Although it is hard to believe that eight years have passed since I moved to Austin, reality set in on Monday when I had to go and renew my driving license. Texas passed a law in the last legislative session, which made it impossible to renew a driving license if you are here illegally. I arrived at the centre at 8.45am, and the queue was four deep, twisting around the poles and ropes. An official was walking round making sure everyone had what they needed. People were there to renew their licenses, replace lost licenses, retrieve suspended licenses, and to take a test, to get a license. Although I received a letter reminding me of the impending expiration, the items being asked for by the official were not on the list. As she worked her way around the queue, several people left the building. I could not be sure as to why they left, but there were a lot of disappointed children following their parents out of the doors. Finally, she approached me and asked if I was a citizen, to which I replied in the negative, but said I was a resident. Having established that I did, indeed, have my card with me, and that my license was still valid for another two days, she told me that I did not need any other forms of identification. The lady who stood behind replied positively to the citizen question, but as her license had expired, she was required to show two forms of address identification. The chuckles were not suppressed, perhaps due to the woman being less than petite, when the official announced, rather loudly, 'There is no way you live in a P.O. Box, ma'am!' The slightly embarrassed female replied that she lived in her car. Apparently, this is not an acceptable condition, and the crowd turned their head, almost mechanically, back to the less than petite woman, awaiting her reply. Mumbling something quite incoherent under her breath, she asked me to 'save' her place. I dared not refuse! Twenty minutes later she returned, apparently having found a home, that was not mobile, and amazingly produced bills that confirmed her new address. I was now about twentieth in line, and watched as yet another teenager's parent did not have sufficient paperwork to prove their residency, exit the building.
Eventually, another official appeared, waving forms in the air, and shouting, 'renewals?' My hand shot up and I lurched forward to make sure I was seen, and she herded a dozen willing participants out into the foyer. We were going on a 'field trip'. Approximately a mile down the road was the 'renewal' centre. It appears that those eligible are 'weeded' out and sent down to the place that does not have tolerance for time wasters, nor seasoned 'dodgers'. Having gone through the stringent tests, (not to mention embarrassing medicals,) I do not have much sympathy for those who refuse to adhere to the rules. Texas has, in the past, so I am given to understand, granted several periods of 'amnisty', when those who did not arrive legally were given the opportunity to submit papers to become 'legal'. Many, some of whom I have met, have refused, on reasons other than not being able to afford the fees, and in such cases, I rarely feel compassionate. However, I digress. I drove the short distance to my destination, and after a painless photo shoot and eye test, the corner of my license was snipped off, and I was given a receipt to keep me on the road.
I returned to the office at about 10am, and checked my emails. I had won yet another competition from the radio website. The phone call confirming that I had received the email came shortly thereafter. My question as to when I could collect the prize, was answered; 'any day between 8 and 5, but not Wednesday, as we are closed It is a national holiday'. Perhaps the accent made her think that I was unaware of the impending day off, but I let her know how familiar I was with Independence Day, as it was my birthday. After shrieks of delight from both ends of the telephone, I told the caller that I would probably see her later in the day. My 'less petite than previously' behind was burning the proverbial hole in my seat, and I continued to fidget, wondering what the 'movies goodie bag' contained. I had not won the big prize, which included cinema tickets, and dinner for four at a very nice downtown restaurant, but my name would be put into the draw. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me, and I dragged Samantha away from her desk to accompany me on the short ride to the radio's marketing office. We entered what has become a familiar building, and took the lift to the second floor. I burst through the doors and introduced myself. A bewildered young man, and comatose young woman, looked at me with curiosity. 'I've won, again!', I announced, to an unenthusiastic audience. Suddenly, someone turned on the switch in the female, and her eyes lit up, and then her mouth began to move. 'It's your birthday on Wednesday!', she declared as if she had been alive all along, which appeared to bewilder the young man more so. He looked from side to side, to see who was going to make the next proclamation. Fortunately, his silent question was answered when his co-worker told me that she recognised me from my telephone call, and went to retrieve my prize. My excitement was obviously an enigma to the poor young lad, and my comment that I would be just as excited if I had 'won a jar of mayonnaise', put his confusion level back up a notch. However, he carried on smiling through gritted teeth, as I left whooping and hollering, wishing them all a 'happy 4th', and telling Samantha that I was auditioning for a job at their radio station! She doubted that anyone as passionate would be employed on the second floor!
The prize was not much more exciting than a jar of mayonnaise, depending on one's opinion. Tickets to the film, 'Rock of Ages', a pack of red hair dye, nail stickers and a nail file, were in the goodie bag. The t-shirt and sleeveless top were reasonably attractive, but would probably have given me more street cred if the movie had not been dubbed 'Flop of Ages'! However, Samantha confiscated the hair dye and nail stickers, and I was in my element, having been successful in my challenge.
Having a day off in the middle of the week is always nice, although I think most people would prefer all the holidays to be celebrated on the nearest Friday, or Monday, so that we can have more three day weekends. The 4th July and 11 November (Veterans Day) are always celebrated on the actual day, whereas Memorial Day and Labor Day, are on a Monday. Wednesday morning started off very slowly. Dana and I went to Mozart's to enjoy a cup of coffee and croissant, by the lake. Very civilised. We had been there for about twenty minutes when Samantha called to sing to me. The melodic tones of 'Happy Birthday', were followed with 'where are you?' and then disappointment as she had not been informed earlier. We were not in a hurry, and waited for her to appear. She called Dana shortly before her arrival, to let him know that she had 'red' hair. Dana said that he was quite sure he would recognise her, thinking that she was referring to the auburn tints that had become her new colour. However, as she rounded the corner, with faithful hound pulling her along by his lead, he said, rather louder than anticipated, 'that's South by South West Red!' Indeed, auburn it was not. Crimson would have been more accurate. It was very fitting for the occasion, as most people commented on her patriotism.
My birthday was perfect. After breakfast, we came home, and Samantha and I headed for the pool. We were joined by some other residents, although not too many, and enjoyed the sunshine. Unfortunately, we had to leave the area at around 4:15pm, as our dinner arrangements had been made for five. Fortunately, being low maintenance, I was able to shower and dress in a very short period of time, and I was ready to walk out of the door at 4:45pm and we met Joe, his sister, and Chara at the restaurant. My 'not' surprise birthday cake, made by Samantha, of course, was a scrabble board. It was excellent. We returned home and Edward left to go to work, while Dana opted to stay with the dog, while Samantha and I went to watch the fireworks. Usually we go to the parking lot at the mall, but as we left the restaurant, which is across from the actual mall, we saw there were already many people setting up their chairs, and others setting up stalls, so we knew it would be as busy as always. Finding a parking space is difficult enough if you are not there two hours before, but leaving takes the best part of an hour, as hundreds gather in the high spot. I was not particularly relishing the idea of sitting in my car after the event, attempting to merge onto the highway into another sea of traffic, but as we neared the exit, we spotted another possibility to view. A lot of traffic was exiting the highway and turning onto the grass median, which was opposite a church. The church had plenty of parking spaces, as well as a grass verge next to the road. After looping around twice (the first time we did not go far enough back!) we entered the churchyard, and backed onto the grass in between two trucks. We walked along the line of intimate 'tail gate' parties, and stood next to the sign for the church. It was slightly elevated and we had a fabulous view. The fireworks were very nice, but compared with the 'Big Brother' house finale, in Borehamwood, a few miles from where we lived in England, they were rather mediocre. (Sorry Austin!) The couple who had taken up residence slightly in front of us, were inadvertently taking our picture. As they stood, all smiles, and faced into their camera, we leaned forward and smiled. We are not sure whether their relatives will ask, 'who are they?' as they may have managed to 'close caption' and avoid the two strange women and their toothy grins. Possibly the best part of the event was being able to jump in the car as the last firework flames left the sky, and get on the road before the crowds. We were home within ten minutes.
Going to work on Thursday was a bit of a drag, as Tuesday had felt like Friday, and the 'weekend' was only one day, but Friday was only a day away, and we were once again looking forward to a two day break. We celebrated my birthday again, on Saturday, when we met our friends, Tod and Star, at the Brazilian Steakhouse. An English accent was heard by me, and we stopped a very friendly man from just outside Birmingham, who now lives in Austin. Tod was quite fascinated by his accent, and laughed quite heartily, and agreed, when we told him, 'that is how Frank (the dog) would talk, if he could talk. The weather was wonderful on Saturday, and the rain held off until late Sunday afternoon. Storms are gathering now and we are probably going to be deluged before morning, but hopefully it will make things a little cooler for a couple of days, or at least hours. I look forward to another week at work and ..... another story.