Undeterred by our previous failure to obtain our licenses in a single visit, and truthfully I can’t think of anything is this country that we’ve ever accomplished in one visit if it has to do with an agency of the Costa Rican government, Alan and I forged on.
Last week it was necessary to go to San José, partly to buy some things we needed for the house, and partly to retain our sanity in the face of this ongoing lawsuit with the neighbors.
We decided–or rather I decided–, as it was on our way, we’d give the old licenses a try again. Approaching the MOPT/COVESI offices, I had the resolve of a conditioned marathon runner. I would prevail despite all the odds against me. And, after all, we had our receipts from the bank.
I have come to agree with Adam Gopnik, who, in his wonderful book, Paris to the Moon, describes the average Parisian’s encounter with the never-ending bureaucracies, which invade daily life. He says, “Each Ministry is a bit like a Nautilus machine, designed to give maximum resistance to your efforts, only to give way just at the moment of total mental failure.”
Battling with the bureaucracies provide a common ritual enjoyed by enthusiasts of modern health spas. About once a month or so one of us is forced to engage in an activity that is mildly stressful, forces us in close proximity with total strangers engaged in the same act, and ends with a sense of exhilaration if the goals are met, or a realization that we must work harder to accomplish our goals should we fail. A workout.
We arrived at the MOPT offices in Limón at 8 A.M. sharp. That’s one lesson I’ve learned over the years: either be the first in line or manage to get yourself inside the doors (so they can’t shut them in front of you) within a half-hour of lunch or quitting time and you are bound get service quite quickly. We were first in line.
This time it was a jovial black woman who spoke the Caribbean singsong English I so love to hear, “Is what I tellin’ ya, da’ling. You’s got to go to the doctor and get a physical. But make sure you tell dem is far a driver’s license only, you hear?” her lilting voice was matched by a smiling face. Where to get the physical, I wondered.
“You know de Methodis’ charch in Limón?” I did, so that was fortunate.
“Go on up thar pas’ that, and… oh, cien meters farther is a carner. You know it?” I said I did. What is the point in questioning her? I felt as though someone had added another ten-pound weight on the Nautilus machine, but I was determined. I would simply scour the entire area or ask someone when we got closer to the scene.
“Okay, turn thar and go on up maybe 25 meters. You find him thar. Name is Coto; Dr. Coto.” This is where Costa Rican directions get tricky. It’s the “turn there” and the “on up” that defy actual directions, but never mind. I felt I could find it.
“So, I guess we’ll do that when we get back from San José,” Alan said casually as we got in the truck.
“No. I can feel it. We can get this done. We’re not in any hurry are we? Hell, we can spend the night here if we want.” Alan knows better than to argue with me when I’m this focused.
We drove the five miles back to Limón and found he Methodist church and the corner and the office. I went in to ask if they could take us right away while Alan parked the truck.
“Por supuesto,” said the friendly clerk. “The doctor is on his way in and he’ll take you first.” Of course he would take us first. What a racket. It cost us the equivalent of $50 dollars for a blood pressure check, height, weight, and one line on the eye chart (somewhere between two or three lines of normal). Oh, and he asked in passing if I could hear him all right. That was the hearing test. I paid and we were set to leave.
“You see these two boxes, here?” The receptionist asked, pointing at two empty squares on the medical exam form. “You need to go to the bookstore (one block up) and buy the stamps for this, otherwise it’s no good.” Another five pounds of resistance was stacked on the machine.
The bookstore she referred to had closed a year ago, according to the black man standing in front of it, “But you can buy the stamps from a lady what sell them up by the bank. Not in the bank, in front.” Another 1000 Colones.
Back to MOPT, and still there was no line at the window. The jovial black woman was still there. I handed all documents through the window and she nodded approvingly as she punched our information into the computer.
“Go wait over there,” she said pointing to a row of chairs filled with other lost souls. Alan and I went over and leaned against the wall like sweaty athletes toward the end of a long workout.
About five minutes later a very nice lady who spoke only Spanish ushered us into her office ahead of all the others. I asked, tentatively if we were cutting in line.
“Oh, no. There are all waiting to take their driver’s tests.” Well thank the motor vehicle gods for that small favor. She also told us in passing that people from San José often come here to get their licenses renewed because it is so quick here.
She sat us down, took our pictures, and created brand new shiny driver’s licenses that will expire February 07, 2013– just long enough for me to forget how to go about the renewal process.