Last year I bought a motorcycle for my 70th birthday.
In retrospect it seemed to be a huge mistake. Why? Well, I discovered that I needed to get an endorsement on my license in order to legally ride the thing. Why not just ride anyway? Down here the “Transitos,” special police dedicated entirely to transportation, set up road blocks all over the place, daily ,and check people’s licenses. An acquaintance who rides his motorcycle daily said that while he had always been waved through the road blocks for a couple of years the Transitos had demanded his license several times in the last few months. But the places I wanted to ride are mostly far off the beaten track and the chances of being stopped are few. However, there are a few places where I could still get nabbed.
When I got my Panamanian driver’s license I made a mistake by being honest. The girl taking my information asked me if I had a motorcycle in Florida and I said “no.” If I’d said I did then I would have gotten the endorsement and there really wouldn’t have been any way for her to verify or refute it. And I would have walked out with a license allowing me to drive a car and a motorcycle.
In order to get the endorsement there are quite a few hoops I have to jump through. First, I’d have to go to a driving school. Naturally it would be in Spanish. Then I’d have to take a driving test, again, in Spanish. At the time, while I was able to do a bit better than “okay” in Spanish I didn’t have the confidence that I’d be able to pass a test.
Next is a “practical” test of actually demonstrating the fact that I can ride a motorcycle. Finally, since I hit the magic number, 70, I’m also required to have a doctor, either a gerontologist or an internist, give me a physical to attest to my physical and mental acuity to drive a motorcycle. That makes one wonder if, in fact, a 70 year old is mentally sound simply because they want to ride a motorcycle in the first place.
It just seemed like so much of a hassle that I didn’t want to deal with I put the bike up for sale. It wasn’t a big success. Only one person actually came to look at it. Several others expressed an interest but never showed up to see the motorcycle. So there it sat, unused but not unloved.
As I’d sit at the bus stop people on motorcycles would pass by and I was envious and think about the orange rocket sitting idle at home. Last week I made a trip into David to do some shopping at Pricesmart, our local equivalent of Costco. It sits next to the Chirqui Mall and I knew there was a driving school there, so I stopped in to talk to them. Of course I did this in Spanish which, while a long, long, way from being fluent, is a lot better than it was last year. The cost of the school is $125 and new classes start every Monday. I told the lady that I was a bit worried about having to take the examination in Spanish. She showed me a page of their multiple-guess test and scanning a couple of the questions it didn’t seem all that difficult. And having talked with her for nearly a half hour in Spanish when I said I thought it might be possible to pass, she said, IN ENGLISH, “You’ll do all right.”
I have a copy of the “Manual del Conductor y Reglamento de Tránsito.” I’ve been going through it recently and have added quite a few new Spanish words to my vocabulary. For example in now know that a ruedo is a wheel; a carril is a lane; I know the difference between an autopista and an avenida, and that a remolque is a trailer.
And as far as getting the letter from a doctor, it’s probably a good idea since it’s nearly three years since I’ve had a physical.
Last week I saddled up for the first time in about seven months and went around the neighborhood practicing my starts and stops and turning from a stop at an intersection, a cruce. Sure, it’s illegal but it’s going to be necessary in order to pass the “practical” exam and to be one step up on practicing at the school. They rent motorcycles to practice on a closed course and to take the exam, but I want to have a leg up before I do that.
I’m going to spend the coming week going over the manual and will probably start the school next Monday or the week after that. I’ll keep you up to date.