American in Spain

Driving Theory Exam

November 22, 2006

I took the theory test for getting a driver's license this morning. Because I am trying to get licensed without going through the normal route of paying an autoescuela (driving school), I'm having to row upstream through the government bureaucracy. Due to my non-autoescuela status, I had to do the exam in a central location of Cantabria, my province, called Camargo, not in the local testing facility.

First, look at where Camargo is. I was coming from the east, driving west on the A-8. As you can see, there's no good way to get there. I left home at 7:00, and I was asking for directions in a gas station near the airport at 7:20. Plenty of time to get to the 8:30 exam, right? The gas station attendant was very nice. He told me that Camargo wasn't so much a place, but an area between other places. Great. We call that "the middle of nowhere". He asked another employee, and even interrogated the potato chip delivery guy that was filling a vending machine. Once he was certain of the simplest route to explain, he drew me a nice map with each roundabout that I had to navigate, along with gas station and car dealership landmarks. I thanked him and hopped back behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, after taking the exit that gas station guy had told me to take, there was an intersection that had not been mentioned. I guessed wrong the first time, had to get back on the motorway, go one exit back to the gas station, and turn around to take the exit again. The second time, I guessed correctly and started to see landmarks that had been mentioned. I passed roundabout #1 and #2, feeling confident that I'd arrive by 7:40 for sure. Expecting to get to roundabout #3 about 300 meters after #2, I drove for over a kilometer with no roundabout or landmark in sight. Uh oh. After a second kilometer, there was the roundabout and the gas station. Whew! And soon after, I saw the sign saying "Jefatura de Tráfico, Centro de Examenes". I turned in there and saw three or four cars parking with a few people milling around, so I parked and got out. It was 7:45, and I was delighted to have arrived so quickly.

I asked a guy that was standing around if this was the place to take the traffic test. The response I got back was, "Dude, this is a factory!" Doh! He said, "I don't really know where it is, because when I took the test, my autoescuela took me there." Great. So I hopped in the car again and went back to the main road. But when I got to the intersection, I saw the "Jefatura" sign again, and decided that it must be down that road somewhere. Unfortunately, I couldn't turn around, so I had to go a kilometer down the road to the next roundabout and return.

After turning again at the sign, I drove for a couple minutes and watched in dismay as I ended up in a residential neighborhood. Then, by chance, I saw a little sign with an arrow pointing to the "Centro de Examenes". I headed down that road. For a kilometer, there were a few more houses, and then nothing. The road dead-ended into a muddy field (didn't I tell you it was pouring rain and dark this whole time?). When I was turning around, the tires spun a little in the mud and threatened to keep me there, but I finally got out. So I drove back the other way, all the way until I saw the second sign again, and turned back around. I spotted a woman walking into a house, and stopped, got out, and asked her where it was. She said to turn down a little road and go 200 meters, and then it was on the left.

I thanked her and took the little unmarked road. 400 meters later, still nothing. People really suck at estimating distances. And finally, on the left, there it was. A small building with a few cars parked outside and some people waiting around. I was there! At 8:05.

By 8:30, there were about a hundred of us standing around, and they let us in the building. While we waited in the lobby, they called out each name, and when your name was called, you were supposed to go in, get your answer sheet, and take a seat. They called name after name after name. And these aren't short names; these are Spanish names, like "Jose Antonio Rodriguez Hernandez". One guy was named "Perfecto Nieto Bueno" ("perfect good grandson"). Finally there were five of us left, and they said, "Okay, that's all for this session. The rest of you will have to wait until the 9:30 session."

So there I was, after all the frantic rushing to not be late, waiting an hour until the next exam. At least I had some cows to look at out the window as the sun came up. About 8 minutes later, people started coming out, finished with the 30-question test. But could we go in and use their desks? Of course not. By 9:00, they were all finished. Could we start yet? Nope.

When 9:30 rolled around, there was another crowd of about 70 people in the lobby. And the name calling started again. All 70 names were called, and the five of us were still there. Finally, they said, "Okay, you five over here." Everyone else had their name and information already printed on their answer sheet, but we had to fill ours in. The guy behind me also had the "simplified language" version of the test that I took. As far as I could tell, the only thing the simplified language version did was add parenthetical explanations, like

If I drink alcohol before driving...

A) I will have increased visual capacity (I see better) B) I will have diminished visual capacity (I see worse) C) It will not affect my visual capacity (I see the same)

I think I did pretty well. There were 2 of the 30 questions that I had some doubt about. From what I understand, I can miss 3 and still pass. I have to call the main traffic office tomorrow to see if I passed.

In case you hadn't figured it out yet, the other four poorly treated test takers were doing it "por libre" (not through a driving school) like me. It wasn't bad luck, it was just a lack of financial greasing of the machine. They didn't have my name written down anywhere. They checked the name I put on my test with my photo ID and that's it. I won't be surprised if I have to go through several phone operators to get my results tomorrow.

I turned in my test and drove, illegally, back home, arriving 3.75 hours after I left. Now that was a driving test!