Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Licensed to drive

Before we knew we were staying an additional year in Santa Ana, I remember feeling relief that we’d never have to renew our driver’s licenses here in Costa Rica. And now? I guess the joke’s on me. About a week ago our licenses expired and we had to bite the bullet and have them renewed.

Maybe you’re thinking this shouldn’t be such a big deal. After all, in the US you head to the DMV, show a couple of forms of ID, pass a vision screening, lie about your weight (oh wait, is that just me?) pay your $25 and smile for the camera. It’s a hassle, sure, but really not that bad. Right?

Just pondering a morning spent with the Costa Rican bureaucracy filled me with dread, although renewing a license isn’t as bad as renewing residency. Regardless, it’s an evil necessity, and so Dan took off work on Wednesday morning and we were off to Uruca. Seriously, I’m not even going to discuss the experience that can be driving in Uruca—particularly when there is construction on the highway exits—other than to say it’s bad and it’s scary and we both hate it. Whew.

Our first stop was the “dictamen”—a “medical office” (note how loosely I use that term) a few blocks from the official licensing site. This is the biggest racket around. We stood in a long line to then pay about $30 each for the medical exam, which is basically answering questions about health, reading a row on the eye chart (in Spanish, so don’t mess it up!), getting blood pressure taken and … wait for it … getting a blood test to verify blood type. This is a new aspect of the licensing process. I’m guessing it was implemented to help the bazillions of people in CR traffic accidents each year receive the right type of blood at the hospital. Again, whew.

Gotta admit, I wasn’t too thrilled about this blood test business. I’m not afraid of needles, but I am afraid of dirty needles, unsanitary conditions, and getting something like this done at a dreary, government establishment. Dan and I know our blood types but didn’t have any official documents to prove it, so off to the little room we went.

I was relieved to see the laboratorio was clean (but still dreary—ha!), there were needles in sterile packages, plenty of alcohol wipes and a nurse with fresh gloves. Now, when I was in 7th grade science we tested ourselves to learn our blood types (I don’t even know if we had gloves—can you imagine?!) with just a finger prick. So I’m wondering why the government needs an entire vial of my blood. Are there other plans for this? And can you imagine the uproar regarding violation of civil liberties (hello, Big Brother!) if the US government required a vial of blood to be a legal, driver’s license-carrying American? Yeah, me neither!

After the blood draws we went to another room for the medical exams, then had to leave the room and wait for our blood test results. Once someone came out and found us (we were just kind of standing with a bunch of other people but are easily recognizable for our US-ness) we had to go back to the doctor so he could fill in the blood type on our medical form. Now we were ready to get in yet another line and pay the $22 a piece for the licenses. A hundred dollars for two new DLs. Good times, good times.

Papers in hand, we headed to COSEVI (Consejo de Seguridad Vial, the Council of Roadway Safety) a few blocks down the road. We got the last parking spot available—a red flag that there was gonna be a long line for the licensing, and we were not disappointed. I had paper ticket #09 and Dan was #10. The electronic sign showed person #77 had just been called. Time to take a seat for what I think is a rather amusing aspect of this entire process.

In this large waiting area are four long rows of about 20 black chairs. As each person enters the queue, he or she sits in the chair closest to the end, all the way in the back. Then, as each person from the front row is called into a cubicle to receive a license, everyone stands up, moves one chair over, and sits down again. And so on. And so forth. So Dan and I got to do this more than 30 times. Stand up, move one, sit down. It’s not a speedy process (especially when the licensing agents take a coffee break in the middle of the morning), but you know, it was relatively peaceful and cool in that room, and Dan and I took the opportunity to chat, laugh, note the big picture of Jesus hanging in the waiting area (not gonna see that in the US either) and just be together. Nothing like a little quality time between husband and wife, all while doing the COSEVI Driver’s License Shuffle.

(See the guy starting to stand? Gotta fill in that empty seat next to him! Thankfully I got this photo to demonstrate, plus you can see the Jesus picture above the plants.)

Eventually our numbers were up. We headed to separate cubicles, gave our pertinent info, and got our spankin’ new licenses. The process from start to finish took about three and a half hours, but we made it. These new licenses are good for another five years, meaning we’ll be back in the US long before they expire, but at least we’re legal now.

And you know what? They didn’t even ask us for our weights.

¡Pura licensia!


Anonymous said...

I can so remember sitting in Mr. Brandau's class typing our blood. Not very sanitary!

Secondary Roads said...

When we lived in San José, a Tico friend told me, "Nuestro himno nacionál es 'Haga la Cola'." He had good reason.
-- Chuck

Justine said...

Holy crap, are you kidding me??? OMG, this is completely ridiculous. But I have to admit, the musical chairs aspect of it really cracked me up. Up down, up down, up down. You got a workout in while waiting in that line!

Now, if this license is good for 5 years, why was your other one only good for 2???

Justine :o )