If you’ve never heard of the incredible traveler’s database of couchsurfing.com, you should check it out. I’ve happily been an active member of that gypsy community for three + years now and the experiences I’ve had with it color my life just about every day. I’ve crashed and been crashed upon countless times, always with plenty of adventure – from streaking in Boise, Idaho all the way to drinking Coca-cola at 3AM in Lima, Peru after just being picked up from the airport by an entire family.
Ah, but all things naturally ebb and flow . . . and really for no reason in particular, I took an extended hiatus from using my wondrous network of instantaneous (for the most part, anyway) friends and like-minded folks . . . that is, until last night.
Columbia, South Carolina is alright. I’m working here and my idea of a good time isn’t going to the local hipster bar after a 13+ hour day and re-hashing a bunch of corporate bullshit over frosty PBR’s with a gaggle of frustrated employees. They are nice people, but I crave something more . . . well, local.
Enter couchsurfing. With this database, a person can not only find available places to sleep and rest, but also one can quickly find willing locals to show the vernacular of the area. And that is exactly what I found last night.
I’m staying in an urban heat island right next to a mall on the far outskirts of town because I’m traveling with my cat and the only hotel available for people with pets seems to be in that remote part of town. I can’t stand malls and I feel completely out of place and bored in that part of town. Not to mention that it’s neither smart nor safe for me to swig libations with my co-workers and then drive twenty minutes to my far-flung flophouse. What I needed, I decided, was an infusion of local color.
I perused the profiles for Columbia and came up with but one person I wanted to send a message. She seemed not only my age and crazy type, but fun and approachable . . . my kind of people. She returned my email a few days later with much enthusiasm, inviting me to dinner at a friend’s home followed by promises of a “punk rock house party where we could be the old ladies on the porch tellin’ the kids how ignorant they are.” Sounded like fun to me!
Within four hours last night, this incredible chick did indeed take me to her friend’s home . . . ah! a real, live home . . . not some hotel . . . and we had the best dinner I’ve had since venturing to South Carolina. From there we proceeded to another friend’s home. This friend was a very young, hip mother of a drop-dead gorgeous 19-year-old boy who’d just come back from a two-year stint as an Aussie model. We three “old ladies” walked a few blocks over to the afore-promised punk rock house party. We were the only people over the age of 22, I’m quite sure, but two of the three of us brazenly wore our pigtails with pride anyway.
Honestly, with the craziness of work, I was a bit intimidated by having to go into a house full of punk rock kids, so we went to the backyard, where the largest home-made swing I’ve ever seen hung from a tree. I hopped on and was so swallowed up by the immensity of the wooden slat that I felt like a child as I swung with my arms held wide by the faraway ropes in the humid air that was the same temperature as my skin. Back and forth I swung, the clammy air massaging me in the darkness as I watched the wind blow the other trees in the distance. It relaxed me and I was able to breathe deeply and calmly, a great way to unwind from a hectic office day, the whole while crashing chords hummed in the distance. I found it funny that I had to be mindful as I swung that I didn’t hit any young punks in the head with my feet as they piled out the back screened-porch door between sets.
Eventually I did make my way inside to see the final band play in the back room off the kitchen. The fridge was blocked with a rack full of custom t-shirts. The music was quite good and the band had ventured all the way from Portland just to play this house show. Columbia doesn’t have any venues, I found, so it’s quite common for bands to play house parties. Good to know. Note: In Columbia, you gotta know someone to see a good show.
The best part of this entire adventure is that it happened on a random Monday night in what would appear to the average eye to be a sleepy southern town. And, although I was half-afraid I would run into someone I knew from that other part of my life, I never saw one person with whom I’m working.