Friday, September 14, 2012

Back to (Driving) School

Back when I was a teenager, the biggest thing to have (aside from a boyfriend) was your license.  In Massachusetts back in the (gulp) 90s, you could get your permit at 16 and license at 16 1/2.  My dad used to let me drive the truck home from Five Corners in Easton back to our house starting when I was maybe 13 or 14.  That was back when you could do that stuff and not worry about DSS coming after you for breaking the law for letting your kid drive 2 1/2 miles.  It was a bonding time for me and my dad.

When I actually got my permit, my dad took the bull by the horns and immediately had me driving in Boston.  No fear for this man!  It's one of my fondest teen memories, driving with my dad during the summer days into "town".  Looking forward to my children someday having licenses fairly terrifies me and it makes me admire the patience my dad had with me, never backseat driving (if anything telling me to go slightly faster which I regularly remind him of when he tells me I now have a lead foot).  I'm thinking Aidan and Liam can get their licenses when they are ... oh 25 or so... that seems good for me.  A nice responsible age.

I didn't get my license on the first try and was pretty much devastated.  It was the WORST DAY OF MY LIFE (followed by many other teen drama WORST DAY OF MY LIFE moments).  All this hard work and it was a stupid mistake that caused me to fail the drivers portion of the exam.  A few weeks later I tried again and passed...whew!!  That was about 20 years ago.  Yes, 20 years.  Damn I feel old as I type this.

So why the trip down memory lane?  Because I'm going back to drivers ed.  One of the reasons why Josh and I chose not to have a car here in Barcelona was not just because there isn't a huge need, but because technically, we need to have a license here and the ones from the US don't transfer.  We were only here originally for 2 years and thought, well, we can manage without for 2 years.  And during those first two years I thought about it here and there.

When we extended the first time, I gave it some serious thought but then we were plagued with, "but where would we park a car and how much more would that cost us?  Is it worth the expense to have the car when we can rent if needed?".  Not to mention the cost of actually getting the license, we're talking about a mortgage payment here - as a friend of mine accurately said the other night - in the US it's a right to have your license, in Spain it's a privilege.  And it's so true because I think many people can't afford to get their license which would explain in part the high percentage of motos versus cars (not to mention the fact that a moto costs a lot less than a car).   

But then we extended again, meaning we still have just under 3 years left here.  And we moved.  To an apartment with it's own 2 car garage.  And so the parking issue is no longer a problem for us.  And with essentially half of our time left here, we decided to make the leap.  I'll go to driving school and get my license (again).

We actually have to go through drivers ed from start to finish - no shortcuts for previous experience or a condensed class to review the differences between driving in the US and Spain.  No, I have to take five - 8 hour days of classes and practical exams, the written exam (which is now on computer), then driving classes in the car (as many lessons as I want to pay for) and finally, the driving exam.  The classes and written exam are in English thankfully, one less worry there.  But of course, the hardest part of it all is the driving portion and that, my friends, will all be in Spanish.  I'm not stressed about it or anything...

However, it's not quite as simple as just showing up to class.  No, that would be too easy.  First I needed to go to a specific doctor's office in Barcelona that handles certified physical and eye exams before you can even sign up for drivers ed.  It's not like walking into the DMV at home and doing a simple eye exam.

On Wednesday I went to the doctor's where I was told you can just do a walk in appointment, just be there early!  Of course, I was a bit too early.  I went right from the bus stop arriving at the doctor at about 8:20 only to see the sign on the door stating that they did not open til 10.  My shit luck and not quite starting off this process as smoothly as I had hoped.

I hit the gym and then went back for a second attempt, hoping that the lines wouldn't be out the door.  I was pleasantly surprised to be the only one there.  So before I talk about my physical exam, let's refresh what the requirements are (or at least were back in the 90s) for going to drivers ed.  Um... you attend class.  Oh and you pay for class.  That's it.  When you pass you go for your driving portion you have to do an eye exam but that's AFTER you take the class and pass the written portion of the test.  Here, in Spain, you don't just walk into drivers ed, you have to do it with a certified paper stating that you are healthy enough to attend class.

I was smart enough to bring my NIE (my Spanish social security) info with me which they needed and then they brought me right into a room where the doctor took my blood pressure.  I'm pretty sure he said it was good which didn't surprise me - even pregnant I had excellent blood pressure.  He did a hearing test where he held a machine near me and it would beep.  I wasn't sure what to do since there was no button for me to press to acknowledge that it beeped or anything - so I would just say "si" each time I heard it.  Apparently I passed that part because we moved on to the eye exam.  It's good to know that I know my ABC's in Spanish since I had to read them on the far wall.  And no, Josh, I didn't need my glasses.  

From there I went into another room where we did some hand/eye coordination stuff.  First there was a line, like a 1980s video game type of a line and on that line was a dot.  Near the end of the line was a square that blocked out said line which then reappeared on the other side of the line.  The dot moves along the line and then "behind" the square.  I had to hit the button when I thought the dot would reappear.  Hmmm... ok.... 

The next two tests were similar except required a bit more focus.  The first was red road with a white dot along it.  The road was heading up... it kind of reminded me of one of those video games that the boys had as kids where you have to keep the car in the track.  Same thing.  I had to keep the dot in the track and the track moved from side to side as the road changed direction.  Not too hard.  But wait, there's more!!  Now you have two roads, one for each hand and each eye!!!  And you have to maneuver the dot along each of those roads staying within the lines - near impossible I say!!  I mean come on, I have great hand / eye coordination but really, using both hands to drive two different dots along 2 different winding roads?  Again, apparently I passed.  Whew!!!  

Then it was picture time - because the certified form isn't a certified form without a picture.  Smile and say queso!  Ok, part one of this debacle of getting my license is done.  Again let me remind you that all this certification means is that I'm healthy enough to TAKE THE CLASS.  This has NOTHING to do with my actual license exam.  Now on to part two... paying for said class.

So yesterday I went up to Sant Gervasi to go pay for the course.  This was a much easier process than getting the doctor's certification.  However, with me I needed to bring 2 copies of my passport, 2 copies of my NIE (social security), 4 pictures (that I took at a metro station on my way to pay for the class) and the doctor's certification.  Craziness!  I'm pretty sure in the US you just bring your birth certificate to prove you are old enough to take the class and that's it.  600+ euros later, the class is paid for and I start my first class in 2 weeks.  The class is in English as is the written (computer actually so typed???) exam.  But the actual driving portion will be in Spanish.  I'll keep you posted as I'm sure there are going to be some interesting insights into the world of drivers ed and some kind of debacle here or there to keep you entertained!


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