Austin Oddities

11.01.10 | 2 Comments

Whenever I move somewhere new, I inevitably run into the unique things about the new place that are somewhat mysterious to an outsider. As I live there longer, these oddities become the norm, and I forget that they were strange to begin with. Having lived in the Twin Cities for almost six years, I’d gotten used to the term ‘ramp’ referring to a parking garage (but not the substituting of ‘gray duck’ for ‘goose’ in the kids’ circle game). Now here I am in Austin, Texas. And the questions began the very first day. Most of them I’ve gotten answered. Here are my accumulated (thus far) Austin oddities and observations: (some of which may pertain to all of Texas)

1) We live just off “Loop 1.” Sounds like one might get kinda confused on such a road – sorta like the ring roads around London. Right? Nope. Highway 1 is a north-south highway that parallels Interstate 35. “Loop” here just means “highway.”

2) “Loop 1” is also known as “Mopac”. Weird name. Probably not a surname. Maybe an acronym? Or an abbreviation? But I never saw it spelled out anywhere. Always just “Mopac.” Finally I found out that it stands for Missouri (MO) Pacific (PAC), which was the company that owned the railroad right-of-way along which the highway was built. Ah.

3) Several of the roads here are labeled “R.M.” and “F.M.” In fact, we live pretty close to “R.M. 2222,” which seems like a pretty striking name for a road – especially when contrasted with “Loop 1.” Turns out that the abbreviations stand for “Ranch-to-Market” and “Farm-to-Market.” So our “R.M. 2222” is sometimes called “Ranch Road” locally. Wackyness.

4) The department of motor vehicles here doesn’t seem to want to deal much with motor vehicles. I have to go to the county tax office to register and title my car; and I have to go to the department of public safety to get my driver’s license.

5) I have to write my check for my registration and title directly to “Nelda Wells Spears,” which sounds completely sketchy and corrupt. The tax agent assures me that it’s on the books, and that it’s how the county tax assessor is honored – by having the name Nelda Wells Spears everywhere in the office. I pointed out that it’s gotta be a pain to switch everything when Nelda is voted out of office. Yep, he agrees and tells me it costs about $50,000 to switch out all the stamps, letterhead, and signage. Tax dollars well spent.

6) Speaking of taxes, there’s no income tax here, so boy, do they pile on the fees. It cost me $177.30 to register and title my car, not counting the $30 safety and emissions inspection. The amount includes a “reflectorization” fee, a “county road and bridge” fee, an “automation” fee, and a “child safety fund” fee. And $90 is a “new resident” fee. Welcome to Texas!

7) More on Texas government. Somewhere in some voter information literature, I was reading about how much the various elected officials make. Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, yadda, yadda. All making six-figures. No real surprise. Wait. Here’s one: Railroad Commissioner. In fact, there are three of them. Also six-figure types. What in the world do they do? It’s not like there’s an overabundance of railroads here. A little Internet check…

“The Railroad Commission has primary regulatory jurisdiction over oil and natural gas industry, pipeline transporters, natural gas & hazardous liquid pipeline industry, natural gas utilities, the LP-gas industry, and coal & uranium surface mining operations.”

R…i…g…h…t… ah, transparency in government.


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