Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rideshare People

I have become a rideshare addict. I am not talking about local commutes to and from work but long-distance rideshare, through the border and across the states. It is how I arrived in Massachusetts this week from la belle province, Quebec.

Why would anyone make arrangements to travel with a complete stranger in an unknown vehicle for hours at a time, to a faraway destination with no guarantees of safe arrival? And yet it happens, all the time and everywhere, in the world of rideshare.  And if you do it often enough, you get to know the best and most trustworthy drivers, saving yourself time and money and needless inconvenience.   The particular rideshare driver I normally go with has become so popular he now has a waiting list.  He offers a comfortable ride in a large, roomy car with heated seats, plenty of room for luggage, choice of music, and captivating conversation. One meets the most interesting people on these rideshares and we exchange books and emails and food.   Plus you only pay a third of what it would cost by bus, and even with three rest stops we still get there in record time.

Ridesharers also often tend to be WWOOFers and Couch Surfers as well.  A WOOFer is a person who signs up to voluntarily work on an organic farm anywhere in the world to gain experience in farming and experience working and living in another culture.  Couch surfers exchange free housing accommodations among members traveling in 230 countries. 

How does one find a rideshare and how safe is it really?  One popular source is  Craig's List, a site for classified ads worldwide.  If you want to sell a refrigerator, rent an apartment, find a job, etc., you can look here first.  There are, of course, the usual risks re: scammers and one should definitely be cautious.  I found my regular rideshare driver on this list and have used several others as well and have never had a problem. 

An unusual thing did happen, however, when we crossed from Quebec into the U.S. at the Vermont border.  I presented my new Canadian passport and the border guard asked me how long I planned to stay in the U.S. and how I planned to return to Canada.  I said "one week or so" and that I didn't yet know exactly how I was going to return--by rideshare if I could get a ride, and if not, by bus.  This answer, however, was not acceptable.  I was informed that I could not enter the U.S. without proof that I wasn't going to stay there forever.  In other words, I'd have had to have had a return bus ticket back to Canada or a definite, verifiable plan of exit from the U.S. before I was allowed to proceed.  All foreign nationals have to be able to prove they're not coming to stay permanently.  But I'm an American citizen, I said.  "Prove it!" the guard glared at me.  I had presented a Canadian passport and so I fell under the "foreign national" category.  Luckily I had also brought along my American passport.  I was almost tempted to remark to him that there may actually be more people trying to leave the U.S. these days than those wanting to get in, but the border is no place to express one's personal viewpoint.  Trust me on this.

I was given a lecture by the border guard on making sure I had that American passport with me on any future trips because only Americans with "red, white and blue blood" (he actually said this) could be allowed in to stay indefinitely.   A student rider in the seat behind me, who was from Alberta, who also did not have a return ticket by bus, was told to come inside for further questioning.  She was finally allowed to proceed into the U.S., with a warning that next time, please be able to show proof of your intent to return back to Canada. As many times as I've crossed this particular border, this is the first time I've ever experienced such an intimidating encounter.  There are two ways to ask for documentation at a border: one in which you ask politely, and another in which your tone screams "PROVE to me you're not a terrorist". The latter tone insures that persons might think twice about visiting the U.S. to go shopping or to see the sights. So much for winning the hearts and minds of future tourists.

Some officials seem puzzled by the concept of rideshare, finding it bizarre that a group of people who don't really know one another, are all traveling together--A Swiss, an American, an African, a Chinese, all in the car together, complete strangers.  It's downright--subversive.  Or that is the impression one gets from the expressions on their face when they ask: "How are you people related to one another?" and you say "We're ridesharers."

So I don't know, at this point, how or when I'm getting back to Canada next week and it may end up being by bus, which is a minor hassle as they make everyone get off the bus at the border and go in, one by one, to be identified and the luggage searched.  I find it amazing that there is no one who speaks French at this particular Vermont border, which sits right next door to a French-speaking province.  Everybody on the French side is bilingual.  One would think they could hire at least one person who speaks French on the American side but I guess that's just too difficult to find and employ such a person.  I'm just saying. 

We had a mini snow storm yesterday.  Everything outside is all white and beautiful.  Only about a half foot of snow but the trees are thick with it.  Back home we have four times as much and it is permanent, till April.  This will all turn to mush and slush probably in a few days, then disappear.  Today we are taking the bubs to the Science Museum to look at dinosaur bones and tomorrow we will go see Alvin and the Chipmunks. 

Oh to be a kid again, ha ha.

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