Epic journey: 24 hours and 2,000 miles for a Moto X

A behind-the-scenes glance at what one journalist, Crave's Eric Mack, was willing to go through to get his hands on a review unit of one of the season's most-hyped gadgets.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Expertise Solar, solar storage, space, science, climate change, deregulated energy, DIY solar panels, DIY off-grid life projects. CNET's "Living off the Grid" series. https://www.cnet.com/feature/home/energy-and-utilities/living-off-the-grid/ Credentials
  • Finalist for the Nesta Tipping Point prize and a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Eric Mack
6 min read
It was a long journey to reach this moment. Eric Mack/CNET

Before I get into the details of how I came to hold a Moto X in my hand at this very moment, let's address the elephant standing right over there. The reality is that I have this review unit because I'm a tech journalist writing for this site and others (which also means I don't get to keep it). But that doesn't mean the journey I took to acquire a sample of one of the most hyped new phones of the year was a simple one.

It all started the day after I returned to my home in northern New Mexico from a two-week trip visiting family in New York. That's when I got a message from Motorola asking me if I'd like to attend the unveiling and have a hands-on opportunity with the Moto X in a few short days... back in New York.

Naturally, as someone who has been covering Android for years and reporting specifically on the Moto X for months now, I was intrigued. I probably wouldn't have gone too far out of my way for many other new phones, but I've carried Motorola phones for years now, and it seemed that there could be something big brewing in the new Moto-Google fusion. I convinced another site I write for to pay for my flight in return for a few articles and a review of the Moto X (CNET already has plenty of staff and an office in New York).

I should note that it's not entirely unusual for tech journalists to fly in for a day for events like this, but there's something else you should know about me. For most of this century, I've lived in really small mountain towns with populations of less than 1,000 people. I spend plenty of time in big cities and love to visit my favorites (most of them on the West Coast), but New York in steamy mid-summer is not my ideal vacation, especially twice in one month.

I was thrilled to be back in dry, quiet New Mexico after those first two weeks in New York, and now, to get my hands on a Moto X before the masses did, I was going to have to go right back into that loud, congested sauna that is the Big Apple in summer. And due to other commitments at home, I was going to have to get from New Mexico to New York and back in just 24 hours.

With apologies to my road-tripping CNET colleague Daniel Terdiman, this sounded like the technology travel challenge of the season. In the spirit of many a great cheerleading movie, I decided I was going to bring it.

Mission impossible, until now
There was no need to spend hours scouring travel sites for the best flights. Until pretty recently, accomplishing my Albuquerque-to-New-York-and-back mission in a single day would have likely been impossible without access to a private jet or top-secret hyperloop line. My lone option would be a relatively new direct JetBlue red-eye flight leaving Albuquerque at midnight and arriving just before 6 a.m. New York time.

After recharging my -- and my devices' -- batteries, I took in a lovely early morning view of the Empire State building from New York's High Line. Eric Mack/CNET

I made the two-hour drive to the Albuquerque airport that I had passed through on my way back from New York just one week earlier and headed for the now familiar JetBlue gate. As I boarded the flight, I looked for blunt objects to smack myself on the back of the head with to ensure I would get the maximum amount of sleep out of the 3.5-hour journey. In the end, so as not to upset any potential air marshals onboard, I opted instead to purchase a pillow ($6? really?) from the flight attendant.

The landing and car ride from New York's JFK airport to Manhattan went surprisingly smoothly, despite traveling at the onset of rush hour. I found myself in the Chelsea neighborhood at 8 a.m. with four hours to kill before my appointment to meet with Motorola's CEO and head product guy (along with a room of about 20 other journalists).

My stomach shouted for coffee and a bagel, my brain urged me to pull out my tablet and review my research, and my tablet yearned to be plugged in, but every other part of my body was screaming for more sleep. Fortunately, I was standing underneath one of the rare places in the city that could provide all this in a somewhat socially acceptable manner on short notice -- the High Line.

Where the historic railway-turned-greenbelt passes over 10th Avenue, there's a sidewalk cafe and a small mini-amphitheater that overlooks the avenue. And the best part of all -- free electrical outlets on the bottom row. I claimed a bench, plugged in my gear, threw my airline pillow down, and proceeded to take a nap, hobo-style, as the traffic underneath me rushed towards Midtown.

Wake up, ya bum!
An hour later, feeling refreshed (and a little self-conscious about the increasing foot traffic on the High Line), I walked the length of the High Line toward the site of the Moto X hands-on. I set up shop in a cafe next to a guy who happened to be wearing Google Glass. He had also come in for the Motorola event. Of course, he had only come from Brooklyn.

The rest of the afternoon is a blur of specs, voice commands, and colored back panels. So many colored back panels... and is that real wood? I won't bore you with all that again since you can find the full scoop here.

Before I knew it, the afternoon was over and it was time to head back to the airport. Ironically, I now had a Moto X in my possession that should have been able to help me navigate myself back to JFK using only my voice, but I was unable to find a quiet enough space to train the touchless controls to the sound of my own vocal cords.

Not quite a tree growing in a Brooklyn, but still worth the trip. Eric Mack/CNET

So I swiped and tapped my way to the best route, which ran through the bottom of Pennsylvania Station, connecting me to the AirTrain for JFK in just about 30 minutes.

One overpriced airport burger and an hour delay later, I was on my way back to Albuquerque in the rain, which had mercifully kept Manhattan cool most of the day. I landed back in the Land of Enchantment at 11:40 p.m. local time, 23 hours and 50 minutes after I left the same gate the previous evening. I had accomplished the impossible and defeated geography itself.

Zero Dark Katy Perry
Outside, Albuquerque was quiet. Quiet enough to finally set up touchless control on the Moto X.

What followed was too much Red Bull and driving the remaining two hours home while singing Katy Perry songs with a humiliating amount of enthusiasm and asking my Moto X how long it would take me to just keep driving to Fairbanks, should the Red Bull never wear off. (Only 60 hours, if I could drive non-stop.) It was quite an embarrassing episode that I vowed to myself never to share with anyone.

Oh... whoops.

By the time I finally arrived home, I was on the verge of hallucinating, and beginning to become slightly insecure about the tone of voice my Moto X was taking with me (can a phone be passive-aggressive?). You better believe I slept in the next day.

So yes, technically this is all part of my job as a freelance tech journalist and it's a pretty sweet gig, so I'm not complaining. Besides, you might say, people spend nights camping out on the hard pavement just to get their hands on the latest iGadget, who cares if some hack had to take a couple of plane rides and sleep on a bench to get hold of a cool new phone?

A valid point, to be sure. I just wonder how many people would still camp out or make my 24-hour journey for a phone knowing that they had to send it back in a few weeks? I know I would do it again. Given my obsession with bleeding-edge mobile devices, I can't resist a whirlwind adventure with gadget gold at the end of the trail, even if it's a loaner.

Sure would be nice if the next big press event is held in Maui, though... (Hint, hint, Mr. Cook.)