Our First Day Trying the New IndyGo Red Line, Which Sucked

Red Line Anne!

My wife Anne hanging out in the bikers’ wing because there was no room for us anywhere else aboard.

I love the idea of mass transit. I got used to buses as a wee tyke when my mom and my grandma took me on them all the time. As adults my wife and I have had positive experiences in Denver, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Manhattan. (Baltimore was a mixed bag.) I loved the NYC subways so much after our first visit, I begged Anne to let me dig a subway tunnel connecting NYC’s MTA and our front door. My request died in committee.

Meanwhile back in Indianapolis, “mass transit” doesn’t mean quite so much. Our medium metropolis was built over the course of decades with no room allotted for subways or light rail. There’s no such thing as “hailing” a cab here — they exist but if you want one, you have to phone for one. We have a bus system called IndyGo, which is…well, it’s certainly a set of things on wheels that provides a traveling alternative under certain limited conditions. It isn’t exactly renowned. From time to time, some idealistic, would-be innovator comes to town with an idea to do a “mass transit” thing and improve quality of life for commuters and folks without cars. Nine times out of ten, those benevolent thinkers are sent packing. I’d use the old cliché “they’re run out of town on a rail”, but this would be an obvious lie due to the lack of rails to spare.

This year IndyGo and our city government conspired to introduce a new concept to our Indy road scene: Bus Rapid Transit. Per their grand vision and ubiquitous marketing boilerplate, it could change the very face of Indianapolis mass transit if their plans and dreams come true. If.

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The Bitter Little Cable Car

silver funicular, Lisbon, Portugal

Photo credit: Cheri Lucas @ Automattic

Once upon a time, there was a little cable car who lived and worked on a hill. Each day the little cable car would perform his job of carrying passengers up and down the hill. The little cable car was born for the job.

The hill was not very tall, but some people rode the little cable car anyway. Unhealthy people rode it because too much walking made them sweaty and gave them trouble breathing. Lazy people rode it because it saved them precious calories. Businesspeople rode it because it was easier to play with their phones if they didn’t have to walk at the same time. Small children rode it because they like riding in small vehicles and making vroom-vroom noises. Tourists rode it because their guidebooks said they should, or else their vacation was an utter failure. Whenever none of the above were around, the little cable car had time to himself. Being a mere cable car with nowhere else to go, he spent this time thinking to himself.

One day the little cable car thought to himself, “My job is stupid.”

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Thank-You Note to a Bus Company That Receives Precious Few

IndyGo, bus, Indianapolis
Dear IndyGo,

Honesty up front: I wish you, the providers of public bus transportation for the city of Indianapolis, weren’t the beginning, the end, and the entirety of our city’s mass transit system, to use the term loosely. It’s not that I harbor a grudge toward you; I merely wish you weren’t our only option. The nearest IndyGo stop to our house is a mile-and-half walk, only one-third of which is paved with sidewalks. As I outlined in one of my earliest entries here on MCC, I’d dearly love to see Indianapolis install subway corridors, or even a light-rail system, as our family has seen in other, superior cities during our annual road trips. Alas, I’m not holding my breath waiting for this miracle to happen. I expect no resolution in my lifetime to the unceasing political sniping over who should pay for it, whose houses should we steamroll to make it happen, and how dare we take money out of the grubby paws of Big Fossil Fuel.

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2012 Road Trip Photos #35: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 2 of 2: Starship Parts Catalog

As we saw in our previous installment, the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Museum in Hutchinson, Kansas, provides a good, safe home to many retired spacecraft and spacecraft understudies. Their collections are a comprehensive tribute to those pioneers and daredevils who yearn to see mankind reach beyond our spatial boundaries and discover what else lies in store for us in God’s universe.

Ad Astra per Aspera, Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas

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2012 Road Trip Photos #34: the Kansas Cosmosphere, Part 1 of 2: Starship Graveyard

Once we returned from the Underground Salt Museum to the surface world, Day Eight of our nine-day journey continued on the other end of Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. Our family has seen space-race paraphernalia in other museums such as the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (2003), Kennedy Space Center (2007), and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (2009), but the Cosmosphere competes in its own way, particularly with souvenirs from foreign contributors to the space race. Kansas seems like the last place on Earth you’d find a dedicated repository for cosmonaut relics, but there it was.

Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, Hutchinson, Kansas

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2012 Road Trip Photos #31: Underground Salt Museum, Part 1 of 3: Into the Mines of Morton

We ended Day Seven with a hotel stay northwest of Wichita in Hutchinson, a city large enough to have its own dying shopping mall and not one, but two notable attractions. Thus did Day Eight commence in the heart of the Kansas heartland…at the Underground Salt Museum.

I realize the name carries an excitement level on par with a box factory or the state of Delaware, but the Salt Museum is no ordinary salt mine. Granted, yes, part of it is an ordinary salt mine, but we’d never seen one of those before, either. Could it possibly be fascinating to gander inside the workplace that provides us with one of the greatest-tasting minerals on Earth?

This rusty but imposing chainsaw-mobile says yes.

Chainsaw-Mobile, Underground Salt Museum, Hutchinson, Kansas

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2012 Road Trip Photos #24: War Memorial on the Edge of the Rockies

After we reluctantly departed the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, Day Six continued east on U.S. Route 50 from Cañon City to Pueblo. The distance was a relatively short hop of thirty-five miles, but we paused for one unplanned attraction in our path, the Colonel Leo Sidney Boston War Memorial Park. The park was established in 1997 as a tribute to veterans alive and dead. I’d pegged its location as Florence in my original notes, but online sources say the official address is in Penrose. Its namesake was a Cañon City native who fought in Vietnam, was declared MIA circa 1971, and presumed officially dead in 1997. In April 2011, his family was notified of a positive DNA match for him contained in a set of recovered remains. I wouldn’t presume to imagine the toll of such an experience.

At the time, when we pulled over to the roadside for a gander, we knew nothing about the eponymous hometown hero. All I knew was that we were standing before a military hardware collection stationed in an unusual spot.

Ah-1 Cobra Helicopter, Colorado

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Why Our Family Avoids Group Tours

If you’ve been following the ongoing “2012 Road Trip Photos” series and/or the original “2012 Road Trip Notes on the Go” series that the former supplements, you may recall one of my descriptions of our family’s stubborn decision to view Dinosaur Ridge independently and at our leisure, without benefit of shuttle bus or tour guide. As described in Day Three of the Notes:

…we made the mistake of taking a self-guided walk up the ridge rather than taking the optional shuttle bus with a helpful, informed tour guide.

Without the bus or the guide, our experience amounted to an uphill one-mile walk to view one set of dinosaur footprints, several examples of variegated stratification, some plant fossil imprints, and one or two very tiny, singular fossils embedded in the cliff walls, no full sets of skeletons. After missing out on whatever the tour guide told the paying customers, we found the subsequent one-mile downhill walk back to the car a little disappointing. The healthier, better equipped bicyclists zipping past us up and down the route each added just a few grains of salt to our wounds. That salt was then washed away when the rain returned for a few minutes. This was not our finest hour.

As recounted with the Photos:

No cars are allowed up the ridge except the official Dinosaur Ridge shuttles. The shuttle ride is free, as is their tour guide who elaborates on any points of interest and keeps you focused on the marvels you’d hoped to witness. If you’d prefer to chart your own destiny, pedestrians and bicyclists are permitted to traverse the ridge as they see fit. Our family policy is we prefer to set our own pace and avoid trapping ourselves in other tourists’ schedules or paces. In some situations this can be advantageous if you know what you’re doing and have all the same exhibit access that the tour groups do.

In this situation, it meant a stubborn one-mile walk uphill… Open highway plains to the left of us, rough terrain to the right.

I chose not to expand too much on that thought at length in either entry, but I was reminded of it, and of our family policy in general, by a series of incidents that occurred over the past twenty-four hours.

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“Premium Rush” Shows Why Bicycles Should Digitally Replace Cars in All Action Flicks Ever

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, "Premium Rush"After seeing the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt flick Premium Rush tonight, I’ve realized that bicycles are the greatest machine ever. I should already know this after multiple viewings of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and my mastery of the old arcade game Paperboy, but those are old and Premium Rush is new. To today’s young folk that means it’s more influential than either of those works by definition.

Consider the pros of bicycle ownership that I’ve learned tonight:

* Bicycles use no gas. Not only does this save average consumers money, it means movies that replace all their cars with bikes will overflow with carbon credits or go-green points or whatever currency this market uses.

* Bicycles fit through tight cracks in traffic jams. Related note: traffic laws only apply if bicycle policemen can catch you. Don’t get too overconfident, since bikecops do have the power of teleportation, based on how many places our hero’s bikecop nemesis (stuntman Christopher Place) shows up in the movie through magical point-A-to-point-B locale shifts. That power only gets bikecops so far, though — their advanced age and lack of BMX tricks makes them an easily evaded adversary.

* Bicycle parts are sturdy and survive any and all forms of undue stress, short of a head-on collision. In that event, temporary replacement bikes should be readily available for borrowing from your immediate vicinity.

* Bicycles are much faster than cars. They can dodge and weave through the thickest of traffic, especially if you have the power of instant super-calculus like Amadeus Cho. If a crooked cop is several feet behind you, just pedal really hard. Sure. he could put his pedal to the metal and flatten you, but he won’t. For some reason. Mental block, maybe, who knows. One exception to this rule: when a finale is coming up, cars are faster because they have to catch up with you before the last big set piece begins. You can’t just arrive in time to save the day while the bad guy is still several blocks away because of rush hour or construction delays. No audience wants to cheer the defeat of a villain in absentia.

* Bicycle-related jobs never have a dress code. Our hero’s pride in avoiding nice suits and ties is a large part of Who He Is. (Our hero clearly learned nothing from Pee-Wee.) Late in the movie, a montage of assorted bicycling professionals confirms that clothing, hair care, and hygiene are left to the employee’s discretion. Hopefully they disinfect their packages before handing them to the intended recipient.

* The bad guys never try shooting you during chase scenes. You’re a small moving target, and they’re probably lousy shots anyway, even if they carry a gun for a living. This facet remains largely unexplored in Premium Rush, but in other chase movies, judging by the average number of missed shots per movie, I get the impression that crooked cops and evil military men never have to fret about marksmanship on their performance review.

* Bicycle lanes are optional. Over the past few years, Indianapolis has spent millions renovating and redesigning numerous thoroughfares to add bicycle lanes — sometime widening streets, sometimes taking an entire lane away from cars and designating it as a bicycle lane instead (White River Parkway North Drive, I’m looking in your excessively named direction). As seen in Premium Rush, Manhattan bicyclists seem to do just fine without them. The closest they come to compromising is when they have to share a walkway in Central Park with wheel-deprived pedestrians.

With so much going for bicycles, I foresee a day when filmmakers and studios revisit their works George-Lucas-style and decide it’s time to tamper with them for the sake of a modern audience. Imagine The French Connection with Popeye Doyle free-styling it up, or The Bourne Supremacy filmed in you-are-there Bicycle-Smashing-Cam. Stephen King’s Christine would have been about twenty minutes long, once the possessed 1957 Schwinn American realized it wasn’t really equipped to kill. Best of all in my mind would be the late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin — narrow chases through all those claustrophobic European streets, still at breakneck speeds, and everyone’s still armed with bazookas. The mind reels at the cinematic possibilities, so much so that I have to stop myself from staying up overnight and brainstorming any more. (Maybe that’s tomorrow night’s entry. No one tempt me.)

Setting all that aside, this was a fun, footloose, albeit PG-13-languaged 91 minutes’ worth of popcorn-movie excuse to watch Gordon-Levitt play the same kind of tenacious, hard-luck, unlikely hero that worked well for him in (500) Days of Summer, except here he’s not a jerk and he gets to win. It’s also a showcase for anyone who wants to know what Michael Shannon looks like, before he appears in next year’s Man of Steel. I didn’t see Revolutionary Road, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for what I read was a fairly tiny role, but here he dominates plenty of screen time as a foul-mouthed crooked cop (who naturally is the one to fill the movie’s one-F-word quota) with an amoral attitude and an unfortunate addiction to Pai gow. His tough New York sounds more like other movies than what we heard last year on vacation, but that only added to his scary intensity.

Other random, disconnected thoughts that flew through my head while watching the Greatest Bicycle Film of All Time:

* Fun geek note: Shannon continually hides behind the alias “Forrest J. Ackerman”, named after the famous sci-fi fan. (Yes, once upon a time, they used to have those. 105% of all sci-fi fans wish that were still the case.)

* Other than Gordon-Levitt and Shannon, the only other actor I recognized without research was Aasif Mandvi, my favorite correspondent in those rare moments when I have time to watch secondhand online clips from The Daily Show with John Stewart. Mandvi basically reprises his role as cranky boss Mr. Aziz from Spider-Man 2, but his presence is value-added good times.

* Listen carefully during one of Gordon-Levitt’s course-plotting moments, and you’ll be rewarded with a Wilhelm scream, to no small comedic effect.

* Do the kids these days still say “shred” in any bike-related context? It sounds like previous-decade slang.

* Gordon-Levitt’s motto, “Brakes are death,” sums up every bad commute I’ve ever harrumphed my way through.

* My favorite thing about the movie was recognizing Manhattan landmarks and locales that our family encountered on our 2011 road trip. Among the notable sights that nab screen time are Chinatown; Columbus Circle; a #1 subway station (the 116th Street Station, if the visuals match the story); the Ed Sullivan Theatre (blink and you miss it); Columbus Street alongside the Natural History Museum; and, of course, Central Park. Natives no doubt will recognize three times as many places as I did.

* No, there’s no scene after the end credits, but you can stick around and hear several more minutes of “Baba O’Riley” if you’d like. You can also recover from the shock of realizing that the entire movie flew right by without a single character using the phrase “need for speed.” Writing without that cliché in a movie all about speed may be its most skillful trick.

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