Cover Story: Austin Strikes Back? Travis County Hunts Me Down For 3 Bad Checks From 22 Years Ago
The story that (possibly) launched a witchhunt.
When my ex-wife called about a month ago to tell me that Travis County had sent me a hot check warrant to my old address here in Houston, I thought there had to be some kind of mistake.
Maybe my identity had been stolen -- at South By Southwest in 2009, I had lost my wallet. Perhaps some junkie had set up an account in my name and was running around papering East Austin with bad checks in my name.
I told my ex I would swing by to pick up the warrant notice later, but I didn't have to bother. They'd tracked me down at my current address, too.
The next day I got through to a lady in the Travis County DA's office, and asked her what was up. I told her there had to be some funny business going on, as I didn't even live in Austin and hadn't written a check there in decades.
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"Have you ever lived in Austin?" she asked. Well, yes, I said. I had been born there and had attended school there for one disastrous year back in 1988 and 1989.
After getting my information, I could hear her typing away. "Says here you wrote three bad checks -- two to Nau's Pharmacy and one to 7-11. You owe $237.76," she said. "The date was 1989."
Son of an egg-sucking hound dog, that was me all right. There's no two ways about it. I practically subsisted on Nau's sausage wraps my second semester, and augmented them occasionally with microwave burritos from the 7-11. And I was a complete idiot in those days. The concept of a balanced checkbook was as foreign to me as differential equations are to a New Guinean tribesman.
But why did it take Travis County so long to notice? Why had they not come after me until now? After eight years away, I've been back in Texas since 1997, voting and driving and paying bills. I'd checked myself for warrants every time some new Web site had come up, and nothing had ever showed up...
I have to wonder if this had something to do with it. Call me paranoid, but it just seems weird that they suddenly found me mere weeks after I blast their city in print, after I'd been "wanted" for two decades.
So here I was. Persecuted for my beliefs! Hounded for my opinions! I'd messed with the Man, and the Man struck back! Surely a major journalism prize will be the result!
At any rate, the sausage wraps, burritos and penalties have all been paid for. The theft by check charges won't go on my permanent record. And now that the city of my birth has hit me back as hard as it can, here's hoping we can just shake on the deal and call it a draw.
And from here on out, I'll be damn sure I won't so much as jaywalk there, that's for sure.