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A disconnect

April 25, 2018

UPDATE (4.26.18, 2:53 p.m.):

Just got a phone call from CEO Randy Clarke himself and I am pleased to report that things have been entirely patched up. He assured me the entire affair was a major misunderstanding and that whatever message the agency flak conveyed to me was not, by any means, his intent.

Clarke, bless his heart, is apparently a complete Twitter neophyte and thus wasn’t aware that it is a complete cesspool of bad takes, dumb jokes, and occasional nuclear brinkmanship. This enviable innocence combined with what he frames as earnest and exhausting work to whip the agency into shape combined with the communications staff phone game between us apparently led to the breakdown. Otherwise, ain’t no one mad and I still enjoy full access privileges and remain on good standing, etc.

For my part, I advised him that Twitter is a fetid hell hole plugged with living slime that drags everyone involved five or six rungs down the evolutionary ladder.

To be clear: I absolutely accept Clarke’s explanation and totally appreciate his reaching out to me to smooth things over. I take him at his word (repeated several times in our handful of mutually friendly chats since before he even got the job) that he avidly believes in transparency. As I originally wrote, the fellow has brought an obvious new energy to the agency and it seems like some of that is already bearing fruit in terms of incremental improvements. On any dang day of the week, I would prefer that to be the story rather than some dust-up with a dumb reporter and bus rider who nonetheless reserves the right to occasionally tweet gentle criticisms wrapped in recondite theological references.

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Capital Metro’s flak called me on Monday to let me know the new CEO had decided to cut off my access to senior staff. No more sit-down interviews with the top brass, she said. No off the record chats, no background from the technical experts themselves. If ever I hope to again get information from the agency, I will have to accept it from the filtered tap of the paid communications staff.

This harsh decree came in response to what the flak said were several of my tweets from the previous week that the new CEO apparently found untoward. This kinda took me aback since I had been making a deliberate effort in recent months to not clown on our local transit service as much as I have in the past. So I went back through the ol’ TL, diligently digging my way through a billion bad tweets about dockless scooters and such, but never surfacing anything that my admittedly spotty conception of a reasonable human being might consider over the line.

Certainly, I’ve used that snark-lobbing website to lob snark at Capital Metro over the years. It’s kinda hard not to do if  you’re a regular rider. It’s not a perfect transit system, and its direction in recent years has often been baffling at best.

Of course, let’s not forget that the agency itself has tried in the past to give as good as it gets. Last year, one staffer compared me to a spoiled brat when I made an offhand crack about the agency’s bizarre refusal to extend frequent service to a destination-rich gap along its flagship bus line. Capital Metro’s official account suggested that, instead of worrying about functional transit in Austin’s dense core, I simply use an online delivery app.

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We’ve had our fun, the agency and I.

The arrival of the new fellow though seemed to signal a major new shift. Here was a bus-ridin’ badass come to invigorate the agency with a new sense of service-minded purpose. Out of slightly gushing deference, I opted to pull the ol’ punches on Twitter for a minute and let the man get to work.

Even then though, the flak called me last month to warn me that the new boss wasn’t happy with my social media activities. I brushed that off as a misunderstanding between an all-business executive type from the northeast, a degenerate wise-ass writer way too steeped in Austin, and their unlucky Dutch-American interlocutor. Still, I resolved to be a bit more mindful.

Which, well, here we are.

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So seven weeks into the new CEO’s tenure, here’s my report card thus far:

  • Palpable Go-Gettum Energy: A+
  • Weird Reactionary Caprice: C-

Try transit, everyone!

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