Wilson the robot dog looks east from the seashore of Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where he and traveling companion David Brancaccio started their cross-country trip, which they will attempt with no human interaction for the Marketplace series, "Robots Ate My Job."- David Brancaccio/Marketplace
Journey’s start: Obtaining sand from an Atlantic Beach, Sandy Hook, New Jersey on Saturday, March 24.- Photo: David Brancaccio
GPS says 2938 miles to the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco. Because of the need to stay at hotels with “robot” receptionists, my mileage should be closer to 3100 miles.- Photo: David Brancaccio
Since my journey allows me interactions with no humans, I couldn’t stop: There was a flesh-and-blood human at the ticket counter. My loss. Of many to come.- Photo: David Brancaccio
Be Prepared to See More Than You Expect: At the Miniature Village attraction in Shartlesville, PA. Words to live by.- Photo: David Brancaccio
How to eat on a solo cross-country journey: Use self-checkout at the grocery in each town and BYOM: bring your own microwave.- David Brancaccio/Marketplace
Wet, tired David checked in with robot receptionist at the Hyatt Place in Roanoke, Va.- David Brancaccio/Marketplace
Robots ate my road trip, day 1
My question is this: Is technology now so pervasive that a person can drive coast to coast without ever dealing with a human being? Yes, Jack Kerouac would be very unhappy with me for even trying.
I pulled out of an Atlantic Ocean beach at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, shortly before 2 p.m. on Saturday to begin my cross-country trip without any human interaction. I had filled an empty bottle with Atlantic sand, dodged a few crashing waves and had my first near-brush with a human being: A young boy spotted Wilson, my little robot dog (picture left), on a strip of boardwalk. Before the kid could ask what’s up, I put in my little white earphones, like the worst anti-social Brooklyn hipster on the L train and beat it before the sweet little tyke ruined my concept.
I listened to the audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s “Naked Sun” during the drive. It’s wall-to-wall robots, but for a novel from 1957, it has a lot to say about 1 percent vs. 99 percent economic and social stratification. Asimov’s 99 percent lives underground on Earth. The fancy people are Earthlings, but they live on their own planets.
The drive got especially exciting passing through West Virginia on I-81 with a thunderstorm that looked like something we might some day see on Jupiter. After eight and a half hours on the road, damp, late, hungry, the car’s GPS navigation got lost, big time. Put me on two unnecessary six mile loops instead of leading me to the hotel. Being a belt-and-suspenders man, I had three more GPS units. Two of them also failed to find the hotel, but the winner was the GPS in the iPad.
I did 462 miles today, starting from the Atlantic. Made it to Roanoke, Virginia. The hotel has a robot desk clerk in the form of an airport-style electronic kiosk. Swiped myself in and it spit out my receipt and a keycard for a room on the 6th floor. Less surprising but very welcome was the robot ice machine. OK, it was just an ice machine, but it was in the right place at the right time. Tomorrow, Nashville.