Well, it was that time again, it was time for me to renew my driver’s license. What happened was something I knew all too well but that may come as a surprise to some, so here I share my experience so you know what to expect when it’s time for you to either renew or get a new driver’s license in Puerto Rico. So, since I only had to renew mine, here I share with you, the wonders of renewing your driver’s license in Puerto Rico.
Now whether you have to renew your Puerto Rican driver’s license or get a new one, the process is similar, the main difference is that when you get the new one (and you are already a licensed driver elsewhere), you surrender your current license, take the written exam, then you get the one from Puerto Rico after you pass the exam, other than that, the process is pretty much the same.
So, back to my story. It was time to renew my license, since I knew what I had to do and what I had to deal with, I decided to put it off to the last minute, the problem was that I forgot to do it entirely, then I was really in a hurry to get it done! Ugh I had to go to “obras públicas” in Bayamón (DTOP), never a fun time. =(
The process is pretty straight forward, you find the DTOP center that services the municipality you live in, you go to one of those trailers they have where you get your vision checked, height/weight, sign the paperwork, pay the fees ($40 to renew the license where I went in Bayamón), then you go to the actual DTOP center, stand in line to talk to the information clerk so he/she can check and make sure you have the appropriate documents and then you get a number which will be called out when it is your turn. So after you get your number you wait, and wait, and wait, then it’s your turn, the clerk checks your documents and keeps them while you are told to sit and wait again, then you get called out by name, they give you your personal documents back then you sit and wait again, then you get called again by name again to get a picture taken, then you sit and wait again and then you get called again to receive your license, and THEN you can go home! Straight forward right!? You can see why I waited to the last minute! LOL
So, it was time for me to get it done, I check the hours of operation and I see they open until 7 PM, awesome, I’ll go after work. So I’m done with work one day and I show up at 3:45 PM to find the trailer where I get my vision checked closed for the day, but full of employees! I knock on the door and they yell they are closed, I ask why and they said DTOP closed so they did too. Ok, so I leave and come back the next day at about the same time, it was pretty easy got everything checked out, paid my $40 and after about 10 minutes I headed over to DTOP only to find it full to capacity! I stand in line to get a number and I was told that they are not accepting anyone else for today, UGH! Ok I leave and come back another day. Now my work schedule changed over the weekend so I’m working midnights (graveyard shift). So I come back now a third time only to find no parking! It was full! Then I saw a guy that had some reserved spots for those who were going to the trailer to get the paperwork started! Sweet! Well, I liked and told the man I needed those papers filled out, he let me into a spot and I headed over to the trailer…then I just kept walking to the DTOP building! LOL Then I saw that the line at DTOP was so long that it was out of the building! This was at 8 AM mind you, they were supposed to open at 7:30 AM and there was no one at the information desk to give out numbers! I was WAY too tired after my midnight shift so I went home to take a nap, the man that gave me the parking spot noticed I came back quickly and asked me if I had to come back, I said yes, it was way too full, so he told me his name and asked me to call for him when I come back and he’ll give me one of the reserved parking spots again. I was very appreciative, but to this point I felt really bad I lied about the fact that I needed those papers filled out. =(
I went home and had my daily gluten-free/dairy-free oatmeal, went to bed for 3 hours. Woke up and quickly headed over to DTOP again, got in line and saw a paper on a window that said that I was supposed to have a copy of my passport! Are you kidding me!? If I need a copy of my passport along with the original, why is that not in the list of required documents they have online!? Whatever, I stood in line to get my number. It was just before 1:20 PM, after standing in line for about 10 minutes I saw the clerk, he saw my documents, then gave me my number, it was number 528, they were currently on number 455! Well, I better sit, this will be a long wait, oh, and if I’m not there when my number is called then I lose my turn, so I better sit and listen to the numbers yelled out by the clerks, I don’t want to lose my turn!
Finally I sat down, texted my wife and told here that I will likely be here until 5 PM, then opened my autographed copy of the book “War Against All Puerto Ricans”, finally I had a chance to read it!
Many things happened while I was waiting, the combination of what I was reading, the overall environment and how tired and hungry I was made for some really interesting thoughts and observations. There were people selling cookies to those waiting, claiming that they need money for their families, I saw a “Claro” representative handing out fliers and telling people of their latest offers and packages, there were families with kids, friends, some people sitting by themselves, but everyone seemed to be having a good time, people were just chatting, making jokes, watching videos on their phones and showing them to others, some people were chatting with strangers, it was a moment that brought me back to my childhood when I was unafraid to talk to others and I made friends everywhere I went. I lost that trait about me when I moved to the states, everyone seemed to be keeping to themselves, personal space was much larger than what I was used to here, no one seemed to want to be bothered and I often got weird looks when I smiled and said “Good Morning”. Seeing people here, smiling at you as they walked by, others were just sitting there relaxed, waiting, talking and joking with friends and strangers, it really brought me back to what I knew as a kid to be normal in Puerto Rico, people haven’t changed much in the past several years. But, then again, everything was so streamlined and awesome in the states, it was the way I would expect a government office should work for its tax-paying citizens, meanwhile I’m here, stuck, waiting because of an outdated system and process is still in place. Which one do I prefer? I honestly don’t know at this point, I suppose it would suck to lose my job in this terrible economy because a more effective system was adopted. After all, they too have families, children to take care of, etc. I suppose it depends which way you look at it, I’m not here to judge or to solve this problem, I’ll just wait.
After about an hour, they called number 476, wow only 21 numbers in an hour!? I then look to the windows where the clerks are, I noticed that there are 8 windows, only 4 have people working in them. I stand up to look closer, I see that there are 4 clerks but only 2 seem to be calling the numbers, oh, of course! Out of the 4 that are working, only 2 are actually working, the other 2 were busy with their phones, showing each other pictures and videos and texting! Well no wonder so few people are being called. Ugh, I sit back down, continue to read.
Some numbers are called but I’m immersed in my book, wow, I had no idea so many things had happened in the first 3 decades of the 20th century here in Puerto Rico! So much violence, oppression, very little civil rights, I wish my grandparents were still alive! I would’ve loved to hear their stories about when they were kids in the 1920’s and 1930’s! Well, I keep reading, and somewhere in between learning the differences between Pedro Albizu Campos and Luis Muños Marín, I hear a kid cry. It was a little girl about 6 years old, she was very tired and hungry, and couldn’t take it anymore, she was so tired, I could see it, there was little her mom could do, I felt so bad for both of them. The little girl passed out on the chairs at about 4:30 PM, they both got here just before I did, they had been here for 3 hours, just waiting, that’s hard for a kid that age.
I started getting really hungry, I look around and there’s no vending machines for snacks or beverages, there is a food truck outside, but I can’t eat anything there anyway, nothing is gluten free, curse you Celiac disease! Besides, if I leave I will likely lose my seat, and who knows, maybe even my turn, like so many did in the past 3 hours. I look and I see the little girl sleeping, her mother caressing her head, I wonder what’s she’s thinking, I wanted to take a picture, print it, and give it to her right then and there, a moment of pure love, I wish I could have done that.
I look around again, everyone still chatting, still joking, some checking Facebook, the overall noise is lower now than it was at 1:30 PM.
It is now 5:00 PM, the mother of the little girl gets called and I do too shortly after her, by this point I have read 13 chapters of my book and learned many things about our history I had never heard before. So I get called, I give my documents, no I don’t have a copy of my passport, the lady then takes a copy, asks me to sit again. I text my wife, “I guess 5:00 PM was a very optimistic estimate”. Then I think, why is this process so incredibly slow? I had a very rare moment of wishing I were back in the states where my DMV visits never lasted more than 20 or 30 minutes. Where I just got a number from a machine, got called almost immediately, gave my paperwork, paid my fees, took my picture all in the same place! Also, why are these people not working faster! Then I thought, why would they work faster? Once they hand out a certain number of “turns” they simply stop handing them out! I know, I was turned away once because of it. So they work just hard enough to deal with the people waiting but no more, the faster they work the more people they have to deal with, all with the same pay; not worth it from their perspective. I disagree, but I can understand where they’re coming from, I guess. I’m now waiting to be called to take my picture (or so I thought), I look around the picture-taking corner only to see that there is no one taking pictures! There are 2 cameras and no one behind them! You’ve got to be kidding me! Ugh! At this point, the exhaustion of only sleeping 3 hours and only having an oatmeal in my stomach was really catching up with me.
I then open my book again, take a deep breath and keep on reading, then I realized something. I have read over 13 chapters of this book, learned so much, got to sit and read, finally, something I haven’t been able to do in years! As a married man (sorry ladies LOL) with young home-schooled kids, working an incredibly demanding job and taking online classes, it is very rare that I get the opportunity to spend a couple of hours to myself. Then I thought, yes I only slept 3 hours and I am hungry, BUT, I basically woke up from a nap, got to read for hours, then after this I’ll go home and have a snack and head back to bed for yet another midnight shift, basically a full day to myself!
The moment of wishing I lived somewhere else quickly passed, I was now appreciating the moment in full Puerto Rican fashion. I felt just like those other people that were chatting and joking while waiting. Taking the time to connect and chat while they wait, life is too fast and busy lately, all of a sudden, these slow workers were giving me a moment I had been wishing for years. Just relax, “calmate” people say, “chill”. I did just that, and it made me happy, looking around, there are people here waiting for hours and hours just to get their driver’s license, and they seem to be having a good time! Or just relaxed, likely tired. They forgot, at least temporarily, of all the economic hardships we are facing and all the other negative stuff that you see on the news here, it was strange, how no one likes having to come to DTOP and wait for so long, yet, they seem to really make the best of it.
At this point I was really happy and proud of myself and the people I grew up with. There’s nothing I can do right now about how this process is, I can’t make people work faster, I can’t change the way the process is, I might as well change my attitude and enjoy this time to myself. Realizing that made me feel so good, that I did something I had never done before, when I was finally called for the picture, I did something I had never done since I was 16 years old for my driver’s permit, I SMILED for the camera! For the first time, unconsciously, I smiled and I now have a driver’s license with a smiling picture of me! I couldn’t believe it!
Right at 6:00 PM on the dot, I hear my name again and I was given my license. I was in awe!
Finally, I head home and my wife was equally shocked at my smile! =)
I then had a little “Arroz con habichuelas y aguacate” and headed back to bed to sleep for 2 more hours before my next midnight shift.
Dealing with DTOP sucks, I won’t lie, renewing your driver’s license in Puerto Rico is a very odd and time consuming task, one that you will not enjoy, especially if you are an uptight person or are in a hurry. But this time, I was thankful that DTOP sucked so bad like they always do. I was able to turn a day I dreaded into a day I enjoyed. Thank You DTOP for being slow and allowing me appreciate my surroundings and for allowing me to be with myself just for one day.
I now tell you, “Calmate”, chill. It’ll be ok! You WILL wait at DTOP, just bring a good book, and let the time pass. =)