Michael Morris, as Schutze mentioned this morning, is arguably the most important man in local transportation. As transportation director for the obscure but powerful North Central Texas Council of Governments, he has an outsize say in how transportation dollars get divvied up across 16 counties and, by extension, which ideas get built (e.g. the Trinity River Toll Road) and which ideas languish (e.g. tearing down I-345). He's often criticized, by urban types who worry that downtown Dallas is being choked by a noose of highways, for prioritizing car travel at the expense of quality of life, of getting vehicles from here to Cleburne as efficiently as possible, pedestrians and bicyclists be damned. Yesterday, as an experiment, we decided to visit Morris' home using only a 2003ish Gary Fisher Tassajara mountain bike and public transportation.
11:03 a.m.: Morris' official NCTCOG bio says he lives in Arlington, a.k.a. the largest city in America without a public transit system (no, its lone bus route doesn't count). Bad sign. Worse sign: when I plug in his address, identified through voter registration records and confirmed by a search of licensed Texas engineers, which tells me his middle name is Richard, all Google's recommended public transit routes end with a six-mile drive.
11:20 a.m.: I down a couple of cups of water, hydrating against the August heat, and leave our Oak Lawn office, taking the Katy Trail to Victory Station to pick up the Trinity Railway Express.
11:29 a.m.: A man tells me I've just missed the train to Fort Worth. His wife, or maybe girlfriend, is doubled over on one of the benches, sleeping? Ill? Hard to say.
11:50 a.m.: A woman, a bus driver for the Denton County Transit Authority en route to visit her grandson, asks when the next train's coming. She has to shout over the deafening rumble of a slow-moving freight train passing five feet in front of us. I check my phone. 12:25. "MAYBE MORE PEOPLE WOULD RIDE IT IF IT CAME MORE OFTEN." Clearly unfamiliar with Victory Park, she sets off in search of food. She says she'll be back in time for the train, but I wonder.
12:07 p.m.: It's been 37 minutes, e.g. the exact amount of time Google tells me it would take to drive to Michael Morris' house. Shut up Google.
12:13 p.m.: Pretty sure that guy on the right was clean-shaven and freshly bathed when he got here.
12:24 p.m.: Train's here. My bus-driver friend returns in the nick of time. She seems happier. She gave up on finding food, she explains, and just had a beer. Solid choice.
12:56 p.m.: Somewhere in the Mid-Cities. If I were taking the Arlington Max, I would get off at Centreport Station, but Morris lives in the far southwestern corner of Arlington, not even close the Max, which is why I'm headed for downtown Fort Worth. Google tells me I'd be halfway to Abilene by now. God, I'm glad I'm not going to Abilene.
1:17 p.m.: The Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center is a maze of buses, but route 9 is nowhere to be found. I finally find a timetable, which tells me that route 9 is in Bay M, which I spot on the opposite end of the parking lot. A security guard in a golf cart catches up to me as I'm putting my bike on the bus to yell at me for riding in the bus depot. I signal OK but am secretly glad to have broken the rules since the bus pulls away as soon as I'm on board. On foot, I would've missed it, and the next bus wasn't scheduled to come for another hour.
1:34 p.m.: Dwaine Caraway's anti-sagging crusade is in a lull, but the Fort Worth Transportation Authority has caught on. It has an ad on either side of the bus: "Grandma says: Pull 'em up." Another ad, for a used car dealership, shows a close-up of a perky college-age girl beaming from behind the wheel of her new ride. The make and model of the car are unimportant and aren't shown. What's important is that riding the bus is terrible.
1:37 p.m.: There's a teenage boy in the median holding the disembodied head of a parrot pinata. A passerby tosses a handful of change into the hollow skull.
1:46 p.m.: This is worrisome. Three times now the bus engine has cut out as we've pulled to a stop sign. The driver turns the engine once, twice, then it catches. I wonder, and not for the first time, whether this journey wasn't a terrible idea, but it's too late to turn back.
2:08 p.m.: For 10 minutes, the bus has been navigating a junked-out industrial area just off Loop 820. Finally it pulls to my designated stop, a bus shelter in front of the Fort Worth District Parole Office. Three passengers get off the bus. I'm the only one not on parole.
2:09 p.m.: Shit. I notice for the first time that Google's bicycling directions from here are in beta, and say to proceed with caution. Good idea that a solid chunk of my route is on the 820 service road.
I know I haven't always been the best husband, but I hope that you'll forgive me and remember me fondly for the boys.
This mountain bike, should it somehow escape this journey in one piece, should go to Connor. Wesley can have the Kona in the garage when he's of age.
I'm sorry I ever embarked upon this godforsaken journey.
Yours forever, Eric
2:35 p.m.: So this is where Kennedale is. It's nice, in an exurban, Sunnyvale kind of way. The roundabouts are a nice touch.
2:41 p.m.: Just 3 hours, 21 minutes into my journey, and I'm already in Arlington!
2:43 p.m.: Hey Michael Morris, isn't your agency talking up how much better DFW air quality is this year? Then why are my lungs burning?
3:03 p.m.: Here we are at Burning Springs Court. I was worried, when I realized that my phone had turned off, that I wouldn't remember Morris' address. Luckily, the custom "IH35" plates on the Volvo are a dead giveaway. Success! Good feelings are mitigated, however, once I realize that my prediction that I'd be back in downtown Dallas with plenty of time to pick the kids up from preschool by the 6 p.m. cutoff was wildly optimistic. No time to lose.
3:20 p.m.: The good thing about riding on the I-20 service road is that the shoulder's wide. The downside, or one of them anyways, is that it's strewn with debris, including jagged little nuggets of glass. Six months I've been riding Dallas streets without a flat, but I still know the telltale pffffffft of a deflating tire. I thrust out my thumb to a half dozen pickups before giving up. It's two miles and change to the bus stop. I'll just have to hoof it.
4:09 p.m.: Good news: I made it back to the parole office just in time to catch the bus. Bad news: It's the same bus, and it's still having trouble keeping its engine on.
I'm alive but am afraid I won't be able to pick up the kids. Please don't kill me.
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4:45 p.m.: This bus is too crappy to make it downtown. We abandon it in front of a Fiesta and hop on another bus, which is plastered with the same perky used-car girl smiling down, as if to mock us.
5:16 p.m.: Back on the TRE. Over the weekend I finished reading The Power Broker, Robert Caro's masterful account of how Robert Moses, an unelected bureaucrat, kept a four-decade stranglehold on public works in New York City. This morning, I plucked Dickens' Bleak House from the shelf. That should cheer me up.
6:02 p.m.: Victory Station. I would get off and make the round trip back to the office, but no. I'll just add 10 minutes and do the math in my head: 6 hours and 42 minutes. Damn you, Michael Morris.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.