An Anecdote of Infrastructural Absurdities

Few moments are more frustrating than when seemingly simple tasks are made unbelievably difficult.  In this particular situation, I had to walk roughly 400 feet.  Across a freeway.

Twelve lanes. Count ’em.

Allow me to start at the beginning.  Like most responsible car owners, I took my car in for its routine service, and like few responsible grad students, I opted not to skip class, for the dealership was so kind as to arrange a shuttle back to the University for me.  Unfortunately, this required I return to the dealership later that evening (after complementary shuttle hours) to retrieve my car.

It’s right there! Right…. there!

I’m no stranger to city bus lines, but the dealership is peculiarly placed out in the relative boonies of Austin where the bus lines thin out.  The closest I could get by bus was half a mile away, which was fine – I have legs, I can walk.  The plan was simple: walk to the freeway, find an overpass / tunnel / pedestrian bridge / nearest cross street, get across the freeway, and Voila!  Dealership!

Well, much to my dismay, when I got to the frontage road, I noticed there were no pedestrian bridges.  Or tunnels.  I sighed, realizing that I would have to walk to the nearest cross street 3/4 of a mile south of me.  Well, I have legs, I can walk, so I set out down the frontage road to the cross street in the distance…

…when suddenly the sidewalk disappeared.

They built a handicapped ramp at the corner, and then just kind of lost interest.

No matter.  Texas doesn’t believe in sidewalks.  I realize this.  I kept walking towards the looming overpass in the distance.  Suddenly, the footpath in place of a sidewalk slowly began to thin out, and I found myself face to face with a water dumping facility, surrounded by a threatening chain link fence and a foreboding “NO TRESPASSING” sign.  Not that it would’ve mattered… the walkable ground gave way into a heavily forested creek ditch and the adjacent road became a bridge with not even the slightest hint of a shoulder.  I would have to turn around.

This looks safe…

I was starting to consider hitchhiking or calling a taxi.  I imagined conversations with a taxi driver:

“Where are you headed?”
“To the other side.”

No, that would be ridiculous.

I was walking back from whence I came, trying to find some sort of shortcut to go around the water dumping facility (and creek ditch), when I found what looked like an abandoned business park and decided my stroke of luck had come.  Surely, I could find a shortcut through the business park to the cross street and be merrily on my way, jauntily waltzing across the damn freeway.  So I entered.

Keep in mind: by this time, night had fallen.

It didn’t take long before realizing that if I were to scream, no one would be able to hear me (and everyone that would be able to hear me would surely and uncomfortably ignore me).  Alas, I continued to search for a shortcut, to no avail.  The entire abandoned office park was fenced off from the rest of the world, and my assumed danger from the unknown was all for naught, as I popped right out roughly where the bus had dropped me off over half an hour earlier.

As it turned out, the most direct way to get to the cross street was through a neighborhood which looked none to welcoming.  I was evermore aware I was carrying a laptop bag, and I looked wearily at groups of riffraff teenagers standing around in groups for no apparent reason.  I briefly considered what it would be like to get mugged:

“Give me your bag, or we’re gonna shank you.” (obviously I’ve never been mugged)
“Fellow countrymen… please don’t.  By hurting me, are you not hurting one of your own?”
“You’re not one of us, Mr. Bourgeoisie Artiste.  We have no silver spoon to eat from.”
“Please understand… I am but a starving musician in a banker’s world, living off federal loans that must be repaid in my near future!  Are we not all victims of society, my good sirs?”
“We’re outsiders of society.  You’re trying to play its game… be a part of it… and for that, you must hand over thy computer.”
“If I must.  But understand – are we not all humankind?  Are we not all forced to live amongst each other?  We might as well work together in peace, without fear.  By demanding my computer, you are perpetuating a cycle of ills, pushing us further away from the idyll of camaraderie between strangers in an otherwise lonely world…”

But, as luck would have it, I escaped unscathed and rather sheepish, and I jauntily waltzed across the freeway overpass to the other side.  The hard part was over… I merely had to walk up the frontage road to the dealership a mile away…

…and that’s when I was suddenly blocked by a canyon and the bridge had no sidewalk.  Just like on the other side.  Not this shit again.  I started looking around, and in the same manner as the aforementioned abandoned office park, I began trespassing through a car lot.  I didn’t get ten feet before I was stopped by a disgruntled employee.

“Excuse me, son, just where you think you’re goin’?”
“I’m trying to get from here… to there.”  I pointed across the canyon.
“Well you ain’t gonna get there through this property.  There’s no way.”
“So… how do I get from here… to there?”  I pointed across the canyon again.
“You have to go through the creek.”
“Through the creek?”
“Yeah.  I don’t know how much water’s in there, but I reckon there’s a bit.”
“You mean… over the guard rail… down the concrete drainage… and through the ditch… to the creek.”
“Yes sir.”
“This is absurd.”

But what choice did I have?  Calling my roommate for help?  I imagined the scenario…

“Hey Sean.  Can I ask you a favor?”
“Yeah, sure, what’s up?”
“Can you come pick me up… and drop me off about 100 yards north of where I’m standing?”

No, that too would be impossible.

This looks legit.

Alas, I descended into the dark, forested drainage ditch beneath the frontage road, as the employee watched me, smirking from above.  Had it been daylight hours, I would’ve been more comfortable with this, but from the looks of it, who knows how many drug deals went on here, or how many bodies had been dumped here.  I proceeded cautiously, looking out for suspicious characters.


Solid characters had been here.


…when lo and behold, I approached the edge of the creek, across which I needed to pass.  It wasn’t a large creek by any means, but a creek is a creek, and due to the brownness of the water, there was no telling how deep it was.  I briefly considered wading.

No!  No!  No!  Come on now!  I’m in a city for goodness sake!  I’m surrounded by people in an urban environment!  I just got off class, I’m picking up my car from a car dealership, and suddenly I’m considering wading waist deep in a muddy creek?  Is this ‘Nam, for crying out loud?  Have the forces of the universe suddenly gone mad?

If I go through on my tip toes, maybe I can avoid contracting Leptospirosis.

I crawled back up the drainage ditch and surveyed the bridge.  It was pretty clearly unsafe.  The lanes were pushed up right against the guard rail with about two feet of space.  Alas, if I wanted my car back, this was my only option.  I clutched my bag like a teddy bear and ran headlong into oncoming traffic, flailing about so oncoming cars would see me more clearly.  As annoyed drivers flashed their high beams at me, I imagined the headlines in tomorrow’s paper…

Injuries consistent with vehicle impact, although ruled suicide.  No explanation as to why the man chose this obscure location to end his life – weblog clearly indicates a degree of psychological instability.

Of course, I made it to the other side safely (after all, I’m writing this entry), and from there, it was a short half mile walk to the dealership.  Unfortunately, when I finally got to the dealership, they informed me the wiring in my stereo was kaput, and to replace it would cost 600 dollars (apparently stereo wiring is made from ground leprechaun bones).  Also, they forgot to turn off my Check Engine light.

I was so peeved I nearly got in two accidents on my drive home.

Sure, I had to walk for over an hour through peculiarly unnecessary obstacles.  Sure, it would’ve been nice for there to be a more convenient bus or better pedestrian infrastructure.  But none of this actually matters.  My indignation can only go so far until I look at myself and ask, “Is my sense of entitlement really this overblown?  Am I this accustomed to first world conveniences that I refuse to acknowledge how it’s possible to live in a world where one might actually have to work to achieve a goal?  Am I that pretentious as to think I deserve to live in a society which takes care of the needs of those who don’t feel inclined to walk a little further to get what they want?  If I wasn’t willing to dirty my clothes to get my car, then do I really deserve my car?  Do I really deserve my clothes?”

Do I even deserve my world?  What made me so special?

And really, this isn’t about my shame of self-entitlement either.  It’s about my weakness, exposed as it had never been exposed before.  Put me in an urban jungle with a car, a map, and a phone, and I’ll find my way.  But take away my precious first world conveniences?  I’m useless.  I am weak and pathetic.  There I stood four hundred feet away from my goal, gazing hopelessly across a sea of concrete, and the fury… oh yes, the seemingly incongruent fury was no more towards the predicament as it was towards the cowardice of my despondence – the loss of my manliness – the destruction of my alleged self-evident authority to be able to say, “I know how to live in this world.”

About Doctor Quack

Just another bonehead with an internet connection.
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33 Responses to An Anecdote of Infrastructural Absurdities

  1. nerdshirtsandcardigans says:

    OMG hahaha. You poor thing! I’ve encountered this type of problem many times in Cleveland, where one had to go 9 blocks out of the way to cross a street, in best possible scenario. For this reason, I keep a $20 bill tucked behind a magnet just for this matters, and call the cab company.

    At least you made it back to tell your tale of warning to another!

  2. themoonandme says:

    This sounds like exactly like something that would happen to me. really made me laugh, and you know, I ask myself the same questions as you have after this debacle. Thing to remember is, it was an infrastructural nightmare. You could have crossed easily had there been a little forethought on the planners part. Who builds a motorway with no way of crossing.
    I’m glad it happens there too, not just here.

  3. Classic says:

    Woah. Sounds like a horrible, horrible adventure… Great post, though!

  4. Hahah!! you’re absolutely hilarious! I enjoy reading your blog! and you add sunshine to my days:P
    Keep on being funny!

  5. I’ve spent time in a 3rd world country where I had to walk 4 miles every other day to go to market and purchase food (I lived without electricity, so no fridge). Regardless of that experience and many others, the idea of walking so far at night and in a creepy neighborhood would have had me abandoning the quest as soon as the sun went down. I think your perseverance is admirable and none of your little mini-adventure was wasted since you obviously used it to cleverly write this blog and pose important questions of yourself and your readers. 🙂 Great anecdote!

  6. thelooker23 says:

    If only you were a flying squirrel, this only would have taken a 30 seconds instead of an hour….

  7. This is hilarious! I think the maps/ photos and the mugging thoughts made it for me. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  8. iWee says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. This reminds me of when I was taking the bus back home from the super market. Both buses went to the same location, one used 5 min, while the other took had a route of over 1 hour. The longest routed bus came first. Wasted 55 minutes of my life..

  9. Excellent post ,revealing not only the absurdity of modern life but our own frailties in living inside it. Next life I am coming back as a whale. If I get to choose. Which I won’t . Just saying. Take care Dr Quack, glad you didn’,t get shanked.

  10. Kat says:

    When I lived in a city, there was a period of time where I didn’t have a car (repair work–mountain driving killed my brakes). I only had to walk across a six lane freeway, but it was still terrifying, there were no sidewalks anywhere (yay!), and it was twilight to boot. But that grocery run was probably worth the imminent death. Maybe.

    • Doctor Quack says:

      Why does this always seem to happen at twilight? Mine did too.

      How did you end up getting across?

      • Kat says:

        Traffic lights and luck. The light turned red down the road, and I ran like crazy during the ten second break between waves of cars.

        I’m pretty sure the universe thinks that things like this have more dramatic appeal when they happen during twilight. God definitely has a sense of humor.

  11. Somehow I’m reminded of the movie “Castaway.” There was but one goal on his mind, but his efforts to achieve it stripped him bare.

  12. David says:

    That is awesomely hilarious! Sucks, but I’ve been in similar situations. When you’re not in a city in Ohio there really are no sidewalks, public transportation, etc. So it’s just a huge mash up of dodging cars, trespassing through yards and generally being out in the middle of nowhere.

    • wanderlust misfit says:

      I was in Columbus trying to get to Grovecity. Bus only went half the way haha. Then the sidewalk stopped. Then came the bridge without a useful shoulder. What a hike that was.

  13. goodoldgirl says:

    I grew up on a farm 10 miles from the nearest town so walking was a fact of life. But city-walking, now that’s a horse of a different color. Concrete is a bit harder on the tootsies than grassy fields full of wild flowers and urban predators are a lot scarier than squirrels and owls.
    I’ve had two really awful “walks” over the years. One trek was from one end of Fairbanks Alaska to the other, in heels. The other trek was when, as a ten-year-old, I got lost in a 40 acre corn field – at twilight.
    Great post. Hope you keep ’em coming!

  14. kitchenmudge says:

    Cool story. (The lack of a “bro” on the end means it’s not facetious.)

  15. wanderlust misfit says:

    Awesome post! I loved the pictures and graphics were hilarious and the ending! It’s amazing how hard it’s become to simply walk anywhere. No car? No go. I had a similar experience and I definitely didn’t blog well about it, after reading this. Go figure how they put in lots of bridges and overpasses for cars, but forget the sidewalks, footpaths, or even a shoulder! I had to hold my breath and dart across the worst coming back running against traffic, watching tractor-trailers barreling at you like Holy Shit!

    • Doctor Quack says:

      It sounded like we had very similar situations. Fortunately, we’re both still alive to tell about it.

      I can’t say I’m too disdainful of our modern conveniences, but sometimes I do think we’ve departed from some essential primordial element of being. I certainly can no longer blame deer for causing road accidents.

  16. Brian says:

    I’ve figured out your first mistake. It was moving to Texas where being a pedestrian is considered a form of illegal immigration. Based on your map and photos, I found exactly where you were. It does look like going north from the bus stop might have been better though it could have been fraught with the same obstacles. The Google Maps walking directions are in beta after all. The alternative would be to do the “Bowfinger” as it is known (which is not as dirty as it might sound):

    • Doctor Quack says:

      North would’ve brought me to the 71/35 interchange. I figured I’d have better luck navigating through a cross street than an interchange, but for all I know there might’ve been sidewalks along Ben White. It’s something I’ll have to figure out next time I get my car serviced, or else I’m changing my oil on my own.

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