Great Barrington — Who is this guy, nicely dressed, in cream-colored button-down sport shirt and khaki pants, standing along Alford Road on a Sunday afternoon with his hand up giving a V sign and holding a sign that said “Williamstown”?
That’s what John Whalan of West Stockbridge was wondering as he approached the figure just above Simon’s Rock College.
“He looks like he needs a ride,” Whalan recalled thinking. “Wait, that’s Chip Elitzer.”
Whalan picked him up. And thus made history – of sorts.
This was Chip Elitzer’s first try at using Ride$hare, his program – endorsed by the Great Barrington Selectboard and Police Chief William Walsh – of saving fuel by encouraging drivers to pick up riders – and be paid for it. Fifty-cents for the first five miles. He wants Ride$hare to become a widely accepted way for those without cars — or who don’t want to use their car — to get to work, to events, to the store. He calls it “spontaneous carpooling.”
And Whalan, a filmmaker (Black Ice Entertainment) and president of CATA (Community Access to the Arts), became the first to offer Elitzer a ride. And maybe the first driver in the county to engage in Ride$hare.
In this instance, the Ride$harer was heading to Williamstown to attend a party hosted by the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
“The timing was right,” Elitzer explained. “But I had to insist on paying. The drivers who picked me up thought I was just someone needing a ride, so it was more like old-fashioned hitch-hiking.
On the Ride$hare web page, he said, there are pre-designed signs to destinations around the Berkshires. All a prospective Ride$hare need to is print them out.
“We have a lot more education to do to support the program,” he said. “If everyone would have accepted payment, it would have cost $11 to go to Williamstown and back, about 12.2 cents a mile.”
It took him one hour, 50 minutes to get to his party in Williamstown; about an hour and a quarter to return.
He got rides almost at once, in most cases.
“It was almost instantaneous,” he said. “The longest wait was in Pittsfield at the corner of Barker Road and Route 20. That was about 15 minutes.”
But Elitzer said he found the experience “an adventure. It’s a blast. And a lot of fun.”
“You meet so many people,” he said. “It confirmed what I remember from my student days, that by and large, the drivers who pick you up are those who are empathetic to someone who isn’t driving a car, maybe because they know what that’s like.”
And based on this one expedition, he’d guess that it’s easier to get a ride in rural areas than in urban ones.
“I think there’s a crowd mentality in a city environment,” he speculated.
Still, he wants to promote Ride$hare not as a gesture of generosity but rather as an opportunity to recoup some of the cost of driving.
“I want people to do it for mercenary reasons,” he said. “For the program to get really successful, most drivers should respond because it’s to their financial benefit.”
Elitzer kept a log of who picked him up.
Besides Whalan, who dropped him off in West Stockbridge, he was given a ride by “Joe – he’s unemployed — and his son from Rhode Island, just spending time at his brother’s vacant cabin.”
They deposited him at Bartlett’s Orchard on Swamp Road.
He then got a ride to Route 20 with Paul whose brother is manager of Hot Harry’s in Pittsfield.
Then he lucked out. He was picked up by Jim, a fellow trustee of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, who took him to Williamstown.
On the way back, interestingly, he was picked up by Leland Kent, owner of the Brick House Pub in Housatonic, and Sara Brown whose sister Bridget runs Berkshire Flower in Pittsfield. The pair were heading to the Brickhouse.
And why did they pick him up?
“I was curious about this guy who didn’t look like he would be hitch-hiking and I wanted to ask about his sign. And coming from a family of 14, I figured the more the merrier,” Sara said.
From the Brick House, Elitzer got a ride to Division Street, but he didn’t find another ride to go the last short leg to his house on Alford Road – a mere three miles.
Wanting to get home before dark, he called his wife, Cindy. She retrieved him.
And thus endedChip’s first ride.
“I’m going to use it whenever I can make it work,” he said.