By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Going to a branch of the Department of Public Safety is never a very pleasant experience, but the past week or so in Houston has been especially horrendous.
Computers at three offices went down, resulting in waits of four hours or more for people trying to get even the most basic stuff done.
Four hours of sitting in one of those fascinating waiting rooms just to get called up to the next available rep, or told to come back the next day. "It was a nightmare," one customer said.
DPS says it's sorry, but such mishaps are not exactly new. "This is a side effect of having computers that are circa 1970 or something," says spokeswoman Tela Mange. "We have offices where if a computer goes down, there is literally nothing we can do to repair it. There's no parts -- they don't exist anymore, the computers are that old."
Mange says new computers are being installed later this year statewide, and they apparently will have memory enough even to play those cutting-edge games like Pong or Tetris.
Until then, keep your fingers crossed. "It happens occasionally," she says of breakdowns. "We're very sorry when it does, probably more sorry than the people waiting in the offices."
Really? More sorry than some schlub waiting four hours in a DPS line?
"Yes," she says, "because then we have to deal with lots and lots of unhappy people. So it doesn't make coming to work much fun."
Not as much fun as waiting four hours for a driver's license, we guess.
It Could Happen to You
And if you're sitting there smugly reading the above item, telling yourself, "Who cares? I just renew online," get ready for hell: Starting next year, everybody has to physically go to a DPS office, even for the most basic renewal of their license.
The federal Real ID act requires everyone renewing a license after May 11, 2008, to present a passport or birth certificate and a valid Social Security card. (After doing it once, you can then go back to online renewals.)
That's 16 million Texans who will have to be processed over a five-year period.
"It's going to be a little slice of heaven," Mange says.
For the first year alone, DPS is budgeting $160 million for increased personnel, extended office hours and possibly new locations to handle the crush.
States can opt out of the Real ID program -- there are bills before the legislature calling for Texas to do so -- but then those states are considered "non-compliant" by the feds. And that means you wouldn't be able to use your driver's license to board a plane or get in any federal building.
Some dozen states have already opted out. The hope among some folks is that if enough states do so, the feds will have to adjust their plans.
If that doesn't happen, though, you can look forward to waiting with millions of your fellow Texans as a state bureaucracy tries to handle a flood of new transactions in an untested process.
What can go wrong? Just block out 18 hours or so on your appointment calendar and you should be all right.
Even with all the problems in New Orleans, the Mardi Gras in Galveston has not been able to convince people it's a viable entertainment option. For the third year in a row, revenue at the event was short of expectations.
Ticket sales were almost $100,000 short of the $677,000 projected by the Galveston Park Board. About 33,000 attended at least part of the 16-day event, which was an increase from last year's 26,000, but not as much as had been hoped. Entertainment giant Clear Channel Communications was a major player this year, and park board officials thought they might bring in a lot more people, according to the Galveston County Daily News. (On the other hand, the biggest name among the bands this year was Blue Öyster Cult, who will also be playing the Ribfest in Kalamazoo, Michigan, this August.)
Park board chair Dianna Puccetti issued a written statement saying final figures were not complete so she could not comment on specifics, but she called the event "a tremendous success."
One line item that couldn't be commented on: The board had to write a check for $2,267 to a downtown business owner for, according to the News, "damage to a dressing room the bands used."
Rock and Roll!!!! More cowbell!!
Tales from the BBB
There are a million stories in the files of the Houston chapter of the Better Business Bureau. Well, maybe not a million, but there are a lot. And heres one of them: ValueBuy.net of Houston, a company that doesnt go all mealymouthed when it comes to customer service. Click here.