Being in a relationship where both partners do social work means that you don’t necessarily make a combined income of a bajillion dollars per year. Luke and I both had decent wages, but we’ve always had to be very intentional about how we spend our money - especially when it comes to travel. More often than not, we vacationed where we could find deals rather than the trendiest destinations.
Being a music geek sometimes dictates my travel as well. When you tart out over the lesser known bands, chances are you’ll have to fly elsewhere in order to see them in on their limited tour. Several years ago, when an artist that BOTH Luke and I loved (that’s rare) did only a few shows in the US, we decided to take a trip somewhere to see the show. The only logical date would be the concert in New York - not a cheap place for anything.
I imagined we could swing it though because I had recently signed up for some golf subscription thing in order to get two buy-one-get-one-free airline vouchers. I have about as much interest in golf as I do in gas chambers. But I figured I could dupe them by signing up and then cancelling to keep the vouchers.
As it turned out, those golf buttholes were the ones who duped me. When I logged on to the website to purchase my buy-one-get-one-free ticket, the cost of the first ticket was a double the price. And then, because I have the attention span of a gnat, I accidentally forgot to cancel the subscription and got charged for the first month (so who’s the butthole really?).
We figured we could make up for the loss by getting a super cheap hotel. But apparently those don’t exist in New York. Even a place in Brooklyn looked to be out of our price range. By now, we had bought our plane tickets and the tickets for the concert. We wouldn’t back out.
“What if we… ummm… ‘couchsurfed’,” I sheepishly suggested to Luke. With Luke being a bit more reserved than me, I knew the idea wouldn’t fly with him. So I added some extra sheep in there hoping to at least pique his curiosity.
“What is that?” he asked. “What does that even mean?”
“Well, we can go online and find someone to host us for free.”
“That’s a thing? No. We can’t do something like that. Nothing in life is ever ‘free.’ It could be dangerous.”
Maybe he was right. Or maybe he wasn’t. I knew a couple people in college who talked about doing this and they always seemed to keep staying alive, or, at the very least, untraumatized. And to be honest, I was SO cheap that I would have been down to deal with an itty-bitty-tiny-bit of trauma in order to save a few bucks. Nothing violent. Just... like... if our host made us talk to puppets or something.
I understood why Luke felt hesitant though. Things like AirBnB didn’t exist yet. Staying with strangers from the internet was unheard of - especially free of charge. Doing so meant diving into the unknown. We would be in this other person’s hands and that felt totally vulnerable to him (and any normal human being).
But by this time in my life, I had already become an abnormal human being - embracing my vulnerability. Wonderful things were happening because of it. Why couldn’t the same be true for our travel? After pounding Luke with all of my overly-trusting optimism (and seeing the steep price of even the New York hostels), he agreed that we could give it a shot.
I went on the CouchSurfing website (an underground concept at the time), and seeing how we were newbies without any feedback, I knew I’d have to connect with a host on a personal level rather than just a mere request. So, I went in search of fellow naturists - something else I had been experimenting with in my desires to challenge fear. I had found nudists to be the most welcome people.
When an older New York naturist accepted our request and said we could sleep on the hide-a-bed couch in the living room of his one bedroom apartment, I was thrilled. Luke? Not so much.
“He’s just going to expect us to have sex with him,” he said.
Luke is by no means a pessimist. In fact, his pinky finger sees more good in mankind than I do in my whole right arm (the arm I use to shake my fist at God sometimes). But fear tends to fill our brains with doubts. I couldn’t blame him. In the unknown, we can only see how the glass is half empty.
When we arrived in New York, our host, Michael, gave us impeccable instructions on how to find his place. He met us outside, still dressed in his work attire which looked more expensive than our furniture. His place was small but gorgeous. At the first chance we got, we looked up online how much he paid for it - almost $900k.
First thing’s first when I travel, I needed to find a grocery store and get some food. I hate eating out all the time on trips. It’s unhealthy and expensive. But would Michael be okay with us using and storing things in his kitchen? Not only was he fine with it, but he told us the best and closest grocery store to get our food.
That first night, we asked Michael if we could take him to dinner as a gesture of thanks. He gladly accepted and chose a small restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood so that he could show us how to get there from his place. After dinner, he would explain how to get to the various neighborhoods of New York - including Time Square which was only a ten minute walk from his place.
One thing I absolutely wanted to do on this trip was go to the nude beach in Sandy Hook. However this was across the river in New Jersey - not an easy place to get to. But since Michael as a naturist, he was all too familiar on how to do this.
Thank God we had his help. Without his guidance, we wouldn’t have been able to make it to the ferry in time - much less find the freakin boat. Michael even recommended a good deli to get sandwiches before catching the fairy. Our day at the nude beach was a total success.
That afternoon, when we got back to the apartment, Michael had just opened a bottle of wine and asked if we would like any. Michael was a big wine aficionado and this became the norm for the rest of the week. If we got to his place around the same time he got off work, he’d uncork something delicious for us. Obviously you don’t find men uncorking bottles of wine when you get back to your hotel room.
Though one thing did suck: he didn’t have air conditioning. Our trip took place in June and this made for some hot sweaty nights. But we were saving $300 a night. And I hadn’t yet had to talk to any puppets. Towards the end of the week, Luke and I knew how to navigate the streets of New York like pros - or at least pro tourists.
On our final night in New York, Michael’s neighbors scored a bunch of tickets to an off-broadway play we both wanted to see and invited us all to join them. They were an older Jewish couple who were so adorably stereotypical, I just wanted to start chowing down on gefilte fish right then and there.
The play, called “Next Fall,” centered around a gay couple. Several friends had recommended it because it closely paralleled my and Luke’s relationship. One guy was older while the other was younger. One guy was religious while the other was atheist. ONE GUY WAS EVEN NAMED LUKE! It was some seriously spooky shit.
Spoiler alert (in case this play ever gets turned into a movie one day), the character, Luke, died at the end. I was so distraught and belligerent with tears afterwards, I demanded that my Luke and I immediately break up. The thing that makes me feel most vulnerable in this world is the idea of losing someone I love. For me, it is NOT better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. It’s way better to just not love. (I’m still trying to work on this)
Michael suggested we all go out for dessert afterwards to calm my hysteria. It worked. There are no wounds that a ridiculously dense flourless chocolate cake cannot heal. By the end of dessert, I was ready to further heal my wounds by going to a seedy New York bar where anything could happen. Michael told us exactly where we needed to go - though he didn’t join us.
Michael’s suggestion lived up to its name (its name being “The Cock”) and we had so much fun in this alternate universe that we completely lost track of time. When we realized it was 3 a.m., Luke and I hightailed it out of there. We had to get back to the apartment and pack up to get to the airport in time for our 6 a.m. flight.
The taxi waited outside for us as Luke took a quick shower and I shoved our things in the suitcases. Both still slightly drunk, we woke up Michael to hug him goodbye. We would genuinely miss this man. Luke and I hadn’t just found an excellent host, but also a new friend.
After having gotten no sleep, we got on the plane looking like extras from “The Night of the Living Dead” - the ones where they don’t even try to make the make-up look good. But aside from our terrible faces, we sat there amazed by the New York vacation we just had. It was far better than if he had stayed in a hotel.
That’s the thing about the unknown. All that fear distorts the glass of water and we can only see how it as half empty. It isn’t until we have surf our way into the unknown that we discover how half full that glass really was. And sometimes, on a rare occasion like this, the glass of water will overfloweth.
When we got back to our home in Denver (and after getting some real sleep), we decided that CouchSurfing would be an integral part of our travels from then on. But being the kind of people who wanted to offer what we wished to receive, we knew we’d have to do some hosting ourselves. This would bring on a whole new set of wonderful connections with people from all over the world.
Like all good things, this underground treasure of travel would eventually come to an end. CouchSurfing still exists, but when it became a B-Corp and tried to go mainstream, the concept somehow got lost. But, in the end, it was better to have tried it, loved it, and lost it rather than to have never tried it at all.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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