A couple of weeks ago I decided to run an errand and headed out to Obi’s. Obi’s is the German version of Home Depot–I needed a new toilet seat–not high class stuff–but necessary. As I rounded a curve there was the Polizia Stradale–the Italian street police–running a routine drivers license check. The policeman stepped out into the road and motioned me over. I willingly complied–thinking that my Texas license and my AAA international license would suffice. I was wrong. After the police realized that I had owned my car for almost two years they made a flurry of phone calls and radio calls. There seemed to be some confusion over my fate. After some 20 minutes (and one breathalyzer test for alcohol–of which I passed with flying colors) I was told that I could not own and drive a car for over a year and not obtain an Italian drivers license. My fate? They would have my car towed to the police station–I would ride with them in the squad car–where my wife would meet me with other documents showing my valid residency. So off we went. I ended up spending some 90 minutes at the station waiting on Carrie and for all of the paper work to be completed. Finally I was told that my car would be towed to my house and signs would be posted on it (see above)–and that I was not to drive it for three months. Then sometime after 12 months I was to look for a notice in the mail which would inform me of my court date–where I would show up with my lawyer and hear the amount of my fine. 3 MONTHS! 12 MONTHS! LAWYER! I told him I have a family and that we need our car–every day. I told him that we thought the other licenses would suffice. While they were very nice–they were not sympathetic to my plight.

I began to sheepishly ask what happens if I start up my car and take it somewhere–I mean it is sitting right outside my window in our driveway. He said that if they caught me out driving my car they would confiscate it for good. OK–good enough for me. My favorite quote of the day was, “American justice is like a rabbit–but Italian justice is like a snail.”

Essentially I have been grounded–I feel like I am 16 all over again and got caught smoking in the boys bathroom. As I thought back over my escapade I also realized that I have been driving longer that one of the police officers has been alive. It’s not that I am not in the wrong–according to Italian law I am–but the punishment seems a little extreme–not to mention that Italy is about the only Western European country who does not have a reciprocal license process with at least one state in the U.S. The next day one of my friends told me that I could go to Naples and for a mere 250 euros I could “buy” a drivers license–things are done a little differently in the south. That would seem to be adding fuel to the fire.

Oh well–next week I am off to register for the Autoscuola–this is a private agency that prepares you for the licensing exam in Italy–for about 500 euros. By the way–I never got my new toilet seat–that could prove to be the worst part of this whole dirty little crime.

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