Getting to know a new way…get in line!
Last week, I needed to get a national driver’s license, so I asked for directions to the “DMV” equivalent here and headed off on the adventure with Travis and Kristen. We walked to the bus stop, where we had just missed the bus, so we took that time to run over to the copy store and make the necessary documents we would need. Sometimes the so-called “lines” here can be an exasperating experience, depending on your state of mind during that particular episode. It usually involves quite a bit of what I perceive to be passive-aggressive weaseling one’s way to get the attention of the person behind the counter. In my ethno-centric way of thinking, everyone would leave the store much happier and receive better service, if we could all just form a nice line and wait until the person in front of us is finished doing their business. However, standing smashed against the wall for 15 minutes watching the four customers who came in behind me walk out the store, I decided I might die a slow death at the copy store if I don’t put forth some effort. So, in a blend of my American cultural skills and my growing local awareness, I “excused myself” to the people who had just walked in and held my paper out to be copied. To which, the woman behind the counter very happily complied, took my 2 cents and I was on my way!
On my way to wait…..because that little incident had just lost us the next bus.
When we finally arrived in the town, we asked for directions to the “DMV” and were greeted by puzzled looks. Eventually someone suggested the bank. At least it was a direction, so we headed there. The guard at the bank allowed us to enter and we were greeted by a line of cameras and signs about obtaining your driver’s licenses! Not at all what we had expected, but how wonderfully easy and efficient! I politely took a number and sat down (to which the guard furled his eyebrows and said, “No numbers. Just go up there.”). Since there was someone else at that teller’s counter, I decided to wait until he was finished, and then I approached the teller and asked about obtaining a license.
“Oh yes, we do licenses right here…..but not for foreigners.” He wrote the directions on a bank receipt and slipped it under the bullet-proof glass. I wanted to ask how he was so sure I was a foreigner, given my expert Spanish and all, but I thought he probably wouldn’t catch my joke.
Being “too far” to walk, everyone we asked suggested we take a taxi. We quickly found a ride with a rather grumpy taxi driver and headed on our way. We were sailing along as I was talking with Kristen in the backseat when *BAM* we smashed into the car in front of us. Apparently Mr. Grumpy’s day wasn’t going to get any better. We sat there stunned and then suddenly every person in the car realized we would not be continuing on this journey, so the driver punched the meter and read the amount, to which we paid our bill. Again, unlike our American experiences, everyone assured us there was no need to stick around, no one else was hurt, and so we continued on our way, a little shaken, but really very thankful, with the next taxi that came along.
We should have realized by the way the day was going that this was going to a long exercise in perseverance, (or we should have just gone home) but for some reason, we were determined to get this silly driver’s license! I stood in line (or sat, rather. Here, it is customary to grab the last available chair, and then as one person finishes their business, everyone slides one seat over. A kind of musical chairs, without the music.). When I had reached the coveted first chair, the woman at the counter said something in Spanish that made me know it was my time to come forward and I walked to her desk. I tried to made small-talk until we got to the part where she told me that, although I had paid $20 for a health certificate, the date on it was not soon enough and I would have to do it again. After a short conversation about what exactly was “too old” of a date, I learned that there is no specific date, but mine is most definitely “too old” so I would have to do that again.
No big deal, I half expected there would be a problem anyway, so I walked the two blocks to the medical examiner’s office, waited in a blessedly short line, and met with the examiner:
“Read the 8th line.”
And I’m on my way back to the “DMV” office when I see my friends, Travis and Kristen in a horribly long line outside the bank. “What’s this?” I asked.
“Oh, you have to wait in line here to get a stamp on your medical certificate. But there’s been some problem inside and they came out here, made an announcement (which we didn’t understand) and a bunch of people gave up and went home.” Being the persistent crowd that we were, though, we decided to wait until the security officers came out with force to make us leave. There was a stamp in there and we were going to get it!
So, we waited…..and waited….. We contemplated buying lunch to nourish us over the next part of this adventure, but how long would this go on, really? And we were getting desperately low on funds since everything had been much more expensive this morning than we had been told it would be.
Finally, the bank guard opened the door, did his security check on us and our bags, and permitted us to enter……to, of course, another line.
It was actually amusing how long it could take for the 5 people in front of us to be granted 5 stamps, but finally my time came, I boldly approached the window, asked for my stamp, and the befuddled teller replied, where is your “blahblahblah?” Well, I’m not sure. First, I don’t know if I have that form, and second, I’m really not sure what you’re even saying! So, she sweetly wrote it down on a piece of paper and said I must go to the “DMV” office and get it and then return. Did I know where it was or do I need directions? No, I was quite familiar, so we left the bank and headed back to the musical chairs room to get the “blahblahblah” form.
It was easy enough to obtain after the wait in line, and back I went to the bank while Travis waited in another line. When I finally got to Window 7 at the bank, I handed the teller my “blahblahblah” and my credit card and passport. He looked at me incredulously. Who did I think I was, coming in here with a credit card! (I’m sorry, sir, but I really have only $1.50 left in my bag. I thought that perhaps since this is a you know, bank, and we’ve done this like a million times at the bank before, and this is a Visa, you could accept……) But instead, I just smiled, and said, “Really? OK, I will be back.”
So, I went to Travis and Kristen, begged some more money off of them in exchange for holding a place in line for Travis, who was doing the whole process, just a few steps behind me. Returned to the bank, money in hand, to the teller who seemed a little impressed I had convinced some stranger in the parking lot to pay for my DMV bill.
So, as the final leg of our adventure race, we returned again to the “DMV,” bypassing the first set of musical chairs to pass ahead to the second set, where the flash of cameras assured us that someone somewhere was actually getting a driver’s license today!
After sliding our way to the front, I heard the magical words, “Cámara dos!” I smoothed my hair as I walked into the booth and handed the man my precious set of documents. He began typing and I sat up straight in the chair, contemplating which smile I would choose for this new identification…….happy Krista? pensive Krista? don’t you want to let me out of this ticket Krista? when my cloudy thoughts were interrupted by a “Where is your other paper Krista?”
“Excuse me?” I ask, as if I hadn’t heard this phrase 5 times already today and clearly understood its meaning.
“Did you wait in that line over there two times?”
“Yes, four times, actually.” thinking that if this were just a question of stamina, he would go ahead and take my picture.
“I’m sorry, but you are missing the final document. You must return to that line.”
So, back we went, happily sliding our way through the line with a delightful retired American couple who had just moved to the country, warning of the perils of being in a home owner’s association and how not like Florida it was here.
I returned to the same girl at the same desk who had not seen any reason to explain that I would have to come back to see her, although she has seen us walk in circles in front of her desk for the last 3 hours. She clickety clicked her keyboard and I was good to go…
…to the same old line with the same old cameras flashing away. By the time I reached the booth, it was all I could do pull together a smile.
The photographer told me I would have to wait to pick up my license, to which I fully expected him to tell me to return next Tuesday, but in a matter of minutes, they called my name. He handed me my license and I accepted with all the pride of receiving my college diploma. I looked down at the accomplishment of a day’s work and there she was, “Survivor Krista,” half-smile, complete with sweat drops, weight loss, and a dazed look in my sunken eyes, but it was my license and I had earned it!