Tuesday, October 11, 2005

You really should

You guys should all have blogs.

Knowing you get to complain about something to the entire world really makes things less annoying as they are happening. You start writing about it in your head, the focus shifts, it's healthy.

So I'm driving to San Jose yesterday. I'm behind a bus, which begins to slow considerably and (I'm pretty sure) put on its flashers. I thought I remembered a bus stop about there, and I had a good view of the road ahead, so I pulled around it (double yellow line be damned). I was a little irritated when the bus didn't stop, but instead trundled on down the hill, gaining a bit of speed and making me work a little harder to pass than I felt was necessary.

But here's my point. When I glanced up and saw that the bus driver was actually talking on his cell phone, I immediately saw the scene through the context of the blog and began composing this entry in my head.

(The irony of the fact that I was passing illegally while on my way to get my driver's license didn't even hit me until that night. That's what driving here will do to you. I'm pretty sure I still notice the solid line, and I often respect it, even. (Which of course makes it that much more dangerous for the driver behind me, who then has to pass me and a bus, often uphill and around a curve.) But if I can see far enough ahead, I will go ahead and pass a bus or slow truck, double yellow line, as I said, be damned.)

So anyway. The MOPT (which is the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation = Costa Rica's DMV).

Finding the place was actually the toughest part: I had been twice before, but had never driven myself. I looked up the address in the white pages, but that was as useless as you'd expect (again, don't get me started on the CR phone books...). But I shouted over to a cab driver at a red light and he gave me directions that didn't take me all the way there, but did put me in the right part of town. I asked a lady who didn't know, and then a guy who told me that a right at the next light would take me straight there. Well, that street was one-way to the left, so I took the next one and, indeed, it took me straight there.

I knew I was in the right place when I saw a grubby guy at that next traffic light with a sandwich board offering medical exams for driver's licenses. Then another guy on the same street tried to wave me over to a grimy gate with the same sign. The hand painted (or magic markered) signs offering medical exams were thicker in the next block, and then I was there. The parking lot attendant tried valiantly to talk me into getting the medical exam there, but I held out. And I may have actually been rude to the crowd of guys hawking medical exams on the steps of the MOPT office itself.

Once I got in, it all went quite smoothly, with six steps accomplished in an hour and a quarter. I did, of course, need the medical exam, but I knew from last year when I tried unsuccessfully to get my license, that there was a tiny but clean office straight across the street where they charge the official rate ($10, just raised from $6) and the doctor is a woman. Not that there's a lot involved - height, weight, reflexes, eye chart, stethoscope.

Then across the street in the other direction for the various photocopies required, then back into the DMV office for the most daunting step of all, and one that has broken down on me in the past. Foreign residents of Costa Rica who have a valid driver's license from their own country can get a Costa Rican license without jumping thorugh too many hoops. However, the foreign license has to be "validated" by someone. Someone specific. And if she's not in that day, there is no recourse but to come back when she is. Before getting the medical certificate I had stopped by her office and found a locked door and two guys waiting in the hall. Not auspicious.

When I got back with my stuff, there were five people waiting outside the locked door. But after 15 minutes, she came back and whipped through those validations in record time. Then I could breathe easier because all I had to do was go through the regular process to get the thing issued. For those of you counting along at home, that's three steps down and three to go.

First you go to the computer line, which was...oh, I'd say about 15 people long at the time. They have five computer stations, three of which were staffed. The computers are all matching, new-looking Dells, and when it was my turn I even noticed a Microsoft sticker on one proclaiming that it was running a legal, licensed copy of Windows. My guy was interrupted twice by some other employee asking about something, but whatever. My chair was missing an armrest, but was pretty comfortable.

Then I had to go make a bank deposit ($8) and would you believe they have a bank branch right there, inside the MOPT??? And there were three windows, all with tellers, serving a total of two people? No way.

The last stop is to get your picture taken, fingerprint scanned, and signature digitally recorded. There were probably 20-some people in line for that. There are six camera stations set up, and I think about four of them were staffed. The "line" for this is that marvelous Costa Rican phenomenon: rows of molded plastic seats where everybody gets up and scoots over one each time somebody is called for their turn. I was soooo tempted to leave an extra space between me and the next guy, who was fanning himself so hard he must have been working up another sweat. And, not that he was that big a guy, but he just didn't seem able to contain himself to the space of a single seat.

But, fortunately, I sucked it up and sat in the appropriate seat. I say fortunately because the security guard assigned to that section clearly has too much time on his hands, and patrolled the area several times to make sure everybody moved over, every seat, every time (I guess in case a sudden influx of 40 additional people flooded in - there were four empty rows behind us). He also busted me for sticking my papers in my backpack instead of keeping them visible.

I didn't get the camera guy I was hoping for, who was genial and seemed to get people to smile. The guy I did get looked like the quintessential government employee: skinny, pasty (or he would have been, if the Costa Rican complexion could manage "pasty") and expressionless.

He did his computer thing, then kind of nodded at the camera, so I obligingly looked at it and smiled. I had watched some of the other camera guys enough to know that once the picture is taken, they it photo and do some other computer stuff, so when the camera made a noise I settled back and looked around the room while I waited. Then the camera flashed. Oops. So he nodded at it again and I tried again. And I'm not sure just how it happened, but I glanced away just as it flashed. Again. And then you know what? The little government employee dude got a little bit of personality! He actually looked over and made a little joke about what must be so interesting up there, and then he pointed to the camera again and told me to smile, in a way that kind of made me laugh, and my picture came out pretty good. Yay.

So then I signed the little electronic pad thing and held my forefinger on the little infra-red sensor thing, and then waited for my card and got it and went home, the end.

EDITED: Okay, okay. I blurred the juicy parts. Sheesh. But true.


Lisa October 11, 2005 1:16 PM  

Hey that's a pretty cool license. I just can't figure out if the background is a funky green beach or rain forest bonsai.

Jennifer October 11, 2005 3:52 PM  

I noticed that when I scanned it in. It's actually an aerial view of a beach that has a land bridge to an island.

Here's a picture of the same thing from a different angle.

Also, I wonder why my license says "Null" (which has no meaning in Spanish) at the bottom??

Dad October 11, 2005 4:50 PM  

Sigh. I knew it would happen. You've turned into a Costa Rican driver. (And now you can prove it!)


Dot October 12, 2005 6:58 AM  

I have to admit: your life is VERY interesting. I am kinda jealous.

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