Door to Door
The magnificent, maddening, mysterious World of transportation
Did you know that your Starbucks coffee beans make a 30,000 mile odyssey before they find their way into your cup? Or that UPS saves 10 million gallons of gas each year by avoiding left turns? Or that there are 34,000 traffic fatalities each year in the US alone? In DOOR TO DOOR, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes shows us the hidden world of transportation though the lens of a typical week in car-centric Los Angeles, America’s gridlock capital. But this story doesn’t end in the present day: Humes also reveals the exciting – and amazingly near – future of transportation, which will be facilitated by 3-D printing, delivery drones, and driverless cars. It’s a bona fide mobility revolution. A surprisingly exhilarating read, DOOR TO DOOR will open your eyes to the wonderfully intricate and largely overlooked transportation network that both facilitates and hinders our daily lives – the grand ballet that gets us (and our stuff) from door to door.
"Door to Door is an eye-opening account of the massive physical systems that support our increasingly digital world.”
— Richard Florida, senior editor at The Atlantic and author of Rise of the Creative Class
“Humes takes readers on a million mile journey that crosses intersections of public policy, mega-corporations, local communities, and ends up at the kitchen counter. By looking across an entire system, he reveals the true impact of our consumer-driven, next-day-delivery economy and the (lack of) infrastructure that ties it all together. Door to Door is a must read for those who want to understand and solve the biggest social challenges of our day.”
— Cofounder & Managing Director, Closed Loop Fund, and Former Director of Sustainability, Walmart
“In this groundbreaking work, Edward Humes shows that we could have fast, reliable and incredibly safe transport, if we only had the political guts to choose it. Hopefully, this fascinating work will prompt long overdue changes.“
— Samuel Fromartz, editor in chief of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, and author of the award-winning In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Door to Door Excerpt
So where does our commute truly begin if not in our driveways? More than anyplace else, the starting line can be found high atop the windswept Pacific bluff of Angels Gate where, seven days a week, the most valuable shopping list in America is created.
There, inside the whitewashed, antennae-studded headquarters of the Marine Exchange, a very pleasant, very busy mother of four by the name of Debbie Chavez crafts the Magna Carta of the buy-it-now, same-day-delivery world: the Master Queuing List. With it, Chavez holds the lion’s share of America’s consumer economy in her hands.
If you drive it, wear it, eat it, buy it, drink it, talk into it, type on it, or listen to it, some portion has first passed by Angels Gate. From the morning cup of coffee to the tires on your car to the bike you bought to replace that car to the shoes on your feet and the smartphone in your pocket, all or part passed in and out of the control of Debbie Chavez before it entered your life.
“We do keep busy here,” Chavez observes with the casual understatement of a woman who does something extraordinary so often that she mistakes it for routine.
For generations, Angels Gate has been prized for its coastal vantage point. First came the cannons placed early in the last century to stave off unwanted invasion via the waters below. Later Angels Gate became the ideal spot to track a more benevolent but no less disruptive commercial invasion in the form of a daily, miles-long procession of giant cargo vessels laden with . . . everything.
The blocky Marine Exchange control center’s one notable architectural feature, its ocean-facing picture window, offers one of the great juxtapositions in California topography. To the right is a million-dollar view of sun-dappled waves, the rocky enclave of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and the gorgeous green mountain of Catalina Island in the distance. To the left is a $400 billion view of the hard metal angles and industrial bristle of the twin Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest harbor complex in North America, serving as both barometer and driver of the U.S. economy.
Each day in predawn darkness, Chavez and her crew of marine information specialists arrive at Angels Gate to chart the approaching parade of cargo vessels. Just one container ship can be as long as four football fields laid end to end, with as many as 7,000 giant shipping containers filling its hold and stacked on its deck. At any one time, fifty such ships may be lingering at the dual ports of LA, waiting their turn.
As much as a billion and a half dollars’ worth of product passes through these twin ports every day. Delays can break businesses nationwide and cost consumers millions, interrupting the cornucopia of endeavors the port makes possible: the installation of new air bags in recalled cars, the delivery of the latest computers, the flow and pricing of gasoline, the supply of those all-important silicon chips that are inside everything—from coffeemakers to cash registers to the controllers that keep our traffic lights functioning at hundreds of thousands of intersections. Without that cargo and its timely delivery, all that and so much more grinds to a halt.
Debbie Chavez's Master Queuing List is the essential first step that sets off a well-choreographed transportation chain reaction—the commute to end all commutes….
copyright 2016 by Edward Humes