Electric rental scooters suddenly appeared on the streets of the Twin Cities last week, thanks to a company called Bird. You’re not supposed to ride them on the sidewalks, and you’re supposed to wear a helmet. On Tuesday afternoon a guy riding a Bird zipped past me on the sidewalk, and he wasn’t wearing a helmet.
So “the Bird” might be named after what you get if you shout, “Hey, you almost hit me.”
But it looked fun, fancy-free and speedy. So I gave it a try. First you download an app, of course; in the future you will not be able to use a public restroom without downloading GottaGo and reserving a stall.
The terms and conditions were extensive, which means no one reads them. They’re like marital vows for people who are surprised later to find they’re actually legally committed to someone. The phrase “til death do us part” may have been in the Bird terms because there’s probably a section about how “nothing that happens to you is the company’s fault,” as well as: “I agree to let this electric scooter post on Facebook on my behalf and take out a mortgage.” And so on.
Once you’ve lied about reading the terms, you scan the bar code on your license, so the NSA and CIA can enter your movements into their database, and click some more boxes. No, I won’t pick up hitchhikers. No, I won’t go downhill and burn out the motor. Oh, yes, I have a helmet — because, of course, I walk around with one of those tied to my belt in case there’s an earthquake.
The details taken care of, off you go, thinking: “When was the last time I rode an electric scooter? Any scooter? Never. Well, let’s head into traffic!”
So now you’re standing on a plank, feeling conspicuously hipster-esque, knowing you look like an absolute dork. “If only there were someone on a Segway I could heckle.”
The scooter is quite zippy. The first time I gave it some juice, it got away from me, like I’d been holding onto the neck of a panicked ostrich. But the false sense of mastery sets in quickly, and when I saw someone else on a Bird, I thought: “I should come up behind, ring the bell to signal my surging level of testosterone and challenge him to a race to Deadman’s Curve.”
Quick and nimble as they are, I do not advise using them in regular traffic lest you feel like a hummingbird in an elephant stampede. A trip under the Government Center’s gloomy tunnel nearly got me killed, because no one could see me. I’d neglected to strap a red light to my rear end. (Again.) There are no signs by the tunnel that say, “Caution. Dude may appear to be levitating in the middle of the gol-durned road, the idiot.”
Anyone going fast would have smacked me from behind and somersaulted me over their car, and I’m sure the terms and conditions require me to stick the landing.
Are they fun? Yes. Useful? Well, If I had to get across downtown quickly — say, they’d discovered a bomb by the Post Office and I was the only one who knew how to disarm it — then sure, I’d use one. But if that were the case, I would already be Tom Cruise and I would jump out of a plane.
It cost $2.20 to go seven-tenths of a mile in eight minutes. If I walk, though, I can save that money. If I walk a lot every day instead of taking an electric scooter — say, not using the Bird four times daily, but walking around pointlessly — I can save up lots of money and use it for the parking meters. Thanks, Bird. You just cut my commuting costs by 85 percent.
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