The Thing About Couchsurfers

Abstract picture of a Couch.

Insert surfer here.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the Couchsurfing website. Perhaps you are among the ranks of the million members boasted, clutching community to your bosom and welcoming strangers into your home. Mama Sunshine would be happy to know that I had a heartily raised eyebrow when the concept first arose. My mind flooded with questions that I was programmed with since kindergarten: are they going to kill me?, is this a cult? and no, really, is this a cult?

I was planning a road trip out west with little funding, so inevitably I registered for an account and typed out my mission. I read all the FAQs. I asked a lot more questions. Eventually Butterfly and I arrived at our first house in Austin, Texas. I found out quickly that Couchsurfers are an unconventional bunch that would offer to host you as they were moving to another city–furniture schmurniture. They would make a full buffet dinner and even play piano as you ate it. They would list every thing to do, see or eat in a fifty mile radius and every bus route to get there. They would attend outdoor parties in adverse weather and not complain about it.

Couchsurfers are, well, they’re fucking cool.

Our journey would take us across the United States via Interstate 10. We ran into la migra in the desert and people made of plastic in Los Angeles. We had the doughnuts in Portland, the coffee in Seattle and ended the surfing in Vancouver, B.C. For me, this was an anticlimactic ending. While British Columbia is beautiful to behold, the city and its people were not warm and the whole thing left a bit to be desired. Even the attractions weren’t particularly attractive. I challenge my own opinion. Am I being one of those dreadful American tourists? I did make fun of the tiny cups they serve juice in, but I didn’t insist on a refill or anything. No, no. That joke was all in good fun and I didn’t even laugh that much. More of a delicate chuckle. There’s something else going on here.

Almost a year later Butterfly and I are happily roommates living in Seattle. We share an excitement at the opportunity to host Couchsurfers and give back to the community. So far, we’ve been able to directly return the favor to two people who’d hosted us last year. All good experiences. Each surfer brought stories of their journey, a different awesome-sounding path that filled our living room with bouncy laughter or quiet wisdom. I could almost say the very same for the surfers from Vancouver we had over last night.

He was just back from Burning Man and she works for a yogi outfitter. Their hoodies have little holes in the sleeves for the occasional emo thumb and their devices start with “i.” They just bought a 5,000 square foot house with shag carpet in need of a good shampoo. They are one of those cute, happy couples television has warned us about. And they don’t even know that because they don’t watch TV. They’re that cute. They’re too busy going to Burning Man and visiting Seattle for a Utilitkilt for the next Burning Man.

I’m not hatin’. I appreciate a good hoodie. I’d love to buy a house, what with the market being what it is. I don’t even own one of those converter boxes that would make the local channels appear on my boob tube because I’m all about my Apple product (even despite its flagrant iBook G4 outdatedness). In theory this couple should have reinvigorated my stamina as a twenty-something in the big city. In reality, I’ve realized that thing that makes Couchsurfers so cool is that they are strangers you would assume to be so very different from you. Finding similarities in our mutual willingness to seek adventure at all costs makes the differences between us fall to the floor and we are connected.

Unfortunately, the thing about these particular surfers is even though they are the seemingly adventurous sort, such traits can simultaneously exist alongside whiny, intolerables like doing our dishes loudly at 9 a.m. Sunday morning. It seems nice, doesn’t it? Then he woke Butterfly to ask for a new sponge to do so. Hmm. And he was up early because he couldn’t sleep well because he’d had some marijuana. I’m sorry, what?! It couldn’t have been that latte you had last night when you never drink coffee?! And when asked why he insisted on washing our dishes said, “because I’m a good guest.” Really, are you?

Sure, there’s nothing so wrong about helping out. I’m sure lots of people find the sound of banging dishes at 9 a.m. charming. Okay, fine. I suppose some people just can’t handle their coffee. And marijuana’s blessings clearly aren’t for everyone. They’re not bad people–quite the contrary, in fact.

The thing about Couchsurfers is they’re all good, they just can’t all be gold.


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