metrosantacruz.com
News, music, movies, events & restaurants in Santa Cruz, California from Metro Santa Cruz weekly

Columns
November 23-29, 2005

home | metro silicon valley index | columns | car culture


Cars

Car Culture

Riding With Strangers

As such, it is a great idea to carpool those long distances toward home, if you can. And these days this means taking a ride from a stranger found on Craigslist.org


By Novella Carpenter

NOW THAT IT IS Thanksgiving time, people are feeling nostalgic about those T-days of yore and, against better judgment, have pointed their compass toward "home," the place where you first wet the bed, had your senior prom and suffered your first fender-bender with Dad's middle-life-crisis car.

Why we go back is just as mysterious as the salmon returning to the river where they hatched, except that for us humans, the dicey family dynamics create drama and chaos, when a lonely pile of pebbles would be so much easier. The only thing we can depend on for Thanksgiving is: Traffic's going to be a bitch.

As such, it is a great idea to carpool those long distances toward home, if you can. And these days this means taking a ride from a stranger found on Craigslist.org. Just a quick survey of a few of the major cities Craigslist serves shows hundreds of potential ride seekers and givers all over the country. The ride seekers outnumber the ride givers by 2-to-1. What does that mean for seekers? Let's say it together: "Brown-nosing!" Here's one poster from the Bay Area, trying to get a ride. "I will: pay (at least for gas, more if necessary. It's negotiable), drive (or not, your preference), entertain you with lively conversation (or not, I could be totally silent/asleep if you prefer), compliment you on your choice of driving music." Exemplary.

Ride givers can be grouchy. The burden is theirs. At the same time, they want riders, probably for only one reason—gas money. And maybe some rest from driving, but when's the last time you could relax while a stranger named Ras "One Love" commandeered your automobile? But they are sensitive, too, as I found in this ride offering from Connecticut: "If you don't have anything nice to say, please don't. I'm sick of mean people. Remember: It takes me LOTS of time to pick people up and drop them off at their doors (adding at least an extra hour onto my trip, sometimes more), in addition to the gas and tolls."

On both sides, there's the legitimate fear of wackos-who-might-kill-you. After all, ride sharing is like hitchhiking on email. My friend Naomi regularly ride-shares, and she has two rules she follows when negotiating her ride. One, she talks to potential riders on the phone. This allows her to tell if their voice will drive her crazy or not, and it is the first stage in a psycho-killer-person analysis. Two, she makes sure they don't mention beds. One guy started to describe his van with a bed in back. Naomi hung up.

It's not that Naomi never had a bad ride—sure, she spent time in Oregon with two junior philosophers debating "free will" and the innate nature of man, but she hasn't been killed yet. Final piece of advice from Naomi: Before leaving, she gets the person's name and license-plate number and sends this information to her mother. Don't tell me what any of that will do; it just makes everyone feel better.

Once in the vehicle and hurtling toward Des Moines, all parties should bear in mind that a car share is kind of like an intentional community for a few (sometimes painful) hours. Set rules at the beginning, and you'll be happy. I'm talking about things that will kill a road trip if not everyone agrees: speed limit, smoking, music and temperature of car.

Finally, you must never forget you're still at the mercy of traffic and unsafe driving. These are a few tips to remember while on the road, whether you're Craigslisting it or not.

  • Drivers should be alert at all times. Switch if someone gets sleepy.
  • Try to get all the driving done during the day—it's much safer than nighttime motoring.
  • Drive with the headlights on, even if the Craigslist people think it's weird. It's much safer—headlights make cars more visible.
  • Don't talk on the cell phone. Not only would this cause mutiny on the ride share, the car is still the world's deadliest phone booth.
  • Everyone should use their seat belts.

  • Send a letter to the editor about this story.



    Novella Carpenter is a women not only obsessed with cars, but with protecting the environment. Her weekly column balances these two polar-opposite loves while providing handy tips and car-related news items.