An App Request
I am late to events about 90 percent of the time. Dinner with friends, appointments, meetings. I hate this about myself. When I was younger and more beholden to their schedules, I loathed my mother for her persistent tardiness, and admired my dad for always being 15 minutes early everywhere (how they saw their way to marrying each other when they undoubtedly showed up to their first date at least 45 minutes apart, I’ll never be sure).
This shouldn’t be as hard as it is, because I have apps, so many apps, that tell me how long it takes to get everywhere. Citymapper, Google Maps, Apple Maps, EmbarkNYC, Transit, and Tunnel Vision have all cycled through my phone, plotting the most efficient train transfers and paths to take, telling me how to get anywhere in the minimum amount of time possible.
Or maybe these apps are exactly the problem. Any time Google Maps sketches out and timetables my next journey, it’s telling me how long it will take to get somewhere if everything goes perfectly: all the trains are running on time, I make every transfer, no one blocks the doors for a full minute at each station. When Google Maps tells me that, in a completely perfect world, getting from my house to the East Village by 7pm will take 32 minutes, I leave at 6:30. I’m never on time. This is obviously stupid of me, but why blame myself when I can blame an algorithm that expects me to be as ruthlessly efficient as it is.
What I, Casey Johnston, terrible and usually late person, need, is an app that tells me the longest possible time it will take to get from A to B. Tell me how long a trip will take if I get to the train station just as the train car’s door closes in my face and it pulls away from the station, the next train arrives a full scheduled bracket later, and the same thing happens for every transfer I have to make.
So to take a Google Maps journey as an example: I want to get from the heart of Bed-Stuy to Box Kite in the East Village. The next G train leaves at 7:16PM, and it takes 8 minutes to walk the 0.4 miles there, so Google tells me to leave my starting point at 7:08. I get off the G at Metropolitan Ave to switch to the L at 7:22. The next L comes at 7:26, allotting me exactly 4 minutes to complete the estimated 3-minute walk within the station. The L picks me up and drops me off at 1st Ave, where I get off and walk the remaining 0.4 miles in 7 minutes to arrive at 7:39pm and complete The Perfect Journey in 31 minutes.
Here is reality: I leave my house whenever, it takes 8 minutes to walk to the station. I arrive at the turnstile as a G train is pulling away, so I have to wait another 8 minutes. The G arrives. I hop on for a 6-minute ride and then off at Metropolitan, where, due to poor station design and shambling commuters, it takes me 5 minutes instead of 3 to walk to the L platform. I arrive again just as an L train pulls away. The L comes every 4 minutes, so I wait again, hop on for an 6-minute ride, hop off, and walk the remaining 8 minutes to complete the realistic journey in 45 minutes. 45 minutes is as long as the journey can take, given bad luck of arrival times, transfers, and a slow-moving crowd. That 14 minutes equals a 45-percent longer commute; even if I’d managed to be maximally conscientious and left 15 minutes early based on that 32-minute estimate, I’d still be just barely on time.
So, I want to be lied to. I can’t do this math every time in my head. I need to be told 45 minutes; only a robot could be told 31 minutes and not be late.
In reality, an app that can give this estimate probably wouldn’t fix anything and I’d still find ways to leave at the time I should have already arrived. But at least I could project my self-hatred onto other chronically late friends by telling them they really ought to download it.