As luck would have it, I didn’t have to go through the dreadful process of becoming a certified private driver in this country at the cost of hours of classes and dents in my wallet. Law and the lawmakers would change that no long afterwards, but when I was still a stripling in this town, you could mosey on down to places like the RACE offices, which used to be on Bravo Murillo I believe, and fork over 5,000 pesetas for someone in the office to give you one. They just assumed you knew how to drive.
But first, and there always is a “but first” in this country, you had to locate a nearby medical center where you could undergo a test known as a psicotécnico, which sounded to me at first like they wanted to hook me up to a bunch of wires, show me blot images while playing Tom Jones’ songs in the background and ask how I was feeling.
It turned out to be just a fancy name for a physical.
And not a very physical one at that. I didn’t have to sprint a hundred yards in under 12 seconds, but they did look into certain fairly important sensorial qualities like eyesight and eye-hand coordination. In other words, could I see and just how much or if a train were coming as I crossed the tracks, would I know what to do.
But first, because there always had to be a first, I had to pay for this. This cost me in the neighborhood of about 5,000 pesetas, or what amounted to about a day’s work for me.
The eye test was complete but not the end of everything. Essentially they told me everything I already knew. They wrote on a paper that I needed glasses, which I knew since that was the feeling I always got about myself when I took off my specs. They added that I should I have a replacement pair available at all times, which is true, but I don’t.
Up to that point, the test had proceeded without serious challenge, but the good people at the clinic had a trick up their sleeve which they had failed to inform me of. It was time for the eye-hand coordination game to see how good the rest of my reflexes were. For some reason I figured tat this would amount to little more that a rubber hammer being thudded below my kneecap, but the office had something slightly more sophisticated in mind. They were video games.
There exist a number of tests, and on this occasion I got to face one. It consisted of watching a ball appear from the left side of the screen, then disappear beneath a kind of block. I was supposed to judge when the right time would be for the ball to stop before crashing into a wall on the right side. To do this I was supposed to press a button at the moment I felt was right. Graphically speaking it had all of the appeal of one of those 1970s prototype video games, but that didn’t matter because the reality was it had the power to determine my future as a driver.
I had always assumed that my hours of Friday timewasting at the local arcade in my hometown would somehow come in handy later on in life, and this seemed like the moment had presented itself. The best place was in the bowling lanes. Yes, Greenwich had both a bowling lane and an arcade. They happened to be in the same place. This may have been a concerted effort to confine all cheesiness to one place, but we knew where the cheesiness was. So, instead of making the most of my weekend to get a little studying in, I generally waned away my youth before a video screen uselessly making imaginary spaceships disappear until they did the same to me.
I figured this bit of early training should have been enough to ease me through the test and probably contributed to my nonchalant attitude at the clinic. That was until the inspector looked at my results and said, “Please take this seriously.”
“You’ve crashed your balls into the wall at least three times. According to this you’re not fit to ride a tricycle.”
So, I did, and after some further concentration managed to pass.
Then I went back and requested the new driver’s license. But first, and there always is a “but first”, I had to fork over another 5,000 pesetas as a general fee for no particular reason. It’s supply and demand. I wanted to drive, and only they could get make that happen. So, it was another 5,000 pesetas for the system.
A few days later, my friend back at RACE handed me my pink foldable driver’s license and said that I now had permission to drive amongst the other 38 million Spaniards, which I felt was a reasonable offer for just a few buckaroos.
All I needed to do was learn.