A room of one’s own

I feel like I’ve settled in/caught up with myself just in time to start school/work/my actual life here.  Throw in a weeks drinking and a horrific three-day demon flu (note: not actually the flu, but I felt nasty and therefore I get to call it what I want) and you’ve got a recipe for one spaced out, sulky, not entirely sociable Kia.

This was, arguably, one of the least good times to get sick as this week was the last chance I had (before school starts) to sort out things like a driver’s license, a car, a social security card, and all manner of other stuff you need to get anywhere (both physically and metaphorically) in the United States.

It turns out that, since I don’t have an American driver’s license, I cannot legally purchase a car in Louisiana.

It also turns out that, despite having a valid Australia license AND an international driver’s license, I still need to take a written and practical test to obtain a Louisiana license.

So I figured, okay.  That’s fair (ish).  I mean I haven’t really driven so much on this side of the road.  There are different road rules.  I can dig it.  No problem.  But I’d kind of like some practice driving before I actually get in a car and take a test.  Besides, I start school next week.  I’ll be needing to get to and from campus (sometimes on occasions when my room mate will be sleeping, or eating a sandwich, or otherwise not much feeling like playing taxi driver – though she’s been very sweet about it so far).  SO!  I knew I could RENT a car in Louisiana with a foreign license.  Off I went to do so.

I filled out the renty form thing online, at hertz.com.  Everything went swimmingly.  It seemed that, the very next day, I would simply rock up at Hertz-rent-a-car, Hyatt hotel, and my Kia Rio (hee hee hee, a car with my name on it) would be waiting for me.

Naturally, nothing is ever that easy.  For a start, actually getting to the Hyatt in the CBD New Orleans was impossible.  With commendable presence of mind, the powers that be had decided to dig up all of Loyola avenue during a Saints game.  This meant not only was their a butt load of traffic, it was also nearly impossible to get to where we needed to be.  In the end Steph dropped me, and I walked.

Whereupon I discovered the Hyatt, but not Hertz.

I had to ask three separate people before it became clear that there actually was no Hertz counter.  It was a little booth with a video phone in it, that you picked up so you could speak to a nice woman in a call centre several thousand miles away.

I did this.

During our ten minute phone call, it became clear that I was not your ordinary car renter.  She was happy enough to take my Chase visa debit card, however she advised me she’d have to run a check on it ‘just to be sure’.  This happens a lot in America.  When you think about it, it makes sense; nobody wants to wind up selling you something you don’t actually have the money for (although mystifyingly, they’re always more than happy to take a credit card).  With a sense of foreboding, I told her to proceed.

Here’s the thing; I have been in the country just about exactly one month.  My bank account has been open for perhaps three weeks.  There is money in there, yes.  But chances are any checks on the account are going to register that a) it is new and b) the activity (incomings and outgoings) is sporadic, at best, and generally coming in and out of foreign accounts.  In other words, it probably looks dodgy as shit.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, she asked me for my social security number.

“I don’t have one.” I said, wearily.

This is another saga.  I initially went to the social security office two weeks ago.  After waiting in line for two hours, I was advised I needed a piece of paper from my university that nobody (from the university or otherwise) had thought to inform me I might require.  When I asked if I could fax it to social security as opposed to returning and waiting in line for another five thousand years, I was told politely that no, no I could not.  Since then I’ve simply not had the time (or, I’ll be brutally honest, the inclination) to return.

Fun fact about America: if you do not have a social security number, you are probably a terrorist.  Or an illegal alien.  Or an illegal alien terrorist.  With no money.

“Ah.” she said “…and you don’t have any other credit cards?”

Sure, I have a credit card, lady.  An Australian credit card.  That charges me an exorbitant fee every time I use it ‘overseas’ (which, for now, is going to be every single time I use it).  I relayed this to her.

“I’m really sorry.” she told me.  “There’s just nothing I can do.  The system won’t let me put it through.” she looked genuinely apologetic “…is there a Hertz counter there, or just this booth?”

“Just this booth.” I replied, feeling suddenly as though I might stuff the plastic telephone receiver into my mouth and begin furiously chewing on it.

After a few moments hmming and haaaing, wondering if it was worth incurring the additional fee from my Australian bank (aka cheerfully flushing fifty dollar bills down the toilet), I thanked her for her time, told her I realised it wasn’t her fault, hung up the phone, and went and had a little cry behind a pot plant.

So as things stand, I have no car.  I am anticipating not only a great deal of expense, but probably several bucket loads of stress in order to obtain my foreign license (I mean sure, everyone ELSE here drives like they’ve been taken road safety pointers from Mario Kart, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to fly in a test scenario).  School starts next week and I’ve missed several orientations because I’ve been rolling around in bed feverish and dreaming about helping a mother Quail hatch her eggs (it was a happy ending, although several omelets were made in the process).  My boxes of stuff still haven’t arrived from Australia because the woman we were dealing with from the removal company (Wridgways, if you were keen to know: no, I do not recommend them) is incompetent and conveniently forgot that I had to fill out about sixteen pages of additional paperwork before she could ship my things to me (this would have been handy to know BEFORE I left the country, and still had access to a printer, scanner, fax machine, etc).

On the plus side, my bedroom is really fucking cool.

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