Discipline and Punish and the US Parking Slotted Pay Box

Texas plated cars with expired state inspection stickers receive a ticket, while the owners receive a court date. If for some reason there is need to reschedule, due to unforeseen events, a form (from an attorney) will abate the court appearance. Either fax or take the form to the Municipal Courts building on Overland Street, and pay the clerk 10¢ for a copy (she’ll give you a receipt for the money.) Parking availability in front of the building is nil due to all the reserved spaces for police vehicles and consulate cars (the Mexican Consulate is around the corner on the not so ironically named San Antonio Street.) Therefore, if a member of the public has business to conduct within the courts building, they must park their car at the US Parking lot across the street.

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault explains how certain spaces work together to form areas which discipline, punish, and control public behaviors. These change and shift over time and by location. While a community designs their towns in certain ways over time, such collections of formations will create such barriers and constraints, which the public never sees or feels. The layers of buildings, torn down, others built in the same place, lanes widened, streets change to one-way, all result in outcomes never originally planned. In a painless but effective formation, such changes will punish and discipline. Whether these are designs and buildings situated to perform those particular outcomes, as with prisons and schools, there are also more subversive and invisible spaces that discipline those of us who willingly walk into a space and follow the implied or written instructions meted to us. I found one such space this week and was shocked when Foucault’s theory met with the place where I stood—in a parking lot across from the Municipal Courts building on Overland Street.

Most of the US Parking facilities are simple blacktop lots with diagonal lines and numbers to denote a space, along with a simple metal box at one entrance that accepts your coins and bills. In the case of this location, US Parking charges $4 to rent such spaces (0-12 hours). On a slow day, as this was, this means I paid for about 15 minutes of space rental time. What makes parking there so byzantine and punishing is not merely the amount you must pay, but how you pay. To pay for a space, put money into the corresponding slot cut into that red metal box attached to a signage pole. On the day I went, a pink piece of paper taped to the sign above the box politely asked people to pay in “cash, no checks please.” It is not so much the price of the parking lot space because this is America and the need and lack of choice drive space rental.

Yes, it is four dollars because hey, they want to see if you will pay with a $5 bill because you are in a rush or do not have change. It is also because the box with its slots work together with this location in a manner where you will pay; that is punish and discipline. The box disciplines by making you cram the money into that box, which you would not have had to do if you had had your car inspected on time. The slot punishes because you must stand and roll your bills so tight that you think about your grandfather rolling his own cigarettes with Bugler Tobacco. It punishes by making you remember that you miss him even though he died in 1975. Before you finish, you must make sure the money drops inside, so you cram the money into the box with a metal shive attached to the box with a chain. Overall, geography can and will discipline and punish, through this place, those spaces, and the box—across from the courts, as no parking is available on the street. Your money, the metal shive, the street, the courts, and the red box—that is discipline and punish.

Comments

****** said…
Hey, I heard that the space where the mining bar sits, is going to be torn down to make room for more parking with the new courthouse needing parking. The mining gay bar will have to find another location. Public Grounds Coffee House is now open in the Toltec building and will one day have small tables outside. Also a new place to eat called Maria Bonita will soon open right next door, in the Toltec as well. Oh, and down the street next to the Tap, is a bar once called Viva Villa that is soon going to re-open its doors, under the same name. Anyways, yes parking sucks during the day especially for those of us who live and work downtown. Have you seen the new parking across from the Camino Hotel? Looks like they have invested lots of money and have place a fence and a some new electronic pay box, to do away with the an attendant. I'm sure their prices will be going up...just in time for the new Mills project. I also heard that people will be able to use a credit,debit cards or cell phone to pay the street meters soon.
Richard said…
Nice essay, Carolyn.
wow. i didn't know that (and sorry for the delay in responding.) i know that the white elephant was torn down last summer. i always hoped that the place would be revived, but hope that at least the wooden alleys were recycled for someone's flooring or dance studio.

thanks richard. ;)

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