Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “carpool”

Seriously Left Coast – The Casual Carpool

It doesn’t get more left coast than this. We congregate daily outside the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stations on the East Bay, standing in two orderly lines of commuters, as the drivers swoop in and pick us up. One line is for people who want to be dropped off in the San Francisco Financial district, and the other near the Civic Center.

In some cars there is a shared silence, listening to National Public Radio, while in other cars the driver might initiate a conversation. Usually, Monday mornings are quiet, and Thursdays are optimistic.

There is a website where protocol suggests the radio station and that the driver should have the prerogative to initiate conversation. You can complain on the website about certain drivers’ abilities, or a passenger who lavishes himself with too much aftershave.

On the passenger’s door of my car there is a magnetic advert for my book, The Accidental Activist. A few times a month someone asks about it, and I have a captive audience of two to ply my pitch. I keep it short, as I feel mildly guilty that they have no escape. It’s a long way to jump from the Bay Bridge, though I would hope that my pitch isn’t quite that excruciating.

Sometimes the discussion might be about politics, a book that the passenger is reading, or the latest performance of the Warriors, Giants, 49ers, or Raiders. It can get intense. I once drove two lawyers who discovered that they were soon to face each other in trial, only because I innocently commented on an NPR story about tenant/landlord rights.

It doesn’t matter what the conversation is, or even whether it takes place. Online networking has replaced the social commentary that traditionally transpired in coffee houses or bars, headphones have cut off the opportunity for spontaneous discussion, and perhaps a greater need for guarded self-preservation has also erected walls.

Still, in a car for twenty minutes a day, three strangers share some time together. Whether in silence, listening, or talking, they are still spending some time together. And in a world of growing isolation, even as people pack into smaller geographical areas, that is a welcomed relief.

But these people took car sharing to another level

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

July 1st – Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 1

And so it began.

The first day where the casual carpool, three strangers thrown randomly together with a joint aim of commuting into San Francisco in the cheapest, most comfortable and quickest way, must deal with the toll booth dilemma.

As of July 1st, the casual carpool must pay $2.50 to go onto the Bay Bridge. Who pays? The online discussion board has been contentious. Some passengers are willing to contribute a dollar. Others won’t. Some will volunteer, others want to be asked. Some object to being asked as it creates a tense feeling in the car.

I have conducted my own informal survey over the last month, and my findings reflect the discussion board. One discussion got heated between my two passengers, a couple of people refused to comment.

So today was the test. Magically as we passed under the tollbooth and my Fast Track beeped, National Public Radio talked about the new rule. Perfect timing. The woman next to me offered her dollar, which I gratefully accepted. The man behind her buried himself deeper in his smart phone.

And so the assault on the last bastion of radical America has begun. Political singer, Billy Bragg, called the carpool lane, the only example of the far left (physically as well as politically). The British Empire (where the sun never set) was based upon the strategy of Divide and Conquer. I believe mainstream America has gone colonist ¬¬… right here in the Bay Area.

It is ultimately a question of values, a question of relationships, but above all, a question of how we fuse our values with money. Talk around the BBQ pit is cheap. Everyone knows what needs to be done to save the world. It is easy until you ask them to foot the bill.

I solicit people everyday for donations to the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, where I work. I tell the story, share the vision, the excitement, the inspiring results, and then when we get to the ask, I taint it by reminding them that their gift is tax-deductible. These generous donors know that. They are likely to be very savvy money managers and business people. This is what has put them in a position to donate in the first place. Do they really need the extra reminder of something altruistic?

As I sat in my car this morning, chatting with the pleasant woman who had offered her dollar, I glanced at the man in the back. He was doing a great job of being oblivious to our conversation, hunched intensely over his little screen.

I wonder what was going through his mind. Was it worth $1? For him? For me?

Have a good day,
Alon

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