“Jaysus, I’m sorry,” Sean says as he jumps into the passenger seat of my car. “I was just out in the bog collecting the turf and forgot our appointment altogether.”
Sean is the proprietor of “Sean’s Perfectly Adequate School of Motoring” in the big town near us. We are beginning the fourth in a series of twelve driving lessons that I must take in order to procure my Irish driving license.
I had decided back in January that it would be advantageous to have an Irish license. We currently rent a car on a month-to-month basis from a rental agency. The rental, as they would say here, is “very dear.” So dear, in fact, that it is nearly as much as we pay in rent.
The obvious solution is to buy a used car. This is where the complications begin. In order to buy a car, I would need insurance. In order to get insurance, I would need to get a drivers license. Now technically, I could purchase insurance on my New Mexico license. But it would be, again as they say here, “very, very dear.”
Now I consider myself quite proficient in Irish driving. After all, I’ve been coming here for over forty years, plus bonus time driving on the left in England, Australia and New Zealand. And most importantly, I have mastered the Irish finger flick. This is not to be confused with the New Jersey finger flick, which I have also mastered. In the Irish version, the first finger of the right hand is raised from the steering wheel each time you encounter another driver on a narrow country lane. It is a neighborly gesture and can be accompanied by a nod.
So in January, I presented myself to the National Driver License Service office (NDLS) in Tralee to fill out the proper forms, perhaps take an eye exam, have my picture taken, and pick up my shiny new license. It didn’t work out that way.
“Do ye have a PPS Number?” the nice lady behind the counter asks.
“What’s a PPS Number?” I answer.
“Your Personal Public Service Number,” she replies, looking at me like I was daft. “I’ll start your license application, but since ye don’t have the number, it will kick ye out,” she said, and handed me a brochure with the process I would have to follow. I thanked her for the information.
“Good luck,” she said. “You’re going to need it.”
And so my journey began. I decided to retreat until we were here permanently in March and I had organizational reinforcement in the form of Sara. She is an excellent navigator of bureaucratic mazes.
In March, we began our assault on the Irish bureaucracy. Sara had to get an extended visa and I needed my PPS Number. Sara’s task was easy.
We presented ourselves to Deirdre, the local Immigration Officer at the Garda Station. After looking at Sara’s US passport and my Irish passport, she said to Sara, “I’ll give you a three year visa since you’re married to an Irishman,” nodding her head in my direction. “It’s good to be married to an Irishman. Sometimes.”
The PPS Number application was almost as easy. Fill out a form, show them my Irish passport and a few Irish utility bills, have my picture taken, and three weeks later receive my PPSN card in the post. Not bad at all except in my picture on the card I bear a strong resemblance to a hardened criminal. But even criminals need a driver’s license, I suppose.
Now back to the NDLS office with my shiny new PPSN card.
“I’ve opened your application,” the kind lady says. “Now ye need to pass your Driver Theory Test. Once ye do that, ye come back here.”
“Wait. My what?”
“Your Driver Theory Test. Ye can buy the study guide in the bookstore, read it over a few times, and schedule your test at a testing center. If ye pass, bring the results back here.”
So I studied for four weeks. Now in all honesty, Driver Theory is pretty straightforward – signs, speed limits, signals, etc. But there are questions not often encountered in the U.S.: What to do when a herd of cattle is on the road? Where must a license plate be displayed on a tractor? That sort of thing. After hard study and practice tests on the internet, I aced the exam. Now back to the NDLS to get my license.
“Very good. All is in order,” my friend behind the counter says. Now just look at the screen there and we’ll get your picture.”
“And then I’ll get my license?” I ask.
“Then you’ll get your learners permit in the post in a few weeks and can begin your twelve on-the-road lessons from an accredited driving instructor. And after six months have passed, ye can take a drivers test with the Garda. Then ye will get your permanent license.”
I try not to cry.
Two weeks later I get my Learners License in the post. To be fair, I only look like a petty thief in this picture.
And that’s how I find myself with Sean, from “Sean’s Perfectly Adequate School of Motoring” sitting in my passenger seat.
Our lessons consist of me driving around the big town for an hour while Sean shouts instructions at me. Most of the time is spent negotiating roundabouts. There are roughly 32,497 roundabouts in the town. Actually, there may be more, but I haven’t seen the whole town.
As we approach a roundabout, Sean shouts, “Indicate for the right lane!”
This varies with each roundabout. Sometimes I must be in the left lane. I’m hoping by the sixth lesson or so to break the code.
“Shift into first gear! Check your middle mirror! Right indicator! Second gear! As ye pass the second exit, indicate left for the third exit! Check your left mirror! Turn off the indicator! Third gear!”
All of this occurs within a distance of twenty meters.
“Huh?” I say.
And we do it all over again at the next roundabout. And the next. And the next. And the next.
Only eight more lessons to go. And then my test. I’m beginning to think it may just be easier to rent a car.