At first, riding the Bird was easy. Maybe too easy––a beginner on a bike or a skateboard can’t sustain 15 miles per hour, but on a Bird, anyone can cruise along at top speed before they’re attuned to what can easily go wrong. I’d pedaled enough in life to possess the appropriate sense of tragic possibility, so my only trouble was that Birds struggle climbing even the mildest of hills, something I hadn’t factored into my route. Neither did I think to check the battery level late in the day when the Bird was on the cusp of being spirited off for charging.
I ran out of juice maybe a mile-and-a-half from my destination. The delay almost made me late, but I happened upon a new Bird, so I didn’t keep anyone waiting.
Then I was retreating to a dark corner with a blonde: tall, cool to the touch, slightly bitter on the lips, the sort that would tempt a Trappist monk to ask for seconds. It was 6.5 percent alcohol. After two imperial pints I was mightily tempted to get back on the Bird for a ride home with the wind in my hair and the world’s expansive possibilities unfurling in my brain, but I haven’t yet risked a DUI in this life, and being the first man to get one while riding an electric scooter seemed among the less dignified ways to spend my 15 minutes of fame.
I mulled what I would write on the long walk home, past Lincoln Boulevard’s shuttered auto-repair shops, storefronts where homeless men slept in doorways, and parked cars where the glow of screens gave away nighttime inhabitants.
A few days later I sent the L.A. Times my impressions.
“Figuring out where Birds fit next to cars, bikes and people, if they fit at all, is bound to involve trial and error, as well as an unknown number of injuries,” I wrote. “Cyclists, who fought long and hard for a tiny strip on the margins of our roads, can be forgiven for not wanting to share their paths. But the Westside's streets are gridlocked for hours twice a day, everyday; cycling is often lethal; and excepting main commercial strips and touristy stretches, most of the area's sidewalks are utterly empty. That status quo isn't worth preserving, is it?”
In a different town, I would have laid low for a few days after that ran under my byline. In San Francisco, where it is widely supposed that conservatives are full of excrement, many locals remain oblivious to their town’s hyper-conservative streak even as folks protesting scooters adopt the inelegant tactic of defecating on them.
Even in liberal Texas many felt messed with by their sudden arrival.
“The appearance of rentable scooters across the city briefly threw Austin’s political leaders into a frenzy as city government officials rushed to roll out a plan to regulate the businesses, which had started operating before a city-led pilot program could begin,” the Texas Tribune reported. “The council worked until after 2 a.m. Friday to change city code and prohibit leaving dockless scooters or bicycles on city sidewalks and streets until a permitting process begins.”