Houston, the experts say, is as likely a target as any other major U.S. city for a terrorist attack. Houston is also a city that -- let's face it -- has plenty of problems even without any help from Al Qaeda.
So if we get hit by a small terror attack, would we even know it? What -- all of a sudden the air will be bad, the downtown streets will be impassable and there'll be lots of traffic on the freeways?
Here are ten ways to tell if Osama has struck:
1. Traffic will actually improve. Because most Houstonians will be locked in their houses, protecting their womenfolk with shotguns and duct tape, the commute from Sugar Land will take less time than Gods and Generals. With (slightly) fewer Confederate flags to be seen along the way.
2. Gas prices will go up. Even if it isn't a refinery that's hit. Even if a refinery isn't even touched. Gas prices will go up nationwide, and the Houston attack will be blamed.
3. All local television stations will carry a blaring "Breaking News!" graphic. As they do this for any "news" that's less than a day old, however, this might not be such an aid in determining if an attack has occurred.
4. Mayor Lee Brown will have news conferences. His quiet stoicism will put to shame the distasteful, attention-grabbing antics of Rudy Giuliani. Houstonians will forget about years of an inept, colorless mayoral administration and learn to appreciate the Brown magic. Or maybe not.
5. The Houston Chronicle will have a story about how the terror attack has hurt the city's reputation, comparing it to the monstrous, sadistic, appalling (and, ummm, truthful) Democratic Party ads from the 2000 presidential election. "While New York garnered much sympathy after 9/11," the story will read, "Houston is still seen as a cowboy town with pollution problems." Luckily, actual Chronicle reporters will not have to be removed from researching their newly assigned series on Houston's Fighting Spirit to do the reputation story, as the paper can merely reprint any of its 358 previous pieces on the subject.
6. To combat the perceived image problem, Elyse Lanier, wife of former mayor Bob Lanier, will announce a reprise of the infamous "Houston's Hot!" advertising campaign of years past. Titled "Houston's Back! And It's Still Hot! And Not Because of Any Radioactivity!" the campaign will spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars and result in a complete turnaround of how the city is viewed. At least according to the grant application submitted by her group.
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7. Right-wing radio talk stations like KSEV and KPRC will issue bumper stickers that offer trenchant, nuanced analysis of the world situation. Such analysis will include discussion of kicking someone's ass. The flag-strewn stickers will show up mostly on giant SUVs whose gas-guzzling ways fund terror groups around the globe.
8. Callers to such stations will blame Bill Clinton for the attacks.
9. In a heart-stirring move designed to show that Houston will not be cowed by terror, Metro will announce that no matter what Al Qaeda wants, it will expand the light rail system. To save time in its effort to strike back at the terrorists, Metro decides to forgo any dragged-out referendum on the subject.
10. Houston's own Destiny's Child will reunite to issue a single commemorating the attack. Portions of the proceeds from sales of "Heaven's Newest Angel Is Bootylicious" will benefit victims' families. Eventually.