Escuela de Manejo – Day 1

Well, I’ve accepted the challenge of taking a driving course in Spanish and today, Monday, March 25, 2013 was the first day.

I got a horrible night’s sleep. Besides the usual need for an old man to get up sometime during the night to whiz the electricity went off three times. What’s the big deal, you might ask? After all, you’re sleeping and it’s dark. Well, it’s not bad when the electricity goes off except that the fan that sweeps over my bed keeping me cool stops and I start to warm up. And then when the power goes on three different appliances beep and blink until I get up and shut them off. I’d set the alarm for 6:15 but the nasty appliances beeped and blinked me awake at 5:45. Might as well get up, right?

I was a little concerned about how the buses would be running. I’ve never tried to catch one early in the morning figuring they’d be standing room only with people going to work, so the earliest I’ve tried to get a bus has been after 9. I made it to the bus stop at 7:15 and at 7:25 the bus arrived. As I’d thought it was standing room only but only as far as El Cruce, 2 kilometers down the hill. People going to Bugaba and La Concepcion get off there and I was able to grab a seat although several people were forced to stand all the way into David, about 25 minutes away.

Traffic into town was pretty light and I got to the school a few minutes after 8. The doors were locked. I didn’t mind waiting because I just started listening to a really good book on the iPod: Dissolution by C. J. Sansom. It’s a murder mystery of Tudor England, the protagonist being a hunchbacked lawyer named Matthew Shardlake.  Steven Crossley is a pretty good narrator so I wasn’t put out by the fact I had to wait until Aldo showed up to open the school.

There are 7 students in this class. A widow named Vilma, an attractive young mother of two whose name is unpronounceable even the Panamanian instructor, a real hottie named Elizabeth. Besides myself there are three other guys and I haven’t the slightest idea what their names are because I really don’t pay attention to guys in the first place. One, though, is a lawyer who sports a mouthful of metal and the other two are 18 year-olds going for low-grade commercial licenses.

The class was led by Carlos Guerra, a clinical psychologist, and what the four hours had to do with driving in Panama leaves me a bit stumped. I guess it would have something to do with conflict resolution if you were in an accident, though that was never discussed. One of the themes of the class, though, had to do with not being distracted by things while driving and to always be aware of your responsibilities, I guess. He had three things with which he would interrupt his lecture with from time to time. One was we had to remember four things: A fruit/an apple, a country/Colombia, a color/red and an animal/dog. Then there were four things we had to do physically: when he would say a key phrase everyone would have to, stand up and wave their hands in the air, stamp their feet, clap their hands or ululate. Finally he had four soft rubber balls: red, yellow, green and orange, each corresponding to either a traffic light color or a sign color. In the middle of a sentence he would throw one of the balls at someone. They’d have to catch it and toss it back to him telling him it was “alto” (stop) for the red ball, “precaucion” (you can figure that one out for yourselves), “avance” (go) for the green ball, and “informacion” for the orange ball.

There were two written exercises during the session. You were supposed to first draw a man, give him a name, an age and an occupation and then list five good features they possessed and five bad features, and then do the same with a female. The girls, I noticed, did fairly good drawings of their characters. I drew stick figures with smiley faces. Nothing was ever done with these exercises after we finished them. They were never mentioned again.

I held up pretty well for almost three hours. I couldn’t tell you percentage wise how much I was actually understanding but I followed things pretty well. I did take my cues for standing up, clapping and that bit by letting my fellow students take the lead but the balls and the color/country/animal/fruit thing was okay. But as we got into the third hour I shut down. I found that used to happen in France, too. It’s like you get to a saturation point and then you can’t absorb any more so I pretty much zoned out through the next hour and a half.

We were given a 12-page, booklet which is, essentially, all of the questions that you can be asked on the test at the license bureau with the answers. Sort of the ultimate cheat sheet. I’ll be spending a couple of hours a day the next few days going over and over it until I feel confident with it.

So that’s the first day. We have Tuesday and Wednesday to go.

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