Douwe Osinga's Blog: The Mind of an Engineer on a Bus

Sunday, June 27, 2004

The Mind of an Engineer on a Bus

Reverse engineering is only feasible because engineers in general don’t like waste and illogic designs. So, things build by engineers in general make sense and that helps when you want to take them apart or fix them. If you think hard enough about how you would have designed something similar, chances are you’ll understand the thing you’re fixing a little better.

To some extend it is the same thing with traveling. On Wednesday I found myself drinking beer with a face-painting billionaire, on Friday I was sitting on a dirty bus filled with overweight minorities on their way to a second rate casino destination, all with their own plan how to beat the system. It’s like the guy said, the rich are different, they have more money and presumably can allow for some air sprayed tattoos instead of plotting the fall down of Reno.

Anyway, things started to go wrong around Stockton. It was not so much that I missed my connection, but my driver decided that my connection took too long and I’d better come with him to Stockton where another bus would take me to Merced. It did but I arrived slightly over two hours late. My parents who I had hoped to meet there presumably had given up waiting and the bus station was empty. Now, in a poorer country one would expect to find some cheap hotels around the bus station, since people on through fare usually don’t appreciate enough the fineries of better hotels to spend a lot of money on it, but the US is too rich and too car dominated for that. Motels sort of fill this niche, catering for people on the move and they’re relatively cheap, so I set out for that weird strip build part of town full of shopping malls, car repair places and indeed Motels. Cheap turned out to be relative, but that’s what credit cards are for.

The next day I spent relatively efficient looking at some of the beauty that Yosemite National Park has to offer, but I decided to cut my weekend short, not so much because I had seen everything, but because accommodation inside of the park was tight and getting in and out an hassle. Now, I had no idea whether there would be any connecting services from the local bus to Merced and if so at what time, but the time table had a weird irregularity. The buses always went first to the Greyhound bus station and then to the Amtrak train station, except for the last one, which first went to the train station. Now, I knew that Amtrak sold tickets that included the ride with the local bus all the way to Yosemite, so there could only be one reason for this: if the bus would first make its loop through Merced and then end at the train station, people would not make their connection. So I got out at the train station.

Lo and behold, there were lots of people waiting for a train in the right direction. How smart I am, I though until I discovered that this was only because the train was late. Would it have arrived at the right time, I would not have made my connection. And the irregularity in the bus times? Simple. They park the busses at the bus station, not at the train station, so the last run ends at the bus station, just as the first one starts there.