As outlined in my previous post, driving is an absolute prerequisite for living in the US. (Quote of the week; local lady, when I told her that I lived just behind the library, which is great and has loads of kids' activities: "Wow. I mean, you could even WALK there.")
So you would have thought it might be pretty easy to get a driving licence and purchase a car, yes?
Er, wrong. Acquiring a car has been one our biggest headaches since our arrival in the USA. It all stems from the bigger problem of not having a social security number, which has cast us adrift in a sea of bureaucracy, forms, emails from over-zealous types and inability to pay for things due to lack of ID.
It looked so easy. The plan was, we would arrive here and buy the car of a guy from The Doctor's new workplace who would soon be leaving to go back to Europe.
But, as we discovered on arrival in the US, if you don't have a social security number, you basically can't do anything. It made buying a car nigh on impossible, as to get insurance you need a New York State driving licence, and to even apply for the licence you need the social security number.
The Doctor dutifully went down to Social Services in Brooklyn just a few days after our arrival. He queued for three hours in the kind of place that has notices up saying "It is an offence to kill a federal employee" (so does that mean it's OK kill someone else? we wondered). When he reached the head of the queue, sorry, line, he was told he had not even been activated on the system yet by the visa people, so couldn't even start to apply.
Not having the number had all sorts of interesting implications. It has been virtually impossible to do anything over the phone, including topping up a pay as you go mobile and registering the utilities for our house in our name (this required an in-person visit to their offices).
We soon realised that it would be weeks, if not months, before the process of being able to buy the car began. And so we have been forced to rent the car off the actual owner until we get our licences. And this (required by state law) is no picnic, either. You have to sit through five hours of videos, take a multiple-choice quiz, AND do a roadtest.
The Doctor has all this to look forward to, now that his precious number has finally arrived. And assuming he passes, there will be more queuing, at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and hundreds of forms to fill in to transfer the ownership of the car. Oh what fun. And I am supposed to do it too. Only I don't have a social security number because I'm not eligible for one. How the heck I am supposed to apply for the licence remains a mystery.....
Meanwhile I'm finding it impossible even to buy petrol on my credit card, because it's a UK card and they always ask for the zip code. We haven't been able to apply for a US credit card yet, because guess what? We didn't have a social security number...
So yes, the process of acquiring and driving a car in this country might be easy. But, like many things, as we're increasingly discovering, it's only easy if you're an American.