a South African citizen in the 21st century!
This week the day arrived when I had to renew my driver's license. I only have Fridays available to do my private business, so...
...yesterday morning I started out early to the nearby town of Estcourt to do the deed. Only thing is I had not dressed for a drastic change in the weather; from a previously sultry autumn day on Thursday, to a wet and icy cold morning. I only realized how cold when I was slithering along the muddy farm road and decided it was not worth trying to turn around to come home and add a winter jacket to my ensemble.
When I arrived at the licensing bureau at 7.45am and saw all the other people dressed in leather- or padded jackets and warm long pants, I knew I, personally, was in for a very chilly experience. In fact, when I arrived at the outdoor reception area, the lady taking down our details, mentioned the cold and asked if I didn't own a warm coat.
I took my place - I was number 20 - in the queue, on a plastic chair to the rear of the open sided waiting area. And proceeded to freeze. Within five minutes, my hands were stiff with the cold and no matter how I tried to hug my arms to my body and huddle over in a ball, I continued to freeze.
I was duly approached by the photographer who asked me to accompany him. He took me to a little room where he seated me in a chair and asked me to face the camera in his hand. He took a photo, told me that I owed him R50/US$2.50, while he printed three copies. The room we were in was so warm, I had the hysterical urge to not only pay him for the photo, but to offer him a sum of money if only he would let me wait it out in his "office" . Of course I didn't and armed with my photos, I stepped back out into the cold.
Back in the queue, at number 20, I continued to freeze. At 8.15 I decided to give this exercise a miss. I got up and told the receptionist I was going into town. I may or may not return.
In the center of town, I found parking in the street where there never is an available space. Seeing this as a good omen and feeling much cheered, I decided to look for a warm jacket or hoody. I walked up the street to Milady's, a franchise ladies boutique. As I stepped inside, I was enveloped by waves of warmth and greeted by several very friendly staff members. This cheered me even more. I never dither over purchases. I know my size and I know what I like (normally it's bling and I generally home in on the turquoise, peach colored and even beige items, as long as the latter has glittery bits on it!
I chose three items and walked to the back of the store, where another friendly assistant showed me to the fitting rooms. I immerged with my choice (a padded turquoise jacket) over my arm and the other two items back on their hangers. I made for a shelf with gloves of which there were only dusty pink ones. I took a pair. Then I spotted a special offer on reading glasses so I took two pairs. They wouldn't warm me, but they were on special...
At the counter, the saleslady rang up my purchases, I swiped my bank card and I said, if it was OK with her, could I wear my new clothes straight away! She agreed and I left, feeling a lot warmer and happier than I had for hours. Now that I was comfortable once more, I felt able to face the bureaucratic challenge of attempting to renew my license again!
Back at the licensing bureau, the queues had not moved one centimeter. I asked the receptionist the reason and she said that on Thursday the card machine had been offline, so they were first completing the people's applications from the day before and then would start with Friday's lot.
I sat down on my plastic chair, much more comfortable now, and prepared to do what we have learnt to do for the past quarter of a century in this country: that is to wait.
And wait some more.
By now the Friday queue had begun to move forward and a clerk asked me to be seated on plastic chairs far ahead and on the veranda of the main building. This was a lot warmer and by now I only had one person ahead of me, a lady who told me she was number 19. She was at the door of a small entrance hall to several offices.
At 10am, a clerk called me to follow him into this office. My heart soared! A perky gentleman with a grey pointed beard and grey hair peeking out of his beanie, took my identity card and filled in the office license form. Once he'd established my physical and postal address, he asked me to wait in the queue again.
Back to the drawing board!
From 11am I watched people going into this building. Some worked there and others seemed to be customers (like I was). I spotted three traffic officers going in; one on his cell phone while he stalked through the door.
At 12.30, I asked a gentleman who had been leaning against a pole in front of number 19, why so many people had entered these offices yet no one had emerged. He said : "The person has returned from lunch". We had been waiting an extra 90 minutes while the man who did the eye tests and completed the necessary forms, was at lunch. There was obviously no relief officer in this business...
Finally number 19 and I moved simultaneously into the cramped entrance hall behind three other people. What bliss and warmth and... the end seemed in sight.
By 1pm my predecessor had been called inside. Within ten minutes I was beckoned into the office where a millennium before I had stood to have my form completed. Number 19 was on a plastic chair next to partition which separated us from the examining officer; I sat opposite her.
She was called into the inner sanctum, as it were, and a clerk motioned that I should take her seat. At this stage I began to panic. What if I failed my eye test? I closed my right eye; all seemed clear. I closed the left eye, and all was blurry. Oh dear...
Within ten minutes, number 19 had passed her eye test and armed with her documents was on her way to the pay desk. Oh to be a young forty-year-old again.
Then I was seated in front of the examining officer. After greeting me politely, he inquired whether I wore glasses or contact lenses when driving. I said no, I had had my eyes lasered 23 years before. He sanitized the area where I would rest my chin to enable my eyes to see into the machine. There was a toggle within reach of my hand.
He brought up the image. It is always the same image. A LARGE printed E. This letter is on it's side, on its back and on its other side and upside down. You indicate with the toggle which which way the "legs" are facing. Then the officer flashes a light at your right; you need to toggle right and then left, and you toggle left. Then he brings up the little blighter of an E again. This time is is miniscule in size. The officer said: Gogo (grandmother), you need to react quickly. To which I told him I can barely see the image.
He asked me to sit back and told I had failed the eye test. My right eye is the culprit. However, he said he would test me again. Which he did and I seemed to react reasonably well until it got to the tiny image E which I told him again, I can hardly see !
He announced that I would have to go for a formal eye test and as it was quite late, I could return on Monday. No need to sit in a queue; just come straight in. As I passed the clerk leaning against the pole outside, he asked, did you get it Gogo? I said, no I failed my eye test.
At the outdoor reception desk where they were starting to pack up for the day, the lady asked: did you get it Gogo? I said, no, I have to go for an eye test in town. So she said, OK see you on Monday. I smiled and thought to myself, you don't know this gajima gogo (racing grandmother)
When I arrived at the optometrist, she had an open space and said she would test me immediately. The consultation is R250 /US$12. She duly tested me and although she was able to give me a certificate, because I was unable to read the last two (again very small) lines of letters on her chart, she had to indicate that I would need to wear glasses to drive. I told her I would order a pair from her.
Back in the outer office, her receptionist gave me several frames to try on. I chose a turquoise one. (no surprises there, LOL) I swiped my bank card depleting my bank balance of another R1800/US$90. While the receptionist wrote out my receipt, the optometrist phoned her supplier and ordered my new specs. They will be ready after the Easter weekend.
The certificate; proof I had my eyes tested and will be receiving specs for driving
Happy as Larry that I'd made such progress, I drove back to the license bureau. The clerks were piling up the plastic chairs and storing them indoors. The receptionist smiled broadly at me (you can imagine, we had been together so long, we were almost family!) and said I should hurry to the examining office.
I did, and after I had handed the eye test certificate to the officer, he clipped it to the green form, handed it to me and told me to go to the pay office and pay for my license. At the pay desk, the lady behind the glass partition took the forms which I slide through the gap on the counter and asked me if I would like a temporary driving permit. I said no. So she said: you need to pay R250 and R140/US$7. Wondering why she didn't just give me a total amount, I slid two R100 notes and one R50 note under the glass. And behind it, I place one R100 note and a R50 note.
She entered all my information on the system, went to the back of the office and copied my identity card and returned. She took the R250 and issued a receipt. She asked again if I would like a temporary permit, to which I replied no again. She then said: you give me R140 (saying it : one-forty) I pointed to the one fifty currency and said she could give me change. She then leant forward and said: you need to give me ONE PHOTO!
As so often happens, communication breaks down.
I handed my photo over, she stuck it to the form and sealed it with clear tape.
And told me she'd finished with my application and I was free to go.
Thanking her and wishing her a great weekend, I glanced at the clock up above the partition.
Six and a half hours.
At least I have applied for a new driver's license card and although the day cost me in excess of R3000/US$150 (clothing purchase included), at least by the first week of June, I will have my card. And it's valid for the next five years.
HAPPY SATURDAY TO YOU ALL