Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the Lam

"Um, Elizabeth?" Mary sounds uncharacteristically tentative over the phone. "Security ran your driver's license for the Governor's Mansion tour, and DPS called and said to give you a heads-up there's a warrant out for your arrest."

Well, shit.

The wildly ebullient Mary works at the state visitor center here in Austin, not to get too Googleable. Another of our staff members there was kind enough to set up a holiday tour of the Texas executive residence (which we don't call the Texas White House, that's out in Stonewall; LBJ and Lady Bird are buried out there) for some of us office schlubs. The Governor is in residence, so they do a routine background check when you sign up. And it turns out I was a fugitive from justice.

The thing is, when you're on the lam, you usually know it. You become an expert at skulking. You're shady. You are not usually a peacefully oblivious solid middle-aged citizen, becoming, let's face it, a little more solid with each progressive year. Being on the run gives you a lean, hunted look. Fuck Paleo, being a wanted criminal may be the new diet plan for the twenties. I'd lay money on it. But only in an unofficial and strictly legal capacity.

So whatever did I do? Mary politely insisted it must be some sort of clerical error. But Mary doesn't do insincerity well, and her attempts to soothe and reassure me were punctuated with images she's found online of elves in a lineup and Santa Claus getting handcuffed.

I called the DPS security officer at the Governor's Mansion. He didn't have any details, but was able to tell me the warrant was for Theft By Check. I'm a little freaked. When's the last time I ever bounced a check? Have I ever messed up and left one unpaid? There was a time when money used to run out between paychecks, but I would tend to characterize that time more as "expensive" than anything else. There were bounced check fees, and I paid them. It costs a lot of money to be poor, dontcha know. When did I last renew my driver's license, or get pulled over in traffic? I was involved in a crash with a red-light-running taxi just last February, and cops were all over the place, taking down information and running licenses. I certainly haven't had any issues in such recent memory. Did I close an account with some forgotten automatic draft set up?

The county attorney's office has a robot phone system. Sure enough, when I enter my date of birth and driver's license number, it reads back an outstanding arrest warrant. "Date of issue: December 5, 1989," it says.

What. I hit "repeat" on my phone. I must have heard that wrong. "December 5, 1989," it insists.

Out of shame, I've gone outside to the break area to make my call, but this is silly. Back in my office, I tell my cube neighbor about it. "Wait," he says. "Is that 26 years ago?"

"It is!" pipes in another neighbor a little too quickly. We remember she was born in 1989.

"Well then," I said, "I guess I better figure out how to take care of this."

So, with a couple more calls to the County Attorney's office, a visit and a small amount of cash (no checks accepted, sorry) at their walk-up window, and a receipt delivered to the clerk at the county court, it's all taken care of. Yes, I'm sorry to say I wrote three bad checks in the course of one week - one week! - to the convenience store down the street from my college housing co-op a couple of months after my 20th birthday. There are not a lot of positive things to be said for Younger Me. Didn't know better? Sorry, I am back in school now with plenty of people that age who seem to be perfectly responsible citizens. No, I was just stupid.

It doesn't answer why my outstanding warrant never set off any alarms when I was renewing my license, over the decades, or doing the other oblivious things I did with no notion of my wanted status. In a way, this is a little exasperating. Really, I've been a fugitive from justice for 26 years? Really?? I mean, I know justice is blind and all, but seriously. I'm right here.

At the county courthouse, the clerk told me, "You're all set - but the warrant might not be lifted until about 5 PM. So be extra careful until then."

Do see the Governor's Mansion, if you get the chance. Mary is a real comedienne, and the DPS security officers are peachy. No comment on anyone else who works there.


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