Holiday travelers hitting the road with strangers

In San Francisco, a young woman trying to make it to her mom’s house for Thanksgiving promises to strap on her accordion and serenade any driver who can deliver her home to Oregon.

In Daly City, a man who plans to drive to Los Angeles offers his passenger seat to anyone who isn’t crazy and isn’t broke.

Across the Bay Area, dozens of holiday travelers who eschew Greyhound and won’t spring for a plane ticket are making their Thanksgiving trips with strangers who advertise on Craigslist, the online bulletin board at craigslist.org.

Jeremy Chew, a 25-year-old consultant from Sunnyvale, offered up the extra seats in his Buick Regal for anyone going to Las Vegas over Thanksgiving. Chew placed the ad after putting his economics education to work by doing a cost analysis of the trip. Sharing gas turned out to be cheaper than flying, he said.

Chew acknowledged the risk in traveling with strangers, noting that a highly publicized Minnesota killing remains in the back of his mind. In that case, 24-year-old Katherine Olson was found dead after answering an ad for a nanny on Craigslist. A 19-year-old man has been charged in the crime.

Still, Chew is reassured by his previous ride-sharing experiences. He said once, as a UC Berkeley student, he made friends with some kids from UCLA who took him up on a ride. His only unpleasant experience, he said, involved a fellow traveler dropping pastry crumbs into the crevices of his leather seats.

“I enjoy having conversations,” he said. “I know how boring road trips can be without company.”

To be safe, Chew won’t offer a ride to someone unless they can provide him with an e-mail address tied to their employment. Anyone can create an anonymous identity with a Yahoo or Gmail account, he points out.

For Berkeley resident Gordon Campbell, who posted on Craigslist looking for a ride to Portland, Ore., ride-sharing was practical.

“On Greyhound, you get a small, very hard seat. You’re not able to lay back and it’s $80 for a ticket,” he said.

Sharing a ride with a motorist going his way, Campbell plans to offer $35 to $50 in gas money.

“It’s more relaxed and you meet new people, but the biggest thing is price,” said Campbell, who is a student.

Lt. Marc Alcantara of the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department is not a fan of the practice.

“I have a college-aged daughter and I would strongly discourage her from doing that,” he said. “As a father, I’d have a long sit-down with her.”

Alcantara said it’s difficult for a private citizen to do a reliable background check on the person with whom they’re traveling.

“I don’t think there’s a safe way to do this, because you just don’t know,” he said. “I would strongly discourage it.”

tbarak@examiner.com  

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