When I was a kid my dad had a 1960’s white over green Volkswagen bus.
It certainly came in handy with four kids (I don’t count my oldest sister Anna, who had run off and eloped at that point). But it also came in handy in another way. My dad used to run a carpool with some of his co-workers. I’d like to say it was done in the spirit of cutting down on air pollution, but the more pragmatic truth is he looked at it as a way to bring in extra cash to support his large family.
Nowadays, our most sacred personal spaces – which also represent our biggest financial investments – have been put on the payroll as inanimate employees, money-making machines.
I’m talking about the hundreds of thousands of people making a buck by opening up their homes and garages to strangers through services such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and VRBO.
I applaud their entrepreneurship, and am all for finding more independent means to make a living. I just haven’t fully grasped how our society has evolved to the point where it’s the norm to share so much of our coveted personal space with strangers.
Wrapping up my latest business trip in Dallas, I scheduled a Lyft ride from my hotel to DFW airport. Once I engaged the app, a photo of a smiling middle-aged woman popped up along with the make and model of her car, and how many minutes away she was from my hotel (only three – sweet!).
On-line transport services are super convenient and certainly inexpensive. The same 11-mile drive by taxi would have been almost double what my driver Linda charged me to ride in her own car. However, there is a non-monetary price to be paid. I have noticed that many of the drivers I have had are super-chatty. They are quick to regale you with their life story in a 20-minute transport. The stories although poignant to them, are much the same, and not exactly NY Times feature story fodder. I’m usually coffee-deprived and tired on business trips, or focused on the task to come, and so not feeling terribly chipper.
By the time Linda had dropped me off at the airport (after missing my gate exit the first time because she was so absorbed in reciting her personal history) I knew that she had an 89-year-old father whom she lived with, her mom had died the previous year, and she was (happily) divorced.
Maybe it’s just because these are the kind of personal tidbits I only share with people I have known say – at least for a 100 miles – but it seems like ride-sharing is also a license for over-sharing. But then again, if I am someone like Linda who likes to talk filter-free and is friendly, opening up my car and life in a business venture makes all kinds of sense. After all, she has a steady stream of fresh fares to tell her stories to ( I can only imagine everyone at the family picnic has heard them several times before).
Ridesharing is a billion-dollar industry. One source reveals Uber rides over the past five years have traveled a distance equivalent to a round trip to Saturn (bulk up those snack supplies, Linda). I say this because Linda had gone to great pains to make her car as homey and home-like as possible. She had complimentary snacks and water in the back seat for my transportation pleasure, although they were hung over the seat in a shoe-bag type contraption that knocked against my knees. A flower-covered journal with pen was perched on the side of the front passenger seat headrest in the event I wanted to jot down a personal recollection to share with future travelers, much as you would see in the lobby of a B&B:
Buffy and I truly enjoyed our stay in the back seat of Linda’s Ford Fusion! The protein bars were superb, and seatbelts did not choke or bind in the slightest! (Smiley face)
And this sharing of personal space extends beyond the garage.
Before I got married some years back, I was talking to my brother on the phone, basically bitching about the fact my future husband wanted us to move out of my cute, albeit small lake house into his childhood home. I really loved my little house, and did not have the five-plus decades of good memories growing up in just one home as he had.
My brother, never one to mince words, stated tersely, “do you want a marriage or a house?”
It took me back a bit. “A marriage, of course,” I mumbled into the phone, rather petulantly. I’ve posted before how my current house (back on same said lake) is both my private sanctuary, and since James’ death, akin to a well-appointed coffin. But it’s my coffin.
And nowadays, more that 50 million people use Airbnb to find that “at home” experience at someone else’s sanctuary. I have benefited many times from booking these online “home away from home” places which are certainly less impersonal and less costly than most hotels. Yes, I’ve had ‘nary a bad experience – if ‘nary means “almost” no bad experiences.
A recent trip with friends to Vermont to a rustic and charming farmhouse was enjoyable, and only blighted once we had left the premises. We spread out our things in the comfy den and settled into our own bedrooms. The house was owned by a cheerful young woman and her husband, who were new to the rent your home biz.
On the ride back to Connecticut the next day, one of my friends shared that the night before she had encountered a few antennae-wiggling creatures in her room. There were even more in our shared bathroom, she revealed. (I won’t say what they were, but it sounds a lot like ‘sock- coaches.’) “Eeeewww!” Was my immediate response, nearly driving us off of the snow-slicked road.
Once home, I shook out all of my belongings on the back porch to ensure no uninvited, non-paying guests dared move into my private abode.