Vrooom Vrrroomm Part 2
A few years back in France, I learned how to rideshare.
I was on a farm near Perigueux and for 10 days worked side by side in the greenhouses with Emmanuel Richard the farmer, repotting tomatoes, bell peppers and celery, struggling daily with the french language, eating traditional southern french meals with his mother, and dreaming of truffles (Perigord region is famous for truffles, and is known for training it’s female pigs to scent the truffles out).
When it was time to leave, I couldn’t find a train to take me to the next farm on my agenda, 3 hours south of Perigueux. And I didn’t have a car. And no bus. How was I to get there?
Marie, Emmanuel’s roommate, mentioned Bla Bla Cars. Ridesharing.
I was nervous. I found a driver on the website blablacar.fr, going the direction I needed to go, and called his phone number. The first sentence out of my mouth was (in french) “I’m American, and my french isn’t very good.” The driver’s english wasn’t great either, so we struggled together in french to confirm a time and location. We decided on a grocery store I was unfamiliar with, in a town I did not know, in a language that I did not have mastery over.
Bla Bla Cars works similar to many networking websites. A driver creates a profile, including a photo of themself, a description of the vehicle, and personal preferences (music/no music, pets/no pets, etc). Below the profile are all the comments and rating from previous customers. As a passenger, I also have a profile and ratings.
Waiting at what I hoped was the correct grocery store parking lot, a white van pulled up and a young man jumped out to open the passenger door for me. Looked like we’d found each other. I entered the van, looking back at Farmer Emmanuel, and let the driver take me away.
The van hummed along the highway, while we sat silent for a bit. The driver, Abel, offered me coca cola from the liter plastic bottle between the seats. I said no, and the words began to fall out between us, in french and english, of politics, school, and world travel. A few hours later, it was dusk and Abel found the tiny town where I was to rendezvous with my new host. We waited 20 minutes in the darkening gloom of the town square, under the severely landscaped, clubfooted poplars, their trunks and knobs of branches like crippled, upthrust fists.
Abel didn’t need to wait. He could have left me at the square, his end of the transaction complete. But he waited. My hosts arrived, and I shared the code that was texted to me by BlaBla Cars to transfer payment over to Abel. No cash transactions. ( you pay on the website for the ride, and only give the code that is texted to you to the driver once you have reached your destination).
I used BlaBla Cars 4 more times in my 1.5 months in France. It’s 3x cheaper than the train, and 100% more conversations guaranteed with real french speakers. I even tried to use BlaBla in Italy, but realized I didn’t speak Italian as I browsed the available drivers.
Now BlaBla cars is available in 22 countries.
Next stop, not the USA.
‘Why not?’ I ask BlaBla Cars via email. They said they are only pursuing ’emerging nations’ currently.
My guess is US gasoline is too cheap for carpooling to be a real need. And most everyone in the US has a car. Not so in France, UK, or India.
But what if I want to use something other than my own car?