About a year ago, Duane and Tonya King moved out to a working farm in rural Auburn, Washington. They had never farmed before and they wanted to share the beauty of their new life with others. Their property boasts all kinds of fruit trees, a massive vegetable garden, rabbits, chickens and sheep.
So in November they started accepting guests through Airbnb, a self-managed online service that allows anyone to rent out their entire home or just a room or a couch to strangers. Anyone with an Airbnb profile can request to stay. In this case, you’re shacking up with Duane, Tonya and their toddler daughter (note: Tonya just gave birth to twin boys Sunday night!).
“I have to be trusting that these people are going to come into my home and be respectful and not destroy things or know that my daughter is sleeping, not to be loud,” Duane said. “Every single person we’ve had has been very respectful. And it’s not just us. The guest and us, we both have to give up some of our privacy.”
The crux of this story revolves around this question: Have platforms like Airbnb and Lyft, a car service where average Joes drive you around in their own cars, helped bring trust back to American society? Are we learning to trust strangers again?
“Why do we need to be afraid?” asks Seattle’s Talisha Herald, who often uses ride sharing services. “That’s my thing. Why do we really need to be afraid to use an Uber car or a Lyft car? Why do we really need to be afraid to stay at an Airbnb? Is there going to be an axe murderer in the closet, or something?”
Talisha often uses Lyft, a car service that promotes a friendly, neighborly vibe between driver and passenger.
“You sit in the front seat, you fist bump, you talk about stuff.”
But more importantly, Talisha actually thinks the sharing services can be safer.
“I have never felt unsafe in a Lyft or an Uber because I know that it’s traceable. You rate your driver so there’s an accountability there. I often feel very unsafe in a taxicab. There’s no accountability and women have been raped in cabs. I’ll have them drop me off two blocks from where I’m actually going. With an Uber, I’m like, ‘Get me to the front door, my feet hurt!’ You know?”
Lara Gale just moved to the Pacific Northwest from Austin, Texas and she doesn’t have a car. Instead of renting one for a day trip, she used Relay Rides, which is like Airbnb for cars. After creating a profile and sharing a copy of your drivers license, you pay a stranger to use their car, and they hand over the keys.
“There’s an element of risk, but you’re just taking it on,” says Lara. “It’s worth it for the convenience. I really appreciate that the website is facilitating the ability for people to trust each other. Make that part of our economy.”
Many have found that staying with a stranger or borrowing their car actually puts them on their best behavior. They wouldn’t make a mess like they would in a hotel room. Lara says she had an Airbnb guest fix her broken drain while she was out and she took extra good care of the car she borrowed from Relay Rides.
“I drove it more carefully than I used to drive my own car. I didn’t want to run it too hard. They cover you with insurance and everything so it’s not like it’s any more risky than driving your own car.”
The main reason people use these services is because they’re cheaper. Renting an Airbnb or a car through Relay Rides can be half the cost of traditional services.
“We’re just broke,” says Talisha. “That’s why we use these services. What comes out of necessity? We start using our brains and we get smarter. I don’t think we’re forced to trust these services. I think that they’re a great option for us.”
Back at the farm, Duana fries up bacon from his own pig and prepares a completely homemade breakfast for his guests, using ingredients from his land.
“Pea shoot and spring onion frittata with raw milk sharp cheddar cheese. The bread I made, the jams you have on there. You have carrot cake jam, spiced pear.”
It’s very uncommon for an Airbnb host to make breakfast for guests and Duane doesn’t charge for the meal because he thinks hospitality and creating relationships is important.
“Our first guest was from Shanghai, China so it brings people back together, but from greater distances now,” Duane says. “We’re exposed to other cultures and other people that necessarily we wouldn’t be. It’s really nice to talk to these people and ask why they sought out Airbnb.”
He wants to raise his three year old daughter in that kind of environment and she is already used to having new people around the house.
“She says, ‘Daddy, where’s company?’ So she’ll come to the back door and hold it open and go, ‘Company! Come inside!'”
As for Talisha, she likes being able to financially support individuals, as opposed to large companies.
“I think that it’s important to know our neighbors. We’re in this together and there’s no reason that we can’t help each other. There’s no reason why there isn’t enough room for all of these businesses to thrive. It’s only going to benefit us to trust one another and work together.”