Turkeys of the Year

Just stuff 'em

The apology didn't mention that the team also didn't plan to win anytime soon, however. Even an a/c system blasting at full power can't hide the stink of the product that's been put on the field this year.

To be fair, the Texans have played a pretty tough schedule so far. And they still have games remaining against the woeful Cardinals and 49ers, so there's a good chance they'll rack up some wins. Just enough wins, in fact, to make sure they don't get a top draft pick.

They close the season January 1 against the 49ers, in what might be a matchup between two 2-13 teams. Now that's good television!

Someone's head is on Bob McNair's chopping block.
Chad Crowe
Someone's head is on Bob McNair's chopping block.
The siren call of Shreveport leads  to a desperate 
escape.
Chad Crowe
The siren call of Shreveport leads to a desperate escape.

Still, it might be worth it to tune in. It's not likely you'll ever again get to see Dom Capers in Texans gear.

Turkey Agency of the Year

Since time immemorial, at least as it's measured in Houston, Metro has been pushing for a light-rail system (or a monorail, or a hovercraft, or any sort of boondogglish type of people-mover). Houstonians, dismayed at the thought of facing an endless series of elections on the subject, finally caved in and approved a massive light-rail plan in November 2003.

Or they thought they did. This year, Metro announced a few tweaks to the $2 billion plan. Most of the tweaks seemed to involve taking light rail away from poorer minority neighborhoods and giving it to rich white neighborhoods.

Instead of the promised rail lines, low-income neighborhoods would get something called "bus rapid transit." Which apparently is transportation lingo for "buses that look a little bit like trains, if you don't look real hard." (The Metro-loving Houston Chronicle, always eager to spread the agency's party line, helpfully described BRT as anything but a bus, calling it a system "in which rubber-tired vehicles run in dedicated guideways." The vehicles, the paper noted, "would look somewhat like MetroRail trains with tires." So hey, you low-income whiners, what's the problem?)

In one of the amazing coincidences of our times, the neighborhoods that will now be getting rail are represented by John Culberson and Tom DeLay, two Republicans who play key roles in approving federal mass-transit funds. The neighborhoods now getting the Super-Duper Buses are represented by loser Democrats.

Metro's original plan was just too ambitious, and never would have won federal funding, Houstonians were told.

You know, we've all heard of car dealerships offering amazing deals, but when you get to the lot you find there was only one car available for that price. But a $2 billion bait-and-switch, that takes balls.

It seems a pretty clear-cut false-advertising case. Metro ran countless ads during the referendum campaign, with beautifully illustrated and official-looking maps showing where the light rail would be going. Then they, ummmm, made a slight alteration.

It's kind of like National Lampoon's Vacation, when Chevy Chase's character goes to pick up his new deluxe Sports Wagon only to find it hasn't come in. "Now I can get you the Sports Wagon; the only problem is that it may take six weeks," says the car dealer, played by Eugene Levy. "I owe it to myself to tell you that if you're taking the whole tribe cross-country, the Wagon Queen Family Truckster is the way to go. You think you hate it now, but just wait until you drive it."

We know how well that turned out.

So -- where do we go to file a complaint?

"In non-lawyerly language, there are three ways you can have a bait-and-switch complaint," says Dan Parsons, president of the Houston Better Business Bureau. "One, failing to do what you said you were going to do. Two, not having a reasonable ability to do what you said you would do -- like having only one Camaro available at half-price when you've taken out a huge ad the whole city sees. Three, using disparagement to sell up -- 'Oh, you don't what this' -- the thing that was advertised -- 'you want this,' something different.

"Does Metro meet those? On No. 1, yeah, obviously. On No. 2, they're using some of that, saying 'Because of the high cost, we can't do what we said.' And on No. 3, the disparagement, they're using that, too -- 'This original plan won't work; this new plan is much better.' "

But Metro did have some fine print that told referendum voters that the plans might change. Surely that covers them, right?

"Yes, it may have been disclosed, but the question is, was it disclosed enough for the common person to see it or to know to look?" Parsons says. "It's like 'zero-percent financing' in big letters, and then when you look closer it's something else."

States like California, Michigan and New York have consumer protection laws that limit such deceptive advertising, he says, but not Texas. At one time, lawyers in Texas were required to disclose if they were not board-certified in the practice areas they were advertising for. And it was perfectly legal, Parsons says, for that disclosure to be only one inch high on a highway billboard.

Still, it sounds like there's some kind of case here, right? Where do we sign up?

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