The Last Bus

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Now that I’m back from my travels, I wanted to share an anecdote which I think bears a message about the future.

As almost all of you know, when you fly out of an airport, you’ve got at least a couple of parking options for your car: you can pay a high price for short-term parking, which is close and convenient, or pay a cheaper price for long-term parking, which involves some travel, since it’s well away from the airport. The prices for parking, and the distance of the long-term lot, depend on how big the airport is.

At the San Francisco airport, a day in the long-term parking lot costs $24, while the short-term lot is twice that much. So if you leave for 10 days, you probably don’t want to spend $480 to park your car, so off to the long-term lot you go.

For decades, the way to get back and forth between the long-term lot and the terminal was via a bunch of blue buses like the one pictured below. There were a whole series of these things, each driven by a bus driver, and I always felt pretty sorry for that. After all, driving the same one mile route hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month isn’t exactly nourishing for the soul. But they did it, and that was their livelihood.

As a passenger, I always found the buses to be a drag. You had to wait for them, of course, and the wait could be 10 minutes or so. Perhaps it was raining, or cold & windy. Sometimes the bus might be full, and you’d have to listen to that line which is right up there with “the check is in the mail” (specifically, “there’s another bus right behind me.“).

Once you finally got on the bus, you’d bump and sway from stop to stop. Terminal 2. Terminal 3. International Terminal. Rental Car Counter. Eventually you’d finally get to the long-term parking lot. A bus full of strangers transported from one place to another over fifteen minutes or so. It was a drag for driver and passengers alike, and there were dozens of these goddamned things trundling along all the time.

What a pleasant surprise I got a few days ago, though, when I parked at the nice new parking garage and noticed signs pointing to a thing called the AirTrain. It was new, it was modern, it was free, and I stepped right on it. I was the only one on the entire train. And it silently whisked me to the airport.

There was no driver (why would there be? It only has to start and stop at the designated stations). It was spotless. It was pleasant. What a huge improvement!

Then it occurred to me………..what happened to all those drivers? They lost their jobs, obviously, and I suspect some of them might decide not to bother even trying to find another one. Let’s face it, presenting a Curriculum Vitae with “I drove a fuckin’ bus back and forth” as the most recent entry isn’t going to throw a lot of doors open.

And this, I believe, is a microcosm of the world to come. The past was about human-operated, old-fashioned technologies. The future is going to be about automated, human-less, new technologies. So the people get left behind, and the customers couldn’t be happier. Not because we all hated the bus driver. But because the new way is so much better than the old way.

And, as the years move on, I think millions and millions of people in all these shitty jobs are going to be jobless with no real opportunity to do anything else. And frankly I think that’s a huge problem that society is going to be surprised that it’s facing. Because, frankly, there’s no dignity in being of working age and just sitting around doing nothing.