You will remember from my previous post that I’ve been in the process of getting a Mexican driver’s license since my Arizona license is going to expire next week on my birthday. My friend Antonio and I had done most of the footwork on Tuesday, so I figured all I needed to do on Wednesday was get some copies made and then take the required tests at the driver’s license office in Chapala.
Two hours, I figured (not counting driving time to and from Chapala), and I’m outta there with my new license. That was how I thought it would play out. But here’s how it REALLY played out.
I left my house this Wednesday morning about 8:30am and went over to our local Guadalajara Farmacia to get the copies of all the papers that I needed to present to the Mexican equivalent of the DMV. You’ll remember from my previous post that I had all the papers I needed, but I knew that I was going to have to provide copies of them as well. So I got one copy for the driver’s license folks and one for me. (After 4-1/2 years here, I’ve learned that if you get some kind of new documentation, you need to photocopy it for yourself because somewhere down the line, some agency is going to ask for it!)
With all the photocopies in my hot little hands, I headed to Chapala and the driver’s license bureau. I was tootling along nicely until I got a block past the main thoroughfare in Chapala and came to a screeching halt. Streets down here are very narrow and yet parking is allowed on one or sometimes both sides.
What I had run into was a one-lane street with a turn into another one-lane street but with huge trucks from the electric company parked on all corners. Now this will sound stupidly simple to my friends in the northeastern part of the U.S. who are still dealing with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy. Because I have to believe that there are electric company trucks all OVER their neighborhood.
Nonetheless, I had to sit behind a guy driving a very long-bed truck who just could NOT make that corner. Finally, a guy from the electric company’s cherry picker came down to help the poor schnook out and thereby opened up an exit for the rest of us. And away we went.
I made it down to the next intersection with no problems. This one was a 4-way stop and I had done my stopping and was pulling into the intersection when the truck to my left floored it and almost ran into me. Now normally this would not have concerned me. It happens all the time. But I had been studying for my driver’s license test and knew that the vehicle on the right at a four-way stop has the right of way. And, yet, there was I was on my way to get my driver’s license and a POLICE truck had almost flattened me by ignoring that rule!
I mean, that’s an omen; right? And not a good one.
Nonetheless, I ventured on. Thanks to what Antonio and I had discovered the day before, I was able to locate the driver’s license bureau in Chapala pretty rapidly. I found a place to park around the corner and headed into the office. And, folks, I swear that I was the first person there! I was so excited! I would be whipping out of there within an hour or at most two. And since I had games lined up to play with my friends at 1PM, I really did wanna fly through there.
But, no, my friends, no. It just didn’t happen that way. It happened the same way that dealing with the bureaucracy always happens. You think you’re on the fast track, but there is no fast track. You’re just the first of a herd, so no matter how fast you go, the herd is behind you and must also be serviced, one by one. Sigh.
And that’s how it went all day.
There was only one guy doing all the new license applications and the renewals. He was going as fast as he could, but he still could only process one person at a time. And he chose to do it in clumps. You know, not doing one person all the way from start to finish (and that one person would have been ME!), but instead doing each task for every person.
That’s just great unless you are ME and the first one there! (Oh, wait, sorry! Got a little hostile there.) Anyhow, as I said, this guy was working as fast as he could. I got called up first and presented all my documentation and he entered the information into the computer and scanned my passport and some other things and sent me back to the waiting room. Then he called up person #2 and did the same thing. And so it went through person #13.
Next came the taking of the photographs for our licenses. I was, of course, first in line again but for whatever reason, the guy could just not get a good photo of me. I was having flashbacks to grade school when somebody said I was so ugly I was gonna break the camera. I hadn’t done it then, but apparently I had now! I mean, who the hell needs to have six photos taken before the cop says it’s okay? It’s not like any “official” photo is flattering. So how bad could these pictures be???
Finally I was released and the other 12 people were called up one by one to get their photos taken. Then I was called back to do the fingerprint thing. Now, I call it the “thing” because I’m not sure what the hell it was doing. I had to put my fingers onto some kind of reader and make sure that a good copy of my fingerprints was gotten. No thumbs involved, just the other four fingers in groups of two.
In my hippie past, I’d had to do this same kind of thing, but not in such odd groupings. (You protest the war in Vietnam enough, you’re gonna get fingerprinted.) But back then, it was one finger at a time. Here in Chapala, they wanted the index and middle finger on one side of the “divider” and the ring and little finger on the other.
Okay, fine. I can do that. Except I couldn’t. I mean, I apparently couldn’t push down hard enough to get a good reading. And it soon became clear that I was not alone. Once I finally got mine done, I went back to my seat and watched the license guy pressing down on everybody’s fingers to get a good imprint. At this point I gotta believe that the problem lies with the machine, not with our fingers. But I figured I don’t need to mention it; right? Because if I do, there’s no way they’re going to give me a passing grade on that parallel parking nightmare!
Having finally done all the fingerprinting, the DMV man calls me up to do the “written” test. In this day and age, it’s not really a written test at all, of course. It’s a computer test. And I had actually studied for this. My friend Jonnie emailed me the test in English and in Spanish. And my friend Antonio had told me that it was really simple. They were just going to show me a bunch of pictures of signs and I merely had to identify what they meant.
Easy-peasy, I’m thinking! I’d looked at Jonnie’s English-language test and was comfortable with Antonio’s explanation. I figured it was just a matter of knowing the Spanish word for “right” and the one for “left” or the words for “stop,” “slow down,” and “speed up.” And I know all those, so no problem!
Except that it didn’t quite work that way.
Oh, sure, I knew what all the signs meant, but I could not figure out which one of the answers corresponded to what I knew. For instance, there was a photo of a vehicle pulling up to a red light. On the surface of the street was a wide white line. Now you and I both know that the correct answer is that you stop at the white line; right? But in my three choices of answers, the word “linea” appeared in two, coupled with a bunch of other words that I couldn’t translate.
Now I should mention that upon entering the Chapala driver’s license office, there is a rather large sign that says (in English), “You do not need a translator to help you. Our friendly staff can assist you.” Okay, okay, it didn’t actually say the friendly staff part, but it certainly implied it!
But apparently the friendly staff was the poor guy who’s doing all the work today. And he just does not have time to come over and translate for me. So I just had to make do on my own. Fine; I’ll just do it. I mean on every one of the 10 questions, I could rule out one answer of the three offered, leaving me a 50/50 chance of getting the answer right. That’s not so bad; right?
I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna be unable to drive if I don’t pass this test! Oh, wait, it’s exactly like I’m gonna be unable to drive if I don’t pass this test. Now I have been a scofflaw much of my life, and this includes driving with an expired license for maybe eight or ten years. (Hey, it was a political protest! Cut me some slack here!) But there’s no way that I would chance driving in Mexico with an expired license. First of all, my insurance coverage would certainly be invalidated because of it. And second, and most importantly, I would likely find myself locked up in a Mexican jail, which is totally NOT an experience I’m looking forward to.
So the pressure began to mount. I had 10 minutes to answer the 10 questions. Had the test been in English, I would have been through in probably 90 seconds. However, it wasn’t in English and I was spending a good deal of time trying to translate both of the two possible answers. I am SO not liking this. And things just get worse when I get to question #5 and the photo which I am to “interpret” disappears in about five seconds. Oh, jeez, what was it??? What was the photo??? i was spending the five seconds trying to read the question! Now I have to not only guess at my interpretation of the photo, I have to try to recall what the heck the photo showed!
And I’m an old woman whose short-term memory is surely impaired by age. Why, oh, why did I quit the gingko pills??, I asked myself. Oh, that’s right, because I was trying to save money. How many disasters have befallen me because I just won’t spend a few bucks??? (And, yeah, yeah, I know that you might place the blame on my lifelong love of alcoholic beverages, but I’m placing it squarely on the shoulders of my frugality!)
But the computer clock is ticking and I just have to guess. And what’s the rule when you are guessing at multiple-choice answers with three choices? You choose B! And, folks, that’s what I did if that was an option. And, you know what? I passed!
And from there on, it was pretty much downhill! Even the parallel parking test didn’t give me much pause. I did the best parallel parking job of my life! You would all have been thrilled. Had you been standing on the sidewalk watching, you would have gasped in horror at how close I came to mowing down the orange cones, but you would have broken into spontaneous applause when I got close to the curb without killing even one cone!
It was a long, long day. It was so long that I even missed playing cards in the afternoon because as of the start time for the card games at 1pm, I was still sitting in the waiting room of the driver’s license office waiting to take my driving test. But things hard-fought for are things appreciated and I sure do appreciate my new Mexican driver’s license!!
And if you are wondering about the title of this blog, it’s a salute to one of my favorite groups ever, R.E.M. And here’s your link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuFId1RYSZE&list=AL94UKMTqg-9Ac0qR26jIGA6FYaz4FFOlx&index=24