Google Tried to Kill Me...Twice
"Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me... You can't get fooled again."
- President George W. Bush (and me)
How did my bicycle and I end up marooned on a freeway interchange in Texas? For the second time in one weekend?
The obvious answer is Darwinism. I was objectively too stupid to continue passing on my genetic material to future generations. Yet, in my defense, there were mitigating factors at play.
One: Google told me to do it.
Two: I was unaware that freeways without shoulders could be labeled a Google "bike route."
Four: I really wanted to save $1.75 on bus fare.
Five: We all know the answer is Darwinism.
Let's go back to the beginning. I manufactured an excuse to escape from my family for the weekend by attending the Austin Film Festival. Previously, I had purchased a Brompton H6L from Josef Bray-Ali at The Flying Pigeon. I justified this purchase by:
1. Convincing my better half that the Brompton was a SAFETY purchase (The Expo Line was opening and it was "unsafe" to hold onto my bike & my child simultaneously on a moving train that lacked bike cars...Yeah, that's it...Come on, back me up here.)
2. Convincing my better half that over the lifetime of owning this bike, it will pay for itself.
3. Pointing out that the Brompton was the only kind of bike that could easily fit inside our ridiculously small clown car, I mean, electric vehicle.
4. Selling half of my worldly possessions on Craigslist to finance it.
The cost of this bike was $1820. Which meant that with gasoline at $3.00/gallon and a 30mpg car, I only needed to bike approximately 18,000 miles on the Brompton to equal the gas savings...That math doesn't look so good. Yet, I will also save 5.4 cents per mile in car insurance every time I leave the car at home, so that gets it down to biking ONLY about 12,000 miles to equal the savings...The math still isn't looking so good.
Consequently, to recoup my "investment" (wasteful spending) faster, I would need to skip Uber, Taxi, Lift et al whenever possible. Which made biking to the airport a prime opportunity to knock forty-ish roundtrip dollars off my mental deficit...I mean, the financial deficit in my mind. The plan was: I would bike to the airport - fold bike - check bike - change out of gross T-shirt - ride an airplane - carry bike onto the airport shuttle bus - then bike from the bus stop to my hotel....This was gonna be 100% USDA Prime Choice ADVENTURE. Who doesn't need a little bit more adventure in their lives?
The day started out perfectly. I pedaled my way to the Sunset/Vermont red line stop at 5:30AM:
I exited the subway in North Hollywood. Then I enjoyed a relaxing four-ish mile bike ride to Bob Hope Airport in Burbank utilizing the Chandler bike path. The only minor suckage in the route was the two hundred meters I had to spend in the Hollywood Way bike lane prior to entering the airport. Skinny bike lane + highway speed traffic = suckage. Otherwise, a great bike route. Cost: $1.75 (WINNING!)
At the airport it took me all of fifteen seconds to fold up the bike. Then I placed the folded bike into a $4 Ikea DIMPA bag (I had read online that the bike fits through the TSA X-Ray scanners if you remove the seat, but I wasn't brave enough to try it yet, so I checked it.)
Arty-farty picture from the layover in Phoenix (I was too cheap to buy the direct flight):
When I arrived in Austin, I picked up my bike from baggage claim. It was no worse for the wear with the exception of the rear brake coming a little loose. I had brought my folding hex wrench, so a little "righty tighty" and all was still right in the world.
When planning my trip, I had assumed that I would have no desire to ride my bike after a full day of traveling. Surprisingly, after picking up my bike from baggage claim, I couldn't wait to get moving again. Pedaling felt like the perfect antidote to the spiritual and physical poison of commercial flight.
I typed my destination into Google Maps. I tapped on "bike route," placed one ear bud in my ear, and the Google Maps Voice began confidently guiding me toward downtown Austin. I can't articulate how great it felt just to be moving again after four hours squeezed into the flying sardine can....Until about five minutes into my ride when I could swear that I heard my good friend Google Maps Voice tell me to "merge onto Highway 71"...that can't be right?
I stopped pedaling. I double-checked to make sure that I hadn't mistakenly tapped on "driving directions"...Nope. The screen said very clearly that these were bike directions...
Remember back when you were a kid, and you got caught doing something stupid - so you tried to pass off the blame on a friend? Then your mom would ask you the rhetorical question, "If so-and-so told you to jump off a cliff would you do it?" Apparently, my answer would still be "yes" because I was soon riding along the right lane of a highway with a line of gravel trucks blowing past me. Note that this proves that I am no brighter than I was in elementary school. The ride was utterly terrifying.
Look at the bottom left of the photo for the white line on which I was riding.
To avoid panic, I started ironically narrating my own death like a bad episode of Dateline NBC. "It started off like any other day, little did he know..." ROOOOOAAAAAAAAR. (All my muscles braced for impact as another gravel truck squeezed past me) Perhaps, the narration of my own death wasn't going to be ironic...?
After approximately fifteen minutes of pant-wetting terror, Google told me to exit into a residential neighborhood. Now that I was no longer afraid of dying, I started to enjoy the adventure again. Little did I know that Google was just setting me up for the punchline: It told me to merge onto another freeway.
Nah-ah. No way. I wasn't gonna fall for Google Maps sick jokes twice in one day...
I HUNTED the map for alternatives, but I was mostly unfamiliar with the city and hedged in by a river and a freeway. There seemed to be no choice in the matter. Unfortunately, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't see where the road merged with the freeway due to a screen of shrubbery. I could see that there was a bridge across the river that I needed to cross and it looked like some sort of pedestrian/bike pathway along the side of it? So, maybe that's what I was heading for? I waited for a VERY long break in traffic before descending. As I approached the curve at the bottom of the hill, I suddenly became aware of the fact that Google wanted me to merge onto the LEFT LANE of the EFFING FREEWAY. Did I mention that there was no shoulder? I steered directly into the scrub brush and dove off my bike into the bushes. To avoid walking back up the blind-curved, shoulder-less freeway on-ramp from whence I came, I would need to hike a quarter of a mile uphill through scrub brush back to the residential neighborhood.
With every cautious step I scrolled through my mental rolodex of nature programs trying to remember which poisonous snakes lived in Texas and whether or not Lyme Disease had made it that far south. All the while carrying my bike over my head and my clothes and laptop on my back. Once I had returned to "safety," I spent an ungodly amount of time in the Texas heat staring through screen glare until I found an alternate route. In short, my alternate route was a bit of a mess. Although, I did get to see this pretty view crossing a bridge:
By the time I made it downtown, I was in dire need of Chipotle.
In Los Angeles, Google Maps bike routes are consistently great. My hypothesis is that Google has never had anyone bike into Austin from the airport, therefore its algorithm was based on a sample size of....zero.
Regarding the Brompton, you know how you'll buy things sometimes assuming that you will suddenly become a completely different person if you purchase just one consumer item? Like, "Hey, if I buy this rice cooker I'll start cooking dinner at home EVERY NIGHT instead of eating out 365 days a year..." For me, insert all cooking implements, house cleaning accessories, free weights, and my P90X DVD's into this category (Sorry, Bobby).
Prior to purchasing the Brompton, I had this image of being totally free wherever I traveled by packing a Brompton with me. There is pretty solid historical evidence based on the crap collecting dust in my garage, that what I imagined I would do with this material thing would not align with the reality. But, by gosh, it was totally true. I've become so used to always having freedom of movement at home - extending that freedom of movement to another city was completely wonderful. I didn't have to worry about rental cars or hotel parking fees. Just unfold and go. I LOVED it...I've visited Austin two other times and this was the first time that I explored the city beyond the mile around my hotel room.
There are studies that show material goods don't increase your overall happiness level once the high of the initial purchase wears off. The research suggests you should spend your money on experiences instead of things. I think an exception to the rule is this bike. The Brompton is a material good that facilitates magical experiences. Whether or not I bike 18000 miles on it, it is markedly improving my life...(unless I move to Texas - then never mind)
The day came to head back to the airport. Following the previous debacle, I had wisely made up my mind that I was going to take the bus out of Austin back to the airport. But, I was packed and ready to go an hour before I actually needed to leave for the airport. I could either sit on my hotel room bed and watch football or go explore Austin on my bike for one more hour. I mapped out where I could hop on the bus at the last stop before the airport. I even saved the bus stop location on my phone.
I had a lovely bike ride along the shady, scenic river path. It was so pleasant, I didn't feel like stopping. I made up my mind to bike to the last bus stop. Once I arrived at the bus stop, I was less than three miles from the airport. I hated the idea of spending $1.75 to ride three miles...So, I took out Google Maps.
Google Maps told me that the road between me and the airport entrance was called "Ben White Boulevard." Have you ever encountered a "Boulevard" with six lanes, no stop lights, no sidewalks, no shoulders, and pick up trucks traveling at 70mph +? Neither had I. Consequently, when I pedaled down the road to Ben White Blvd. and looked out over a freeway, I was confused. Then I noticed that there was a side street at the end of the freeway entrance. That MUST be Ben White Blvd. because there is no such thing as a freeway with the name "Boulevard."
Except in Texas.
Once I realized my mistake, it was easier to go forward than back. Then it wasn't easy to go either way. I was stuck on a bridge smack dab in the middle of a cloverleaf freeway interchange.
I took the photo below from the spot on the map above. Yup, when you're stranded in the middle of a cloverleaf interchange, it's definitely a kodak moment.
I sprinted across the interchange carrying my bike. From there I pedaled ON TOP of the bumpy, white line bordering the right lane until that wasn't possible anymore either:
Texas for bike route ^
Once again, I found myself carrying my bike through Texas scrub brush until I finally arrived at a Parking Spot airport shuttle driveway. Imagine what the employees of The Parking Spot must've thought as a breathless, sweaty, psycho who had been hiking along the freeway carrying a bike that looks like it was made for a chimpanzee to ride in the circus, limped up them and said, "Google is trying to kill me." They got that look on their face that people get when they're speaking to an odd, paranoid stranger. Without making any sudden movements that might startle me, they kindly placed me on a shuttle. I felt so grateful that I tipped the driver. Which was more than I would've spent on the bus to the airport.
PBS will not be calling me to replace Rick Steves anytime soon.
Once I was safely ensconced in the airport I felt a duty to test out the rumor that a Brompton would make it through the TSA X-rays. Yup. Here it is on the belt following its first X-ray.
I gate checked it. Southwest Airlines doesn't charge for checked bags; I didn't want to take overhead bin space from someone else.
In Burbank, I picked up the bike from baggage claim, unfolded it, and reversed my original journey. Even though I'd been traveling most of the day, I couldn't resist riding home. I don't think "joyful" is an adjective I've ever used to describe a commute home from the airport....but, that's how it felt.
I would like to think that I will not repeat the cascade of poor choices that I made in Texas. But, that would imply that I'm the type of person who learns from my mistakes. It's not at all clear that I am that type of person.
Besides, who doesn't need a little bit more adventure in their lives?
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