When I was a reporter I was constantly meeting new people, and my afternoons were usually spent running around the city like a stressed out crazy lady trying to interview them all. Some people were so inspiring, so sweet, so funny, so interesting; they perked up my work day and had me skipping down the street, like a cockeyed optimist, cooing at every baby, puppy and homeless person in my path. On the other hand, some people were incessantly rude, close minded, obnoxious and idiotic. Sometimes I'd meet one of each specimen in a single day. This lead me to coin the expression: "I love people! I hate people!" Simple, yet effective; I used it often.
Despite my (maybe just temporary) retirement from broadcast journalism, I find this phrase to be quite useful in everyday life. The world is full of assholes and awesome people, and hopefully we will meet more of the latter.
I recently found myself thinking "I love people!" after my first experience with www.couchsurfing.com. If you're not hip to the concept, it's basically a website that connects travelers from around the globe who need a free place to stay. You have a profile and photos, similar to other social networking websites, but you also include details about your spare couch, room, bed, or futon, as my case happens to be. Couchsurfers are either offering up a place to stay or looking for one. The idea is not to use a fellow couchsurfer's pad as simply a free place to crash, but to meet new people, to get to know a city through a local's eyes and to promote trust, kindness and generosity.
Most of us were raised not to talk to strangers, and here we are, millions of us in 232 countries, inviting those very people into our homes...and beds. My poor parents. They haven't quite recovered from my brush with Dumpster diving, and now this? Oy.
My first couchsurfing request came from a girl who shares my name, age, and native country. How could I turn a fellow 29 year old American Rachel down? I prayed she wasn't a sleepwalking kleptomaniac who would gobble up my sacred jar of organic peanut butter in the middle of the night, and accepted her request. After a series of emails, we figured out a plan, and I met my Oklahoma roamer in front of the McDonald's near my work. We started to gab immediately, and after a quick trip to my place to drop off her backpack, we were off for a getting-to-know-you beer.
After several failed attempts (many bars charge a hefty cover charge and my favorite local dive was closed) we were eventually introduced to a man on the street who would allegedly take us to a no-cover bar. In broken English we were asked if we like cats. Um, yes? Yes! But how is this relevant? Five minutes later we were walking up a narrow staircase and wondering where this strange man was taking us. There's a sign. The bar is called Zero Cool. I'm assuming the Japanese to English dictionary was not consulted during the naming process.
The door opens and a frisky little black cat is there to greet us. Apparently this guy opened up his bar just for us! I put my bag on the bar, and the cat immediately jumped up, slid down the bar and dove head first into my purse. A wrestling match ensues between him and my scarf. The cat question has been answered.
As Rachel and I chat, the bartender flicks on the stereo and proceeds to serve us a complimentary, and very unexpected, plate of sausages with mustard and various little bowls of crunchy snacks. He also slid over a dish of tiny dried fish so we could feed the cat.
It turns out to be quite a silly night, and Rachel and I laugh and talk about traveling, relationships, jobs... It doesn't feel as if we met only an hour before. I am happy to be hosting this not-so-strange stranger, and feel completely comfortable sleeping a few feet from her in my tiny studio apartment. Her plan to stay for two nights has changed, and in the morning I actually felt sad to see her go.
My first official couchsurfing experience left me all warm and fuzzy. The Afterschool Special moral of the story is: A lot can come from being open and trusting. Always a fan of a good story, I like the idea of meeting people in unusual ways. But more importantly, as a traveler, I love the idea of showing a fellow globetrotter a good time, providing a nice place for her to stay and sharing all that I know about the city I'm living in. Anyone who has ever traveled knows that these things are golden. Maybe they're even better than a free hot dog and a frisky black kitty cat. Mmm...maybe they're about equal.
- ► 2010 (32)