Yesterday morning I spent quite a while waiting at the SAAQ, the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec, better known in English as the motor vehicle bureau. If you're going to sit and draw for an hour while waiting for your turn, it's nice to be where other people are stuck sitting still too!
I rode my bike over there first thing in the morning, which was probably dumb. This particular office, on rue Molson (yes, named after the brewing family), is where you go if you want a taxi license, and when I arrived there was already a line of many men -- all men, actually -- waiting to take their taxi exam. In Montreal the majority of taxi drivers are from Africa. After I had taken my number -- A17 -- from the machine I sat down in the waiting area below a big screen displaying the current numbers being served -- A3 -- and at which window. All the men came and sat in a clump behind me near the door that leads to the exit and the examiners, and all the while I waited they talked to each other in a murmer of languages, some Arabic but mostly African languages I didn't recognize at all. I had the sense that many were accompanied by friends who were already taxi drivers. It was so tempting to draw them, but couldn't without turning around and attracting attention, or perhaps even cause offense. One man was particularly striking, in a long white robe and a beautifully crocheted white skullcap.
Bureaucratic tasks like this made me so nervous when we first came here, but it's gotten a lot easier. When I arrived at the window to renew my own driver's license and health system card, the exchange was all in French; I managed it and the clerk didn't switch, though he was certainly bilingual - my own minor exam success for the day. Because I had waited a while since they sent me the notice of renewal, he handed me back my present license and a provisional new one on a piece of paper, saying to be sure to keep them together because I probably wouldn't receive the card until after my birthday. Then he sent me over to the far window to have my picture taken, and I was amused to see that the person behind the camera was the same young man who had been in front of me on the bike path, an hour earlier. Click!