My big achievement over the last few weeks has been buying a car, a process which required more logistics than I thought necessary. Actually finding a car was pretty easy, I liked the Ford C-Max I randomly rented (literally randomly, I walked up to the rental counter without booking and said “Give me whatever you have”) but didn’t want to pay the C-Max hybrid premium. A Ford Focus seemed like a boring but reasonable compromise, so off to the Ford dealership I went.
One of the things I am enjoying about living in the States is that some things are exactly like they are portrayed in the movies. The car yards are just like you imagine, with slightly rumpled men in rumpled suits sitting in cheap offices with faded posters. Cars are cheap in this country, and late model (and even new) cars are easy to find a good prices. You put in an offer and the salesman goes pretends to go into the back office to talk to his boss. You go back and forward a few times and reach an agreement.
But here comes the complicated bit. America runs on credit, and a credit rating is very important. I have no history at all, so I wanted to finance the car even though I could pay cash – your credit rating is not about how much money you have on hand, it is a history of your willingness to pay.
It was the finance company that insisted (among other requests) that I get a Massachusetts state driver’s permit, basically the equivalent of a learner’s permit in New Zealand. I don’t know why they cared, but anyway I studied the road-code for a few hours and went down to the RMV.
The RMV is also exactly like it is portrayed in the movies. First you line up to tell the lady behind the first counter what you are there for. That just gives you a ticket which puts you in another queue to see the person you really need. Some of the queues are hours long, luckily mine the wait for permits is relatively short. The first time I went I was refused because they didn’t want to accept my electronically signed lease as proof of address. Luckily my first utility bill arrived the same day so my return trip the next day was more successful.
The test itself is that same weird combination of incredibly bureaucratic and oddly efficient that I am starting to get used to here. After my documents were examined and a very cursory eye test (much less strict than the NZ one) I was pointed in the direction of a little room with a bunch of touch screens. The test itself is 25 multi-choice questions with an emphasis on what fines you will receive if you break the speed limit with a few questions about stopping distances and who has right-of-way thrown in. It is pretty easy and you only need to get 18 right to pass. I came close to failing because I hadn’t bother to learn the punishments doled out to 18 year olds who speed.
With the finance company appeased I could finally think about insurance. Surprisingly, insurance was much easier than finance, and not stupidly expensive given my circumstances. They did make me drive out to their offices to sign the documents but it was relatively smooth process that got me the all-important stamp on the car’s registration that allowed the dealership to go to the RMV and pick up new license plates, I was glad that they did this for me since I was in no mood to brave the RMV queues three times in a week, but the dealership dragged their feet on it for a day drawing out the process even more.
The dealership was also supposed to get the car inspection sticker done but although it was prepaid they didn’t quite get around to it. It doesn’t need to be done for seven days after the sale and I was so happy to finally get the car that I didn’t quibble. Total time from seeing the car to driving it off the lot: 9 days!
I took the car in for testing this morning to find that the mandatory inspection is about as thorough as the eye test; I barely had time to sit down before my car was returned with a clean bill of health.
So now I have an apartment, a car, and a couch with that reclines at a touch of a button (to be delivered on Wednesday). My life here is starting to come together. The weather is also improving – it was well above freezing for the entire day. Birds have started appearing and I saw a raccoon wandering the streets the other evening. I am looking forward to seeing what Boston in springtime has to offer.