With Bird scooters about to be pulled off Cambridge streets, I decided to set one free
The Boston police officer took a long look at me cruising by on my squeaky scooter.
“I think I’m over the weight limit, haha,” I said, trying to break the tension as I rode very slowly up Comm. Ave. on Thursday. Bird scooters are banned in Boston. I was in a forbidden land, and my journey had only just begun. I couldn’t get caught already.
The officer paused.
“That,” he said, “is so cool.”
You’re right, officer. They might look nerdy, but Bird scooters are cool: dockless electric scooters with an accelerator on one handlebar and a brake on the other that you can grab, scan with your phone and ride all over town for a dollar, plus 15 cents a minute. Ride one once — I did on the day of their surprise debut in Cambridge a couple weeks ago — and you’ll be hooked. I believe the technical term is “fun as hell.”
But Bird may be too fun. Cambridge and Somerville, where the service rolled out with no warning or municipal go-ahead, have vowed to start removing the scooters as early as Friday.
If Bird was about to become extinct, then I was going to do my best to preserve one of these endangered creatures by riding it all the way home to Quincy, out of the reach of Birdnappers.
Call it the Flight of the Con-dork: I was going to set a Bird free.
But first I had to find one.
For something supposedly cluttering the sidewalks to the point of becoming a dangerous nuisance, Birds are pretty elusive. Searching in Kendall Square after a midday meeting, the first two closest scooters on the Bird app’s map were gobbled up by other riders in the time it took me to walk to their locations (in fairness, Kendall Square is approximately the size of Rhode Island at this point).
Finally, the app came through. My sleek, matte black chariot was waiting outside a parking garage on Landsdowne Street. I pointed my phone at the QR code on the scooter and it unlocked. Battery life was 98 percent — and the temperature outside in the sun felt close to that. I hopped on.
Riding a Bird scooter is surprisingly intuitive, and on just my second ride it already felt quite natural. I had initially hoped to avoid riding through Boston — the app warns that it’s a no-fly zone, though it’s unclear why, exactly, or what penalties that might carry. I planned to just cut through briefly, avoiding law enforcement and alighting in Brookline.
But right off the bat, my Bird was squawking a little. Nothing too egregious — just a little squeak squeak from one of the wheels as I cruised up Mass. Ave. toward Central Square. I’d plotted my route to make good use of bike lanes for comfort and safety, so I turned onto Western Avenue and made for the river.
The squeaking was getting louder. By the time I’d walked the Bird over the BU Bridge pedestrian path that’s still open during construction, it was starting to sound like the Bird was full of actual birds. No matter, the construction noise drowned it out as I made my way past the impressed police officer.
Already, though, the Bird seemed to be transforming into a penguin. Riding uphill was becoming arduous — considerably slower than even walking. This may be a weight problem, and I’ll let you decide whether I’m talking about the scooter.
I checked the scooter’s battery life: It was down to about 65 percent, and I had many miles to go — particularly if I was going to avoid Boston. With Officer Awestruck fresh in my mind, I decided to take the most direct route, soaring through Roxbury and gliding down Neponset Avenue and over the river, all the way home.
But my Bird journey was the migratory equivalent of a Canada goose stopping for a drink on a nearby golf course and taking a golf ball off the temple. By the time I rode past the Angell Animal Medical Center in JP, I thought someone might hear the terrible animal howling now emanating from my poor scooter and charge me with cruelty.
I pressed on, stopping to trudge up hills on foot because the scooter couldn’t handle the load.
Riding down Quincy Street, it felt like all of Roxbury came out to give this hulking nerd on a toy scooter the side-eye.
“How fast does it go?” a kid yelled as I rode fatly toward Adams Street.
“Not very,” I said. I had the accelerator pushed all the way down and still had plenty of time to have a whole conversation with this group of teenagers. “Maybe 15 miles an hour.”
“Hit that wheelie!” another kid said.
“I can’t!” I sputtered back.
I also couldn’t really stop for a sandwich, which had been my plan: My phone battery was long dead, and without the app there’s no way to lock the scooter. Could I have lugged the thing into a deli? Probably, but even I am not willing to suffer that indignity. Plus I was one Pastrami-on-rye from snapping this thing in half.
Soaked through both my shirts, I caught sight of the Neponset Avenue Bridge. But my Bird started to balk. As I coasted down into Quincy, I could feel the accelerator give out. The bird’s battery was giving out, but she’d brought me far enough. I hoofed to the North Quincy T station and jumped a Red Line train going south.
Luckily, the train wasn’t too crowded: I rolled it onto a car with plenty of room. But as soon as the train started moving, the Bird somehow resurrected itself and started emitting a series of angry beeps. I looked out the window and pretended I didn’t realize the beeps were directed at me.
By the time we got to Quincy Center — our stop — the wheels had seized up, the Bird unable to connect to my now-dead phone to unlock it. The Bird wasn’t just flightless, it was completely immobile. I hoisted it up over my shoulders and climbed the stairs, wearing my beloved machine like a yoke.
Slathered in sweat, lugging a 25-pound scooter across my shoulders as it beeped frantically, my Bird had become my albatross.
I trudged home and propped it on its kickstand in front of my house. Twelve miles. Two hours and 45 minutes. About $25.
Come and take it, Cambridge. This Bird wants to be back with its flock.