Step 1: Obtaining a driver's license. I do not have an American license and as I hate tests (at least when I can't hand them out myself), I was delighted to find out this state recognized my countries' license. I only had to have it transferred and was told to bring in:
- my original Social Security Card
- a (very) current letter from the Visa people to prove that I was indeed legally employed and in possession of a valid visa (did I note that my state has one of the toughed anti-immigration laws?)
- my original driver's license
- a certified translation (a high school teacher would do)
I ran into my first problem, sorry, challenge, when the visa people at school whom I already know by name noticed that I was lacking a tiny slip of a paper I was apparently given at the American Consulate in Jerusalem, a disingenuous-looking little thing that looked as if a ten-year old could photo shop it:
When I couldn't find it, I was told that it would take a year and $400 to get a new one. In the meantime, I would not be able to get a license, nor, one added to scare me into searching harder, be able to leave the country. Needless to say, I panicked and eventually dug it out from underneath some heap of paper. I went back to the visa people and received my precious letter.
Next came the translation. I translated my driver's license and sent it to a friend in NYC who asked another friend to (truthfully!) confirm that he spoke my language. Ok. He gave me my letter when I was in NY but, unfortunately, forgot to sign it. After some two weeks, the second copy of his letter finally reached me and my Brooklyn-born rosary-toting Jewish cabdriver took me to the one DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles: taking care of everything from licensing to voter registration takes place) dealing with foreign licenses where I was told that I was still missing a form that had to be signed by my translator. I briefly contemplated faking it but thanks to the internet and cellphones, that signature reached me two days later.
Step 2: Taking driving lessons. I hadn't driven in 15 years and was terrified to hit the road again. It took me a while to find a teacher who was ready to take me on, maybe because wasn't providing enough income. My instructor was a tough-talking former waitress/ bank teller whom I couldn't understand for the first 30 minutes (and vice versa). Here, classes last a minimum of 2 hours and I ended up taking a total of four hours. It was fun, mostly, and to my surprise, I could still drive and even parallel park on the first try. I picked up the few American oddities, such as using the median, this scary yet useful middle lane used for left turns, learned to briefly stop when parallel-parking instead of rolling right into my space, and how to park in an incline. Turns out that Americans don't like using the handbrake, for some strange reasons.
Step 3: Choosing a car. That one was easy. I knew I wanted a small, energy-efficient vehicle. Unfortunately, none of the small cars I was familiar with exist in this country because the local safety guidelines necessitate comprehensive changes, essentially canceling out the energy-efficient traits of most European car, let alone the profit-margin. I thought about a used car but decided that I was not ready to haggle and began to make internet inquiries at several car dealerships who got back to me pronto--long live American business sense!
Step 4: Obtaining a loan. I applied online at my bank and played phone-tag with my loan officer for a few days. Once I managed to talk to her in person, she gave me a nice quote before telling me what I had been waiting for all along: that I was not eligible for a loan because I had no Greencard. Great.
Step 5: Buying the car.
My Dad came to visit me last week. He arrived right after Yom Kippur and on Friday, we went shopping. We hit a few used car lots, without success, and had a few close encounters with scary car dealers.
Once at the car dealership I had been in touch with beforehand, things moved surprisingly fast. I knew what I wanted (a basic model Honda Fit with a remote opener which is not standard here) and that was it. My agent, Angela, must have been a novice, she pushed virtually nothing on us. There was a lot of paper work, and for some strange reason, she regularly disappeared for a few minutes. Our chat with Angela had taken place at a small table, while the financial officer whom I met afterwards resided in his own "sound-proof" glass cubicle. He, too, seemed new at his job and hmmed and ahhed, telling me, in essence, that I didn't have much to offer in terms of sureties (big surprise!) and couldn't expect the interest rate I'd been hoping for--in fact, his was better by .5%.
Step 6: Getting the car. My car wasn't available and had to be ordered. After Sukkot, I called to schedule a shuttle as the agent had told me to do. However, when I made my call, I was told that this was really only applicable when cars where being serviced. When I noted that I was after all picking up a new car, I was again told that this was impossible. I am not sure what I said, but I do remember that I slammed down the receiver after telling the manager that I was almost sorry I'd bought my car at his dealership. Five minutes later, they called and delivered the car to my office. And so, after all this, I could finally hop into my sparkling little car and zip away...