The American to European license Part 2

Nearly two years ago, I went on at length about the process of exchanging a driver’s license from one of the US states to a country in the European Union. I focused specifically on Croatia as, given you can’t exchange a license from the US to a Spanish one but you can in Croatia, where I’m a citizen, it seemed the easiest option. Go back and thoroughly read that post to answer all the initial questions.

Naturally, in putting this information out there, I was then sent many emails asking about specific instances in specific countries. To answer all of these questions here and now: I simply can’t as I don’t have nearly enough time in the day and even if I did, I don’t know your specific instance. Mine was transferring a California license to Croatia and then to Spain. Honestly, even if you are in a situation exactly like mine, the route may be a great deal difference. This kind of bureaucracy is like nuclear fusion: we don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s theoretically possible.

I seem to get more questions from people residing in France than anywhere else, which is bizarre given that they seem to accept exchanges with more than half the countries in the world and a great number of US states. So, if you want to know about France, I’m really of no help, but what I can do is outline a few aspects of EU life to help you understand and formulate your plan of attack.

You can only reside in one place at a time

If you’re an American in France and you decide to go to Croatia to do this exchange, it won’t work. You must be a resident of Croatia in order to exchange your license. This makes sense as the idea is that you’ll be driving in Croatia if you’re living in Croatia, thus the stipulation.

If you think you can just pop down to register, you can’t. Well, let me rephrase that as you might be able to, but it will catch up with you later. I know this as once I did the exchange (see below) it sent a red flag to Croatia that I wasn’t residing there. While I had had the intention to actually stay for awhile, it didn’t work out and I should have renounced my residence there, which I’ve now had to do after the fact.

Trying to be a resident in two countries within the EU can cause you potential tax, insurance, and legal status problems. Don’t do it and honestly in this day and age with everything linked up, I doubt that you’d be able to.

You can only have one EU driver’s license

This makes sense as the EU is an interlinked body wherein what you do in one country is considered to be something you do in the entire EU. For some stupid reason, I still have to register a tax filing number for pan-European business instead of just using my Spanish one as-is, but when it comes to the driver’s license, you can only have one.

After the fact, I understand this. In the middle of things, I didn’t which is why it took me so long to deal with exchanging my license and in getting a ticket from an traffic cop on one of Madrid’s confusing as hell ring roads where I was using the GPS, he informed me that Spanish law had changed and you needed to exchange an EU license from one country to that of where you reside within six months of being there. Don’t quote me on this as it could have changed.

All along I’d thought, sure I’ll just go and get the Spanish one, then I’ll have two EU licenses and if I have some problem in Spain, I can just show the Croatian one and try to weasel out of a ticket as if I was a tourist. It doesn’t work like this. When you submit the license to exchange, they send it back to the original country both to validate that it’s a real license and also to destroy it. Once everything is confirmed, then the new country issues you a license and, to quote Highlander, “there can be only one”. If at some point I were to move to live 100% in Croatia, I’d have to exchange my Spanish license back to a Croatian one.

Tread lightly

But that’s pretty much it. The system is well in place now and there really aren’t too many loopholes. All told, this has been a bit of a pain in the ass for me to do, but doing the entire test would have been much the same and probably then some. Ultimately, I’m very happy to have the correct license for the country I live though as I don’t have to worry about fudging it with the cops if I’m pulled over (like many expats I know who live in Spain) or then if I lose it or my wallet gets stolen, it’s just a matter of going to nearest police office to get another one.

I wish you luck in this and again, it’s purely idiotic there is no official exchange system in place between the US and the EU. Maybe once ID laws get together in the US this can change, but my guess is that we won’t see any movement on this front until at least January, 2021.

We’ve been here before and it was funny then

For some time I’ve found myself generally quiet on the personal writing front. A good deal of this is because the professional writing front has taken up a great deal of my time. Then of course there’s the Georgian wine book that’s just now gone off to the printer. Writing a book is a taxing, intense occupation that takes you into a deep dark hole, filled with words that are never exactly what you want but at some point you must be happy with them, given that you must get out of the hole. Coming back after time away, you of course realize it’s much better than you’d thought–hopefully.

But more than this and being distracted by imbibing ungodly amounts of cheese, the change of presidential administration in the US has put me ill at ease, like most any sane person I would assume. How did we actually get here? How did this man, who was (and I assume still is) an unabashed racist, sexist, sexual predator, crook, megalomaniac, and quite possibly traitor become the president of the United States of America, the oldest democracy in the world?

Most say that it’s because he represents a refutation of both main political parties. In this I definitely agree and while in no way would it excuse voting for him, I can understand the thought process some people went through in order to arrive at the polling station and cast what was essentially a protest vote. It was a similar thing in the UK with Brexit wherein people thought it would just send a statement to the powers that be. It did and now the UK is paying for it with a depressed currency and what will soon be blocked access to the common European market.

But it’s more than this as there have been protest votes in the past. The most recent that I can think of being when Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California in that circus show of a special election. That he was re-elected in a normal election made for a lot of personal head scratching but I digress as in Schwarzenegger’s case, he was a reasonably normal human being that was in the right place at the right moment.

For the current president it goes back much further and no I’m not talking about the one-off line on The Simpsons in which Lisa has become president in the future and mentions that they had a mess to clean up; I do pity whomever the the 46th president will be though. And no, I’m not talking about Carlton’s infatuation with the current president on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I’m talking about Back to the Future II from 1989.

In this film, we are shown a dystopian version of 1985 wherein Biff Tannen has gained control of Hill Valley solely due to winning endless sports bets. He runs his fiefdom with unchecked power and apparently in another version of the script he’d managed to take over most of California.

It seemed far fetched back in the 80s that such a thing could happen, but here we are, 28 years later and well, it happened. Look at that screen capture from above. Does that remind you of anyone sitting in the Oval Office (or Mar a Lago if it’s a weekend) at the moment? Of course it does. And let me emphasize that it wasn’t just this bit in that film, but a succession of cultural references that eventually embedded themselves in the American psyche to think, “Him? Sure, he’s not that bad. Straight shooting. Does what he says. The criminality of his business dealings? Well, you don’t get ahead without breaking some eggs along the way. Really embodies the American Dream.” You can really fool the masses every time with that last bit.

And so it would seem, that the eternal question has been answered and it is life that imitates art. Now that this conceptual art exhibit called “Modern America” has opened, who knows how it’s going to close and if Marina Abramović shows up, I’m going to see if I can get hop a ride on one of Elon Musk’s fancy rockets.

Exchanging an American driver’s license for European

hr-license

If you’re an American who resides in the EU, what you’re seeing with this current refugee issue you will see or have already seen on a personal level when it comes to driving legally. There simply is no cross-European policy on how to exchange your American driver’s license for one that will allow you to drive legally in Europe. The only thing that most countries seem to agree upon is that you can drive legally with your license for up to six months. I don’t really get the reasoning behind this as it seems you will kill untold scores of people in this time due to not understanding roundabouts after which then they think you should probably get a legal license. Countries also seem to differ as to whether this six months applies when you’re a legal resident. And then there’s also the issue that say I’m living in Spain as I do and I cross in to France, is it then legal for me to drive there as I have “just arrived”?

It’s due to this quagmire of “What the fuck?” that most Americans I know living in the EU often don’t bother getting a license in the country they’re residing in. Again, if you happen to be in Spain, you can easily pull the “Uh, no hablo Español” bit and they’ll probably just think you’re an idiot tourist, bitch at you for not having a translation of your license and send you on your illegal way. I knew one guy living in Barcelona who had done this for something like 10 years given that if you have recent stamps in your passport, you can pretend that you’ve just arrived.

Eventually, the walls start to close in though and this guy I bring up as an example had his moto impounded and was slapped with all kinds of fines to the point where he never, ever drove and started work on getting an actual Spanish license. He failed both the theoretical and practical tests several times before getting one.

At this point, most people ask, what about the “International License”? That is a piece of shit and anyone who tells you differently should be thrown down a flight of stairs whenever possible. People would never shut up about this thing as no one really gets that it’s just for tourism and only acts as a translation of your original American license. Make no long term plans with this. Well okay, so why didn’t this guy just exchange his license for a Spanish one? And here we get in to the meat of things.

Spain does have an exchange accord with all the countries of the EU as well as some others in North Africa. But it has no exchange system in place for any license from an American state. I repeat, American license, no traslada a España hombres. If you think you can pop up to France to make an exchange, no beans there either, although if you go to Congo, pay $60 USD for their license you can (or at least could) then exchange that for a French license. And it’s a similar problem throughout the rest of Europe although I’ve read in Germany, certain US state licenses can indeed be exchanged, just not California from where I hark and have driven for over 20 years–yeah, I’m that old.

So if you can’t exchange your license, what do you? Simple, you start from square one, go to the stupid driving classes, take the theoretical test (it’s available in English now) and then the practical test. It costs something like 1000€ when all is said and done though. Of course the ironic thing is that as long as you have legal residence in the country, you can indeed buy and insure a car in your name but then you can’t legally drive it. Viva España…

This being Europe, there are many grey spots in how this is implemented and it turns out that you can indeed exchange an American license in Croatia of all places. There are however several catches to this. The biggest one being that you need to either be a citizen as I am or then an actual resident. But, even if you are a citizen, you still need to be residing in Croatia in order to apply for both the license as well as the national ID. And yes, you need the national ID (whether as a citizen or resident) before you can get the license. And… there is of course more you need which is all outlined here (this is an archive, don’t know the current one) and not available in English so I’ll sum it up:

  • Your original license (this is be surrendered upon acceptance of your application)
  • Translation of your license (more on this sack of spaghetti poo below)
  • Certificate of medical fitness (again, below)
  • A single photo size 30×35 mm (make sure to tell them it’s for the license not the ID as they’re different parameters and if you wear glasses, have them on in the photo)
  • 70 kuna in government stamps (you buy these at the post office, they’re some antiquated thing like apostilles, the Republican party, or family meals during the holidays)
  • Proof of payment of 151 kuna (regular procedure), or 200 kuna (accelerated procedure) by means of payment in the police department or station, slip or via internet banking, the IBAN is HR1210010051863000160. (you pay this at the post office, which is often in the police station or damned near it but you only do it after you’ve started applying)

So, let’s chat about a few of these things as they differ a helluva lot compared to what you do in the US. First off, a couple of words of warning. First, you need to do all of this in the region where you reside. As I had to sorta do a “triage” residence, I did it in Pula. Your kilometerage will vary but at each decent sized police station, there should be someone who speaks English as absolutely none of these forms will make a lick of sense. Even for native speakers they have archaic terms that give one’s face a touch of “What the fuck…?”

There is a cottage industry that has grown up around the police stations in Croatia to meet all the needs of things you need to do there. Within 100m there should be a place to get photos, a post office to pay fees if it’s not already in the station (as it is in Pula), a doctor’s office to do the physical, a copy shop (you will pay and make all copies), and a legal translator. There are probably some decent fast food/burek shops as well since one or two days will be absorbed in this operation. I think I wore a groove in the ground around the police station with how many times I had to go back and forth.

So first, the translation. This isn’t a big deal. You find a translator who will do from English to Croatia, give her/him a copy of your documents and pick them up a few days later. I can’t remember the cost per sheet but it’s not terrible. I think you might need a translation and copy of your passport as well. I didn’t as amazingly, my Croatian passport is in Croatian.

The real issue is that on a US license, it says, “Class C” for the type of license; at least in California. In Europe, this the classification for heavy trucks and instead it needs to be “Class B”. The problem is that you can’t tell them, “Hey look, it’s a Class B, no problem, right?” Croatia is descended from Yugoslavia and you need forms and so you have to send a copy of your license to the US Embassy in Zagreb to then have them send you a letter that looks like this which explains the difference. Do this at least a week ahead of time or it will slow you down. It was only this letter that stopped me from completing all of this in one very hectic day.

The medical certificate is a bizarre thing. The physical part makes sense as they do this all over Europe as honestly, there was no reason my 90 year-old grandfather should have still had a license and be legal to drive. It’s a reasonable thing to do. The mental part is a bit odd though as I guess they’re checking to see if you’ll go agro on the road or something. At the police station, they’ll give you a list of the offices nearby to do this. It’s not cheap though at 600kn or something as it takes less than an hour. Do it as close to getting your license as you can since it can’t be older than six months.

But that’s about it. There are a number of forms I had to fill out which my friend helped me with and you should do an Istrian wine tour with if you’re in the area. But even if you pay the “expedited” fee, you won’t get either the ID nor the license the same day as you would in say, Spain. They send everything to Zagreb for processing and takes something like two to three weeks. In the meantime you get this little stub of paper that you can’t lose as you need to present it when you go back to pick up your documents.

But eventually, after about 1,500kn (maybe $200 USD max) that’s it, you’ll have a license that you can use to drive anywhere legally in the 28 member block of the EU. Of course if you reside in another country eventually you’re supposed to exchange this license for the license of that country but you have until the current license expires to do it. Again, one of those weird grey spots and few bother doing it.

Myself or others could probably charge for this service and so you might ask why I’ve taken the time to outline all of it for free? The simple reason is that the current system is stupid and people from the US should be able to exchange their licenses for any EU country in which they reside. I asked countless Croatians how to go about this and no one really wanted to help except eventually my friend in Istria who also had to renew his own license otherwise this would have wasted a lot of his time. And don’t think that Americans driving in Europe are going to be some huge danger. Despite the fact that the tests are leagues more difficult in Europe to get the license, much as in the US, people still drive just as shitty regardless.

View Part 2 of this article if you want to learn a bit more.

There’s a douche in my shower

shower

As I’ve only really been an avid traveler for the last 12 or so years (when you live in California, every direction for many hours is still the United States) I never knew how it used to be to find a hotel in that pre-internet era. Even booking places in Croatia in 2004, I used email to make it possible as opposed to making an international phone call and attempting what was then, horrible Croatian. But in the last few years, basically since I’ve been hopping on planes, finding a place to stay has radically changed.

What everyone dedicates endless bytes to these days is what is being called the sharing economy to which I quote, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Any time I “share” something, I’m not charging the recipient and vice versa. I’ve seen much written about this, but I’ve never seen anything written by anyone who has actually been active in what I deem to be the three biggest lodging websites of this new way of traveling, so let’s take a journey together.

Hospitality Club

No matter what revisionist history any little Silicon Valley “disruptor” feels like espousing, Hospitality Club was truly the first popular website that was devoted to helping travelers. Started in 2000, it was brilliant. Sure, the interface was clunky. Yes, the website was buggy. But, it did what it needed to do and it helped people find hosts around the world.

Why did it work? First of all, there was no interest in money as there was no company behind the site, just a German fellow who liked to travel. And this is a key cornerstone to its success as the concept of hosting others has been alive and well basically forever in Europe. It’s illustrated no better than by this story about a couple in Madrid who hosted countless people over decades for free who only knew about them because of word of mouth.

This was similar to why Hospitality Club worked well because before the age of social media, people only heard about it from others who had heard about it from others. When people toss about the term “viral” this is what it really is. I heard about it from a girl in Croatia that I met via some other travel website and was showing me around Zagreb as I already had another place to stay. I joined in 2006 and everyone I met through the site (I hosted several in San Francisco) had also heard about it in a similar fashion. It was at its core, the most altruistic extension of hospitality that is endemic throughout most of the world.

What screwed this site was fame. It started to get articles on other travel websites and people arrived who just saw it as a free place to get a room. Membership exploded but not in a good way as it was all takers and few givers. Trying to contact people in well-known cities like Paris, Rome, London, New York was all but impossible as hosts were inundated with requests. I hosted who I could for awhile, but one French girl who asked to stay with me for three days that turned in to a week and ultimately was just so that she could find a sublet in San Francisco without paying for a hotel beforehand really, really turned me off. And then of course there were the groups of Russians that would spam me. A group of four or five would ask to stay in my place that I had emphatically stated could only host two at most. I checked out.

It appears that many others did as well given that shortly before writing this, I logged on for the first time in years to find the forums full of, “How can we save Hospitality Club?” given that it is now a digital ghost town. This is a pity as for me, it was the first and best travelers’ network there was. I don’t know where everyone went ultimately although initially there was an exodus to our next stop in the digital lodging safari.

Couchsurfing

Initially I was really turned off by Couchsurfing primarily due to the name as it came across as douchey, but also due to fact it was an obvious copy of Hospitality Club made by an American in 2004 with the idea of “cashing in” on something that really wasn’t about money. The interface was slightly better than Hospitality Club initially and I finally gave in to join the website in 2009.

Immediately the vibe was different. I can’t even remember if I hosted anyone. I don’t think so as all I ever received were essentially spam emails from the start like what I was finding near the end of my days with Hospitality Club. There were one or two people who I showed around San Francisco but they didn’t leave reviews. Trying to ask to be hosted was impossible given that if you were a guy, nobody returned your emails no matter how much time I spent writing to anyone.

This was and I suppose is the second biggest problem with Couchsurfing in that it became a dating and hookup site which was gross. I’m sure that no one will ever lament finding some hot foreigner while traveler and having a sweaty fling with them, but that should be a very nice, secondary plus to using the site as opposed to the immediate first which is to meet fellow travelers via hospitality. I knew several lonely guys in San Francisco who were always hosting only girls and it was solely with the idea that there was a potential hook up in the works. Naturally it never worked out and only continued to creep up what was already a pretty sleazy site.

Then there was the money. Couchsurfing apparently failed in its bid to get non-profit status in the US and given that, it became a for-profit enterprise. This doesn’t work terribly well when your product is created by your users and is based upon a actual sharing, non-monetary concept. Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been cashing in on advertising because they’re only creating a medium to communicate while Couchsurfing is nothing without people donating their time to host and put on events in various cities around the world. Sure, they beefed up the website and supposedly put controls in place, but the cost was too high for those who were passionate about the original mission of the site that was lost once venture capital came in to place.

They kept pushing the “more” concept and essentially encouraged people to spam members to find places. They ignored the community, failed and Couchsurfing has gone the way of Hospitality Club in that there is very little activity other than spammy hosting requests. It got annoying to the point where I shut off hosting and haven’t been back since other than to log in a few days ago to see yet another redesign that doesn’t really interest me.

In all fairness, a lot of the reason that both Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing tanked was the fact that they were promoted as these ways to travel the world “completely free!” Lonely Planet, amateur travel writers, and the like did a great deal more to bring about the demise of these two systems than anything else until a much more capitalist-driven approach to hospitality rolled in to town to truly pound the nails in to their respective coffins.

Airbnb

So as the story goes, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia came up with the idea for Airbnb while in town for a conference… stayed on air mattress… yadda yadda. I believe very little of this as their story sounds so incredibly rehearsed (and is proven to not be a true representation of the current company) that it gives the sheen of someone having written it once it became clear that the company was going somewhere.

Undoubtedly, Brian and Joe had tried to crash somewhere in San Francisco with Hospitality Club or Couchsurfing first and upon getting turned down, turned to desperate measures. The fact that no other similar site is ever mentioned in the company’s founding narrative (and I have yet to find people listing an air mattress to pay to sleep on) has long made me suspicious that they saw two websites that were going nowhere and a light bulb with a dollar sign filament lit up.

I joined the website in 2011 as I saw a level of control that was completely devoid in both Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing but it came at the cost of this being a fully commercial, for-profit enterprise and no matter how many times people write up Airbnb as part of the “sharing economy” it is absolutely not. If this site was considered to be an example of people “sharing” extra things, then you would have to lump temporary storage in there as they rent you “extra” space as well and maybe airlines who happen to be flying somewhere and sell off their “empty” seats and maybe restaurants who happen to be cooking up a dinner and see fit to sell it to someone because they have “spare” tables. This is not sharing. This is selling and there is nothing wrong with that, but call it what it is.

I’ve used Airbnb a bit over the last three or so years. It’s convenient (although definitely sporadic in quality) in that I can rent a room in someone’s house and it’s cheaper than a hotel. In theory they’re not using the room or only part time and so renting it out makes sense. They aren’t sharing it in the sense of if they were on Couchsurfing. They’re selling the space and that’s fine with me as long as it’s legal and I have pretty much always only rented rooms although hosts are often super flaky and I’m stuck renting out a full apartment which then is nearly the same as a hotel.

chesky

But here comes the problem with Airbnb. How the majority of people rent isn’t legal and if Airbnb was to kick all of these scofflaws out, it’d have no listings. Airbnb being viewed as this amazing “disruptor” technology is disingenuous. People are renting out their places specifically when their lease says that they can’t. I know this because of personal experience, friend experience, neighbor experience, etc. Why is this the case? Simply because people think it’s a great way to make side money fast. But it all comes with a massive, horrible price not to mention the occasional weirdo.

The Local Problem

Airbnb and other rental websites like it are destroying the culture of cities around the world. Oh, but how can this be if there are people just wanting to share (for money) an empty room that they have? For starters, this isn’t the case. I briefly tried this in Barcelona as I had a lovely 19th century flat in the center with a spare room that I only really used to put the clothes racks in sometimes. Otherwise, it had two spare beds and a fantastic view of Mercat del Born. Yes, my lease did not allow for any kind of subletting but I thought, ah why not? As I found out, “why not?” is always the introduction to an idiotic story that follows.

I had two guests during the six months that it was listed and both were from Germany. One was an okay guy who was just popping down to Barcelona to run around and photograph places although he stayed out all night and woke me up when coming home drunk. Okay, fine, annoying but Barcelona is a fun town, so understandable. The other was a sociopath who was weird, stole one of my towels, constantly saturated my internet downloading who knows what, ate my food in the fridge, and left the dirty dishes afterwards. Both had good reference reviews on Airbnb, so quality control? Meh.

My problem was similar to everyone’s in Barcelona in that those of us who live there are generally broke and so a lot of people have hopped on the rent-a-room/make-a-buck bandwagon. Being that as it may, the market is flooded and you can probably only get 20€ a night for your room if you’re a relative unknown on the site. This makes it not really worth doing now that Barcelona is really cracking down on illegal renting with massive fines (Spain loves a good fine.) Also, renting a room is quite difficult as most people (namely Americans) want to rent a whole flat so that they don’t have to interact with with the hosts which defeats one of the supposed reasons to use Airbnb in the first place which is to meet fellow travelers. So you get in to a bind that is solved in one of two ways.

There are many people in Barcelona who are signing leases on several places at the same time and then renting them on Airbnb. I remember very well seeing the face of this one guy on the site who had four different places that he rented in my neighborhood. Or personally, there was Seville where I stayed in November in an apartment that was the former apartment of one half of a couple. They moved in together but this guy kept his apartment to rent out on Airbnb because he was making “good money” by doing it although the listing paints it as still being his actual place. So, he’s taken an apartment off the rental market in doing this while operating what is by all means an illegal hostel.

The other typical situation is that you live in a place that you then put it on Airbnb and whenever you have a guest you go crash on a friend’s couch. An English woman with two kids I knew did this because she had a tough time making ends meet. And then there is the most egregious example I linked to earlier of a guy who rented out his place to then crash in his office.

So on the one hand you end up with a profiteer who is taking rental properties off the market and creating an artificial housing shortage, not to mention creating tourists ghettos where no locals live which is what the center of Barcelona has become for those who haven’t been. The rental price of apartments go up across the whole city (I paid 800€ a month which should have been more like 300€ in a sane world) and you end up with people like this English woman who has to upend her family and be homeless just to afford rent.

Is this just? Airbnb’s response is much like any other “disruptive” website in existence these days in that they’re just the medium, a conduit that charges a rather excessive transaction fee for introducing like-minded parties. What people do is by their own choice. To which I say, sure, in theory we always have “choice” in the Free World but whereas taking a taxi is generally not necessary to live, a place to stay is.

After watching Chesky’s extremely rehearsed, terse replies to Stephen Colbert from which the above shot is from, I’m sure that he’d love to say, “Look at all the advantages we’ve given people! Travelers can avoid the monopoly of hotels! Locals tight on cash can make a few extra bucks!” This is of course the skin deep analysis of the problem. There is the issue of paying city taxes, legality, quality control, safety, destroying the lives of neighbors, and other aspects, but what I’m witnessing in Barcelona is exactly the same thing that’s happened in San Francisco, London, New York, and Paris in that these cities are quickly becoming hollow shells akin to Venice and what the tourists are saving in not paying for hotels, they’re losing in not having the city that they’re visiting actually exist anymore.

But this hand dusting of the situation as is really the biggest problem. If there wasn’t Airbnb or Homeaway, there would be others, all with the same mentality that cultural aftershocks where they operate are not their problem. To this I say, what if you were to invent a website called assassinator.com where regular people could sign up to kill someone for others looking to job out the deed? Still not a problem? Sadly, I almost feel that in this day and age it wouldn’t be and TechCrunch would give it their biggest “disrupt” accolades to date for taking criminal mafias out of paid killings and making it accessible to everyone who needs to off someone.

The only place I’ve seen Airbnb work well is in Croatia. But that’s because there was already an excellent system of legally renting rooms in private homes and you can still find it today when you hop off at a bus or train station or just by wandering about looking for someone holding a sign that says, “soba”. My guess is that most anyone you stay with will take down your passport information as in Croatia to not do so is a serious crime. Spain, Italy, France? Never been asked and probably never will.

Now we call people who create things like this, “entrepreneurs”. But despite its multi-billion dollar valuation, just a few years ago, we would have called Airbnb and the like, “thieves”. More than money though, they’re robbing every last one of us of what it means to travel as they have systematically quashed the websites that traded on the original spirit of traveling and hospitality. And all of this, in pursuit of the glorious IPO.

The Bigger Problem

Silicon Valley and their solutionism industry are like a bunch of hammers viewing nails literally everywhere. Have a computer? Coding skills? Then you can solve world hunger! Except that you can’t and when you take hospitality which is as pure and simple of an embodiment as the Golden Rule as you’ll find, dress it up, put it in the cloud, and start charging for what was done originally via good will, you completely and irreparably destroy it.

As I get older and staying with friends gets trickier due to their having kids I, like most all of us am left with few options. Given that Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing have died off and Airbnb and the like have become so entrenched I’m stuck having to use these services and thus be party to all the ills that they create. My only other option is to stay in a fully licensed, tax paying hotel which is what I was already doing 10 years ago. So tell me, what kind of travel revolution is that exactly?

Hope comes in odd dollar amounts

s

I’ve just returned from a short jaunt to the US in my home state of California. It had been nearly two years since my last trip and it might be something I’d do more often were it not for the fact that no matter how I fly there from Barcelona, I have to connect somewhere and it makes for a godawful amount of time in a plane which coupled with the Air France strike and KLM’s food seeming to be worse than ever, it hurt my soul. This is in addition to the fact that it ain’t cheap.

Talking with friends, everyone was telling me wholeheartedly how much San Francisco (where I’d lived about 15 years prior to moving to Spain) had changed. Sure, things were more expensive (burritos run about $8.50 for the super version at a shitty place) and there were new residential buildings. Neither of these things surprised me given that San Francisco seems to always be getting more expensive and most all of these buildings had been in the planning phase prior to my departure. The skyline is a little lumpier now, but in general, much the same.

In San Francisco, the public transportation is still crap and the city is still filthy, the latter of which being attributed to reducing water for city cleaning due to the drought despite all the city machines filling up at a natural spring that is diverted from flooding in to the Powell Street Bart Station.

Outside of San Francisco little had changed either. The roads of California are still terrible, although the new Bay Bridge is nice. But it was a curious sight to suddenly see all of these Tesla Model S sedans on the road. For those who are unfamiliar, the S is the “affordable” Tesla car starting at $70,000. Pocket changed for a recently enriched nerd at Facebook.

As strange as it sounds, I saw this as positive change. Whereas in the past those with the means would have bought a Porsche or something else of the penis extension car line, they are now buying these fully electric sedans. For me to finally see the day when electric cars are somewhat commonplace and not just some wacky experimental thing driven by my former boss is quite frankly amazing and on a certain level it actually gave me a dose of hope for the future that we can somehow rid ourselves of our portable pollution machines.

And on a totally unrelated note, Kin Khao, much as Mr. Bittman found is some of the most amazing Thai food I’ve ever had.