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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
…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?
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…
“LOCAL MAN FOUND DEAD IN ROADSIDE DITCH”
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.”