I sometimes realize far too late that I was being uptight about something that probably wasn’t really that big of a deal. Like when my wife and I first became parents, for example. Sure, it was rough when our kids were babies and cried a lot and none of us slept much. But I probably would have been better off if I’d been a little (or a lot) more relaxed about the whole thing.
Another example is electric scooters. I hated these things at first. It didn’t help that my first impressions were of people buzzing up and down the same sidewalks where I went to walk and clear my head on breaks from work. Or the friend who almost got knocked over in front of the library. Or the old lady outside my office who got frightened by a scooter and thought she was going to have a heart attack. I already hated it when people rode bikes on the sidewalk. And now the same thing was happening with an app-controlled vehicle, unceremoniously dumped on our previously pristine sidewalks by some nebulous tech company? How dare they!
I complained about scooters to co-workers, posted sarcastic things about them to Twitter, even got caught in a mega-Tweet thread including Bike Walk KC, the editor of the Pitch, a Kansas City Star reporter, the city’s official tourism outlet, and several anonymous urban advocates. I am the John Henry of scooters, I declared to any and all who would listen, and I will die with an analog Razor in my hand.
But then something funny happened.
I tried one.
I was on my way to an arcade bar in the Crossroads, the kind of utopian millennial enterprise that I could have only dreamed about as a kid back when this street, and much of downtown, offered us nothing to do. I saw a couple friends tooling around on scooters in the parking lot by the Kansas City Star building and said hello. “Wanna try?” one of them asked as he hit the break and dismounted.
I immediately tried to show off, realizing quickly that turning was a bit trickier at this speed than on my trusty Razor, which, if I’m honest, hasn’t really been all that fun since I graduated middle school. I did a couple laps and returned it to my pal, impressed as he snapped a picture to verify that it was out of the pedestrian right-of-way.
I downloaded the Bird app that same afternoon, just in case. Like the idealistic teenager whose commitment to staying away from drugs or sex is swiftly derailed when they actually get a taste of the good stuff, my moral certainty about scooters was beginning to crumble.
A few days later, I unlocked a scooter at Berkley Riverfront Park, taking turns riding with my wife and kids. With its new condos on one side of the park and new dog-park-meets-bar, Bar K, on the other, Berkley Riverfront Park is as good a symbol as any of Kansas City’s improved livability. Scooters didn’t create that, but they do feel very in sync with today’s more populous and less sketchy riverfront area.
For the first time in a while, I felt OK in the new Kansas City. You still won’t catch me Juuling or wearing airpods or holding my phone perpendicularly toward my face while dusting Poke bowl bits off my corporate vest, but I also don’t think I’ll be so quick to judge new behaviors that appear weird to me at first.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still get upset if someone runs a red light on one and nearly causes a car wreck, which I’ve seen more than once. But I also still prefer an alert scooter rider to a distracted pedestrian (almost a redundant term at this point). And it’s not like scooters will replace biking or walking, since they’re pretty different things. More importantly, scooters are everywhere now, so the sooner cities and individuals can adapt, the better.
So I’m not quite sure I necessarily owe scooter proponents an apology, since not liking them was genuinely how I felt at the time. But I do feel obliged to admit that I’ve changed my mind, that I was a bit harsh, and that it feels good to let those prejudices go in favor of enjoying a harmless ride through a friendlier and much livelier downtown than the one I grew up in.
The scooter thing was never really that complicated. They can be annoying or look dumb if you’re not the one riding, and if you are, it’s a much different story. But what’s been interesting for me is to examine how prejudices can sink in and calcify if left unchallenged. If I had tried out a scooter a year ago instead of last week, maybe I would have lightened up a lot sooner.
Then again, some people have to figure things out the hard way. So until there’s an app that helps prevent me from getting crabbier as I age, I’ll do my best to keep an open mind.