Everyone in the Houston area can breathe easier. The random car checks at the Bolivar Ferry — to use the official name, The Pointless, Aggravating, Waste of Time & Money Program — are back.
For one bleak night, however, the ferry was — gasp! — unguarded. It was, apparently, only through the intercession of a benevolent God that word did not reach Osama Bin Laden in time for him to take advantage of the lapse.
Why — why, for the love of Christ — was the supremely strategic boat that dawdles pleasantly between Galveston Island and the empty cow fields of the Bolivar Peninsula left unguarded?
unpaid security guards
Because guards weren't getting paid.
The company that subcontracts with the state for security, SeaWolf Marine Patrol, bounced a few paychecks to its employees. They said it was a bookkeeping error, but the security guards thought the company wasn't being quite as aggressive in rectifying that error as it could be. So they walked.
And for one grim night in late September, random drivers weren't pulled over to have their time wasted by a thorough vehicle check. (One driver told Hair Balls when the program was first instituted a year ago that his mother missed a cancer-treatment appointment due to an hour-long search. "She told them, 'While you're in there, go ahead and vacuum for me,'" he said.)
SeaWolf had been getting $70,000 a month for security; a new company, Yale Enforcement, will be getting $167,750 a month for the next four months.
That's quite a bump. Norm Wigington of the Texas Department of Transportation says the $671,000 would be the maximum the state would pay Yale, and that the final figure will probably not be that high. (Because that's how things always work in government.)
We asked if people who used the ferry on that godforsaken evening when there were no armed guards should consider themselves lucky to have survived the nightmare. Wigington noted solemnly the Coast Guard was "aware of the situation" and was nearby.
As to why the Bolivar Ferry is deemed to be such a high-profile terrorist target, he's not sure. He says the decision came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"It's not a matter of a recognizable threat," he says. "My suspicion is that we qualify under the guidelines."
And Yale Enforcement, for one, is very, very happy that you do.
Get the Message
In these Internet-laden days, it would seem a relatively simple task to send a nasty, anonymous message to someone who's pissing you off. But sometimes an e-mail just doesn't carry enough oomph to it.
There's one man who has set out to solve that problem: Houstonian Andrew Kemendo, a 23-year-old senior at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Not having enough to do at a service academy, Kemendo has started his own business, Up Close Communications. For 50 bucks, they'll send someone in person to tell off whomever you want to be told off.
The idea came to him when he went to a wedding where no one liked the bride, but no one had the balls — or, from another angle, the rudeness — to tell her.
"You never see anybody stand up and say that kind of stuff, right?" Kemendo says. "So I figured, you know, what about if we just paid some bum to come in and sit at the back and he stands up and, you know, says all this stuff...and it's nobody anybody knows, so they don't care."
And thus is civility returned to a crassworld.
Kemendo says he has about 20 "freelance" messengers in Houston. No one's gotten attacked or anything yet; in fact, many of the messages end up being nice, like birthday congratulations.
He won't have "incendiary" messages delivered, and he steers clear of divorces (business opportunity for someone!). Among the messages delivered were neighbors telling a resident to clean up after his dog; a restaurant being informed it will lose customers if it doesn't start cleaning its bathrooms better; and telling a businessman that he was being taken advantage of in a deal.
"We want people to express themselves as much as possible," he says.
Anonymously, of course.
You Gonna Eat That?
U.S. Rep. Ted Poe usually doesn't have much good to say about the bidness-hatin' bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency, but he's teaming up with colleague Gene Green to tout a recent EPA decision.
The agency has put the San Jacinto River Waste Pits on the short-list to become a Superfund site.
Why anything named the San Jacinto River Waste Pits would need cleanup is beyond us, but the site, near the I-10 bridge, may soon get federal funds.
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Not a moment too soon, according to Poe and Green. "Despite posted warnings," their announcement read, "some area residents continue to use contaminated parts of the river as a food source."
Note: Don't RSVP to the "Tastes of the San Jac" gala this year.
That Great Mac Haik Feeling!
In case you missed it, a Mac Haik car dealership north of Austin got into some hot water recently when it sent out an e‑mail ad touting air-conditioned seats on its cars. Tired of the Wet Backs? the ad read. Officials at the Mac Haik chain whose commercials dominate Houston TV quickly apologized and said it was all a terrible mistake. (Especially the part about e‑mailing the ad to members of the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.) But we think the Mac Haik boys should recognize a winning strategy.