The Blog of Ken.

from January 3, 2016


Everyone has their ups and downs. As a contractor, sometimes I’ll have a dry spell. I’m pretty confident in myself, and I work in a really profitable field where I’m usually in high demand, so I don’t usually get too worried if I’m out of work for a couple of weeks.

But a few weeks ago, I was looking at my savings, and looking at my prospects, and I was feeling just a little paranoid about all my bills.

So I decided to forego my Apple Car subscription for the month.

Man, what an eye-opener. People talk about the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. You don’t appreciate the difference until you have to call a Google Car to get around.

Concept by Meni Tsirbas

I mean, normally, with my Apple Car subscription, if I have a regular job, Siri asks me if I’ll be leaving at my usual time. And then when I step outside, the car is waiting for me. The temperature is slightly cool, the way I like it, the seat is reclined just a tad, and my morning mix is already playing on the 10-speaker stereo. My Facebook feed is on the heads-up display. I can talk to Siri and make adjustments to all this as she drives me.

It’s kind of amazing how quickly I got used to it. I’d always owned my own car (hey, I’m a California guy.) The idea that I’d have to depend on someone else for a ride was pretty foreign. “Part of your monthly subscription goes towards ensuring a quick response to your Apple Car requests.” I think living in L.A. helped. They really loaded up the city with cars. The longest I ever waited for a car to show up was 15 minutes. Nowadays, it’s usually around five minutes.

And self-driving. That took some getting used to. I remember for the first month riding with the steering wheel deployed, sometimes almost grabbing it because I wasn’t sure Siri saw an approaching hazard. But she always did. And, of course, the Apple Cars weren’t the first self-driving vehicles on the road. It seemed like less than a year after Apple’s entry (three years after Google’s) it was already rare to see someone physically driving a car.

I’ve been using the subscription service for three years now, and it just keeps getting better. More customizations, more comfortable seats, stereo upgrades, suspension upgrades – they just keep improving the Apple Car.

We’re still in the middle of this huge shift in how people get around. There are still busses on the street, there are still some diesel-powered trucks, but almost all the cars are part of the Google, Apple, or Tesla fleets. None of them use gas. It so bizarre that L.A. is a net-oil exporting county.

Anyway, you all know the history. And I think most of you on my list have an Apple Car subscription. But let me tell you how the other half lives.

So. I had to go from my place in Santa Monica to a theater in Hollywood at around 6p.m. Normally, that would only take half an hour. Since this was my first time using the Google Car app, and this is on an iPhone, not an Android, I thought I should give myself a lot of setup time.

As you know, the big difference between the Apple and Google services is that the Google one is free. And I was about to find out why…

The setup was pretty easy. I told it where I wanted to go, and it told me a car would be there in…

30 minutes.

And the trip would take…

One hour.

One. Friggin’. Hour. What is this, the ‘teens? Okay, well, maybe it would give me time to catch up on some reading.

It’s just not as sexy

So, I’m standing on the curb, waiting. And waiting some more. Finally, five minutes late, the car arrives. The door opens and I am slammed with a wall of skunk. Yes, weed is perfectly legal, but you’re not supposed to smoke in the car (that’s why I prefer Hershey’s.) Of course, since the Apple Cars are by subscription, if you pull that kind of crap, you get fined. I guess Google either doesn’t do that or doesn’t care. I think Apple takes cars out of circulation for cleaning, too.

Anyway, I put the windows down and the car started off. Rather than my music, I was treated to a commercial for Macy’s. The heads-up display didn’t seem to have a browser, just a bunch of ads for relatively local businesses. Yeesh.

I think, like most people, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t normally pay attention to where a car is taking me. But I noticed almost right away that we were not getting on the freeway. That seemed unusual. That was going to add a few minutes to the drive. Of course, all the driverless cars flow through each other at intersections, so there’s really no such thing as a traffic jam anymore.

After trying a few voice commands, I finally got a browser window open (more ads,) and was able to at least get to a couple of websites. It seemed kind of slow, but I was still able to read… until…

The car suddenly slowed, and the entire front windshield became a collection of items for sale at Best Buy. A voice started describing all the amazing specials as the car turned off the street and slowly drove past the front of the Best Buy we happened to be passing (Oh, wait a minute, we actually had to make a couple of turns to get here… The car actually went out of its way to drive me past a Best Buy!) There was a large PRESS TO STOP AND SHOP button flashing red on the windshield. The car took a full 45 seconds to cruise by the Best Buy before finally exiting back onto the street and speeding back up into traffic.

Holy crap. Now I understood why the Google Car was free. These companies were paying a lot of money to Google to re-route the cars past their businesses. And that’s why it was going to take an hour for a 30 minute trip! Sure enough, my Google Car again went into stalker mode outside a Target and a Bed Bath and Beyond before finally reaching Hollywood. Finally!

I had dinner with friends, saw a show, had drinks afterwards (speaking as someone who’s been hit by drunk drivers twice in his life, it’s so cool… there’s no such thing as DUI anymore.)

Once again, I had to wait half an hour for a car to arrive. It was pretty late now, and I was curious as to whether it was going to drive me by a closed Best Buy and offer to drop me off. Nope, they’re smarter than that. I couldn’t even get a browser window up on the screen. I was forced to watch a half-hour infomercial for a truly unique piece of molded plastic that would change my workout routine forever. I could order it right from the car. Not a bad scheme, selling to drunk people.

For a couple of weeks, I put up with the Google Cars until I finally got another contract. My first order of business was renewing my Apple Car subscription.

Some people prefer the Tesla Cars. There’s some variety, and they’re much better if you have to travel a long distance (for example, you can set up a relay where one car will take you halfway to S.F., and a fully charged car will be waiting to take you the rest of the way.) But the subscription fee is a lot more, and the single use fee is pretty high, too. I did use it once to move some equipment (the van carries a lot.) It was pretty cool.

I kind of feel bad for people who have to use the Google Cars now. I remember asking a housekeeper how long it took her to get to work. She said an hour, and I thought she must live way out in Santa Clarita or somewhere. But if she’s taking a Google Car, she probably lives relatively nearby, but has to slink by a bunch of Targets on her way to and from work.

I guess the new world hasn’t really democratized things the way some of us thought it might. There are still haves and have-nots, and someone has to pay for this stuff somehow. I suppose it will still be a couple more years at least before things finish shaking out. In the meantime, I’ll consider myself in good financial shape if I’m not waiting on a Google Car.

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