If the first complaints to City Councilman Ray Lopez's office had come anywhere close to the truth, they probably wouldn't have gotten much attention.
I mean, "My garage door opener's not working and I think the government's involved"? That's tinfoil hat territory.
But the calls kept coming, and soon Lopez and his District 6 staff confronted a mystery that led them to the doorstep of the National Security Agency, the nation's code-maker and code-breaker, which is putting a data center into the old Sony microchip plant near Loop 410 and Military Drive.
Call it the Case of the Garage Door Gremlins.
It started in January with a trickle of calls and e-mails, but the complaints were oddly similar. West Side residents around Loop 410 and Military Drive were having problems with their garage door openers. Some had talked to one another and suspected a widespread problem.
Bobby Haguewood hadn't talked to his neighbors on Leander but knew something was wrong. His remote worked if he stood directly below the mechanism, but not when he drove up in his car.
The 75-year-old Air Force veteran called a repairman and learned that he could replace the interior mechanism for $225 or buy a new unit for $450. So he went to Sears and bought a new one from a different manufacturer, but that didn't solve the problem.
Lopez's office, meanwhile, was hearing various theories from residents. Some blamed CPS Energy, but CPS officials said they had nothing to do with it.
Lopez and his staffers drove through neighborhoods and spoke to some of the people who had complained. When they saw residents watering their lawn or walking a dog, they heard the same story.
"It took us a couple of days, and I don't know who suggested it might be NSA," Lopez said. "We called them, and they wouldn't talk but their response was peculiar in that they didn't deny or confirm."
Thinking he might be closing in on an answer, Lopez called the office of Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, who was hearing complaints, too. Gonzalez called the NSA, which acknowledged that a Land Mobile Radio antenna used by construction and security personnel at the NSA site was operating on a radio frequency also used by many garage door manufacturers. It turned out the same problem had arisen near federal facilities elsewhere.
The good news is that a fairly intensive frequency testing period has ended at NSA. The entire system was shut down from Jan. 29 to Feb. 28, but the calls have dropped off since it restarted early last week.
The bad news is that the NSA is taking a "buyer beware" approach to the problem, advising residents to contact the manufacturer or installer "for information on available immediate solutions." No refunds from us, in other words.
Although it cost him, Haguewood took the whole episode in stride. He wonders if problems will continue but says he has a solution in mind if they do.
The government, he said, "is going to have to put a man down here on my house and open the door."
Who says there's not a government solution to every problem?