“It’s not illegal to drive naked…if you have your seatbelt on….”
“Like, would you drive to school naked?” ~The Breakfast Club
“Art can never exist without Naked Beauty display’d.” ~William Blake
One of the first priorities in Okinawa is buying freedom. Remember from my last blog, it costs at least a buck-o-five. Seriously, without wheels, this island is prison-like, given the locales that must be covered to search for lodging, treks that must be made as part of required indoctrination, and the Ramen House that must be sampled. Oh, and Jody has to go back to work, sometime….
So it’s important for those intending to come to Okinawa at the invitation of the military and pleasure of the sequestering-President to know that it is not allowable such prisoners (actually, more accurately those on Status-of-Forces-Agreement [SOFA] status) to rent cars on the island until they have a United States Forces Japan (USFJ)-issued driver’s license. Even though car rental is provided at various places on various bases. Where people without license congregate and need transportation most. Like at the Shogun Inn main building just down the street from our Temporary Lodge Facility (TLF), where rental prices are a wee-tad higher than those in the states, but where you can be zipping down the road at a raging 50 K’s an hour faster than you can repeat three times “SOFA Status Superstar.” Don’t ask me how I know this; I, of course, would never improperly rent a car (wink)! In any case, as of yesterday, I am a SOFA-licensed driver, so such conjecture about car rental is OBE.
But part of getting that all-important SOFA license is to take a driver’s test. This, of course, administered after military-specified required prisoner mistreatment, courtesy of the Marine Crops’ safety department on Camp Foster. This test is offered on various days during the week, but is only given at 10 am. And although your on-island sponsor and annoying command may not think so, taking and passing this test must be a priority.
Remember, freedom is at stake.
However, the license is only issued after attending the required island new-comer brief given on Wednesdays. Now, since military intelligence is, as they say, an oxymoron, this “brief” lasts from 0730 through at least 1430. Yes, it’s one of those times where the briefs will continue until morale improves (beatings are no longer tolerated in the modern kinder, gentler military as it was in those nostalgic days of piracy). And since the “brief” is required for all family members, the kids and babies are all ripe for testing at the end of such an enlightening day of nothingness. The SOFA license test is given upon the conclusion of this day of the dead, but if you have already taken the exam, you’ll simply pick up your license and save yourself at least 90 minutes…of freedom. Or at least finally obtaining the free freedom to buy real freedom.
One note about his test. This is a test, like in one that you have to study for, especially if you have never driven overseas. Get your hands on the driver’s manual, and seriously, read through it at least twice. Unlike the states where you’ve been driving already for a year (or more), you take this test COLD, without benefit of real-life, real-road experience. Oh, and the test has very little to do with driving…but more to do with whether or not you studied.
So, once you have your SOFA license, which took us almost a week, you can purchase a car. There are two basic approaches: buy from a Japanese used-car salesman, or, buy from a pardoned prisoner (those who own vehicles). The latter preferably in a way that takes advantage of another’s misery, which is really how capitalism operates most efficiently (think about how we all get those great deals on homes and yard sales and the truth is no longer “out there”).
The island has the usual suspects of car dealers – less ALL the American brands – but is literally covered with used-car lots, most targeting American GIs. One of the absolute truths of the Universe, though, is that used-car salesman share an almost incomprehensible amount of genetic material worldwide, the same scary stuff that would, in another era, result in a Darwin Award, and the eventual extinction of the species. The cars from these lots may come with warranties, and probably on average are at least checked and/or repaired prior to sale, but alas, such services and assurances come with a price. And there’s no real consensus whether that additional expense is justified. Cars on these lots often can be gotten at times on-base for almost half the cost….
Which brings me to the Kadena Air Base “Lemon Lot,” more properly known as the “Auto Resale Lot.” It’s been moved since I was here last time, and is now much closer to the Exchange, located in the parking lot of the uniform/dry-cleaning shop across the street of the base’s main shopping complex. All the vehicles I have purchased on-island were acquired this way; 3 out of 4 did me just fine. The one dud turns out to be a recall issue on Toyota Surfs (the direct equivalent of a Toyota 4Runner) due to over-heating issues in hotter climes such as Okinawa. Which is exactly what happen to my old truck, which had to be junked.
Jody and I started looking for cars almost immediately. It’s a daunting prospect, but easy enough process. The cars are registered on-base, who are supposed to “vouch” for advertising accuracy. And the owners (usually) put an information sheet in the car’s window, which must include – it seems by base regulation – “super cold AC runs GREAT!”
Really, I’m sure they all do.
What you are secretly hoping for is someone pressed for whatever reason (and there are many) to sell their car now-now-now, but not that guy who’s dumping a lemon and knows it. So we go from car to truck to van to car, and discuss the relative merits of each vehicle. It’s odd there are NO pickup trucks here. Of course we act like we know a lot about cars, and no doubt you can tell much by kicking a car’s tires (just like in aircraft: “kick the tires and light the fires!”). Oh, and it’s like 97 degrees outside with 97% humidity, which makes the whole affair, well, in a word….
And then we come upon “it.” NAKED. There is not much talk at first glance between Jody and I, but I know we are thinking the same thing: this is the perfect name for a car. For us. Especially for me.
Ask my postman in Pensacola.
We start to examine the car. It is small. Boxy, like most modern Japanese cars tend to be, but with welcome relief in not its lines but its very construction. It’s a great puke-military-green color, shinier and more attractive than olive drab, and strikes us immediately as a mini-Humvee. Like the cube root of an H3. Naked may suffer from tire envy (my motorcycle has bigger wheels), but size doesn’t matter when they’re carrying the torque of 659 white-lightn’n cubic inches of shear, raw 58 horse-power-generat’n combustion! And that, my friends, is less than half that of my motorcycle, and not much larger than a Vespa! Seriously, road taxes in Okinawa are based on engine size, and this car with its motor qualifies for the coveted “A” plate – much cheaper taxes – a can’t miss yellow plate with, yes, you guessed it, the letter “A.” For those not in the know, the majority of cars on Okinawa have white plates, and those registered to SOFA status personnel are marked with a leading “Y” on the plate. The joke is that this stands for “Yankee.”
I’m not so sure it’s a joke. Or the joke may be on us. Or at least the Rebels….
We fell in quick like with this car. Which as we looked more and more (and it got hotter and hotter) quickly turned into a moist love affair. A phone call to Steve, the owner and Air Force EOD officer, a test drive, and handshake later and the deal is done. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.
After $3,700 for the car, about $275 for title transfer and insurance, and 90 minutes standing in various lines at the military’s version of the DMV (and every bit as thrilling), we are literally handed the keys to our freedom. And to Jody’s first drive in, well, let’s see: Okinawa, Japan, Asian, west of the International Dateline, and oh yeah, on the left side of the road! Although she was dreading it, it finally came time to put her big-girl panties on and take the great Naked leap of faith.
The only drawback? We’ll probably have to tie the car down in typhoons….