Driver’s License

MOPT II- The Second Half of the Story~

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.

MOPT- Half of the Story~

“Yes, this is the right office, but you must go to the Banco Nacional and pay 10,000 colones each before I can renew these driver’s licenses,” said the nice man behind the glass partition separating us. “And anyway, our system is down right now. I won’t be able to do anything for you today.”

This was something new; not the fact that the system was down, that was common enough. It was the fact that he told me about it so I didn’t make a second trip after paying at the bank that was so remarkable. This, in my estimation, is real progress and I told him so.

“Thank you so much for telling me.”

“Con mucho gusto,” he replied as we left the MOPT office.

Alan and I had been eyeing at our driver’s licenses for the past month, aware that they would need to be renewed this month, with the same anticipation as an upcoming colonoscopy.

It was our first trip to the MOPT (the equivalent of the DMV) office outside Limon. Finding it had been no simple task. We asked in town and were directed out past the prison, and further out beyond the truck yards, where containers were stacked like oversized Legos, and finally behind the bus yards for TRACASA, through a chain link gate with the rusted and barely visible sign reading MOPT, to ultimately find the transportation department offices.

We bounced our way over the rough gravel entrance and finally arrived at a group of rundown buildings that used to be blue. Out back was a chain link fence surrounding the impounded vehicles like some vehicular gulag. We parked and walked to the building entrance where we found the familiar socialistic line of people standing idly, leaning against anything vertical for support, most of them twiddling their cellular phones.

“Is this the line?” I asked the woman in the tight black lyrca pants at the end, to which I received a jutted jaw as she pointed with her lips toward the inside of the building. We entered the grubby office and found two windows, both without any line in front of them. Surely it couldn’t be this easy.

It wasn’t.

The man in the first cubicle informed me that I needed to speak to the gentleman behind the second window, who was idle as well. It was this man who told me about the failed system and the bank.

In the old days–a mere ten years ago– they would never have given us the secondary information. It was as though they got some morbid glee out of making a person make multiple trips to get anything done. I believe Franz Kafka took his training in places like this.

We left and drove the five miles back to Limon to pay the fee at the bank. The line stretched down the block as people waited for the bank to open. I realized it was not only a Monday, but also the first of the month and we were going to be hours waiting for people to get their pensions, make their weekly deposits and whatever other business they felt the need to conduct.

Ah, another dead-end in one of the many labyrinthine routes to a fairly innocuous chore. I left and we went about getting other chores done. It then occurred to me that perhaps our own bank, the Banco de Costa Rica, might have an account with MOPT and we went to that bank. Same deal, but I persevered and entered. I went to one of the ubiquitous armed guards that are in every bank and increasingly in every business that handles cash.

“Hi. Can you tell me if the bank has an account with MOPT. I need to pay for my license renewal.” I said, giving him my best smile.

“Let me see your license.” I handed him my driver’s license.

“You can’t renew this now. It’s not expired yet. See, the expiration date is on the 13th. Come back on the 14th.”

“Sir, the license will be expired by then and the police will give us a ticket. I just need to know if the bank has an account with MOPT” I could feel my jaw getting tight. Try to smile, I reminded myself.

“Here is the telephone number, you have to make an appointment.” Defeated I left with the phone number.

On the way home I called the number he had given me using my cell phone. No, I did not need an appointment; I could go directly to the MOPT office. Yes, I could pay at the bank.

We went home stopping off at our local branch office and paid for our renewal. It was during this transaction that I learned I could have done this online myself and the name of the agency was COSEVI not MOPT. Oh, well.

We were half way to being renewed: We had receipts showing we had paid, but still had expired licenses.

(to be continued)