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Robots Ate My Job

Robots Ate My Road Trip: Day 6

David Brancaccio Mar 31, 2012

Northbound through the vastness of California agriculture, I was sitting there at the wheel congratulating myself on how prepared we were for the logistics of this trip. The robot receptionists were where we expected them to be. The supermarkets had the self-checkout lanes open and running. Even traffic wasn’t bad at all. I had my EZ pass for the tolls.

Then it hit me.  

Don’t I have to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in about an hour? Doesn’t the bridge have a massive toll plaza for westbound traffic like myself? Surely that takes E Z pass, right?

To pay cash at the tollbooth would mean I transacted business with a human. I had gotten this far without doing business with a human. To give cash to a human just five miles before the end of a 3,200-mile journey would be too ignominious a defeat.  “If only they take EZ pass…”

I hope they do. But in case the California Department of Transportation does not (and Googling in hindsight, it appears they do not), then I have already bookmarked the page where I will manfully pay my violation.

After sailing along the edge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the grey of the Pacific first appears in the fading light. My goal was to make it by sundown, and I am three minutes late. There is no sun, anyway; this is the especially foggy western side of San Francisco, after all.

Mile 3,260, the beach. I fill up a bottle with some Pacific sand to match the sand I have from the Atlantic and watch some hardy beach partiers light a bonfire in one of the assigned cauldrons. Across the street at the Beach Chalet bar, my Bay Area buddy Barry Howarth, is waiting with a beer. At last, a human I can talk to.

He told I should have worn a T-shirt like his if I didn’t want to talk to anyone across the country. His displayed the words: “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining why I’m right.”

Did I make it across the country without ever interacting with a human being? Nope. There was Pat Burton the overlord of the self-checkout lanes in Roanoke offering to help me scan an ear of corn. There was Oz, the night manager in Oklahoma City who recognized my name on the reservations list, says he’s a big fan of the show, and wanted to shake my hand. What was I going to do, keep my ear buds in and move on?

Then there was the day the computer checked me out of  one of the hotels before I had retrieved my last two bags. The automated system shut down my access to the room, and I had to go begging to a human. And let’s not forget the robot receptionist at the Westin Element in Las Vegas. I swiped myself in with the credit card, but then it either forgets to tell me my room number or I missed it when it flashed on the screen. When I tried to log back in, the system queried: “Please enter your room number.” My flummoxed look led a human desk clerk to write my room number down on a slip of paper.

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