How Do I Get My Driver’s License?
YOU STAND IN LINE. TEXAS MAY PRIDE ITSELF on being the borne of the rugged individualist, but that apparently only masks a hidden streak of socialism that appears when it comes to getting a driver’s license. Welcome to the Department of Public Safety, the only part of Texas that feels exactly like New York, down to the dirty linoleum floor.
Not only should you be prepared to wait in line at the DPS office, you must be prepared to prove that you exist (a passport, cer tified birth certificate, or current out-of-state license); that you can read fa written exam); that you can drive (if you don’t have a current license); that you aren’t a risk (proof of liability insurance); that you aren’t blind (vision test); and that-for some unknown reason completely unrelated to driving-you are enrolled in Social Security. (The DPS is apparently worried about your retirement.) There are DPS stations scattered around the area, but don’t worry: When you can be there, they won’t be open.
You are supposed to get your Texas license within 30 days of moving here. Nobody does, so don’t bother with it until you get pulled over for doing 45 in a 30. The extra fine will add to your motivation.
Where Do I Get My Vehicle Registered?
Eventually you’ll need to get this, too. The law says 30 days, but the police won’t care until your old registration expires. You can do this the complicated way or the simple way.
The complicated way is to apply at a substation of the county tax assessor’s office. You’ll have to (1) show you’ve had a safety inspection, (2) again, show proof of liability insurance (we’re very conscious of insurance down here, and once you’ve encountered our drivers, you’ll understand why), and (3) pay a $15 new resident’s fee. plus a $13 title fee, plus the cost of your license plates, based on the model year for cars and gross weight for trucks.
The simple way is to have the dealer where your car is serviced handle it for you. Where Do I Get My Gar Inspected?
Here’s a bright spot: The inspection process is not a state monopoly, perhaps because the oil companies wanted the extra business for their gas stations, and what the oil companies want, our state legislature delivers. You can get an inspection at service stations, dealerships, and garages where the state’s blue “Vehicle Inspection Station” sign is posted. Just drive up, and they’ll do the rest. It’s free enterprise, so you can even make an appointment. But don’t-we mean don’t-fail to get your inspection sticker when it’s due. The fee for an inspection sticker is $23.50 in Dallas and Tarrant counties and 510.50 in Collin and Denton counties. The extra fee in Dallas and Tarrant covers the cost of an emissions inspection to make sure your car meets EPA standards, since Dallas and Fort Worth are under the watchful eyes of the federalists.
How Do I Register to Vote?
NOTHING COULD BE EASIER. TEXAS PRACTICAL-ly begs you to become a voter because it wants to increase the jury pool. Even at the DPS while you’re standing in line for your driver’s license, they’ll ask you to register (or at least they have a sign asking you). But assuming you’re postponing the DPS experience as long as possible, you can pick up forms at any post office, library, or federal office.
While we’re on the subject, there are three things you ought to know about local politics. First, municipal elections are, for some reason, non-partisan, and local voters seem intent on keeping them that way. Second, Texans do not register by party affiliation; you are identified as a Republican or Democrat only if and when you vote in that parly’s primary. Third, the GOP totally dominates Dallas. Collin, and Denton counties for county and statewide offices, which means to run lor office as a Democrat, except in single-member districts in minority neighborhoods, is an act of self-immolation. The strange thing is that the local Republican Party is weak and unorganized, but it is so pervasive that it doesn’t have to be organized.
What About Taxes?
WE BRING YOU GLAD TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY: Texas does not have a personal income tax. Texas doesn’t even have a corporate income tax. The closest thing is a corporate franchise tax, so if you’re thinking about starting a business here, organize il as a limited partnership and neither it nor you will be taxed at all. (Law firms are partnerships, you sec. and most legislators are lawyers, and so-surprise-partnerships are not taxed.) Local property taxes are levied by counties, municipalities, independent school districts, and special districts, which may impose ad valorem taxes on real and personal property. Rates are assessed at 100 percent of the market value, except in Piano and the Park Cities, where a little piece of state legislation called “Robin Hood” (for reasons that will instantly become crystal clear) imposes an effective assessment of 125 percent. The extra tax money goes to poor school districts as far away as Laredo, and thus far has not accomplished anything.
What’s a Homestead, and What’s This About Homestead Protection?
YOUR HOUSE IS YOUR HOMESTEAD IF IT’S YOUR primary residence. For more than 140 years. Texas has protected its citizens from losing their homes with the nation’s most generous homestead protection, enshrined in the state constitution. The original law defined a homestead as a house, an acre, and a mule; the house and the acre can now extend up to the most expensive mansion, and the mule is defined as the family car. The law is so protective of citizens that banks refused to give second mortgages in Texas until an amendment in 1998 made them less fearful of the consequences. Congress in its wisdomhas rivised federal bankruptcy law. imposing a two-year waiting period on newcomers before they can claim this privilege when declaring bankruptcy, But you didn’t move here for that, did you?
A “homestead exemption” gives a small tax break to homeowners on .school taxes. Usually it is deducted automatically from your tax statement, but if it isn’t, call the tax assessor’s office and they’ll fix it.
What About Public Transportation?
IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO WORK DOWNtown and to live near a DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) transi! center or light-rail station, you’re set. For everybody else, good luck. Buses go to and from downtown (premium service, $2 each way) and around downtown (local service, $1 each way). Taxis really only exist as airport services; don’t expect to Hag one down on the neighborhood street corner. Frankly, if you moved here without a car. we’re not quite sure what to do with you.
How Do I Recycle?
IF YOU CAN GET YOUR WATER AND ELECTRICITY turned on and your garbage schedule figured out-and if you graduated summa cum laude from a major university-you’ll be able to decipher the recycling rules. Like garbage pickup, they vary from town to town, but their chief intention seems to be to make recycling as difficult as possible.
What Are the Best Sources of Local Information?
Rule No. 1 : Never believe anything the local TV weatherman says. And the more excited he gets, the more you should ignore him. Yes, tornadoes and hailstorms occasionally come whipping through, and Dallas even had a snowstorm once, but watching a hysterical TV weatherman will only make you hysterical and that’s no way to be in an emergency.
As far as newspapers go, the Dallas Morning News is your best bet no matter where you live, unless it’s in Fort Worth proper where only the Star-Telegram is read. If you love sports, you’re in for a treat because the News’ coverage is excellent, although like everything else around here, a little Cowboys heavy. The rest of the newspaper is spotty, and if you’re accustomed to heartier fare, you’ll find the editorial page thin gruel. Arlington, blessed to be caught in the crossfire between Dallas and Fort Worth, is one of the few remaining cities in America with two daily newspapers, the Arlington Morning News and the Arlington Star-Telegram. In the other suburbs, the newspapers are little more than advertising fliers, with a few exceptions such as the Colleyville Times and Park Cities People, where the weekly summaries of neighborhood police activity are a hot read.
Three “alternative” weeklies. The Dallas Observer, The Met, and FW Weekly can be found stacked in various places-for free. You get what you pay for. The Met is good for entertainment listings, especially for twentysomethings. The Observer is good for music reviews, sex ads, and very wordy I political reporting. FW Weekly is Fort Worth’s version of the genre.
Our local business weeklies arc the Dallas Business Journal, which is excellent for real estate coverage and often scoops the dailies, and the Business Press, which is a little too dependent on press releases.
To get the inside story on how Dallas-Fort Worth really works, you’ll want to subscribe to D Magazine, which was named the best city magazine in America in 1995 and 1999. Go to our web site at www.dmagazine.com to get a sampling and to enter your subscription online.
Our two favorite radio stations are classical WRR-FM 101.1 and public radio KERA 90.1. WRR was one of the first stations in the Southwest. Because in its early years it broadcast out of the fire department, it is owned by the City of Dallas, an oddity unlikely to change, since WRR interrupts its excellent classical content on Wednesdays to broadcast City Council meetings and if it were sold, nobody else would. KERA is the Dallas affiliate of NPR and the local home for AM Things Considered and Prairie Home Companion, among other popular programs.
Information and Referral Service. 214-379-4357. Sponsored by the United Way. this service specializes in health, counseling, welfare, financial aid, and recreation services.
Also, there’s the Assistance Center of Collin County, 972-422-1850.
North Dallas Newcomers’ Club. 972-881-8807. Dallas is growing fast, and there’s a social club here dedicated just to new arrivals, offering some 25 different activities, including luncheons. Regular meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at area country clubs. Membership fee is $25 per year and includes a monthly newsletter.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
Dallas City Council offices…214-670-4050
Dallas City Managers office…214-670-3302
Dallas Mayor’s office…214-670-4054
Fire Communications Center…214-670-5111
Better Business Bureau…214-220-2000
State Highway Department . . .214-861-2000
Texas Department of Public Safety…214-861-2000
Dallas Housing Department…214-670-5397
Dallas Parks Department…214-670-8748
Water. Street, and Sanitation Emergencies…311
Street and Sanitation Department…214-670-5111
Dallas Water Department…214-651-1441
TXU Electric and Gas…972-791-2888 or 214-741-3750
Time and Temperature…214-844-(any four numbers)
National Weather Service (DFW) 214-787-1111 or(national) 214-787-1701
Dallas Chamber of Commerce…214-746-6600
Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce…817-336-2491
TXU Electric Emergency…800-233-2133
TXU Gas Emergency…800-817-8090
Cracking the Code of Dallas Roads
A true Dallasite knows all the numbers and corresponding names of every freeway, expressway, and farm-to-market (FM) road in the area. Unfortunately, there are only three of them, so let us help.
1-30 Old-timers still call the west side of the freeway the “Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike.” even though the toll gates went down years ago, The eastern segment honors R.L. Thornton, a revered Dallas banker, mayor, and all-round mover and shaker from the 1930s until his death in 1964.
I-35E North of downtown, the freeway is named for Leslie Stemmons, a prime moti-valor of the Trinity River reclamation pro-ject that transformed the area from a worth-less swamp into one of the city’s prime com-mercial and marketing locales. South of downtown, this section also honors R.L. “Uncle Bob” Thornton.
I-4.5 Dallas is perched at the north end of this freeway, a segment of which is named for Julius Schepps. a liquor distributor and leader of the Jewish community who spent his life championing the cause of equal treatment for all segments of the city.
I-635 This semi-circle of solid traffic is also called “LBJ Freeway,” named for old Lyndon Baines Johnson himself.
U.S. 67 The near-in section is named for Marvin D. Love, who was the Oak Cliff branch manager for Dallas Power and Light. Farther out. the highway honors J. Elmer Weaver, a prominent Cedar Hill resident who helped secure highway improvements through the area.
U.S. 75 The section north of downtown is the new and improved version of our old faithful-North Central Expressway. South of downtown, the highway is named for S.M. Wright, a black Dallas minister and civic leader.
U.S. 175Therrrst 16-miie stretch of this highway south of downtown is named for Charles F. Hawn, a member of the Texas Highway Commission, who was instrumen-tal in the development of several Dallas area freeway projects.
Spur 366 Tell someone to take Spur 366 and you’ll lose them. Everyone knows this cutoff north of downtown as Woodall Rodgers Freeway, named for Dallas’ mayor during WWII.
Loop 12 This loop, which was the outer fringe of the city 50 years ago, comprises Buckner Boulevard (named for early Baptist leader Robert C. Buckner), Northwest Highway (once the road to Wichita Fails and points northwest). Walton Walker (a WWII general), and Ledbetter Drive (named for J.H. “Uncle Peahull” Ledbetter. a county commissioner during the Depression).
Belt Line Road This 96-mile system, which passes through 21 ZIP codes, was designed in the late 1920s to connect the towns on the outer fringe of Dallas County.
S.H. 114 Also called John W. Carpenter Freeway in honor of the utilities, transportation, and insurance magnate, civic leader, and Las Colinas developer.
S.H. 183 Also known as Airport Freeway, die route to the south entrance of DFW Airpon.
S.H. 190 President George Bush Tollway, named for the father of a prominent Texas politician.
What You Can Do Online
Relocation is lough, but at least you can do some chores on the Internet.
Driver’s license change of address or vehicle registration info;
Property lax info:
WWW, dallascad. org
Dart bus passes, route info, etc.:
Dallas Chamber of Commerce:
www. daiiaschamber. org
Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce:
Dallas Housing Department:
Slate Highway Department:
www. txdps. stale, tx. us
TXU Electric/Gas Company:
How Do I Get My Driver’s License?