So I'm reading in the paper yesterday about Jim "Mattress Mac" McIngvale's Gallery Furniture warehouse being severely damaged in a fire yesterday, and it truly is a sad thing. Mr. McIngvale started with nothing, and became a Houston icon. From the time I was a little kid, I can remember seeing his self-produced television commercials with Mattress Mac himself in front of the camera, dollar bills in hand and ready to "Save...You...Money!". He is, and has always been, a major philanthropist. He donates all kinds of money to various charities around the city of Houston, and contributes greatly to our local economy.
Worse than the fire, however, was an incident involving Houston's Mayor Bill White. You see, about 5 years ago, Mayor White created the "Safe Clear" program...at great cost to Houston's taxpayers. There are quite a few instances of people being helped out on the freeways when they ran out of gas, flat tires, et cetera. The majority of people towed by this program, however, have been financially raped by chickenhawk towtruck drivers trying to make a buck.
I had my first experience with Safe Clear a few years ago, when I was riding a motorcycle down I-10 on my way to school. A minivan switched lanes without signalling, driving 40mph less than the flow of traffic, and caused me to lose control of the bike when I had to slam the brakes. As I'm standing on the freeway bleeding, Safe Clear shows up, and I almost had to physically fight the driver away from the motorcycle to keep from having it towed. Yes, I was injured, but I was still perfectly capable of limping down the exit ramp with the bike, so I could wait at a gas station while my dad came with the trailer.
If you need immediate (and minor) assistance on the highway, such as a gallon of fuel or help changing a tire, Safe Clear hooks you up for free. If your car can't move, and they can't offer immediate assistance, you're getting towed to the nearest mechanic shop. If you can't afford the mechanic, you're getting towed to a storage yard...and YOU WILL pay, or YOU WILL lose your car.
If you are illegally parked and blocking a highway's entrence or exit ramp, you're getting towed...and you're gonna pay through the nose. Unless, of course, you're the mayor. You see, if you're the mayor and you need to get to a photo op, it really doesn't matter where you've parked. You can have your daughter drive you to the scene so you can be photographed thanking firefighters at the scene, have her park in the emergency lane of the Tidwell feeder on I-45, and call it "official business". Of course, the Safe Clear chickenhawks are still going to tow your car for being illegally parked...but if you're the mayor, all it takes is a phone call to have your car returned to you. Free of charge.