This is the story about my Craigslist rideshare.
Last summer I planned trips to Portland and San Francisco to attend their annual Zine Fests. They were one week apart. I wanted to drive from Portland to San Francisco via the coastal highway. This was double the length of a direct drive down I-5 South, but a fantastic drive, the main highlights being the southern Oregon coast at Bandon and the Redwoods National Forest. The original plan had not been to drive, but to take the Green Tortoise Bus. In 1997 I once took the Green Tortoise from San Diego all the way to Portland which covered this route. It was cool even if it was too hippie for me, it would be cheap, social, and scenic.
When I learned that Green Tortoise discontinued this trip, I thought I could post on Craig’s List to find a ride, again - not just a ride to SF, but a scenic coastal highway ride. To be safe, I could advertise two separate posts: ‘ride wanted’ and ‘offering ride’.
Meet Ilya. Ilya phoned me in response to my ad 36 hours before the trip. By now, I had managed to get 2 riders at the final hour who would do a partial trip. A girl whose name I have forgotten and a guy named CJ. I had turned into a mini bus myself. Drop CJ off in Arcata, pick the girl up in Bandon. I had a rental car reserved, and everything was set. But along comes Ilya. He calls me on Saturday night, and at first I can’t understand him through the Ukrainian accent, but he seemed to be telling me he was taking the very same trip as me, leaving the same day, and had a car already so I didn’t need to rent a car. And sure, the others could come. All four of us, it could be an adventure! What good fortune. He didn’t sound crazy over the phone, and I assumed the other travelers would be thrilled to save the money. In truth, I felt conflicted. Doing the drive alone with car rental, gas and hotel was prohibitively expensive. Having other riders and being in control of the car and schedule myself was the best plan. But it seemed stupid to pay for a rental when here was a guy going my way and ready to share his wheels. So I said yes.
Me, Ilya and CJ left Portland in his big, fat grandpa car like a Lincoln Continental or something. He bought the car to use while exploring the USA for three months. We started the drive late, at 1pm, and barely an hour into it, both guys got excited about a billboard for hamburgers at the next exit. They pulled over, and then couldn’t find the place. Once they found it, they took their time eating and chatting. Then getting gas. Then talking about the gas. It was nearly 3pm and we had barely started our journey. I re-calculated the arrival time to Bandon, where the girl was already waiting for us.
We didn’t reach the Bandon area until almost 7pm. The girl had been waiting for hours. I felt responsible and awkward. The sun was beginning to set. I sat in the back and began to chat with her, apologizing that we were so late, even though it wasn’t my fault since I wasn’t driving. I was in such a hurry, pressing to leave since Ilya did everything so slowly that when we pulled out of the pick up spot, I realized that we had missed the turn-off for the town of Bandon. I had expected to drive right into it; I could picture the winding road opening onto the coast on my right hand side, and the Bandon Star hostel. I had thought of nothing but this moment all day, and somehow we had missed it. I cried out, what happened to Bandon? But no one knew what I was talking about. We had missed the turnoff and it was on the way to dusk.
Now I was pissed. The little bit of southern Oregon I saw was through thick fog, which only brought the night on quicker. The whole point of this road trip for me was not a cheap ride in a car. I could afford the flight, I could even afford my own car if I had to. It was to see Bandon and the Redwoods in the shining daylight. It was now dark and we were hours away from the Redwoods. Somehow, we just kept stopping the car. Since southern OR had come and gone, all I had left to look forward to was the Redwoods, so I lobbied hard to get a hotel before the CA border so we could actually SEE the trees instead of driving through them in the dark.
We spent a night at the Curly Redwood Motel. Naturally the next day we didn’t hit the road until 10am, and that was only with me barking to get ready and go. I had been the pit boss since the trip started, barking to go, go, go. We missed the only place I had wanted to stop because no one else was paying attention. At this point I was over the pleasantries, and was trying to salvage my vacation. This whole fucking thing, all four of us strangers, were brought together by me. I felt responsible.
We started our drive and entered CA and it was sunny and looking good. It was of course, late, and we were behind schedule. Ilya stopped the car a few more times in the first hour of driving. Ilya just turned out to be weird. Weird in an indescribable way. He would just see something like, a turnout, and just pull over. Or, see something that might be good to look at and come to a lurching halt. In the back seat, we were getting carsick.
And then, the turning point came. We passed a mid-40s Hispanic woman hitchhiking and then our car pulled over. We didn’t know why we had pulled over, and then the girl asked me, ‘are we picking up that woman?’ I would like to point out that the car was full, with 4 people. Also, Ilya didn’t ask anyone. He simply pulled over.
“Are you picking up that woman?” I asked.
He replied, “Yes, I always pick up hitchhikers”.
“Ilya, the car is full!”
“Well, you can move over.”
Me and the girl make eyes. She pulls a jackknife from her backpack for safety. The back door opens, and mutely, the woman gets into the back seat with us. The alcohol smell fills the car. She is pickled. The girl and I make eyes at each other. WTF?
No words have been shared, mind you. To Ilya, this was the most natural thing in the world, to silently pull your giant, used American car filled with paying strangers over and pick up a hitchhiker, making it now 5 freaks in one vehicle.
I had, by now, mentally checked out. This was, the last straw. Or so I thought, until the woman nearly barfing on us trapped in the back seat raised it to a new level. Within minutes of getting settled, this woman, reeking of alcohol as I mentioned, pulls a homemade sandwich from her bag. This, I took as a promising sign that she understood human needs for food. Because otherwise, she was totally loopy. Unable to ask or answer questions, her sandwich didn’t look half bad. A few bites in, she passed out. This cycled for a few minutes of take a bite/pass out, until she began to gurgle. Always on the ready to avoid a vomit scene (this is my only phobia), I had already predicted this could happen. So, it only took a few emitted gurgles before I demanded, “Pull the car over, NOW!”
This was, indeed, the last straw. It was like I was the only thinking person in the vehicle.
Ilya asked, “Is it an emergency?”
“Yes!” I replied, “It’s an emergency. She’s going to puke. Pull over now”.
He pulled over, and I jumped out of the car. I was in control from here on out. To the woman: You have to go. To Ilya: I am driving. Get out.
Ilya had no idea what the problem was. He hadn’t noticed she was drunk, and he apologized for the situation. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he was totally clueless, slow, and unable to command this trip. The other two riders, the girl and CJ, were visibly shaken.
Me, I put the pedal to the metal. We were now flying thru the Redwoods. We weren’t going to stop anymore. Hours behind schedule, the coastal dream was over. I just wanted to get to the Bay Area.
I had already invited Ilya to a reading on Friday night at a Mission area bookstore.
He just was so clueless to my new opinion of him, even though I got ruder as the trip went on. By the time we got to the Bay Area I wanted to be done with him forever, but here he was giving me a ride way out of his way unnecessarily to my friend’s place in the South Bay. When he asked to meet up in SF at my reading, I agreed that he should come to it. I had hoped he would forget or become busy. He didn’t.
I declined to meet him early for dinner and texted I would meet at the bookstore. When I arrived at rock star timing, he was there already. He had come one hour earlier. I introduced him to my friend. He didn’t make any conversation at all. During the pregnant pause I noticed for the first time how one eye was larger than the other. He was a bit of an odd one.
I sat in the back, but not next to him. The host introduced himself and pointed to the readers. I waved. The first reader started. I would be second. Her story did not resonate with me, nor did her style. She read about indie rock shows in the 90s and the kinds of people that would go and places they would take place. Her voice was like, ya know, totally rocking because she was insecure and like, annoying for my age. She kept breaking her role as storyteller to ask the audience, “You know what I’m talkin’ about, right?”
“No. I don’t know what you are talking about”, blurted out in a Ukrainian accent, countered her question. Everyone stopped and looked at Ilya. He was actually heckling the reader. “You keep asking ‘do you know what I am talking about’ but no, some of us do not know. You should understand that some of us are not from this country.” The reader was speechless and you could hear a pin drop. Until she came back with, “Dude, what is your problem? Who is this guy?”
“I am from Ukraine and I do not share your experiences. It is OK but I am sharing with you that you are asking asking asking if we know but NO, I do not know!”
I slink down in my seat. Does anyone know he came in with me? I feel bad for him. His response is innocent and totally appropriate in his part of the world. Why did he have to say it out loud? Couldn’t he have just thought it to himself or saved it for afterwards? I’m up next, and I don’t want everyone hating me. I stare straight ahead like in school when you didn’t want to get called on.
She tried to go back to her reading, but couldn’t. “I can’t finish reading now, this guy just blew my mood. I can’t do this. This guy has to go.”
“You want me to get rid of him?” the host asks. Oh Christ, I think, as I stare straighter and think positive thoughts of disassociation.
“Yeah, I can’t finish this now. He ruined it.” The crowd boos and makes reassuring comments that it will be OK. She will rise again.
The host asks Ilya to leave. He has actually been kicked out of a bookstore zine reading for poor behavior. They go outside, and I’m frozen with fear that he will say something to me like, but I will miss your reading. I make eye contact with him, and then follow them outside. I apologize to the host, and I apologize to Ilya that he has been kicked out of a crummy zine reading. Oblivious as he was when inviting a drunk homeless person to vomit in his car, he asked me if we would meet up later.
“Maybe,” I lied.