As Yoni so eloquently documented last week, we have now been living on this tiny island for a bit more than a year. What does this mean in Okinawa? Not that we should feel good about ourselves for surviving our first year (though I think we should); not that we would now be qualified to be sponsors for some other newly-arriving family (though I think we’d probably be good at that); no – it means it’s time to renew the car insurance.
Now, I’ve never owned a car in the US, so it could be that my understanding of the situation is off. But I always assumed that, once you signed up for car insurance, you got to keep it as long as you paid the bill each month. And those bills could be paid any number of ways: bank transfer, online, by mail. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s the way the system works. That, however, is NOT how the system works here. In Okinawa, you can purchase a policy for any amount of time up to one year. You pay for it once, at the beginning. When that policy has expired, it must be replaced (in-person) by a new policy.
Now, the in-person thing is not surprising, Okinawa-wise. In fact, the monthly payments I make on said car also have to be made in person (and in cash). And people who live in town (as opposed to on base, as we do) also pay their rent, gas, utilities and cable bills in person. (Or, sometimes, at a convenience store. But that is a different story for a different day.)
So anyway – a few weeks ago, Yoni and I got a postcard saying that it was almost time to renew the insurance on our Blueberry. Remember the Blueberry?
The policy was set to expire on November 29. According to the postcard, the policy could be renewed at B.C. Motors, the used car lot from which we purchased the vehicle in the first place. On the 27th, I went to the lot to renew the insurance. But sorry, they told me, actually you have to go to our other lot, the one half an hour from here. Strike one. I didn’t have time to go that same day, so on the 28th I set out, once again, to renew the insurance. I made it to the counter and sat down before they asked, so, how will you be paying today? Dollars or Yen? I’ll be paying by credit card, I responded. No, you won’t, they said. Because your name isn’t on the policy, and if you use a credit card, it has to match the policy-holder’s name. Ooookay, I said, well I guess I’ll go to the cash machine and then come back. I had to run a few errands on base anyway.
This is a good time to tell you all that, for the past week or so, the driver’s side window in my car has been wonky. Like, every time I open it, instead of going straight down, it would tilt forward and descend, creating a mountain peak effect. Well, when I arrived at the drive-thru cash machine (I do love that), my window got stuck half open/half closed. I could no longer run the errands I needed to run; no matter how many other people do it here, as a New Yorker I am simply incapable of walking away from a car with an open window. Instead, I took my cash and returned directly to the car lot, where I (finally) paid my insurance renewal. Phew! I also asked them how much time was left on my warrantee, and they told me I had until the end of November – essentially, three days. So if I wanted to get my window taken care of in that period of time, I figured I’d better hightail it over there!
Of course, you guessed it – the repair place is in a third annoyingly far location. Once they determined that they’d be able to fix my problem, I was told to leave my car and return for it the next day. Can I use one of the loaner cars, I asked? Sorry, they said, we’re all out today. Of course. Because I was only a half-hour drive from my house without any idea of how I was going to get home.
First, I called a few friends. No one picked up the phone. I called again. Still no answer. I decided to walk towards the nearby (1km away) farmers market so that I could at least get a snack. I also decided to post my dilemma on the Chaplain Spouses facebook page, on the off chance that someone would drop everything to come pick me up and take me home. And you know what? Within five minutes, a woman I barely know was on the way to rescue me!
So the story has a happy ending. But what I want you to take away here is that, when you start out to accomplish a seemingly simple task here on Okinawa, you never quite know what is going to happen. You certainly can’t plan to accomplish more than one new (i.e. never taken care of before) task per day. And, most of all, as I tell my mom all the time, I have no idea how families with two working spouses get anything done. This “society” is just not set up for that. How ridiculously strange.