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  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e  May 2011


Driven to Distraction

One way around the wait at the MVD.

David A. Fryxell

If you're planning to go renew your driver's license or register a vehicle, we suggest you bring your grocery list along. We've recently discovered that the wait at the MVD office in Silver City—which can otherwise make purgatory begin to seem attractive—is just right for making a quick run to the grocery store, conveniently located just minutes down Hwy. 180.

Permit us to explain. We'd heard promising reports that the once-legendary, coma-inducing wait at the local MVD was now "not so bad," as our informant put it. (And, indeed, the MVD staff zip through their duties with admirable efficiency; if only, might we be so bold as to suggest, a few more of the windows at the MVD could actually be filled with said staff at peak hours. A bump in driver's license renewal fees—we paid $34 for another eight years behind the wheel, or a paltry $4.25 per year—could surely pay for added staffing. With 617,200 licensed drivers in New Mexico, a doubling of that rate would raise $2.6 million.)

But we digress, albeit parenthetically. Encouraged by this report of less-than-mind-numbing wait times and prodded by the passing of yet another birthday, we drove to the MVD with high hopes and an e-book newly downloaded on our iPhone, just in case.

New arrivals at the MVD are greeted by a machine that looks sort of like a slimmed-down weight-and-fortune scale. You push a button and it spits out a scrap of paper with your number. A red-lit sign on the wall shows what number was last called.

We got number 93. The office was now serving motorist number 79. This was not good.

Twenty minutes and one e-book chapter later, the red numerals had advanced only to 82. The atmosphere in the crowded waiting lounge had taken on a lifeboat feel; bound collectively in our twin rows of stiff, hooked-together molded chairs, we could only pray for rescue. Fox News blared on the television bolted to the wall facing the chairs, our backs to the Promised Land where the MVD staff toiled. (The MVD might want to rethink its choice of news channels: Tedious waiting at the behest of government bureaucrats coupled with anti-government ranting by Glenn Beck or Bill O'Reilly could be an explosive combination.)

Those of us waiting began to compare notes. "I been here an hour," a man in a brown ballcap behind me confessed, in a tone that suggested he expected to wait another hour or more. "I heard the wait was an hour and a half," moaned another.

We began to do the math: 3 motorists in 20 minutes, 11 still ahead of us…. Our plan had been to run this "errand" and then continue to the grocery store. The shopping list, compiled in such optimism, now weighed heavily on a shirt pocket.

Bold action was called for. Could we leave, do our grocery shopping and get back before the magic number 93 appeared in crimson lights? We rose from the plastic chair as if stretching, then made for the door. In an utterly illicit stab at insurance in case our ploy backfired, we punched the button at the number-dispenser a second time on our way out, devilishly pocketed a backup number (102), and headed to Albertson's.

Some 40 minutes and $71.06 worth of groceries later, we were back at the MVD. We'd skipped the frozen corn on the grocery list, in case 93 had come and gone (or the counter was still mired in the 80s) and our groceries might sit, defrosting, in the trunk.

Excited beyond all sense, we elbowed past an exiting older man and a woman with a walker and entered the MVD. The current number? With a thrill of triumph, we espied "92."

We tried not to strut when "93" was called, only a few minutes later. See you in eight years, suckers!



Strum und Drang

If you've got the music in you, MRAC has some ways to let it out.

This year's 16th annual Silver City Blues Festival, May 27-29, offers a chance to do some music-making of your own. Local luthiers Don Musser and Dan Swanson (see "Strings Attached," July 2006) have donated a handcrafted acoustic guitar to the sponsoring Mimbres Region Arts Council (MRAC). The guitar, valued at $5,000, will be raffled off to benefit MRAC on Sunday just before festival headliner Harry Manx takes the stage.

Dan Swanson and Don Musser with the custom guitar they crafted for the Silver City Blues Festival.

Owning a Musser-made guitar would put you in pretty good company. His first guitar built to sell, some 35 years ago, went to actor Peter Fonda; the next one wound up in the hands of legendary musician Tom Rush. In the years since, Musser's guitars have been bought by musicians including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Eddie Van Halen. Neil Young bought one of Musser's small "parlor" guitars as a gift for his wife. And when Irish musician Bono missed out on buying one of Musser's guitars—it was gone from the store when he returned a day later—the U2 front man's wife commissioned Musser to make a custom guitar for him, a shiny black instrument with Celtic cross details.

Swanson became interested in guitar-making after seeing a workshop ad that Musser ran in Acoustic Guitar magazine. Although Swanson couldn't attend the workshop, the two finally connected about a year later when Musser moved to Silver City, where Swanson lived, in 2003. Musser helped him build his first guitar-from-scratch—a left-handed model for the southpaw Swanson. After that start, Swanson went on to specialize in vintage rebuilds, making custom guitars out of old wrecks.

Besides the acoustic guitar, the MRAC raffle will feature a coveted iPad2, a round-trip ticket to Albuquerque donated by Great Lakes Airlines, and a second guitar, a black electric PRS Starla donated by Larry's Music and Sound in Deming. Made of solid mahogany and accented with a rosewood fingerboard, the instrument retails for $2,500 to $3,500.

Raffle tickets are available for $5 on the MRAC website at www.mimbresarts.org, and at the MRAC office at 1201 Pope St. in Silver City. You need not be present to win—but it's the Blues Fest, so why wouldn't you be there?

If you're lucky enough to win the acoustic guitar and practice really hard between now and September, maybe you can strum along with the tunes at the Pickamania! music festival, also in Gough Park. The popular exclamation-pointed festival of traditional, folk and bluegrass music went on hiatus last year due to the economic downturn, but MRAC is bringing it back, Sept. 9-11.

"It's unbelievable how many people asked us to please find a way to bring this festival back," says MRAC Director Faye McCalmont. "People love the down-home, grassroots nature of the event."

Organizers have booked the Savoy Family Cajun Band from Louisiana as the headliner on Saturday, Sept. 10, and the Colorado bluegrass band Spring Creek as the headliner on Sunday. The Honeygitters will kick off the weekend with a dance at the Buckhorn Opera House, Friday night, Sept. 9. Admission to the dance with be $10, helping to support the rest of the weekend events, which will again be offered free to the public and will include food and craft/artisan vendors.

Pickamania!'s roots go back to another local luthier, Bill Bussman, who used to host musicians from around the state at his then-place near Caballo in the mid-1980s (see "Pickin' and Grinnin'," September 2008). MRAC revived the festival in 2008 and 2009.

To help get Pickamania! back on its feet this year, says McCalmont, a number of local musical groups have stepped up to play the event as a donation. Performer fees have been cut almost in half to make the event affordable for the MRAC to produce and provide without a ticket price to the community. In addition to the performances in the park, workshops by a number of performers will take place both Saturday and Sunday mornings for a modest entrance fee.

For more information, contact MRAC at PO Box 1830, Silver City, NM 88062, (575) 538-2505, or see www.mimbresarts.org.



Reality Check

Did Rep. Steve Pearce vote to cut veterans benefits, then tell Grant County veterans he'd protect them from deficit reductions? Pretty much.

Perhaps Second District Rep. Steve Pearce needs to be checked for short-term memory loss. Only a few days after voting for the Republican budget plan crafted by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Pearce was back home in southern New Mexico. Among his stops was Fort Bayard Medical Center in Grant County, where Pearce met with veterans and touted his HEALTHY Vets legislation. The presentation included a colorful chart dramatizing the horrors of the federal budget deficit. Pearce told the assembled vets that the federal government needs to cut spending, but without hurting veterans.

"I am opposed to balancing the budget on the backs of our veterans," Pearce said.

Curious, our crack Reality Check research team dug into the effects on veterans' spending of the Ryan "Path to Prosperity" budget plan that Pearce had just voted for, which mostly got headlines for its proposal to end Medicare as it's currently constituted for everyone not yet age 55. Further specifics are surprisingly tricky to find, but according to the NextGov.com website, Ryan's plan as unveiled in early April "looks like a rocky road for the Veterans Affairs Department and veterans." It would set the 2012 VA budget at $128 billion—a decrease of $4.2 billion from the department's proposed budget—and the 2013 budget at $129 billion. The site notes that Ryan's proposed cuts come even as the VA "prepares to deal with providing services to 2.2 million Afghanistan and Iraq veterans."

The Bipartisan Policy Center, however, adds that in submitting the budget plan to the Congressional Budget Office for "scoring," Ryan and the GOP simply specify "a path for the combination of spending on other mandatory programs"—most veteran's programs—and total discretionary spending. Cumulatively, such spending would have to be slashed from 12% of GDP in 2010 to 6% of GDP in 2022, 4.25% by 2040, and 3.5% by 2050. Two-thirds of the budget cuts would come from low-income programs, including aid to the homeless, among whom are 107,000 veterans of all wars.

At the same time, the Ryan plan would continue the Bush tax cuts while lowering the top marginal tax rates on the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations.

But Ryan and his GOP colleagues may not be done yet. According to Veterans for Common Sense, Ryan's House Budget Committee is also studying a plan to cut $6 billion annually in VA health care costs by canceling enrollment of any veteran who doesn't have a service-related medical condition and is not poor. Committee Republicans are targeting these 1.3 million veterans who claim "priority group 7 or 8 status" and have access to VA care.

Pearce didn't address these plans when speaking to local veterans, or his position on the details of proposed cuts. He did, however, join all but four Republicans in voting for the Ryan budget, which was unanimously opposed by House Democrats including New Mexicans Ben Lujan and Martin Heinrich.

A taste of the kind of campaign rhetoric Pearce and his GOP colleagues might be in store for as a result of their votes comes from Rep. Steve Israel, who runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee: "You cannot vote to cut veterans' benefits in Washington and then go pose for pictures with veterans back in the district. There is a pattern of duplicity here, and we're going to make sure it comes back to haunt them."




Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com), which tracks 4,500 worldwide news sources (trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list). Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. Who cares about politics when you can be an astronaut (sort of)? News that Virgin Galactic is hiring pilot-astronauts for its almost-spaceflights rocketed the Spaceport tenant to third place this month, helped by an overall slow news cycle for everything New Mexican. New Senate candidate Martin Heinrich just squeaks onto the list, while potential GOP opponent Heather Wilson still can't crack it (three hits behind). Next month, the Gary Johnson presidential buzz-watch begins!


1. (2) New Mexico budget—662 hits (▼)

2. (1) Gov. Susana Martinez—490 hits (▼)

3. (7) Virgin Galactic—441 hits (up)

4. (4) Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson—197 hits (▼)

5. (6) Sen. Jeff Bingaman—181 hits (▼)

6. (10) Sen. Tom Udall—131 hits (▼)

7. (3) New Mexico driver's licenses—89 hits (▼)

8. (-) New Mexico spaceport—63 hits (▲)

9. (-) Martin Heinrich + Senate—56 hits (▲)

10. (-) Spaceport America—55 hits (▲)



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