The 7th Circle of Hell
Government! Three fourths parasitic and the other fourth stupid fumbling. ~ Robert A. Heinlein
I needed to renew my ID and the prospect of this filled me with a profound sense of dread, 100 times more dread than filling my taxes.
Whenever we have anything to do at the start of the day I have to mentally prepare myself. I repeat a mantra that goes goes something like, everything will be fine, be patient, try to remain calm, and limit your swearing. But when we have to go downtown I need a little something extra, like donning a super hero type invisible shield.
I’ve written before about the parking lot effect of commuting in Caracas. I can not clearly express the insanity of it all, so when we have to go downtown we usually opt for public transit. I wouldn’t say that it’s the better option, but it’s less stressful for Juan to have to concentrate so hard while listening to my colorful commentary while trying to take over the horn.
After hopping a mini bus (I think I need to write about these soon) and riding the subway we arrive in the center of the city. Downtown is a world of its own. Juan’s mom tells me that it used to be beautiful and people would go out of their way to walk in the plazas, shop and have coffee on the terraces. Now, it’s skid row. People are loud, shifty, untrustworthy, and always trying to hustle their wares. The threat of violence is always present and palpable. I’m quickly learning to look without watching. The grime is thick and the smell of piss is sharp. It’s a very poor area of the city. People wear years of sorrow and struggle on their faces and show their pride of Chavismo on their shirts. The irony of this is not lost on me. This is where the government office is. I call it the 7th Circle of Hell after Dante’s 7th Circle.
I would really like to say that government offices here are organized chaos, but sadly I cannot. They are absolute chaos. The process went something like this:
Join the already super long line outside of the building. Listen to the people on both sides of us complain.
Wait around an hour to get to the front of the line, only to be told which line I need to go through once inside.
Argue with the “doorman/bouncer” to allow Juan to escort me and be my translator. His answer, no! Juan explains I don’t have a bank account to pay my fees and that he needs to pay on my behalf.
Doorman tells Juan he cannot pay for my fees and I that need a voucher that can only be paid for at a bank. Juan heads to the bank to purchase said voucher.
I go inside and try and find the line that I’m supposed to be in. It’s beyond confusing because there are 3 separate lines that occupy almost all available floor space. My line is making a perimeter around 100 sitting people. The line is almost a complete rectangle, reaching back to the entrance.
I don’t want to generalize about all Latinos, but my experience with Venezuelans is that they’re a very loud bunch. The cacophony of raised voices was deafening.
I ask (yell at) the woman in front of me if the seated people are the people ahead of us. Yes, was her response. I let out a low sigh and mumble dios mio (my god) knowing the day was going to be a long one.
Juan apparently demands to be let through the door (to give me my voucher) and finds me in the immobile queue. Once we start moving we discover that my line is actually two, one for foreigners and the other for Venezuelans. Another hour later, I have my ticket.
My paperwork is whisked away (being checked for something) and returned. I get to keep my ticket. I only had to wait for 35 more people to take their turns before mine. I was slightly hopeful that time would pass quickly, but my hopes weren’t high.
The queue moves slowly rotating between foreigners and Venezuelans. By 11:30 we noticed that the foreigner’s numbers are no longer being called. So for an hour we waited while a skeleton staff dealt with the Venezuelans. Don’t misunderstand me, there was staff milling about, texting on their phones, talking to each other in small groups, but not working. For some unknown reason, I wasn’t the least bit fazed. I totally expected this. Ha! Maybe my mantra worked.
Juan took the opportunity to go out and find a snack. Work “resumes” and I have about 15 numbers ahead of me. At 1:45 my number is called and I go to the assigned booth. I sit down and say good afternoon and the guy looks at me like I have 3 heads. I think he was offended. Whatever, I maintained my smile. The guy spoke so fast that I understood about 3 words. Thankfully Juan translated. That done, I get shuffled to another line.
This department was called Supervision. I laughed out loud. Juan says it’s a make shift job. She essentially printed out a slip telling me the date I was to pick up my ID. The last guy could have done this. Anyway, the date? The following day! I couldn’t believe it. I thought, wow, it’s all worth the wait if I can have it tomorrow. We leave a little after 2pm. Not bad, almost 6 hours.
The following morning we decided to drive downtown. We know that picking up my ID should take less than an hour. Traffic? Beyond horrible. We have no idea what happened, but whatever it was affected the entire city. Gridlock like you wouldn’t believe. Sigh. We got close enough that I could walk to the building while Juan searched for parking. We met, I pushed my way past the “bouncer” (I knew from the previous day that I could get away with it if I asserted myself), entered a new lineup, and waited. While waiting all I could think about was, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. Not 10 minutes later I leave empty-handed. No ID.
The bottom line is that I have to return in 20 days. I guess the woman at the “Supervision” desk had it all wrong. Not surprising. We chalked it up to another day of trying to get stuff done in this city of madness.