Sure, citizens along Richmond Avenue may be bitching about light rail, but music editor John Nova Lomax has a real gripe against Houston mass transportation...
Transportation, or "mobility" as people who like buzz-words seem to always call it, is a Big Issue in this town. I know because the Chronicle is always going on and on about it. They even have a reporter — Rad Sallee — dedicated full-time to the transport beat. And it all comes down to planes, trains and automobiles, all of which seriously suck, if you ask me. You see, I've had a run of bad luck with these suckers lately — all of them in fact.
My trifecta of crap began on July 10 when I took my ten-year-old son to the Hobby. He was en route to Nashville to visit his grandparents, and I was to see him off at the gate. I got him there on the time, Southwest got me my little card that allowed me through security, everything was going fine. Until we hit the security checkpoint.
You see, I keep a pocket-knife on my keychain. It has maybe a two-inch blade. Yes, I know Al Qaeda used boxcutters to initiate one of the worst bloodbaths in American history. That was why, when I got to security, I told them the knife was on my keychain. I wanted them to keep it for me there until I had seen my son on the plane. I would come back and collect it, just as I had done a couple of years ago at the very same checkpoint at the very same airport.
No dice. I would either have to take it all the way back to the car, or let them confiscate it. Permanently.
They had already taken me for a cigarette lighter — the National Transporation Safety Board snatches any and all lighters you try to take through security as well. Damned if they would take my blade too. I told one of the guards I would take it to my car, and I told my son to wait just on the other side of the checkpoint. I headed straight for the nearest bookstore on the concourse and concealed the knife between some magazines I knew no one would buy — Rolling Stone and Spin - and was back with my son inside of five minutes.
Later, after his plane had left, I slunk back in and collected my steel. By then, after several emptyings of my pockets, I had lost my parking ticket and was subject to pay $14 for something like 90 minutes in the Hobby garage, but my luck had turned. The guy who ran the lot let me off for a mere $7. Of course, I only owed $2, but thank God for small mercies.
Because I would find none a couple of nights later. I had worked an 11-hour day at the office and was headed home — near Bellaire and Stella Link — on a combination of light rail and the Bellaire bus. I didn't have any cash on me, but that didn't matter. The light rail takes plastic, and your train ticket is valid for a bus transfer.
But not that night. The ticket dispenser at Bell Street station was only taking cash that night.
No problem — I would just ride the train free (hoping, of course, that the transit cops wouldn't bust me) and then buy a ticket when I changed from the train to the bus at the Med Center Transit Center.
No I wouldn't — that machine was broken too.
By then, I knew I was pretty much screwed. I needed not just an ATM, but also a place to break the $10-bill or $20 they dispensed, because buses only take dollars and change. Since Metro seems to have dictated that all Light Rail stops be commerce-free zones, that was out of the question here. Maybe, just maybe, the bus driver would hear my tale of woe and let me ride for free.
I walked on the bus and explained to the driver that I was unable to by a ticket at two different stops. And that fat bastard just looked at me, pursed his lips, and shook his head. I would have to walk the last two miles home.
I slogged down Bellaire homeward bound. The bus past me five minutes later. Ten minutes after that I made it to a pay phone. I wanted to call my wife and tell her it was gonna be another half-hour or so before I made it home. I fished a pre-paid phone card out of my wallet and dialed my digits. After a couple of annoying misdials, I finally connected.
Or so I thought. That evil bitch with the hectoring computer voice cut in to tell me that I had to pay a 99-cent surcharge to make a local call with my phone card. Goddamnit to hell, it only costs 50 cents to make a local call that you haven't already paid for. Why does it cost double that to use a prepaid card? Man, this country's going to hell in a handbasket. Our phone system has gotten as rotten and corrupt as the damn Russians.
So I walked on. The only way this could get any worse, I thought, was if it started raining. Which, of course, it did.
This last one is my fault, but it still fits. We're a one-car family, and about one or two days a week, my wife lets me take the car to work. This was one of those days. On my out the door, I saw my next-door-neighbor out in his yard. This guy's also my uncle, or uncle-in-law, more accurately. At any rate, we chatted away for awhile, and then I told him I had to bail. Which I did.
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Here I should back up and tell you that our driveway is a mess. A huge live oak has extended it's powerful roots under the concrete and pushed a segment of our driveway about 30 degrees toward the vertical — just enough to where we have to use the parking brake. Which I discovered was still engaged after I had driven all the way to the Pierce Elevated. I found out because by then my regular brakes had overheated and weren't working very well.
I was just about to pull over and let them cool down. I limped up to the corner of Houston Avenue and Washington, where I managed to stop at the red light, just behind a black late-model Lincoln. I took my foot off the brake, but by this time the brakes were totally gone. My Camry, just-bought a couple of weeks go, felt as if the Lincoln was sucking it in as if by magnetic force-field. I slammed on the non-existent brakes, I pulled on the parking brake hard, no luck. SLAM!
I jumped out of the car, apologizing profusely. The Lincoln's door opened, and out stepped a uniformed HPD officer. A very grumpy looking HPD officer.