January 27, 2006: Driving Up a Wall

We have passed yet another milestone. My wife this week received her drivers’ license. Much like a Bar Mitzvah, the process involved a great deal of money, anxiety, and prayer.

The first step was to visit the office of MEMSI. (More Entertainment Makes a Strong Israel). After having our picture taken and our money collected, we were told to have a medical exam. When I asked where, the guy suggested any medical clinic. Then he whispered, “or you can talk to the man outside.”

We thought this advice was rather strange because in America, men sitting outside are rarely able to give good medical referrals. In fact, most times men sitting outside are to be avoided. But as we left, there was a man indeed who said “psssst (not to be confused with pshhhh), you want a doctor?”

Although it was an odd question from a man sitting outside, we did, in fact, need a doctor. The man pointed across the street to a darkened doorway. Above the door there was no sign saying, “Doctor’s Office” or “Medical Clinic.” I asked the man if he was sure and he gave us a look that said, “I am paid to sit here all day long and point at that doorway. I think I know what I am doing.” So we made our way across the street, all the time feeling that we were now involved in some sinister plot.

Forgive me if I use the word “office” to describe what we entered. The word “closet” would probably give you more information about the general look and size of the place. On the other hand, I would feel too silly writing that we entered the “medical closet” for our exam so I will stick with the misleading term “office.”

The first part of the exam involved a check of our wallets rather than our bodies. Although I have to be honest, the price for a fake medical exam by a fake doctor in a fake medical office was quite reasonable.

Next, a man in a white jacket asked “healthy?” and we nodded. He gave his stamp to my five year old and motioned that she should certify on our MEMSI forms that we had passed the “exam.”

Now it was time to go to the Licensing Bureau. Like a bakery, you take a number when you enter and wait for your turn. Unlike a bakery, when your number is called you don’t get some nice cake. The form with your picture and your medical test results gets stamped, and you are referred to “driving school.”

“Driving School” is simply someone with a big Lamad on their car who will either pretend that you have never seen a car before or realize that you know how to drive and just use the “lesson” to have you drive around Talpiot while he chats with relatives.

When we took the exam, my examiner happened to be a happy man who must have just received some happy news. I drove for around 5 minutes, a time in which I turned the steering wheel three times. Apparently, he felt this was good enough, and I was done.

Stella was not so luckily. She got someone who was in an unhappy mood and must have just received some unhappy news. He made her drive around for quite some time and turn the steering wheel many times. Later, I got to see the official report which noted that she “had no control over the vehicle.” (And to think, for years in America I let this woman drive our children to school every day!)

But there is always a second chance. With a new instructor, new fee, and new examiner, she passed with flying colors (a phrase which will mean absolutely nothing if you are trying to translate this into Ivrit).

Getting a drivers license can either be seen as an irrational, money draining, anxiety-producing effort, or a great source of amusement and look into the sometimes crazy way that Israel operates. I suggest the latter approach. It’s much more fun.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: