My auto insurance company called last week telling me that my drivers license was expired. Now if only the state of Texas could mange to be so efficient. I could hardly blame them, as I failed to notify them I had moved from Fort Worth. However, as I tried to find out what sort of information I needed to get the thing renewed, the failings of the Texas Department of Transportation became glaringly apparent. They are obviously understaffed. I tried the phone numbers of all six San Antonio substations. One was no longer in service. All the others were constantly busy as I tried for about thirty minutes, moving from one number to another. Even the customer service office in Austin was busy. And it wasn't those sadistic automated voices that keep you hanging on the line listening to bilingual PSAs or light jazz. All I got was a “because of the high telephone traffic, we are presently unable to assist you — hang up and try later.”
So I just drove down to the offices on the southside. It was just coming up on noon, and I knew that was a mistake. Yep. The parking lot was choked. I walked up to the door, and before my hand even made contact with the metal handle, I saw the sign: “payment in cash and check only,” and I spun around and headed back to my truck, and drove home to get my checkbook. I had seen on the website that they accepted credit cards, but I guess that was just if you were going to pay online. I decided to stop for lunch at a little taqueria on S. Presa. So when I went back, the noon rush at the DOT had subsided a bit. Just a bit. I had to stand in line to get a number to stand in line.
I sat and filled out paperwork in a plastic chair. The woman behind me started a conversation with a man next to her. It seemed they had mutual friends at the sports bars they tended to hang out in. “You know Manny?” “The guy with the tattoos right here?” “Naw. But I know him too.” “Oh, I know who you're talking about. He works the back bar on weeknights.” The woman was afraid that when she got to the counter and gave the clerk her paperwork that some message would surface from the computer concerning her three outstanding warrants. “Speeding tickets,” she said. “Mostly.” And then a woman behind her chimed in about how they most likely would arrest her on the spot. “My cousin had like a million tickets and warrants, but the computer didn't say shit. He got in and got out. He was lucky. They have a sheriff in the back room. I was here three years ago, and my name came up. I didn't have a thousand dollars for the fine, so I had to go to lockup. They have awful sandwiches. And the cookies … those weren't what I'd call cookies. All they served was this nasty orange drink.”
A couple more voices entered, and I wish they were in front of me, so I could watch as well as listen. Mostly they were talking about their personal experience in jail. The sort of stuff this woman could expect. When the woman's number came up she got phone numbers of her new friends. “If my name doesn't come up on their computers, you're all invited to party with me tonight.”
Later, as I was standing in line, the woman emerged from the final room beaming. She rushed over to the rows where her seat-mates still sat, waiting.
“Party tonight!” she said quite loudly, and I watched her give a little jig. I only wish she had emerged from that final room with a cheerleader victory dance and had shouted to us all: “Damn, I beat the system! Tonight I'm gonna get tanked and drive like a maniac!”
The sad thing is she was about my age. This is what you encounter in these bureaucratic offices. The poor and the fuckups. I guess I fit into both categories. Our social betters do this stuff online, through the mail, or over the phone. Oh, wait, there is another group. The old codgers. They haven't embraced technology. They vote, pay bills, renew drivers licenses, and all that, in person. They've done it that way for over half a century, and the only way it's going to change is when they climb down into the ground. You can spot them easily. They are the ones not wearing flip flops, and their hats are not on crookedly. They have trousers with pressed seams, their nails are clean and trimmed, and they often clutch accordion folders with a solid decade's worth of pertinent documents. And they haven't a clue as to what sort of sandwiches are served in the Bexar County lockup.
I finally made it to the front of the line. After an eye-check, a electronic signature, and biometric scans of both thumbs, I wrote out a check for 24 bucks, posed for a photo in front of the classic blue backdrop, and got the hell out of there. (The one thing that surprised me was that they had me remove my glasses “because of the glare.” I remember one time maybe two decades ago when, in a moment of vanity, I removed my glasses just before the drivers license photo was to be taken, and the clerk chastised me. “We want you to look the way you usually look.”)
After I got that out of the way, I stopped by Urban 15. George is deep into work on his video art project for San Antonio's Smithsonian Museum. He and Herman were running a mockup of the hardware in the basement space. The current scheme is to run three HD projectors, each connected to a committed PC. The video piece is using a specific program that allows one massive, and horizontally long, QuickTime file to be spread across these multiple projectors so that there is no seam from one projected quadrant to another. The video images themselves are presented in collage form, in constant motion.
I spent a bit of time with George talking about the upcoming Josiah Youth Media Festival I'm helping them run. We're still waiting on putting out the call for entries until their web-master creates the festival's website.
Last week I finally got around to seeing some of the works of Josiah Neundorf. He was a former high-school student of George Ozuna. He then went off to study film in Boston. But shortly before his 21st birthday, he passed way because of a rare form of bone cancer. Much of his work is animation. Stop-motion, with clay as well as real objects (in the manner of Jan Svankmajer), and also drawn images. He did one piece with found, archival footage which reminded me of a very early experimental piece by Peter Greenaway. And there is an excellent live action narrative about a man inadvertently making a deal with the devil. It's a strong piece, well shot with smart set ups. Good actors. And all in Spanish — with English subtitles.
The kid was an artist. As young as he was, he had a definite and an emerging style. To attached his name to a film festival — a youth film festival — makes perfect sense. Josiah was walking down his own path in life, and making work that any of us would be proud of.