Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Hitch a ride from DC to New York - virtually!

I travelled up to New York on Memorial Day weekend to visit my adorable friends Rikhil (who was staying with his boyfriend in Queens for a few weeks before going to India for the summer and then starting a political science PhD at Stanford) and Roberto (a gargantuan-ly eclectic philosophy grad student who lives on the beach on Long Island and just finished teaching his first college philosophy course). Naturally I left any decisions about transportation to the last minute, and after spending a few minutes staring grimly at the Chinatown bus website and recalling the pervasive smell of chemical cleaning product mixed with very unclean bathroom that had indelibly marked my last trip, decided to try the craigslist ride share.

I hope never to take the bus again.

I corresponded with a number of people and ended up with 2-3 choices both for the trip up and back. All of the people I spoke to, when mentioning their motivations for offering a ride, didn't mention a desire to defray the cost of gas, but said something along the lines of, "I make this drive all the time, because I have family/work in New York, and I thought to myself, what a shame that this car is always empty. It's so wasteful. And the bus is so uncomfortable."

On the way up, I was picked up at my door by Salid, who had graduated from college a year ago, was working in DC and had moved houses, and was driving up a few extra pieces of furniture to his parents' house in Boston. He agreed to drop me off in Queens on the way up to Boston, but there was one caveat - he'd already offered a seat to Baht, a Turkish engineering student. He was driving a minivan, with all the seats in the back removed, and one of the pieces of furniture he was taking up to Boston was an over-stuffed armchair - in which I could sit. On the way to pick up Baht, Salid and I had an interesting conversation about his time living in the Netherlands when his father, a college professor, was on sabbatical. I regaled him with my admiration for the dynamic Dutch bikers. The conversation dropped off, though, when Baht replaced me in the bucket seat and I moved to the armchair in the back. It was like sitting in a very tiny living room during a low-level earthquake, which is, in fact, quite comfortable. I slept for most of the way up, waking only to give Salid directions to Rikhil's front door. I asked him how much to chip in for gas, and he said, "Well, five dollars? Maybe ten..." I gave him fifteen.

On the way down, I went with John - an older guy working for the Defense Department and driving a green truck. The departure was slightly less convenient, since he asked me to meet him at the Newark PATH train station - but he also dropped me off at my front door. I gave him $20 for gas.

John had spent a lot of time in the military, which seems to feed into a certain personality type which I haven't had much experience with, but which is so distinctive that I can easily recognize it nonetheless. Some markers of this worldview/character include an obsession with efficiency, a preference for "straight talk" and a highly developed loathing for B.S. or insincerity, high respect for loyalty, and even higher respect for courage, sacrifice, and determination - as well as a slight complex about the fact that "regular civilians" both do not understand the rigor and intensity of a military lifestyle, where every decision might influence human lives, and disrespect that lifestyle, even while lacking the strength and determination to succeed at such a lifestyle themselves, should they want to. I've never spent much time with military types - most of my friends are more along the lines of absent-minded professor/ organic vegetarian/ tree-hugging/ /bohemian, and if you handed me a gun, my first instinct would be to use it in an art installation. Nonetheless, I do have a lot of respect for military men and it was refreshing and illuminating to chat with John and have some of my steretypes dispelled - a two-person, in-car version of the One Big Dinner.

John worked in the propaganda division of the Defense Department. His job was to communicate good things about the US to the Arab world through newspapers, radio shows, and various other forms of media. And he was very, very, very bitter about his job. "How am I supposed to say that America's good when I get no support from military leadership following my words up with actions?" he demanded. When I mentioned that my dad used to work for the World Bank, he said, "It's a good thing he doesn't work there now, because I believe that its new head, Wolfowitz - alongside Rumsfeld and Cheney - they should all be hung from the nearest tree. Those men have blood on their hands."

John volunteered at the Red Cross hospital in Virginia - he used to be an army medic - and he said that Iraq casualties were more than 50% larger than official statistics, because the Army shipped mortally wounded soldiers back home. When soldiers die in US hospitals, they aren't added to the official casualty statistics.

To sum up: the bus and the train are for suckers! Hitch a ride on craigslist,* and you get a high likelihood of door-to-door transportation, a comfy seat in a car, and conversations with the type of person who travels between DC and New York and is willing to offer a ride to a stranger - which, as it turns out, is a very nice type of person indeed.

*Yeah, I don't know, I guess a psycho serial killer could get you in their car and rip you off. But honestly, there are so many other ways that a psycho serial killer could get you. Living in a city, you interact with strangers all the time. It just seems like such an inefficient way to get someone. Besides, I'm a big believer in scoping someone out based on their writing style and what they choose to mention. My gut instinct hasn't ever led me wrong, when I've been willing to listen to it. There's a chance that arranging a ride-share with a stranger will get you in trouble. There's also a chance that you will live a boring life during which you'll never take any risks, and then you'll die and turn into dust.


Blogger Le Bas Bleu said...

Not to be a worrywart - but is there enough identifying information there to get John in trouble?

2:31 PM  
Blogger Michael Tyas said...

I'm going to try and hitch a ride from LA to San Diego.

6:12 PM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

Perhaps there would be, le bas bleu, if his name were John... but even if it was, I don't think so ;)

7:24 PM  
Blogger jon said...

Looking for new apartments I saw a post similar to your at this craiglist detroit site. Its wild how they are about the same thing!

have a great day!!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Help me Dude, I'm lost.

I was searching for Elvis and somehow ended up in your blog, but you know I'm sure I saw Elvis in the supermarket yesterday.

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He said to me (his lip was only slightly curled) "Boy, you need to get yourself a shiny, new plasmatv to go with that blue suede sofa of yours.

But Elvis said I, In the Ghetto nobody has a plasma tv .

Dude I'm All Shook Up said Elvis. I think I'll have me another cheeseburger then I'm gonna go home and ask Michael Jackson to come round and watch that waaaay cool surfing scene in Apocalypse Now on my new plasma tv .

And then he just walked out of the supermarket singing. . .

"You give me love and consolation,
You give me strength to carry on "

Strange day or what? :-)

10:57 AM  
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