Civic Duties

I went down to the town hall today to be a better citizen. First, I registered to vote, which was easy and satisfying, even if they insisted on having the clerk fill out the form instead of me. Weighing the equities, I decided to put myself down as "Green;" watching the Democrats surgically remove their own backbones this last year has been an alienating experience.

Getting a resident parking permit, though, was an exercise in bad government. First of all, you have to be paid up on your parking tickets to get a permit. It turned out that there were a couple tickets in their computer that I'd never heard of; as if to compensate, their computer didn't recognize one of the tickets that I'd found on my car. The clerk didn't seem to understand my concern that among these these mystery tickets might be two halves of the same clam.

The other thing about this system is that they won't actually give me my permit for 30 days -- even though they now have in hand all the information they need to issue one. Between now and then, I don't have to pay new parking tickets. On the other hand, if I have outstanding parking tickets, they won't grant me the permit, and my tickets for the next month will count -- and, in fact, will double in price if I sit on them for more than two weeks. I just need to hope there's not another phantom ticket out there that was issued to me, never actually slapped on my car, and not yet in their computers. The circularity of the system strikes me as characteristic of municipal government.

While I was filling out my form at the Traffic and Parking office, a woman came in with a street-sweeping-day ticket she considered unjust. Unfortunately for her, her English was only good enough to say, "I'm sorry, I need someone to speak Spanish to me," -- far better than the Spanish of anyone working in the Traffic and Parking office.

But maybe there was someone upstairs, one of the janitors maybe, who spoke Spanish. Carmine? No? Carlos, then? Soneone went upstairs to check if Carlos was still around, while the rest of the folks on duty sighed loudly and explained the problem to each other. This is America, we speak English here, one of them said.

Those perfect rejoinders come only in hindsight. Spanish was spoken in what would become this country long before English was.