Friday, May 24, 2013

to the people with the extra bed—best and worst stories of crashing on couches

            I’ve counted 18 houses that I’ve stayed in this past year. 9 different cities. For someone who loves adventure, meeting new people, and experiencing new things: this is heaven. For someone who cringes at the thought if inconveniencing people, it’s a bit of a stretch. I’ll let you guess which one is me (hint: I’m both).
As I took a moment to tally up the houses and places, I did a mental review of all of these experiences. Most places were very pleasant. There is something about staying in someone’s home that brings you to this level of intimacy with that person or family that would take years to achieve if you simply saw them on a weekly or even daily basis. Late at night, walls come down and conversations get good. Especially when a bit of fermented beverage is involved. In the morning, those defenses haven’t had a chance to come back up, so conversations over coffee can be just as enjoyable as laughing over wine glasses. In most cases, you come to a place where hiding behind the makeup and the façade of daily life no longer work.
I’ve also noticed that the façade (if the person is actually wearing one) will remain up the first day/night. After that, especially if the person has children, the energy to maintain the façade depletes at a rapid rate. For that matter, it’s better to stay at least two nights if you want to really get to know a person.
I’d love to give a shout out to each individual who hosted me and share about those experiences, but that would take too long and most of them are great memories that I’ll cherish forever. Like a said before, most places were very pleasant.
I did, however, want to highlight 2 experiences that stood out dramatically. 1 because it was so over-the-top phenomenal and 1 because, well, it was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had staying in someone’s home. Even so, today it makes me laugh because it was just that ridiculous.
Bad story first: I knew things were in rough shape when this particular family stuck me in a closet room on a bed where the sheets were not clean. They owned a cat and even though I had told them I was allergic to cats, I am sure the cat had been on those not-so-clean sheets. Luckily, my allergy is mostly sneezing and itchy/watery eyes or else I probably would have died.
The next morning, I went to the kitchen. The family was up and had either eaten or had decided to skip breakfast. Now, I don’t expect a host to cook for me, but usually people say something to the effect of, “help yourself to whatever” thereby indicating that they are a laidback bunch and want me to be part of the family and hope I feel free to poke through their fridge.
This invitation was not forthcoming, so I decided to help myself anyway. After a quick survey of the pantry and fridge, they seemed to be out of the quick, easy clean-up meals such as cereal or oatmeal. At this point, I was beginning to feel uneasy and didn’t want to add to the discomfort by attempting to cook myself an elaborate breakfast. I remembered that I usually keep granola bars in my car, so I decided I’d sneak out and grab one later.
That’s when I spied the Kurig coffee maker. It was on and full of water, indicating that it had been recently used and was ready to be used again. I can get through a lot of things, even hunger, if I have coffee. Rejoicing that my plight wasn’t as bad as it seemed, I looked through the coffee options and purposefully chose the K-cup with the most extra so I wouldn’t be using the last of anything.
About the time I inserted the K-cup and hit the flashing medium cup button to brew the coffee, the matriarch of the family entered the kitchen. When I turned to salute her with a “good morning” she gave me a look that made me feel like she’d just caught me giving her children the sex talk. I’m assuming this meant that helping myself to coffee was the wrong move and I had better not go for a second cup.
Gratefully, my time in this home was not a two-nighter and gratefully this family was not too into wearing façades and I knew my welcome was worn out before it began. I’d rather know the people up front than have them talk about me after I left, or, heaven forbid, blog about me. That would just be terrible.
The next story is the Cinderella story. I flew to a city and was going to be staying an entire weekend with people I had never met. I was a little nervous because I’d be crashing for more than the usual two-night stint and I had no idea what I was getting into.
The wife picked me up from the airport and we immediately hit it off. We chatted easily, as if we’d been friends for a while. When I got to their home, I was greeted by this burley man with a buzzed head, earrings, and tattoos. I could have been intimidated, but he was so kind on that first meeting that his thug-gangster image quickly disappeared.
It was homemade pizza night, but apparently it was also homemade beer night. I got a sampling of my host’s self-brewed beer as well as more wine than I needed. I also found out that homemade pizza night was free-for-all burp night (the couple had three young boys, so this shouldn’t have surprised me).
When it was time for bed, the couple informed me that I would be sleeping in the master bedroom. I protested when I found out that they would be sleeping on an air mattress on the floor of the office. After my 3rd attempt to get them to let me sleep on the air mattress or on the couch, the host kindly silenced me by informing me that it was a joy for them to let me stay in their room and that they had had to learn from other people how to accept someone hosting them well and wanted me to do the same. That was the end of it.
The fabulous hosting didn’t end there. They left bottles of lotion and shower gel in a gift package on the bed and the hostess baked scones the following morning for breakfast. In fact, she cooked every night and every morning and they even broke out their espresso maker when they found out I loved coffee. I didn’t feel like a floundering girl form Alabama. I felt like the President of the United States.
They drove me around or accompanied me on the bus, making sure I got where I needed to go during the weekend. This would have been enough, but they also took me to their favorite restaurant, drove me to the church I’d chosen to attend on Sunday, and they did all of this for me without making me feel smothered. They were perfectly willing to give me space to wind down. The conversations were incredible and they seemed thoroughly interested in getting to know me and letting me know them. They put southern hospitality to shame.
I also fell in love with their children. I think the true love started the first night I returned to their house and was greeted by Nerf darts to my face and three, small, caped warriors yelling, “Die villain!” Irresistible.  
The only negative part of this experience was that it ended. I felt so close to the family that I was sad when it was time to leave. I was also sad that they lived on the other end of the country so the likelihood of me seeing them again is slim to none.
They were the sort of people you meet who make you glad heaven is the place where all Christians go. When you have to make a long good-bye, you know it won’t be forever.
If I do never meet them again, the impression they made on me and my future hosting skills is indelible. They swooped in and swooped out, but I’ll never forget the experience. Even though I’ll tweak my hosting abilities to suit the situation, hopefully one day, I’ll be able to host someone half as well.
So those are my high and low couch-crashing stories. Honestly, most of my couch-crashing experiences have been on the high side. Which is awesome. It takes courage to let someone invade your home, interrupt your life, and see you and your family as you really are. I just want you to know (if you’ve let me crash on your couch and are reading this right now) that you have blessed me with your hospitality. I can’t wait to return the favor when you come visit me some day. The only thing I can promise is coffee and conversation, but I’d love to have you just the same…

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