antonio had actually mentioned to me on the drive over that one had to pay for their license at some bank in Chapala; that the driver’s license place did not take cash. However, it turns out that you can pay for your license either at the bank or at this office which we happened to be in. Since parking by the bank on the main drag in Chapala is near impossible, we had actually stumbled onto a great thing! I was paid up and ready to go.
Having gotten directions to the driver’s license office from a security guard outside the payment office, Antonio and I took the three-block long hike and found the office for which we were looking. I presented my documents (my passport, my Mexican visa, my CURP card [kinda like a social security card in the U.S.], my payment receipt, and the electric bill for the house in which I live in Jocotepec). I had forgotten nothing!
But, wait, this is the bureaucracy with which we are dealing and they make up their own rules. And one of their rules was that unless the CFE (electricity) bill was in MY name, it wasn’t any good. It’s not in my name, it’s in the name of my landlords in Canada. But it’s the very same bill that I use to get my Mexican visa, so why is it not sufficient? Doesn’t immigration wanna know where I am at least as much as the driver’s license people??? Apparently not.
So, Antonio asked her, what was I supposed to use. She said that I needed a certificate of residency that could be obtained at City Hall in Jocotepec, so back Antonio and I went to Joco. Antonio, being related to or friends with almost everyone in Joco, established where we needed to go and we easily found our way to the correct office at City Hall.
A very competent young woman, having heard Antonio’s explanation of what I needed, took my documentation (passport, Mexican visa, CURP card, and CFE bill), and told me that the only other thing I needed was a small photo of myself….which I happened to have since even though other bureaucratic offices say that you need lots of photos, they only use about 2/3 of them. But, wait a minute! WTF? The only documentation that I needed to provide to establish where I live is the very same CFE bill that the driver’s license people wouldn’t accept???? [Sigh.]
But now I’m loaded for bear and tomorrow morning I will return to the driver’s license bureau in Chapala and hopefully get to take my written, driving, and eye tests. And I have all the documentation in a manila folder that they gave me at Joco city hall, so I’m pretty sure that I’m good and official!
But I think I’m gonna have to parallel park during my driving test. So manila folder or not, it’s gonna be a disaster! Stay tuned!