Arson Is Bad?

When will the state finally lift the arson ban?

If you've driven along any of Texas's major highways lately you've seen the signs. A drought has raised the threat of wildfires to dangerous levels, so -- as the signs say -- there is a "Statewide Fire Danger," and therefore we are under an "Arson/Burn Ban." Motorists are urged to call the number listed if they see any violations.

The first 50 times we saw the sign, we didn't think much of it. And then it was pointed out to us -- isn't "arson" always banned, pretty much?

We decided to go undercover and had this conversation with the woman who answered the phone number listed on the signs:

Hold off on the arson for now, the state says.
Hold off on the arson for now, the state says.
Click here to enlarge.
Click here to enlarge.

A. Arson hot line.

Q. Hi, I'm calling about the arson-ban signs that I see on I-10. When is the arson ban going to be lifted?

A. Lifted up? It's probably going to be in March.

Q. In March? OK. Because, you know, I'm kind of not doing too well financially right now. And I have a restaurant that not too many people like to eat at. So, when the arson ban is going to be lifted, things might get a little easier for me, you know what I'm saying?

A. As in what way? What are you needing it to do?

Q. Well, I need the arson ban lifted so I can engage in arson.

A. What are you needing to burn?

Q. Oh, my restaurant.

A. You want to burn down your restaurant?

Q. Well, just between you and me. I mean, the food's no damn good. And, you know, I've got bills. I've got bills. We all have bills, I know, but I got a lot of bills.

A. Okay…um… yeah, it probably won't be until March, unless we [get] a lot of rain…and [the rain] has to be, like, statewide.

Q. Rain's gonna put out the fire, though. And I got the little lady cracking the whip. That's a lot of money, you know.

A. Right, yeah, so -- ummm -- we would need to get like a coastal rain, we would need to get like a panhandle rain, you know, [and] a mid-section rain…in order for the statewide burn ban to be lifted.

Q. What do you think of Chinese-Mexican fusion? I thought it was gonna go like hotcakes, but apparently no one wants to eat that in Houston.

A. Uhhh, I don't know. I don't know. Personally, I mean, I don't eat at places if they're going to try to sell two different types of foods. I mean, you're either going to sell burgers or you're just going to sell Mexican food or you're just going to sell Chinese food, you know?

Q. Well, maybe with this money I get I can do that -- just sell burgers. Well, thank you.

A. Thanks.

Free Advertising

First rule of local television news -- there is nothing in this world that is more fascinating than a live police chase. If alien warlords invade Earth and take President Bush hostage, the local stations will cut away from covering it if there happens to be a guy on the Gulf Freeway who won't pull over for the cops.

Houstonians were treated again to the spectacle January 18 when Jittu Mann of Spring led cops on a sometimes-leisurely two-hour chase along the Southwest Freeway in a BMW 330i. News helicopters on three stations documented every inch of the event as the Beemer glided through traffic and survived a head-on collision when Mann went the wrong way down an entrance ramp.

Reporters filled the airtime with the BMW's specs, and Internet chat rooms dedicated to the automaker leapt into action. "Damn, the car is so safe," one poster noted. "Well, glad I got the black-leather interior," said another. "A lighter interior doesn't look good on TV."

So, did all this free publicity result in a rush to buy BMWs? Alas, no, according to one sales manager at Momentum BMW, who preferred anonymity.

"January's pretty slow for cars," he said.

Sales staff were glued to the TV for the last 15 minutes of the chase. "It was interesting to watch -- It looked like [the car] was doing what it was designed to do," the salesman says.

The dealership has a test track where drivers can try out the cars, but top speed in the limited space is probably near 40 mph.

So if someone wants to check out how the sedan handles in the 100 mph range, they're going to have to run from the cops?

"Yeah, pretty much," he says.

Free Advertising, Part 2

Citysearch.com is a California-based online guide for entertainment and dining in various U.S. cities. When it began a dozen or so years ago it featured heavily staffed local bureaus; since then they've become more centralized.

People still use it, of course, as did one Hair Balls reader who noted the following blurb on Citysearch.com's Houston site, for a restaurant called RA Sushi: "Washed in red by overhead lamps and stained woods, the sleek decor at this second-floor eatery bears a hip Asian feel. The loft-like space features a sushi bar in the main dining area, as throbbing dance music enlivens stylish diners vying for tables."

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