Hit & Run: Giving a lift the American way

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The Independent Online

Christopher Bridges is perhaps most famous for having "hoes in different area codes" but it appears that the Grammy Award-winning rapper better known as Ludacris also has a heart. He's just given away 20 shiny new cars to people struggling to get jobs.

More than 4,000 people answered the Illinois-born rapper's offer of a free ride. Each had to make a case in 300 words to be in with a chance of nabbing a car and a month's worth of fuel. "People are getting laid off and now are looking for jobs," Ludacris said last week. "To be efficient, you need some transportation of your own to get there."

The act of kindness evokes the even bigger giveaway orchestrated by Oprah Winfrey. Back in 2004, the chat show host stunned her 276-strong audience by giving them all the keys to a free Pontiac ("You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!" she memorably barked while jabbing a finger at people whooping themselves into a frenzy).

It's a quirk of the world's greediest nation that it's also the most charitable. But where else does philanthropy arrive on four wheels? You wouldn't get Paul O'Grady or Dizzee Rascal throwing keys around (even if they had the means). But the Land of the Free is unique as a nation whose lifeblood is gasoline. Even with soaring fuel prices and the decline of the motor industry, cars still offer millions of Americans the keys to employment in areas without public transport. More than that, they serve as an "autopian" symbol of the American dream.

But the Oprah giveaway showed the road to vehicular altruism isn't smooth. The sight of middle-class folk with good hair jumping for joy left a nasty tasty in some mouths (less-needy beneficiaries were at least able to pay the $7,000 bill later levied by the tax man). It's a lesson Ludacris has learned. One winner was a Sudanese immigrant called Mading Duor whose family had been killed in his native country. "His story touched my heart," Ludacris said.

Critics suggest he might have helped more people by teaming up with an organisation like Charity Cars, which gives away used rather than new vehicles. Not that Duor or the other lucky key holders will be complaining. But a warning to the women among them: If you're driving around Atlanta in your new car and you spot Luda in his trademark Escalade, you might recall this lyric from the rapper's 2001 hit, "Move Bitch": "I'm doin' a hundred on the highway/So if you do the speed limit, get the fuck outta my way." Now where's the charity in that?

Simon Usborne

Once upon a time, people brought back telling tales

This summer has been full of festivals celebrating it, but fans were left grieving for its king, who passed away last month. It wasn't pop music, though, that caused passions to run high – it was storytelling. Whether it was July (when "the UK's foremost storytelling festival" took place at the Edge in Shropshire) or October (when the Scottish International Storytelling Festival kicks off in Edinburgh), telling stories is proving to be more popular than ever, although the death of Stanley Robertson, considered to be the nation's great yarn-spinner, has given the growing revival a greater sense of poignancy.

It's no wonder that oral lore is having a renaissance – all you need is a tale and an audience to get started, although things have just taken a turn for the hi-tech. The recently-launched storytelling website storyvault.com provides a forum for the sharing of memories (parents recalling their wedding days; employees discussing those ever-common patience-stretching days at work). In the States, themoth.org, a not-for-profit storytelling organisation, is also winning plaudits for providing live story nights across the nation (big names participating include Moby, Candice Bushnell, Ethan Hawke and the ubiquitous Malcolm Gladwell). So if you're sitting comfortably, let's begin: there will never be a better time to start telling tales.

Rob Sharp

Warning: may contain spiders

It's been a bad week for those who are scared of spiders. First, a British woman is attacked by a "false widow" – a relative of the deadly black widow, then the Natural History Museum unveils a cocoon designed to exhibit giant tarantulas.

The reason Hit&Run knows about these eight-legged horror stories? Newspaper reports that are illustrated with photographs of spiders with no thought for the innocent arachnid-fearing folk who might be reading (The Independent was a culprit yesterday). If Jamie Oliver's new TV series carries disclaimers about bulls being branded, surely publications should print warnings that graphic depictions of web-slingers are lurking overleaf? Arachnophobes, the backlash begins here.

Rebecca Armstrong