This year has marked the 20th in which I have been legal to drive as, being a good practitioner of the Church of Car in the US, I picked up my first license at the idiotic age of 16. In all honesty, you probably shouldn’t be legal to drive much more than a bicycle until the age of 25, but this is beside the point. This year also happens to mark the 10th year that I’ve been driving off and on in Europe on my California drivers license, although it also marks 10 years that I haven’t owned a car. I usually pick up rental cars at various points or rob my father in-law of his Sunday wheels.
During all of this time, I’ve amazingly never had any problems with the police in any country, although I did get hit by a radar camera (automated, not person) twice in South Africa, once in Spain and I picked up a parking ticket in Zagreb, Croatia as there is about 5% of the parking needed for amount of cars that city has. So, it was bound to happen that eventually I was to be picked off by the police and purely at random.
It came to pass last Monday that I was driving through Santa Perpetua de Mogoda. For those who don’t know this place (and there is no reason in hell that anyone should) it’s a nondescript suburb a touch to the north of Barcelona and just out of range of any reasonable metro, train, or bus. There, waiting for me was a bottle of wine I had won at a local wine shop. Also lying in wait were the local Santa Perpetua Policia. Now, the “policia” aren’t the boys in blue one would know in the US, nor the Gendarmarie France, nor the Policija in Croatia. They’re basically traffic cops with only the “Guardia Urbana” below them to make fun of. Unfortunately they can issue traffic tickets and set up random stops anywhere they please within the bounds of whatever meaningless city like Sant Perpetua in which they’ve been cursed to serve.
It was on a road in the middle of nowhere that two of these guys with little to do pulled me over at random. Normally I take great pride in speaking the amount of Catalan that I do or, if need be, reverting to Castilian as needed. But, in cases such as these, it’s extremely important to not be able to speak anything but English, seem a bit dumb, and possibly even ask “donde esta la playa?” Because you see, as a tourist, you are a god in Spain and are allowed to essentially treat the entire country as your own personal urinal in Las Vegas. But, once a resident, you are immediately dog shit and the authorities all happily board the Fuck You Express given that you’re seen as easy prey.
Thankfully in the car with me was my editor in chief who acted as my “translator”. Presenting my California license was not met with happiness as I don’t have the “international license”. If you’ve ever picked on of these up, you know why I don’t have one. They’re a joke. Essentially it’s just a piece of paper that translates your actual license. It has no legal standing as a real license and is meaningless on its own. Also, they “expire” every six months or so. The cop gave me crap about that which I needed “translated” constantly of course. And then, he decided to give me an alcohol test.
Here’s the curious thing about alcohol tests in Spain: they give them throughout the day. On some level I suppose I can understand given the amount of drunk people I’ve encountered while shopping at the white trash mecca, Mercadona (I only go there for the cheddar.) But, at 10:30 on a Monday morning, I’m not sure as to who would be legally drunk at that time as it’s too late to catch the all night party people and that would only be on a Sunday morning. And it’s too early for the cigaló/carajillo (a coffee with a shot of whiskey, with the second name being the Castilian one that is actually originally Catalan–fucking weird) as you have that at 11-11:30 given that I assume there’s a law making it as such somewhere in Spain.
Of course I blew a 0.00. The scale is a bit different than the US where 0.08 is the limit and is much the same as 0.25 that is the limit in Spain. Had I actually been illegal, then my liver and I would have had to sit down for a chat. But, once done, they give you the little plastic thing you blow in to. I suppose the repeat offender who happens to be ecologically minded would save it for the next checkpoint as opposed to taking a photo of it as I did above.
Once given a stern lecture about how I needed the “international license” and saying, “sorry, I’m just a dumbass American” many times (trust me I’ve come a long way in the smothering the pride department) we were on our way and I made a mental note to never, ever fucking set foot in Sant Perpetua again unless actually drunk.