My Two Cents’ Worth on 99+ Tinder Options

What’s the deal with dating apps?  Are their questionable tactics an intentional scam to get you to pay for an upgrade, enticing you to move on from the eventually-and-inevitably-unremarkable free status to the thrilling lifestyle of a paid member, with your finally biting the financial bullet in order to get more connections?

Are the algorithms of said apps set up to set you up, so that you fall victim to that incessant anticipation and those pummeling twinges of curiosity centered around the unknown of what awaits behind Box #3, giving in to those habitual enticements that prompt you to become a paying member?

I’ve recently started to feel that that seems to be the case, and I am not falling for it, damn it.

Or am I?

Out of the dating-app gate (let’s call it “Tinder-gate”), here’s how it went for this 50-year-old bloke, having not only recently downloaded Tinder but also Bumble and OK Cupid, now that I am new in town, settling into another post-divorce phase in life.

The first day on Tinder back in March of 2019, I partook in the application processes as I assume most people do: flying through profiles as quickly as a wannabe interior designer goes through those ringed paint color collection fans at a neighborhood Sherwin Williams.

Come on, it wasn’t that frenetic nor that shallow.

I see you’re sensitive, eh?

Yet give me a chance to make my point.

Of course, if someone’s autobiographical photo essay, which is essentially what Tinder is, is engaging, I’ll further read her 19-word description (or whatever its ungodly superficial-at-best word limit is), before swiping left or right, which, honestly, boils down to wrong or right, right?

Or does it?

(Who the hell is to say someone is wrong for me?  Who are we to cast such judgments?  Tinder-God?)

Frustrating as it is that there’s not much more to the process, however cursory this “selection” of a potential mate/friend/shag/destined-to-be-a-spirtual-bond partner is, I’m stillllllllllll on the app–as a free member–five freakin’ months later.

Sadly.

How, of course, I wish I’d met someone more compatible already, as I had back in Latin America, having gone on a first date my first week in town, then spending nearly a year with said match.

That all seemed worth the effort!  One week of putting myself out there and one year, in return, of fun outings, of good bonding, of mostly-positive experiences.

Yet that’s another blog, really.

This, on the other hand, is more about those app algorithms and how we’re basically being teased into believing we might be “all that”–at least at first.

Was I all that?

Well, after my first evening of using Tinder months back, I had matched with some 30-plus women.  Within two or three days, and, yes, I did come up to breathe, there were over 45 matches.

Un-fucking-real!  45?

Jackpot!

Sky rockets on the 4th of July aren’t nearly as spectacular as the glorious celebrations happening in my head upon discovering I was so rapidly liked by that many quality ladies (however one defines ‘quality’)!

I felt popular, enticed by the idea that adjusting to a new home and new culture would also include getting to know plenty of people, providing a slew of potential connections that could range from fresh friendships to networking options to possible romance.

Was I going to have innumerable coffee shop chatting partners?

New e- pen pals, even (actually, that’s not my thing)?

Was my libido, after a week on that its-got-a-certain-reputation Tinder, going to beg for mercy, as if it were placed in the Camel Clutch, the Iron Sheik’s signature submission move (some of you will have to Google that 80’s reference)?

Was I going to luck out and meet Ms Right, perhaps leading to matrimonial blessings three years down the road?

One never knows!

But my expectations were surprisingly high after some out-of-the-gate 45 women expressed a liking in… moi.

Lil’ ol’ moi?  Awww, shucks…

Ego boost?  Not really, for my intellect told me something more and sent me warning signals, and experience tells me that such a fast start matters not in the end (hell, Aesops taught us that as kids).

Yet that initial Tinder frenzy is quite possibly just as the developers and execs over there want it to be.

Tinger-gate.

Yippee!

45 freakin’ likes?

Who would’ve thunk?

That reciprocated, in-a-flash virtual adoration also held true, around the same time late in the spring, for my newly created OK Cupid profile (OKC is how I’d met my Latina counterpart the year before, so I had high hopes for instant chemistry and months’ worth of cuddles).

Within a few seconds of hurriedly swiping right on the Cupid–or even after perusing profiles more in depth before doing so, which OKC actually does allow–I was matched with a number of ladies, ladies whom I somehow had felt were right for me (How the heck can someone determine such otherwise profound things virtually, in a matter of seconds?).

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[DISCLAIMER: Far more information is available about a person on OKC than Tinder, giving one the chance to learn about someone’s favorite cereal, flavor of ice cream and if they occasionally masturbate with a ribbed sex toy.  No, not that much personal info, but pretty damn close!]

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In fact, by the second day on this second app, there were some 40-plus matches on the other side of cyberspace awaiting my hastily scribbling them a note (though they would actually be unaware of my keen interest, I believe; thus, they are never truly waiting for me, unless I reach out first, which would cost money, of course).

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These two apps seemed to be just what the doctor ordered, that imaginary doctor who was fully aware that 1) my last longer-term relationship, one of about a year, had ended in Central America the summer of 2018, that 2) my last horizontal mambo partner had been last November, and that 3) my new born-again libido life was awaiting new people in a new place (Freudian slip there, y’all!).

Dry spells on a number of levels are always challenging, but this is life.

Truly, I’ll make it (though one part of me can’t wait to say, “Say hello to my little friend,” much less aggressively than Tony Montana)!

My initial interest piqued by Tinder and OKC, time then passed, and one more app came my way, as if two dating apps weren’t enough to keep one’s fingers occupied and well-exercised (I’m alluding to swiping actions and nothing more, you filthy pervs!).

Around two months ago (at the time of writing), with a recommendation coming from my a-lifetime-ago college girlfriend’s college-aged daughter (Confusing, isn’t it?), I joined Bumble.  Odd as that indeed sounds, but the former mentioned in a conversation that the latter was using online dating sites, herself, after I had jokingly asked what the popular apps were these days.

Bumble, as I have since learned, because some female friends have excitedly sung its praises, allows women to have the less-demanding option of reaching out first, once a match is confirmed, giving them a little more power in deciding who is worthy of further communication.

I both suppose and hope that helps them minimize the amount of jerkaholics who bombard a gal with d-pics before even saying “Hello, how are? I’m Doug the douchebag.”

Having downloaded the Bumble app and having made my profile early one morning, yet only having found time to browse members’ profiles later that same evening, I was startled to see the amount of connections that were already made each time I swiped eastward, as if my phone were a compass.

If you’ve ever used the language-learning app Duolingo, the amount of immediate connections on Bumble that night were as if I had clicked on those little treasure chests shown at the end of a ‘Lingo language lesson, which pop open to award gold coins, similar to what getting a pay out on a slot machine in a casino is like.

Bing!  “You matched!”

Bing, bing! “You matched!”

Bing, bing, bing, bing, bing, bing! (Why I deleted the seventh bing here was chalked up to how they rolled off the tongue!)

Well, again and again, I matched with goddesses and their goddess-like single Bumble peers.

Echos of melodious bings would be chiming in my ears as I fell asleep later that evening, smiling at my newfound, albeit virtual and certainly soon-to-become-fleeting, popularity.

[DISCLAIMER: The above embellished DRAMATIZATION comes from a dude who has noticed, at age 50, that I’ve only received two double-takes in person, in months if not years.  Undoubtedly, I’m questioning my own appearance and attractiveness nowadays, much more than I had as a younger man, for I’ve lately had such laughably limited instant connections in real life.  Noticing double-takes was never truly the norm in my life, but periodically it happened when I was more, uh, youthful.]

So with Bumble, each time I swiped right or clicked on the heart icon at the bottom of a profile (i.e., having looked at all photos and having read whatever descriptions were available, which is limited in comparison to OK Cupid), at least for that first night and the first few days, there seemed to be a 70% chance I was met with an ephemerally enticing and somewhat exciting, “You’re a Match!”, or whatever the default pop-up message reads at that exact moment.

Consequently, the returns on this investment, i.e., my dedicated time and consistent finger-directed energy, were rather promising (Who am I kidding, but these dating apps can be a whirlwind of frenzied skimming over a five-minute span that may even induce dizziness as you swipe away the entire lives of strangers, instantaneously).

Not sure if that qualifies as an investment of any sort.

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Although, at 50, my confidence, my self-image, and my place in this world are all already relatively firmly established, this flurry of so many positive outcomes was reassuring, reaffirming.

Especially because I’d endured a debilitating divorce battle a few years back, this recent welcome return to dating seemed promising.

Being back on the market (at least the online community one), with my single-status produce on virtual display, with shoppers supposedly “selecting my goods” at a fairly alarming rate, I was starting to feel that I’d never again have to approach a gal in the frozen-foods section of the local Shop Rite or Piggly Wiggly.

Who needs real-life seduction, flirting in person, and traditional courtship when cyberspace will do just fine, thank you very much?  

(I do.)

Collectively, these immediate online matches were the FREE potful of gold awaiting me at the end of the all-too-long dating rainbow.

So it was, in March and April of this year, fresh out of the Tinder-gate, I may as well have just started digging my hands into that your-cup-runneth-too-much-over pot, vigorously throwing up coins into the air, not giving a shit where they landed or how much errant spillage there was!

Cha-Ching!  Bing, bing!

It’s a Match!

My hopes were elatedly high.

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Well, y’all, if you’ve not had a chance yet to read my latest blogs, with one entry which focused on the ups and downs of online dating, I have had a number of outings with a variety of folks over these past two months, some a success, some not.

Success in online dating is a term that’s really up to you to define, dear reader.

Seemingly based on a natural progression of those near-innumerable initial matches, quite a few never panned out, yet some surely did, with the whole gamut of experiences regarding communication having taken place, e.g., 1) the consistently-enthusiastic, flirting messages, 2) the mundanely-indifferent, intermittent ones, 3) the ones which showed that some ladies had merely wanted cyber pen pals, and 4) the ones centered on wanting to meet for a chat, stat. (Yet not like a few encounters I had had in Taiwan, which were of a different sort; I’ll tell you about them when you’re older.)

Even until today, a few digital dialogues have continued with ladies I’ve not yet met, and I am now “seeing” a few people (at the point that I need to probably have “the talk” about “seeing” other people, whatever that entails, in order to understand what their expectations are, respectively).

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However, even if I’ve had some intermittent success, the aforementioned apps on my iPhone are seemingly soon bound for dormancy.  

Dormant is practically what they’ve already become.

Why though?

After so much initial success in finding virtual matches (those before meeting or even digitally chatting), shouldn’t that same rate still be the norm?

Not even close.

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It is now July, and when I look into the bottom of the proverbially formerly-full dating application kettle, reaching my hand in as if I were one hungry Winnie the Pooh, attempting to get to the ultimately last drop of scrumptious honey, I see nothing, withdrawing a dry hand void of any vestigial sticky stuff.

Long gone are mental images of a harem of twenty-five maidens (all, ahem, divorcees at this age) feeding me grapes and fanning me as I recline, shirtless, on my chaise lounge.

Long gone, as well, are those incessant, instantaneous matches that triggered that momentary, “Egad!  I’m all that!”

(I’m allowed to entertain myself with that imagery, folks, even if I logically know that I am not all that.  Coming from an erstwhile diffident teenage bloke, that’s truly not my personality.)

Instead, such bombarded-with-an-approval-bing moments are increasingly rare.  Enough so that I want to retire my apps, delete them forever, and earnestly return to the grocery store aisles, browse the library stacks, or join a knitting club here in my new city.

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So if these online match-making tools are ready for retirement, how am I dealing with it?

Is it truly that different now?

Well, over the last two weeks, I have tapped dry OK Cupid’s pool of members on a number of occasions (steadily filtered, as it has been from the start, for a 38-58 age range).

For the most part, there are 40 or 50 OKC members available in my geographic range at any given moment, but recently, nary an actual match comes to fruition.

In fact, no matches are actually begotten because I’m not swiping right.  Not at all.

That’s 40 or 50 swipes left in one sitting, and over a number of days, consecutively, over a good stretch o’time!

That is truly different!  What happened to those initial mutual interests from March and April?

Nowadays, not even a stop watch is calibrated precisely enough to measure the duration it takes to periodically check back in with OKC, to check what Ms Right might be out there.

Nanoseconds are too protracted in comparison to getting through 40-50 profiles.

Each of these searches is met with the same emotional response a sap collector feels when discovering his recent tap has merely resulted in an empty five-gallon bucket at the base of his maple tree, so empty that it would make anyone familiar with the concept of a Helmholtz resonator giddy with reverberating joy when the wind passes by said bucket.

Distant fog horns commence even if no ships are passing in the OKC-less night!

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Moreover, yet in an entirely different manner, my recent browsing efforts of Tinder and Bumble profiles have ended so abruptly that I wonder if women in my age range are somehow banning these apps en masse, picketing loudly outside of the respective headquarters of each, demanding more options, themselves.

With those latter two apps, a new search begets perhaps, if I’m lucky, a mere four or five newbies, nowhere close to OKC’s half-of-a-hundred options each time.

Where else could they have gone to so hurriedly on Bumble and Tinder?

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My hopes utterly subsided, I wouldn’t be surprised if a tumble weed blows across my Bumble screen the next time I log on.

On Tinder, I can envision a burned out campfire popping up, instead of the symbolic flames (for those uninitiated types).

Maybe that’s the catch!

These app developers WANT you to get burned out on coming up empty!  Eventually, after returning empty-handed time and time again, a SCUBA diver in the Bahamas will just go and pay for a conch burger at a local bar.

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[DISCLAIMER: So that my readership understands more openly where I am coming from, I must state a few things, first.

At 50, I am in decent shape, still fairly active, still relatively “attractive,” at least a female friend recently told me  (and it is ALL relative, believe me); thus, I am hoping to meet someone who is similarly fit, someone who wouldn’t mind jumping in a river from a cliff platform, darting around the bases during a pick up softball game, or lugging a backpack into the Cascades for a few days.

Active and fit is, admittedly, somewhat a requisite notion I maintain in my search endeavors.

I know I’m not anywhere close to perfection; I don’t think, however, that I’m purely chopped liver.

Though my hair is peppered, I’ve been fairly “fortunate” in not turning mostly or all grey yet–fortunate, too, in the fact that I still have a full mane at this point.

Moreover, though I have the body of a 50-year old, numerically, I’ve at least stayed away from developing such physical baggage as a beer gut.  However, my chin is starting to sag more, my skin isn’t as elastic as it once was, and my temple-approaching crow’s feet are decidedly more pronounced and crow-like.

Although I could readily be a grandfather at this point, I do not yet completely have a quintessential dad bod.

Not yet.]

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The point is, I do have a fairly high set of expectations when it comes to what I define as attractive, whom I deem as attractive–even if I am not all that myself.

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[DISCLAIMER:  Instead of guffawing at my honest pickiness, y’all, you should also know I’ve heard of guys out there swiping right on anyone to see what “action” they can get, dudes who’ve admitted to going for “anyone who looks lonely” because it may result in faster action.  Yikes.  That’s not to mention the countless stories I’ve been privy to of blokes who are outright fakes, downright rude, and plain ol’ asshole-ish.]

Chemistry, one’s fit physique, and that certain “je ne sais quoi” (that certain aura and vibe that exists when you see someone’s photo) are all equally important measures in my developing an immediate virtual interest (and just a few of the countless untold aspects of forming an attraction to someone, overall).

If an online match comes to fruition (based on a handful of images and a dearth of written information), then one’s intelligence and intellect, humor and attitude, kindness and empathy, personality and perspective, hobbies and interests, place in life and self-confidence, ability to passionately kiss and tenderly caress, etc., are all traits I look for after having met face-to-face for a chat.

The list could surely go on.

What would help establish a bond and connection that could last long-term is up to you to decide.  But what else could you go by at first sight on a site?

With that being said, the three above-mentioned dating apps are all quite one-dimensional in and of themselves (although OKC, with its question-and-answer formatting, provides the most well-rounded insights into someone’s true identity, of course depending on how honest and detailed someone can get in their self-praising descriptions).

Anyone who uses these sites can be labelled to some degree or another as being superficial and shallow.  Please keep that in mind.  I’m simply being forthright about it, publicly.

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So let’s get back to the notion of why my potful of dating gold is as now empty as a skydiving instructor’s parachute container after a successful jump.

I’m not fully ready to kick the dating app can just yet, but this is truly what has transpired with OKC most recently (and I will proceed to write this without regards to what are deemed politically-correct sensitivities):

If you know about these apps, as I’ve stated, swiping left merits complete avoidance, ending any hopes of a potential connection, snubbing said person based, most likely, on a handful of snapshots.

That’s the nature of online dating.

Anyone who is using them is making rather shallow judgments relatively quickly about someone’s worth–and that’s a topic for an entirely different blog entry, pending.

Conversely, swiping to the right is, thus, tantamount to a beef inspector stamping “USDA-Approved” on the carcass of a x-eyed cow hanging stiffly in the slaughterhouse (or wherever such inspection decisions are made).

“Tina approves this dude!”

“Paul approves this gal!”

It’s that simple, that depthless, sans physical stamp and ink pad.  In fact, one could argue that beef inspectors might even be more fixated on what they’re beholden to for a longer duration.

So, in total, over the course of these most recent two to three weeks, I’ve swiped left on OKC hopefuls probably, no kidding, some 250 times.

Perhaps more, to be fully honest.

Yet let’s stick with 250 as a ballpark figure because I am attempting to be less cynical, wanting to appear less finicky.

The latter is impossible.

(I am sure a few of you will stop reading at this point–even if I have heard of women being just as picky.  Hey, at least I’ve NEVER sat with a group of dudes and made fun of women on dating apps, comparing their looks or attempting-to-be-poetic profile narrations, yet I’ve heard of that happening from more than one female source.)

So that’s 250 women I have recently passed on OKC… out of… generously estimating here… perhaps 253 total Cupiders.

Yes, I have only swiped right on a mere three human beings on that platform. Sad, but true.

Cupid’s arrows must have all been missing their flights recently.

Yes, I know.  Your future collective “Tssk, tssk, tssks” are resoundingly deafening at this moment–though I venture to guess a handful of you, dear readers, might be nodding in agreement because if these algorithms are set in such a way, influencing our options, it happens to all of us singles online.

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250 passes out of 253 options?

Why has the quality of OKC seemingly devolved so rapidly?  Are “attractive” people taking a break at the lake this summer, leaving everyone else to populate the app?

That type of success is probably lower than Ray Charles’ chances of hitting a grand slam against Randy Johnson back in his prime (Randy’s, not Ray’s).

And of the three women whom I’ve stamped as APPROVED, only one popped up as being a match (hey, y’all, that was metaphorically spoken, not how I truly perceive this process–which is oft taxing, cold, mundane, calloused and trivial).

As a matter of fact, one connection out of the three I swrighted on (my new term for “swiped right on”), revealing a mutually shared interest, is indeed a high percentage (33.33% if my middle school math memory serves me well); however, that’s not the point, at least not with OKC.

This app, unlike a few months ago, is somehow now only offering profiles that are about as engaging as watching a paper plate being blown down an alleyway as I’m warming my car on a cold morning.

I stare at it, somewhat vapidly, utterly uninspired.  Yet inspired to think about the algorithms being deployed by the developer, pondering if I should perhaps pay.

With OKC, I have absolutely no clue how their algorithms are ‘selecting’ the women who are coming up (40 or 50 at a time), but there is this dramatic difference in terms of the types of women that are currently showing up with the exact same search parameters as what I’d employed back in March.

This is where this gets notably messy (and rather challenging to explain), but here goes:

The vast majority of members who are left on the Cupid app right now are simply not my type, not my preference, not my match.  In fact, they oft remind me of Clara Peller, the little old lady who did the 1980’s Where’s the beef? commercials–or even Anne Ramsey from Throw Mama from the Train.

Granted, in logically understanding human nature, truly, at age 50 or 55, I fully understand that time has not been everyone’s best friend (even though I have, indeed, been on a few dates and have made some friendships with some rather attractive, quite fit, women).

Yet keep in mind that I’ll be the first to also admit my physical shortcomings (How many times will I stress that point?): My pecs droop, my ass sags a bit, my formerly hairy legs now have odd, random patches of the stuff, and my biceps have turned to uni-ceps (as have my erstwhile triceps).

Be that as it may, I’m not ready to date my grandmother yet.

On OKC it feels as if the members left over are… well, left overs (I told you that’s hard to broach).

But that was NOT the case a handful of months ago, when I was new to the app.

Accordingly, chances of finding someone are, today, at a minimum.

Yet that’s what they, the developers, want, right?

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Sitting at a cafe the other day, my index finger flicked so many times through OKC members’ profiles that I switched over to my middle finger, getting an icepack to reduce the swelling and cut down the lactic acid build up in my pointer finger.

Would I be so bold to even claim I then resorted to using my ring finger after?

Ahem….

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[DISCLAIMER:  MEN ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES DOING THIS, Y’ALL!  I’ve recently sat on first or second outings (I don’t call them dates), sharing stories with women who have also had such recollections, how they’re tired of the abs-only pics, the torso-in-the-bathroom-mirror shots, the beer guts, the guys who are not the guys that show up for a drink.  Honestly, a female friend just last week sent me pics of a guy who’d posted on his profile an image of a handsome bloke but who had then sent her a picture via text messages of a close-but-no-cigar altogether different being.]

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Contrarily, Bumble and Tinder searches nowadays result in an abysmally low five or six total profiles each new search before pop up windows appear saying, “You’ve gone through all the bees in your area“, and “There’s no one around you,” respectively, or something quirkily snide like that.

Now, this aforementioned revelation, which surely DOES come off as judgmental, is NOT about OKC being chockfull of women I’d not opt to date.  Conversely, in fact, it is how OK Cupid has somehow manipulated their platform–to make it that way.

It has to be!

Why and how so?

Those first few weeks of using the same damn app I was bombarded with images of women who were appealing, fit, and youthful-even-at-55 (no offense to my own age group), or at least with a vast majority of them being so.

Could it be that the OKC app sets it up that way, that out of the gate I was enticed by a multitude of attractive women so that I got excited, interested, hooked–yet as of late they only present to me images that… well, are simply different (i.e., vastly different), leaving me feeling as if I should just go pseudo-shopping for some frozen TV dinners (Are they still a thing?), instead.

My proof for this being a potential trend stems from, well, utter speculation (and a few similar claims out there from a thread on Reddit)–and this one fact:

OKC continually reminds me that if I want to see the 125-plus women who have liked me already, that I must send the site some greenbacks (not to the women directly, thankfully; otherwise, I’d be blamed for not just being shallow but for being a John).

“See who likes you”, OKC’s pop-up messages state, ENTICINGLY, on one part of the online site.  The app itself shows “Someone new” liked you!Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 20.48.47

To reveal what’s behind Box #2 (a 70’s game show reference, for you younger generations out there), I am then told, after clicking on their incentivizing link, I must pay “$59.99 for 6 MONTHS” or “$19.99 for 1 MONTH” for whatever their basic service is, or if I want to go up to their premium option, I would pay $159.99 for the half year up front package or $34.99 for their one-month, top-of-the-line access.

“Access to what?” I wonder!

Is that where one’s El Dorado would be discovered?  Did the erstwhile rainbow migrate to a locale that can only be revealed by racking up credit card debt?

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So with OKC, was I set up intentionally?  Did I go from Mr Popularity (with plenty of matches in a short time) to Mr Cannot-Find-Anyone-Lately, having tasted the honey like Pooh Bear, just to be left fingering my empty pot?

Is that just successful marketing on behalf of the developers and the folks who benefit behind the virtual scenes?

Is it all an enticing scam?  Or just a business model that works because of the ignorance or desperation of the dateless masses?

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Tinder, too, is feeding me the same lines of potential bullshit about dumping money into discovering the hidden treasures of the site/app, albeit they’re going about tempting me in a slightly different manner.

Unlike OKC, Tinder simply has just dried up (yes, I am aware that means I’ve done a lot of finger swiping to get to that point).

Over the last few weeks, even though I have swrighted a number of times, no instant notifications have pinged their way into view, telling me, “You’ve matched with ____________”.

But more disconcerting is that after five or six profiles appear–and just as suddenly disappear–there’s nothing left.

Nothing?

Easily I can recall how that first day or two on the app, months ago, resulted in a blitz of inspiring connections.  However, those soothing “bing, bing, bings” are so far off in the distance now that if that were the same frequency used on a hearing test, hearing aides would be ordered for me, forthwith.

Recently, those limited-in-overall-numbers Tinder searches have resulted in an ephemeral mixture of both appealing, natural women and those who appear to be total fakes (as if each of their flawless images was shot professionally at Glamour Shots or by a National Geographic-level photographer from across a farmer’s field or from inside Buckingham Palace); those pursuits have also begotten results who don’t pique my interest because of simple appearance “issues” or because, they, for some unknown reason, pepper their profiles with odd fairy pics waving wands, cute cats lounging on couches, and family dogs fetching a ball.

Often, a profile only contains those types of images.

Swiping left, undoubtedly, is the only choice in that case, breeding a dearth of intrigue, further facilitating the ephemerality of it all, leaving me increasingly disconnected from the process.

The four or five drops of rain that fall on the Atacama yearly don’t even evaporate as rapidly as my latest Tinder (and Bumble) findings.

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Things are, indeed, and not just arbitrarily, different.

However, the one variable that has stayed constant in all of this is ME.

I’m still the same chap, with the same pics, the same profile description on each app, respectively, yet how on earth did I go from being overrun with interest and mutually-shared (albeit perceived) attraction, to feeling as if I couldn’t captivate a kitten even if I smeared catnip all over my toes?

If I am the same Michael, wouldn’t I have roughly the same success as my initial moments of prideful gloriousness?

No way, no how.

Tinder would NOT have over, according to Wikipedia and a few online articles, 5 million paying subscribers if they allowed each free member to continue to enjoy the perpetual inundation of engaged, mutual interest that the inaugural few days allows.    

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With Tinder, too, they employ, from what it appears, the same bait-me-until-I-buy-into-it tactics as OKC.

Screen Shot 2019-07-26 at 20.49.03For the two months-plus, I’ve been enticed by a “99+ Likes” displayed icon on Tinder, a number that hasn’t budged (unlike OKC which has fluctuated at times, as of late, yet still hovers around 125).

To understand how this seems to be clearly the case, in looking at the app as I write this, I’ve just clicked on the 99+ prompt, which results in a “Upgrade to Gold to see people who already liked you.”

Getting “Tinder Gold” for six months runs you $112.99, equaling $18.83/month, or one can pay a one-off month’s worth of access for $29.99.

“Access to… whom?” I wonder.

If my Tinder search results show, upon tapping on the symbolic flaming icon at the top of the screen, “There’s no one around you. Expand your discovery settings to see more people,” then where the heck are the 99+ who apparently do know I exist already, who apparently think I’m better than chopped liver?

If I expanded my search settings (e.g., age, geographic location, or “can walk and talk at the same time”), would I actually tap into the 99+ hidden gems?

The 99+ seems to stay the same regardless of setting changes, regardless of my crossing my fingers and doing an ancient rain dance.

If they are not around me, how are they still out there, now solely hidden behind a blurry icon pic?

Apparently, they are only, unbeknownst to them, willing to come out if I throw cash into Tinder’s till, only wanting to pursue me if I flash some cash.

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Is there a FREE potful of gold awaiting me if I do take the bait?

Will my maple tree taps start to drip into my collection pot again?

After paying, would those 99+ and 125+ additional opportunities awaiting behind the curtain immediately generate more worthwhile matches?

Would the pool of applicants revealed by my undeserving largesse to the company’s profit margins actually be of the “higher rating system” that the algorithms have supposedly created?

Worse yet, would I be bombarded, initially, with fabulous promises of dating pleasures to then see the taps run dry again–until I’m once more tempted to contribute more to the pot?

Although this is not my first time using such applications (shoot, I met some great people on Yahoo! Personals back in 2003-2004), I am now starting to get the real gist of Tinder, Ok Cupid and Bumble.

My gut and the handful of brain cells that are left at 50 both tell me to go it on my own, that it is NOT worth the risk to become a paying subscriber.

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The upshot is that I’ve gotten tired of the time commitment (a simple cost-benefit analysis prompts me to move on, for I’ve got more beneficial pursuits to engage in).  And I don’t enjoy the gaming aspect of the entire process, swiping away someone’s life in a nanosecond.  The whole rating system and the algorithms that such apps are based on seems unfair, and that paints the process with a cheap coating to it all, too.

Thus, just three days before finishing this entry, two weeks after I’d started it, I deleted from my iPhone the OKC, Hinge and Tinder apps, only hanging on to Bumble because of two ongoing chats that haven’t either ended naturally yet (by flickering out because of inconsistent boredom) nor have yet been transferred to a phone-number exchange or to a face-to-face outing.

Yet, Bumber will also go the way of its brethren soon.

In fact, last Sunday, I wound up briefly joking and chatting with a real person in real life after she had attempted five times to parallel park behind my vehicle near a pedestrian zone of a local park.  It turns out that, based on an apparent mutual attraction, she texted me that afternoon (since I had placed my number, hastily scribbled on a sheet of looseleaf paper I thankfully had in my car, under the windshield wiper of her SUV).

It felt so real to approach someone in the manner which I was more prone to doing 20 years ago.  

We’ve met already for a summer-inspired lakeside stroll, with a chat over a beer at the end.  And tomorrow, August 12, 2019, we’ve got plans to meet for brunch.

Maybe my pot of gold never needed to be filled by OKC, Tinder or Bumble.

I just needed to let things develop naturally.

And that didn’t cost a dime.

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My three dating apps included the following images.

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Tinder Kids: What’s the Risk?

Always questioning humanity and the antics we’re incessantly collectively partaking in, I have recently started treating a variety of issues related to Tinder and similar apps as notable and blog-worthy.

What women (and men?) are posting on their profiles, in general, falls into that area, without a doubt.  Yet, something specific is most irksome, to me, this 50-year-old teacher and father, who never would do what is being done routinely on these dating sites.

With online dating, one never knows what one is going to find in someone’s profile pics.  From the genuine and insightful, to the seductive and lascivious, and to the odd and quirky, snapshots that people post can establish a sense of whom a person really is (i.e., they may reveal a member’s social connections, they can expose one’s personality or level of confidence, or they shed light on someone’s aura, if you believe in such profound notions)–or, on the other hand, they can leave you utterly baffled (random animated tree pics, purple fairies with pixie dust, and a lone family pet with no human presence all come to mind).

Admittedly, a lack of revealing photos (that does not mean “sexual”, not by any means) can be a deal breaker from the get go, prompting an immediate swipe in the direction of San Francisco (well, that depends on which cardinal direction you’re facing, but you get the idea, I hope); conversely, enough well-rounded, insightful quality images can inspire you to contact someone.

Perhaps the collection of images may even provoke you to salivate, but that’s another blog for a less-mature (in terms of keeping your hormones in check), more libidinous audience, for another time.

And, no, I’ve never gone so far as to experience that!  At 50, my libido is easy to harness.  In fact, too easy.  That, too, is another story.

Okay, back on track to the topic we go!

The one aspect of a large portion of Tinder members’ profiles–and the thought process behind their creations–that simply does not make any sense (for the 35-55 age bracket, that is), at least to this blogger, is when women include photographs of their young children.  Though I’ve gathered no such stats on this routine practice on this site/app, nor on other similar dating platforms, the propensity of women doing so is astonishingly high.

Such a habit not only does not make sense but it should altogether stop.

For good reason.

First, in looking at the regularity of this issue, it seems that the women who do upload family-centered, kid-inclusive photos are potentially subconsciously hoping to–or intentionally wanting to–divulge that they are parents, perhaps first and foremost (I have NO clue if single or married, you cheating bastards–fathers are prone to such kid-revealing dating app customs).

Kudos for those who have the notion that being a mom is paramount in their lives and first on their minds, relegating your lazy ass, Mr Right-but-not-a-Priority) to a distant sixth place behind kids, careers, home life, the dozen cats, and pedicures (or quail hunting, as to not gender bias here).

Admittedly, such kinder-highlighting snapshots do, indeed, establish where a woman’s priorities are.  If you’re a dedicated mother, let that be known to the world, for sure (except perhaps it is time to rethink your online proclivities).

Furthermore, these hoping-to-meet-Mr-Right ladies (or Ms Right, if that’s what tickles their fancy, or tickles whatever it is they want tickled) are possibly attempting to unveil their pride, their love, their maternal bonds.  There’s no arguing that a parent should not be proud, that she shouldn’t be eager to reveal her incredibly loving bond with her toddlers, her primary school kiddos, her ‘tweens (except perhaps it is time to rethink your online proclivities), etc.

Who knows?  Perhaps the inclusion of such pics is to reveal that even though their marriages may have dissolved, they are still caring, dedicated, competent parents.

Whatever it is, such postings seem to be more the norm than not–to the point where it has stood out to me, to the point that I thought I’d highlight the trend here.

Now, incidentally, if Jo’ Shmoe posts prideful pics of her 20-year-old globetrotting kid or her now-30-something erstwhile bambino-turned-law-professor, so be it!  Those “kiddos” are adults and are most likely not living at home.  They can fend for themselves.  They can be known publicly without repercussion (besides the potentiality of some horny MILF-seeking bloke coming up to you at the office water cooler to declare, “Hey, Bud, I saw your smoking’ mom on Tinder last night!  What a hottie!  Oh, and her pics including you are cute, too.”).

Worse yet, the dude eagerly expresses, “I met your all-too-eager mom last night for a beer and a shag,” giving you a detailed blow-by-blow account of the adventure, pardon the pun.

Dealing with such ramifications, as an adult, can be straightforward.  Although embarrassing, an adult is an adult–and he or she can face such moments armed with knowledge, maturity, and self-awareness, i.e., the ability to defend oneself.

Yet for this scribbler of notes on life, who is now focusing on online dating issues and anecdotes, I’d like to argue that it is not only wrong to post pics of your young children but it is also dangerous.  

Anyone familiar with… well, uh, life… should be able to recognize the susceptibility of any given member creating a profile with her young children included.

A product of the 80s, I’m still prone to quip, “Duh!”  (Actually, I’ve not used the term in thirty-plus years, but this is one of those peculiar human endeavors that prompts its usage.)

“Well, what about showing the pride I have for taking care of my babies?” incredulous Mom #1 might respond.

That can be done via the, albeit somewhat limited, space provided on your profile (which on Tinder leaves about 18.5 characters to sum up such pride), right?  

Easy fix.

“What about revealing my priorities from the outset?” skeptical Mom #2 may retort.

Easy fix, also.  Too easy.

Explain where your priorities lie with a prospective bloke from the start via open-hearted, detailed dialogue. e.g., “It’s nice to virtually meet you, Bob, but I must let you know that you’ll never be anything in comparison to my kids, but let’s chat.”

Mom #3 may chime in, “How do I clearly establish, with a pending virtual beau, the bond I have with my children–without pasting 2,098 pics of them on my profile?”

Easy, also.

Enthusiastically explain that fact over a first coffee or a cocktail.  Or even after you go down on the dude, if that’s your thing (that is some people’s thing, folks, so don’t be too shockingly offended)!

[Not that I am prone to revealing such interludes, I can write such things based on knowledge, y’all.  I’m not pulling this stuff out of my arse.]

So why the worry, Mike?  Are there really repercussions of posting  these kid-centered pics?

To be honest, dear readership, I have not yet heard of any such negative fallout happening, but then again, I haven’t done any research.  I’m not on the lookout for it.

Simply put, it just seems to be common fucking sense.  

There are, without any argument, however, whackos out there.  Freaks.  Pedophiles.  Predators.

And, yes, there are stories of child abusers who are surfing the Internet (Why do we still capitalize this word?  Is it tantamount to God?)!

If such nefarious beings are on the virtual prowl, why would dating app users not consider that simple fact, not concern themselves with the prospect of it happening?  Wouldn’t they want to shield themselves and their children from such risks?

As a teacher, especially having taught elementary education for the last five years of my career, I know it is an issue for even some parents and administrators if an educator posts pics of their students online without a signed parent release, without permission.  Some schools even have policies in place that staff cannot publicly show students unless on a closed server, for parent access only.

So why aren’t more mothers, on that note, concerning themselves with this notion, that there are, indeed, weirdos out there who may be looking for someone with young kids, from the get go, creeps who are intentionally searching for someone, basing their decisions to reach out to a woman on the images of the kids they see in such profile pics, not based on the attractiveness of the profile members themselves.

Again, I have no stats to back up this argument.  But my gut tells me, each time I see fun-filled family oriented images on a profile, that it isn’t right.  At a minimum, that it is not a good idea.

Why take the risk, ladies (and men who do the same, since sex offenders are not always men)?

Occasionally, I’ll find women who crop their pics, leaving just themselves in that odd bent-to-the-left pose, like they’re leaning on an invisible fencepost.  Other such images at times reveal a woman whose arms project up and outwards, like an eagle in full yawn mode, yet her wingspan is cut off on both side, freezing her in a position that doesn’t seem natural.

That’s better than putting her kids in jeopardy by attracting the wrong followers.

Then there are those who scribble out the faces of their offspring with a black photo-editing marker, sometimes so hastily that it’s as if their kids had someone throw a plate of squid-ink linguini in their faces.

That’s better than her putting her kids in jeopardy by attracting the wrong followers–unless there are nut jobs with pasta fetishes trolling these apps.

Either aforementioned way is a near effortless, effective solution, as is merely posting a pic of oneself sans children, or with other adults, even if those adults are one’s offspring.

To put your young children at any further potential risk seems foolish.  There’s enough risks for them to face without your putting them out there digitally for all to see.

So ladies (and the men who might do the same), take a few moments to update your Tinder pages.  By doing so, you may upset the occasional freak out there who is looking for such opportunities to get close to a lady that has cute kiddos, but by weeding them out early, you’re better serving yourself anyway.

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Aged 50, I’ve been on dating apps, on and off, since 2016.  The usage of said sites/apps has, indeed, had its highs and lows–enough so that I felt some shared insights here would help one to gain some understanding of what it is all about, at least from a middle-aged man’s perspective.

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Despite my concerns about establishing ongoing digital pen pals that go no further (i.e., never meeting in person), despite my worries that some whacko is going to boil a bunny on my stovetop after a few dates (a vague 80’s movie reference), and despite my newfound fears that yet another coffee outing will end in no goosebump-raising, no hormone-hopping-and-hoping excitement, once again, I trudge on through the dense undergrowth of online dating, a pursuit that has left me to endure some recent rollercoaster highs and lows.

Why do I torment myself so with such fluctuating outcomes and subsequent emotions, however ephemeral or collectively enduring those feelings are?

Indeed, there are days during which I, a recently-turned 50-year-old bloke, feel like I need to delete the slew of apps I’d recently downloaded (or re-loaded after having taken time off a month or two ago); however, there are, undoubtedly, days I feel I should hold out, with hopes that someone worthy will come my way (however pretentious that may sound; with her potentially wondering if–and equally hoping that–I am worthy in return).

Without too much personal belittlement, I may not be worthy, certainly depending on perspective and perception (another entirely different blog entry–specifically with how that applies to online dating–which I’ll be writing soon enough).

So why the highs and lows?  Indeed, they exist–and for good reason.

So get a load of this!

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Upon returning to the dating scene in March of this year, having been on a romantic hiatus for a few months while traveling full-time (shoot, I’ve not had a coital interlude since October of 2018), having dated for a year in Costa Rica (with a first date on OK Cupid my first week there), I was eager to meet some new people when I recently moved into a new city (yes, I do actually mean women, but labeling my pursuits as “focused on women” somehow sounds too overzealous and overly libidinous*).

I suppose I am hoping to meet anyone new in creating a fresh life for myself here (since I am open to friends of both genders–or all genders to be more comprehensive), but I’m only on dating apps with hopes of meeting openminded cisgender females (Dudes, I had to look up that term myself recently).

Geez… In 2019, does stating all that make me sound too… provincial or exclusionary?  Ignorant?  With terms like polyamorous, pansexual, and many more being tossed about on these apps, I know I should exercise caution in my wording (I’ve been gone from the USA for entirely too long and have missed out on the revolution of trendy language here)!

Well, I’m personally sticking to what’s most natural for this bloke.

*Disclaimer: Without any doubt, y’all, my intent on meeting someone is NOT just for physical pleasures, not at all.  Referring to my dry spell above is to cynically bemoan something that is surely manageable, assuredly no big deal.  After divorce, there was a span of 1.5-2 years where I was celibate by choice (having no interest in dating while going through a divorce court fiasco)–so this current drought is no biggie.

That’s life!  My gonads can wait.

(Shit, I hope so!)

Yet, the reality of it is, that’s just one aspect of the entire package that could be present if given the perfect aligning of the stars, the moons, the planets in galaxies farther than the Star Wars ones, if I were to locate that one true soulmate that seems to be missing from my life (maybe a semi-somewhat-soulmate will suffice).

So in addition to some lonely gonads… What about my heart?  My soul?  My sense of companionship?  My love for deeper conversation?  My search for someone who won’t mind some errant, randomly sprung ear hair and the occasional two-inch long eye brow anomaly?

Those desires all lie dormant, as arid and cracked as the Atacama in January.

So, to dating apps I turned, turning on the ignition of the dating bus, with it belching clouds of exhaust and sputtering engine oil in all directions.

Soon I was to be sampling, if you will, the offerings of Tinder, Bumble, Hinge and OK Cupid, and I soon commenced the roller coaster ride!

Come on, y’all!  I KNOW… especially in this day and age, that “offerings” is utterly inappropriate, like labeling chattel at the local flea market or produce at the organic farmers market.  Simply put, I opted for that instead of stating, “I met some women.”

Easy does it.

[One side note:  In mid-July, 2019, the site It’s Just Lunch ran a radio ad which I’d heard while in my car, including, “When an attractive member of the opposite sex walks up…” (or something to that affect), leaving me wondering why the ad execs didn’t simply use, “When someone attractive walks up to you…” instead, which would be far more inclusive.  Come on, y’all.  It’s 2019!]

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A low…

Out of the gate, my first meeting with a Tinder-found gal in mid-to-late March of this year was a let down.

Now, before you read on, folks, promise me that you’ll maintain an open mind and further practice some patience in seeing both sides of how this went down–in determining who is right or wrong (or, contrarily, if neither adjective applies here).

Easy does it.

Caveats be damned, but I am sure there will be those who lash out at me, regardless of how much I try to politely explain my perspective.

So, because Tinder is the most superficial of the four aforementioned apps, for decisions to contact someone are primarily made quickly and based on merely seeing the nine images someone posts (max), I didn’t really have the full gist of who the first person I was going to meet was (truly, more can be said on the side label of a cigarette pack than can fit in a Tinder profile description).

Okay, let’s just cut to the chase: This woman was undoubtedly the woman present in her photographs, but she had not actually posted any that had included her whole self, per se.

Some could argue, and that’s what I’m doing here, that she misrepresented herself.  Isn’t that an issue that could cast doubt on trust in general?  Isn’t it as bad as the horror stories I’ve heard of guys showing up on a Tinder date, turning out to be different than their profile pics?

Yes, my can opener is piercing the rim of that nightcrawler-filled can as I continue, but please hear me out.

So, rewinding a few days, first, the few chats we’d had were entertaining enough, comforting and polite–enough so that I felt a meeting would be fine.  In fact, there was one cancelled meeting because of a change of plans, but no offense in that–for it was done early enough and nicely so.

Based on that comfort and the few photos she had posted, I decided to go with the natural flow of my preferring to meet someone in person, because virtual communication does not really tell you about someone’s true self (whereas a first meeting not only quickly establishes compatibility and chemistry but also grants insights into demeanor, confidence, character, humor, personality, foot size, flavors and aromas, etc.).

Okay, not the aromas part!  I’m not looking for a scratch-n-sniff sticker!

It is clear, folks, that witty banter in a chat room will never replace knowing face to face if someone has calloused hands, hairy knuckles, halitosis, or if she speaks like the low talker (still a favorite Seinfeld episode).

However, when I met her, with her walking into the bar/restaurant a few moments after I had, I was able to instantly recognize her face, but she was quite different than what one could make out in her Tinder pics.

Let’s be honest, I, otherwise, couldn’t make out a thing!

Her handful of selfie-angled (and only from that angle) snapshots revealed on her profile a woman whom I had, certainly, thought was cute, even sexy.  Her blue eyes in one image were intoxicating.

Moreover, because two or three of her shots were in social situations, I was able to derive a sense of her sociability–even if said likenesses were at those limiting, arm-extending-upwards perspectives.

Only.

If only her efforts in attracting someone were all-inclusive and encompassing of her real self, I may not have reached out (crap, it is truly challenging to address this topic openly).

That slowly turning can opener has proceeded to peel back half the lid now–and those creepy crawlers can be seen squirming about, right?

Hold off, please, before you throw me entirely to the wolves!

So we chatted for an hour-plus, with my just taking a beer, with her ordering a meal (because of her, “If I don’t eat, I get really moody…” comment), and we both shared some personal histories, my feeling mostly fine with the comfort level; nevertheless, in the back of my mind, I admittedly was not attracted to her.

There was no chemistry, no connection on a physical level.

“Just friends” was my rather hasty gut reaction to the whole process.

And that’s just fine, for I do approach online dating, and you may not think so after I joked about my dry spell above, with fairly low expectations (i.e., I don’t ‘want,’ request nor demand something out of a first meeting); hell, I don’t even call them dates!

Dates to me can imply romantic connections or interest on a different level (hell, I’ve been told by female friends of men who’ve blurted out, “Hey, since I bought you dinner, do you want to have a shag in my car afterwards?”).

They’re outings.

As a matter of fact, I could have an outing with a potential friend and feel fine about taking the time to do so–since friendship is friendship in the end.

Yet, I harbored some odd confusion about how I’d kind of set myself up by not realizing she may have been corporeally “different” than what I perceived from her pics, and at the very same time, I pondered her possibly posting said pics on purpose.

By only showing her headshots, all from an above angle (even with the more social pics, one of which was in a dark bar), did she intend to deceive, to set up false expectations about physical attraction, which does stem from knowing the whole person, right?

Was she being true from the start?

Naturally, there will be naysayers, those who will say I’m the one being shallow for passing judgment upon seeing her and then sitting together for an hour thinking about this issue (no, it was NOT the only thought I’d had as we chatted–for my thoughts were also on the dramatic ex-husband’s antics she’d described, as well as on the mannerisms of her scarfing down her entree and ordering a second cocktail in twenty minutes).

Oops.  Did I really go there?

Yet naysayers will cast me down without considering there are other reasons I prefer someone who is physically fit: with hiking, rock scrambling, climbing, skiing, mountain biking… to name a few outdoorsy activities I’ve been involved in in the past and want to pursue again, all being interests I would like to jump into from the get go.

That’s not to say overweight people do not enjoy such pursuits, but you know what I mean.  Right?

Hopefully, there will be those that can also see that she also had a part to play in the failure of the first outing.

Imagine if she walked into the bar as an actual selfie portrait!  It would have been a more accurate representation of what she presented herself to be on her profile!

She wasn’t the person she portrayed.

Just last week a female acquaintance used the term “false advertising” when I explained this story, so I know that some can see my point of view, too.

I’m not that cheaply judgmental, am I?

Regardless of the debatable nature of this first experience, it was a let down, and admittedly, I am now on guard when I do peruse pics on these platforms and perceive one’s potentially intentional delusion to create an illusion that perhaps is far from the truth of one’s fitness level or physical stature, all too aware, additionally, that Tinder doesn’t have that option to list “fit”, “curvy,” “rotund,” “as wiry as a pipe cleaner,” etc.

It should.

Truly, and I don’t believe anyone should or would argue against this, but we might all be our best selves if we’re totally upfront and completely honest in who we are (on all fronts, not just in the tangible realm).

Sure, some things can be left up to discovery (no dating app allows for posting a life story in detail), for such discoveries are a natural part of dating, i.e., figuring out if someone is a good spiritual/intellectual/mental/personality/sexual fit, but with online dating, before arranging an outing or even in creating our profiles, just show your true self!

Please.

And the same holds true for any falsehoods, any hidden agenda, any misdirection.

The upshot is that I didn’t have high expectations, yet the subsequent, fleeting low I was faced with stemmed from having wasted my time, both in my allowing it to happen and in her not being fully upfront.

[I’ve seen the same gal on other apps recently, with her selfie-only self quite apparent, still.  Should I have said something in person?  Should I have written her back to explain this, besides my simply writing, “Thank you for your time.  I wish you the best of luck in your pursuits but I don’t think it would work out,”?  Who is to say?]

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An interlude…

After two other coffee outings (ya see, they weren’t dates in my mind) which went immediately no where…

Wait, the reality is, I had met a gal two times in late March, and I was admittedly promptly taken by her spirit, by her humor, by her experiences, by her lifestyle, by her attitude, and, well, by her physique.

I was actually… smitten–and I’d momentarily permitted myself the FALSE notion that she was experiencing a reciprocal interest.

Not.

After the second evening, after we’d first met at a cafe and then followed it up with a dinner in a popular fusion food joint in another part of town (her even extending the outing prompted thoughts that things were going the right way), she’d instead written me that she didn’t want to go any further with getting to know each other.

Chopped liver I was (or perhaps it was because she had asked me if I had ever hooked up from an app outing, to which I had explained my answer about a 2017 experience; honesty is always the best policy, or it isn’t when it comes to that answer).

It came from out of nowhere, a blow to the ego, at least temporarily so (perception and perspective has been so varied during these most recent dating months that it’s enough to blog about separately).  But it was just a moment’s passing in life, and life goes on!

Multitudes of marine life, eh!?  PoF!

The sea is enormous, or so I’ve been told.

Moreover, the same outcome held true after one other coffee chat around the same time with an artist type, one who is into sailing, etc., yet who had also explained her challenges with meeting someone, her often solitary approach to living, her loneliness.  A one-off outing that for whatever reason resulted in no follow up afterwards, it was at least a nice chat for two hours on a weekend morning.  Though I would have followed up with an occasional coffee chat as friends, there were no more responses to my follow ups.

Back to the drawing board.

Or at least to the apps.

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A high…

The day before Easter, in April I believe that holiday falls, after only a rapidly exchanged slew of messages that very same day, I drove to a bar out in the suburbs, where it was pre-arranged we would meet, this newly-discovered gal and I.

When she exited her car, having just pulled up myself, I was already excited about the prospect of meeting again, an instantaneous chemistry having popped up (not THAT way, y’all!).

It wasn’t just physical, however. The way she smiled, the way she carried herself, a balance it seemed of both an innocent timidity and spirited aplomb–all combined to make this guy a trifle taken.

For the next six hours, I believe, we goofily bantered back and forth, with some sarcasm thrown in, revealing a comfort level that was rare in such a way.

At one point, after I had mentioned something about having lived in New York, she instantly spewed forth in a twangy, inflected-perfectly-like-that-damn-salsa-commercial way, “New York City?”

Just as instantly, I spewed my recent mouthful of beer all over the ground, grateful we were at least on the outside patio.

Simultaneous spewing doesn’t happen much.

With a relatively apparent shared interest, after having walked around the block and even through a grocery store parking lot–since the establishment had closed and kicked us out (Can one be kicked out if actually out on a patio already?), we then partook in revealing musical interests in her car, taking turns to introduce favorite artists and songs on her Spotify.

It had been eons since I’d intentionally listened to Sinatra.

It may be eons before I do it again.

Despite usually taking things quite slowly (“Especially for a dude”, I’ve been told), a first kiss awaited us, sealing the deal that this was a positive high to celebrate as I drove home, genuinely giddy–in a teenager sort of way.

[That was and remains the only first-outing-first-kiss interaction in months of going out in my new city, having been out for coffee chats with a few folks.]

Over the next five days before I departed for a month-long road trip to NY and back, we would hang out four more times, checking a number of places and activities off the list: trendy bars, happening restaurants, going for a walk around a lake, and playing bocce ball on some indoor courts over drinks.

Upon my return four weeks later, we continued a frenetic pace together, seeing each other for some ridiculous seven out of eight days, engaged in some highs in terms of emotions and interest, undeniably.

However, after such a whirlwind set of adventures, having even met her family, her parents, etc., life turned itself upside down again in, well, merely not working out, with a realization that we wouldn’t go any further.

Suffice it to say that life works itself out in mysterious ways and it wasn’t a match in the end, yet it seems, still–at the time of writing, that at least a friendship has developed and can continue to exist, and for that I am still pleased.

What is more, it somewhat restored my faith (kind of absurd I’ve chosenthatword here) in online dating.  The reality is, they’re dating apps, and we should put no faith in technology!

Yet, if I could meet someone so cool in so many ways, why would the apps (which I had deleted from my iPhone soon after meeting her) fail me a second time around?

There was hope.  Just not faith.

[One side note: Just a short time after our first outing, perhaps even just a mere two days later, I had written a few people I’d been chatting with on OKC and Tinder, informing them, fairly and politely, that I was not going to spread myself too thin, that I was going to invest time and energy in getting to know this one gal.  Honestly, once there was a first kiss, it felt like I should take the apps off my phone. I did.]

*****************************

A high… a low… a high… a low… and not necessarily in that order nor for that amount of times.

Around a week after the intensity was squelched, I restored the apps, thinking that since I, a school teacher, am on a summer holiday I should go out and meet new folks now–before returning to a full-time work schedule, knowing that once that happens, life will perhaps be overly frenzied and astoundingly tiring (having not worked in a year, I will hit the ground running and won’t be accustomed to such a pace).

Yet the whole process of chatting virtually, in and of itself, can be simultaneously taxing and enticing.

There are women who definitely strike up fun conversations and enthusiastically reach out first (a high), but there are those whose messages are so vapid and mundane (a low), leaving it always as a crap shoot how the latter will proceed (and the former, for that matter).

There are game players.  There are sugar babies.  There are fakes.  (All lows, of course.)

There are those who reply within a day or two, or throughout the day, the same day (a high), yet others who are more consistently disengaged and utterly aloof, chatting perhaps once a week or even less frequently (a low).  At times, one might feel, “Well, why reach out or initially reply if not willing to get to at least scratch the surface on getting to know each other before meeting?”, which I usually aim to do sooner than later.

There are some damn nice ladies out there, too.  (Needless to say, that’s a positive!)

Then, there are gals who are willing to meet relatively quickly (though my experiences reveal that it is not common to meet the very same day as I’d experienced that fatefully fun day before Easter)–which is a high(simply because I’d rather find out if someone is even compatible enough to spend hours chatting with, afterwards, virtually).  On the other hand, there are some who remain skeptical and nonchalant about the prospect of a face-to-face encounter, perhaps desiring to have a digital pen pal forever.  A low.  And certainly not my thing, preferring real-life interactions over cybernated ones.

Must be an age thing, my expectations to be real and to have in-person conversations.

*****************************

A low…

“Well, Michael, are you really here in this city,” she queried somewhat accusingly.

“Why would you doubt that?” I incredulously replied, incredulous because I knew I was–and I know I’m not a scam artist.  I gave her the benefit of the doubt since she couldn’t know with 100% accuracy.

Utterly doubtful, she snidely retorted, “Because you wrote ‘Good morning,’ when it was 1:08pm. I’ve worked for a dating app before, so I know the games people play.”

“Uh… seriously?  Haven’t you ever gone into a business or restaurant and said to someone, ‘Good morning!’ soon after midday?” I queried in return.  “That’s why I’d said it.  I promise you, I am here.”

After a few more volleys of both cynical (on her part) and promising dialogue, spanning a few days, we agreed to meet for a breakfast outing on a Saturday morning.

The dum dum award goes to…

Yet on Friday night, my own apprehension high, I read her 10pm message declaring, “I am starting to feel a summer cold coming on,” with replying immediately, “Well, please let me know if you need to cancel,” adding so that I could feel more reassured, “but please tell me early in the morning or tonight if you will or will not need to cancel.”

By 7:45am, by the time I was leaving home and heading the thirty minutes to the establishment, a hugely popular breakfast joint, I hadn’t heard from her.

So good to go, right?

Oh so wrong.

Within five minutes of sitting down, two minutes after I’d ordered a cup of coffee at the counter, I received a vague-yet-I-suppose-informative-enough message:

“I am feeling really no energy.  I think I’ll need some downtime today.  I’m just not up to doing much.”

That she couldn’t just say, “Sorry, Mike, but I am not going to make it,” was frustrating in itself, more like a game than anything else.

“Are you cancelling or still debating?”

“Oh, yes, I won’t make it.”

No apology ensued.

Alone I sat amongst some 90 other patrons, amongst their groups and pairs, ordering and then enjoying some solitary pigs in a blanket.

No, the pigs weren’t solitary, for they at least were side by side in their collective role.

I, on the one hand, was alone.

Two days later this gal contacted me to say she was sorry for the last-minute cancelling, offering as consolation to instead meet for a beer that Thursday night.

Remember y’all, this story is a ‘low’.

Open-minded and forgiving, I told her the time and place that would work, a grandiose brewery for happy hour, a place that can be packed more than a New Delhi train during a morning commute (Google it–those trains are fucking full).

An hour beforehand, while I was on a quick break from a part-time modeling gig (art class figure drawing modeling, not the typically metrosexual runway stuff), I had seen that she kindly confirmed with a brief, “I’ll see you at 6pm.  I’ll be there on time.”

Freshly coiffed after rushing to the restroom upon arrival (needing to pluck those errant ear hairs), I arrived to the hostess/host station with time to spare.

Time passed.

More time passed.

Gulp.

15 minutes after our scheduled time, I checked incoming messages, to no avail, choosing to send one.

“Are you here?”

At 25 minutes after the hour, i.e., well after our planned time, I typed, “I am heading to the upstairs bar.  If you come, please meet me up there.”  In fact, as I was scribing it, I noticed those three undulating dots that denote someone on the other side is writing concurrently.

In spite of such a hopeful sign, said message never arrived.

Upstairs on my barstool, surrounded by numerous tables of trivia gamesters and nearby romantically-inclined couples, I sipped my beer, solo, and rubbed away a tear.

Kidding!

Checking one last time proved futile.

Idiot I am.

She not only had not written but rather had deleted herself, ghosting me entirely!

Uggh.  Was I blind?

Shall I even describe this as a low?  A big part of me blew it off as rudeness.

How on earth can someone not own up to whatever silly antics she was pulling?  Had she no balls to apologize, if she was actually late or unable to make it for the second time?  Or was it all a game from the get go?

Square one I found myself on.

*****************************

A high… a few of them, as a matter of fact, with a peppering of lows.

For three weeks after being ghosted, which means for the past three weeks, I have thankfully met some great people.  At this stage, I do not desire to rush into anything as I had with my Sinatra-sharing ephemeral connection.  Though that brief phase was fun, frenetically so, it was just too much emotion without knowing more of the connections that were necessary to establish a solid future.

Thus, I’ve simply been going on more outings.

Yet lows and highs continue to varying degrees.  I suppose that is life, eh?

After one lovely, comfortable coffee shop chat for a quick 90-minutes two weeks ago, for example, I had received as part of a let’s-do-this-again dialogue exchange, “You’re an articulate, honest, polite gentleman,” having myself sent her a pleasantly-toned compliment or two beforehand.

Lovely.

Then I’d met someone else for an equally time-framed café conversation, resulting in a reply as simple as this: “I don’t think I find you to be dating material.” (Being honest and having NOTHING to hide, I had, in fact, revealed plenty about my 2013-2017 divorce and custody horror stories, opening up about the corruption I witnessed and suffered through in Taiwan–all because SHE ASKED.  Not one to lie, perhaps I should have just left it as, “I’d like to tell you all about it, but perhaps we can wait until after getting to know each other first.”)

Not lovely.

Conversely, with one really sweet gal around the same time, after a coffee-only first meeting and then a second to see a movie, she wrote, “I am intrigued by you… you are different from most men and more cultured than others,” which were welcome compliments, but when she then wrote, “Are you attracted to me?”, I stepped back because I just don’t want to go too fast into anything.

Imagine that, y’all!  I may sound like a typical guy in wanting to have met someone fit and active (shallowness, you might say), but I am also not aiming to jump at the chance with just anyone when a potential connection arises.

“Too fast, too soon”, is not a way to establish understanding, trust, commitment–nor long-term compatibility.

However, on the other hand, after a two-hour bar chat with someone I found intriguing myself (for her similar international-minded lifestyle, overseas experiences, athleticism, etc.), I followed up with a nice-to-meet you reminder that if she wanted to head out again, I would be up for it.

She’s ghosted me, too, at least in not responding to two messages–though her profile is still there.

I suppose there are degrees of ghosting, eh?  The gal who never showed up to two planned outings was a “extreme-ghoster”, whereas this second lady can be called… a “moderate-ghoster”.

Regardless of degree, it’s immature and cold.

[I honestly don’t get rudeness.  Honesty and politeness go such a long way in life, even if she were to write, “I don’t think it would work out.”  No need to be boorish about anything, yet anything is better than silence, I’d like to say.  Instead, I went from thinking, “Wow, what a cool gal!” to “What an insolent person.”  If she had a replied with a simple rejection, I would have accepted it, knowing differences are differences and that we all have varying tastes.  Without, I couldn’t help but feel that people these days are losing their ability to be kindly direct.]

But I’ve also been on recent outings that have at least established some friendships, giving me a sense of connection to the community, even permitting some networking at the least.

To have just set up shop in a new city after having lived in Latin America the last 18 months, and to now have new contacts, is all a godsend, even for this atheist who doesn’t believe god is sending me anything!

*****************************

Honestly, in having met some really great women lately, I’m also now in a bit of a dilemma.

I’ve relished the outings with a select few and would continue to do so if they have a reciprocal interest (and by planning more outings, it seems that they may), yet the last time I had actually ‘dated‘ (going out consistently, romantically) was when I was 19 or 20.

Even now at 50, I can still clearly recall how I felt shitty for having had and maintained two interests simultaneously–which I have never repeated on such a level since (dating a multitude of people was a debate I had had with a fellow soldier in Ft. Carson in 2001, which is a yet another pending blog entry).

Suffice it to say, it was never for me.

So I’ve managed a mindset of spending time together, but on a mostly platonic level, hitherto, wary of going full-throttle–yet enjoying a variety of summertime outings, learning all sorts of things about all sorts of people.

To advance anything further, however, with one person, will require some what-do-you-mean-to-me dialogue and some decisions–hopefully ones that do not result in other ‘lows’ (with NO intent on hurting anyone by doing so).  Even though I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the recent experiences and truly appreciate the times spent, learning about their lives, their pasts, their hopes, their interests, that damn potential of another low exists, prompting me to wonder if it is all worth it.

At least putting myself out there is more welcoming than sitting at home on my sofa, even with the highs and lows that come with this online dating.

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A CS-Inspired Loop of the USA: A Plethora of Couchsurfing Hosts over Four Weeks

During my recent, fabulous four-week road trip from Minnesota to New Jersey and back, and many times since, I had and have been asked what it is like to live with Couchsurfers, the hosts who’d put me up at various points along my route (at various points over the last ten years, actually).

With my being a host, myself, back in Taiwan and in Costa Rica, my former homes away from home, I know what it is like to accommodate strangers–and I of course understand what it is like to be a surfer, having temporarily crashed at others’ places in a variety of countries. Yet this was my first full-scale effort to utilize the hospitality site domestically, being that I had just returned to live in the United States for the first time in 15 years.

Providing a summary of my specific recent experiences in the varied abodes of nine CSing members (instead of explaining it, orally and individually) provides a rather insightful take on such exchanges and on how the system works.  My plan isn’t to entice you with a compelling story telling, but rather to simply show how such stays make for a wonderful journey–in and of themselves.

It is my hope that others can further grasp the concept of this site and understand how one may befriend other CSers after just a day or two of “surfing”, as it is known.

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On April 26, 2019, I enthusiastically departed Minnesota for my solo road trip, bound for New Jersey, having already planned stops along the way, with my outward route practically solidified, both in terms of where my exact whereabouts would be on the map (Google maps, that is) and whom I’d be staying with.

It was, however, nowhere near a direct passage from Point A to Point B.

That’s not the point of a road trip.

Having previously arranged five two-night stays with hosts on the CSing platform (not an easy task), the site I’ve been happily participating on and enjoying immensely for a decade now, I knew the journey would be based more on a stopping-to-smell-the-roses approach than merely arriving at my final destination: NJ/NY.

Never did I desire to just fly (pedal to the metal, not airline-wise, though I never wished to fly, either) across half the nation to see family on the Jersey Shore and my old home town in Upstate, New York.

This was to be a different kind of trip.

First, why would two nights at each locale have been my scheduling goal*?  Why not rush to the East Coast,, getting there in two or three comfortable-enough-yet-naturally-quick-paced days?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

*The one and only drawback to the system, in my opinion, is that Couchsurfing sets one’s itinerary more in stone than what I, a traveler at heart, had ever been accustomed to (prior to using this site for arranging stays with folks–which began in earnest in Latin America in 2018).

If you’d like to change your pacing or the route on which you’re traveling, that obviously leads to cancellations, which are always tricky to negotiate–and very well may leave hosts in a bind, depending on their flexibility and how they’d planned around your stay.

Being on the road without a plan for accommodation can also lead to issues, on the other hand, as it did when I arrived in Rapid City, SD, in the summer of 2016, for example, where there were overlapping HS state-level sports tournaments, leaving me to sleep in the car as hotels were totally booked out.

Yet, with CSing, once you arrange a slew of hosts in advance, you’re somewhat bound to staying on target, unfortunately limiting capricious changes along the way.

To cancel impacts others–and that’s not cool (though things do come up, as you’ll later see).

Rolling with the punches, as is with life, great advice, is best.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Well, to understand an “appropriate” length of stay with CSers, at least in my opinion, I would say two nights allows for ample interaction with said hosts, knowing that it isn’t very polite when one arrives late for a one-night stopover and takes off the next morning, early.

We (the collective notion of CSers) aren’t a Motel 6, damn it!

One night, moreover, never seems enough–and it surely begets the sensation that one is just flying through without much intent to actually get to know one’s hosts.

For that reason–and for damn good reason, indeed, there are hosts who emphatically implore you in their profiles to not treat them nor their homes “like a hotel”.

Three nights, on the other hand, could risk being perceived as overstaying one’s welcome–and a bit too leech-like.

However, I’ve met CSers who have talked of guests staying for weeks.  Imagine that!

A stranger setting up shop in your bathroom, leaving his or her toothbrush to dance intimately with yours in that chalky-white-stuff-stained cup on the basin?

Egad!

I, myself, have hosted folks for three nights, gleefully–and though I would have extended nights for my favorite guests (and so far, that includes all of them), I could see how anything more than two or three nights would be overdoing it for some.

It really all depends, but the majority of us members promote quality interaction over cursory transaction.

Although I would have stayed for longer in each city I’d researched for this journey (though that was a minimal amount), especially in hindsight since I’d met so many lovely people, I also had known that I had had a deadline of May 21 to complete my loop (in order to make a doc’s appointment in South Dakota, of all places).

Combined with a desire to see a selection of worthwhile municipalities (and to revisit ones I’d long ago explored) were my hopes to get to know CSers in a variety of locales, which prompted me to ask for two nights for each stopover.

Two nights/days, furthermore, provides the time to get to grasp some intricacies of a locality, especially with observations and tips stemming from a resident host’s perspective, with time, to boot, for socializing with said hosts, whether casually at their home or more actively out on the town.

As you’ll see, my hosts fell along the entire spectrum, in terms of styles, personalities, and involvement.

So when people ask, “How is it to stay in the homes of strangers?”, the upshot is… I always say, “It depends.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Resultantly, with no need to rush through any of my planned destinations, I knew I’d have ten days all-in-all on my relatively meandering way to the Jersey Shore, and I was happy to know that I would be introduced to plenty of people–aided entirely by the platform’s members’ hospitality and kindness, generosity and knowledge.

The same would hold true for my return loop on a more southerly tour.

All was in store to meet up with CSers, to get to know places from a variety of said locals’ points of view, to also benefit in my frugality from their cumulative empathetic largesse, and to gain by expanding my horizons as a result of the pending social interactions.

Giddy I was that Friday morning, April 26th, taking off, eastward bound.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Although the trip, in hindsight, begat so many positive views of both enticing city scenes and breathtaking landscapes, the focus of this piece is simply to expound on the opportunities and experiences with CSing, with the piece void of place descriptions unless specifically related to an outing with my hosts or based on their urgings to visit.

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NIGHTS 1 & 2 IN GREEN BAY, WI:

To say that some CSing hosts are meant to be hosts is an understatement, and that holds true for my first on this trip.  The below screenshot reference I had left her, and the one she’d left in return, summarizes why I felt that way.

Upon my arriving in her home, J. explained a bit about the house, the backyard (e.g., how she struggles yearly to avoid the falling tree debris on her porch), etc., and of course about her chocolate lab, an amiable fellow who was ready from the start to befriend me.  He was surely eager to greet me once I stepped in the house–and I appreciated his loving enthusiasm, for it made me feel at home.

I suppose the same holds true for J. as well!

First, as was the case for a few subsequent hosts, I’d brought along a bag of Costa Rican coffee, which I’d purchased before leaving the country in January (bringing a token of appreciation is good CSing protocol, though this of course varies from person to person; in fact, while in Costa Rica and Taiwan, as a host, I took my surfers out for a meal on their first nights, introducing them to my favorite local eateries, treating them to local cuisine, which has rarely happened in return).

Yet, regardless, one should surely show up with something in hand.  That’s a given.

Well, J. and I jabbered temporarily at ‘home’ before heading out to a local joint, the type of place that provokes recollections of the TV series Cheers, not only because of its size but also because–when we walked in–it felt like everyone knew her name.  She even introduced me to a row of gents lined cozily, elbow to elbow, on the far side of the bar, one of the off-duty, personable employees lounging nearby, and the similarly gregarious bartender on duty–with a bit of ensuing good-natured jokes surrounding my Minnesota connection (regarding my Viking’s-related essence being present in their Green Bay Packer territory).

Her connection to the place apparent, J. eagerly explained the background of her acquaintanceship with a few of the patrons, the history of the bar, etc., just before a guy came over to sit nearby.

When he did, for the next hour, I was entertained by their explanations of the city, the bloke’s take on the following-day’s pending Trump visit, and stories about life in general.

Without my host, I never would have found myself in such a place, never to have had such an experience as she provided me.  If I had sat alone at the same bar, if I had somehow ventured in unwittingly, the dude most likely wouldn’t have sauntered over to chat about Trump.

Nor would I have learned about the apparent rivalry between Appleton (WI) and GB.

After a good 90 minutes chewing the fat, we leisurely made our way–on foot–to the downtown area along the riverfront, chilly as it was, to find some food, with J. providing more insights, e.g., the redevelopment of the area along the river was ongoing yet somewhat recent, the bar scene is such a frenetic blast during pro sports events, etc.

To get firsthand details of Green Bay, without needing to hire a tour guide, was a blessing, easily proving that when a host caters to his or her surfer in such a way, we visitors benefit on a level that is never permitted when staying in a hotel or hostel, as I wrote about recently, here.

Back at her place around 11pm, I was shown the upstairs guest room where I’d stay, a welcoming, warm vibe apparent from the moment I entered.  All was clean, well-kept, cozy, and colorful, the kind of room that a carefully-attuned-to-details grandmother would decorate (with that being said with an utterly positive intent)–and the same can be said for the rest J.’s home, with the living room, dining room and kitchen all being bright, cheery, clean and orderly.

For anyone who might fret about what types of accommodation you’d find, be assured you would approve of a place like J.’s.

On Saturday, since we’d already communicated prior to my arrival that she had some things to do, and that I was flexible in spending time solo, too, I headed off to a café, one which she highly recommended: Kavala.  Although not a part of my CSing experiences, per se, I truly enjoyed lounging there for the morning, chatting with a variety of nearby customers, but because I’d made plans with J. at noon, I scurried off to spend the rest of the day with her.

I would have loved to stay longer getting to know said patrons.

Since it will be impossible to provide every detail of the four-week trip in the context of this one-blog entry, suffice it to say that my explorations of NE Wisconsin were enhanced because of the generosity of my first host.

That afternoon, she drove us up to Door County, the narrow peninsula north of Green Bay that extends up into Lake Michigan like an erect pinky (why does using that term feel so peculiar in any other context), with her pointing out a number of highlights, with her explaining annual summer extended weekends she and her family take, with her knowing good eats and local treats on and off the route.

For a few hours, we were thus able to easily get to places she’d already recommended, e.g., a state park where we got to get out to walk along the cliff-lined shore (though frigid it was for this accustomed-to-Latin-American-temps bloke), a quaint tourism-flooded-at-least-in-the-summers village where we stopped for casual coffee in a restored Victorian home, and a trendy winery tasting room (which turned out to be too crowded and too obnoxiously loud).

Instead we settled for a minuscule brewery further up the road for a respite from the road.

There, a brewer whom she just happened to know gave us the lowdown on a local winery tour, some related history, etc., another engaging conversation I most likely wouldn’t have had if I had been without a host.

Later in the evening, we opted for Mexican food, the kind of place a traveler wouldn’t necessarily find on his own (another positive aspect of CSing), the obscure kind not in any guidebooks nor most likely not rated on Trip Advisor.

CSing surfers, undoubtedly, know how to live the life of a local (imagine that!) in an instant, so why not follow their lead?

Finally, on Sunday, the day I was to depart, we’d also made plans, prior, to split the morning in two, with my getting some “me time” in at the previously discovered (and  recommended) café–with us having agreed to later head to the most important site in Green Bay for anyone who has any understanding of the nostalgic relevance of the home team’s contributions to and impact on the city: Lambeau Field.

J. was well-informed about its history (we’d also swung by the first locale, City Field, where the Packers had once played), taking the time to also point out the houses across the street from the stadium and how they’ve been marketed as party places, with some older homes being torn down to accommodate larger, Packer-themed ones to be rented out on home game days.  Since J. had once met a woman who’d sold off her abode, under pressure, apparently–one that was immediately torn down, her stories seemed more personal than what I could have otherwise found online–if there was such insight to be had virtually.

After lunch at a nearby famous-for-its-brats restaurant (that’s bratwurst, y’all, not some snotty kids), Kroll’s West, I dropped her off, snapped a pic with her chocolate lab in the driveway, and we said our goodbyes (the pooch, too).

As I drove away from her home, her neighborhood, her life, and Green Bay, I eagerly hoped to have similar hosts along my path.

That’s what it’s like to stay with a CSer!

1 Green Bay Host

1 Green Bay

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

NIGHTS 3 & 4 IN MADISON, WI:

Although a crow would have incredulously giggled upon discovering the route I took from Green Bay (if focused on my final eastward destination, the Jersey Shore), I drove off from Packer territory in a southwesterly fashion to Madison (more Packer territory), a place I’d only been to for a few hours some twenty-two years prior, wanting to see it on a deeper level this time around (with lingering vestiges of some U of MN undergraduate years’ envy that the UW Badgers were always better than the Gophers in everything ranging from academics to basketball; however, at least, “To hell with their hockey teams!” I’ve long said!).

As I’d recently written about, my travels these last 1.5 years have been somewhat planned along CSing-inspired pathways, instead of planning merely around a sightseeing highlight, wanting to meet a variety of folks from all walks of life and backgrounds–and this trip was no exception.  Why not take ten days to get to Jersey if it allowed for a stopping-to-smell-the-gardenias pace and for encountering intermittent-to-consistent hospitality on the way?

With the wonderful advantage of having my upcoming hosts share a digital link to their address in advance, as most do nowadays, I arrived in their neighborhood without a hitch (thanks, Google Maps!), yet I was an hour early, giving me some time to explore nearby residential side streets in my car.

Just as I had felt in J’s area the previous two nights, I realized soon after arrival that CSing permits immediate insight into the lives of the inhabitants within not only the hosts’ homes but also in their neighborhoods, especially in comparison to seeing merely the touristic areas of a destination if one stays sequesters oneself in a hotel (okay, in truth, I had already known this from my surfing in Latin America the year before).

Yes, one can enter a city, check into a Hard Rock hotel, and then perhaps rent a bike and go venturing into residential areas–but when you’re a surfer, you gain immediate access to local living areas–without potentially being arrested for being in the “wrong” place at the right time.

Odd that an invitation from a stranger can be the difference, isn’t it?

If I had, on the other hand, merely found myself lost in any given neighborhood, the mood of the whole experience would have been slightly different, perhaps invoking a guilty sentiment of feeling out of place or possibly having inquisitive residents ask you what you’re doing.

Instead, I gained instant access to an upper-middle-class section of the city and settled in, feeling comfortable parking out front, approaching the door, and pressing the doorbell as if I were an old friend of my hosts, D&J, a middle-aged academia-inclined couple who’d been living there a number of years.  Without the inhibition-reducing pre-connection we’d established via the site, I would have felt like a traveling salesman with nothing to sell (except for the Trader Joe’s bagels and bag of Costa Rican coffee I’d brought along).

After D. greeted me at the door, we chatted openly, standing in their living room, a colorful, warm, eclectic decor on display.  Within a few moments, I’d learned that they had recently decided to focus more on an active lifestyle, for they’d taken away their couch, one of those household items that welcomes too much lounging, leaving instead two urbane armchairs to socialize from, which we did soon after–and on the second evening, too.

Conversation with D., just like with J. up in Green Bay, came naturally.

Later in the evening, D.’s partner returned, for she had been out at a writing class at a nearby university, with her explaining a bit about such hobbies and the like.

Another insight into local lives unintentionally and subconsciously were checked off the list.

Ever so kind, the couple invited me to join them for the evening meal, a scrumptiously healthy homemade chicken burrito, with organic veggies, etc., and some kick-ass hot sauce.

As they prepared, rejecting my offers of help, we chatted about everything and anything.

Over dinner, between swiping sweat from my brow, I learned about their two daughters, about their work (both in universities, with her being a PhD-resumed professor; him, a Master-level research staff member, from what I gathered), with my sharing a bit about my travels and life overseas, additionally.

Their willingness to share family history high, I’d learned that their eldest daughter was down in southern Wisconsin, investing herself in her freedom and in a cooperative-living lifestyle, having utilized her Spanish skills as an interpreter (they’d lived in Spain for some time–where J. had been assigned to an amazing career role, which she also expounded on in decent detail).  Their youngest had recently moved out for a gap year, too, also relishing her adulthood, they explained, although she would return home at times–not yet fully weened from the apron strings.

Coincidentally enough, said teen did actually come home that very night after damaging her ankle skateboarding earlier in the day, with hopes of getting some TLC from mom and dad.

I was, consequently, happily thrown right into the midst of household happenings.

Because D&J also had a boarder in their spare room, a college student who’d just moved here from Africa, I was given the basement, which I found to be welcoming enough.

Having traveled here and there for my entire life, having even slept on a sidewalk once in Malaysia, having done Army cots in Kosovo and tents while camping, I could sleep ANYWHERE, nor am I ever picky about what types of bedding, pillows, etc., are available.

I found the queen-sized bed downstairs to be ample and cozy–and soon settled in for a restful night after updating friends and family on my whereabouts (easily done with wifi access, as most hosts offer these days, at least as all hosts on this domestic trip did).

Because I had brought some scones and bagels from the Trader Joe’s nearby, in the morning I didn’t feel too guilty for having a bagel before taking off for the day to explore the capitol building in downtown Madison (perhaps 20 years removed from my last visit, I was impressed by the city, having also discovered a groovy, collegiate coffee house to lounge at on a rainy day).

Regarding being solo for part of the day, one must realize that CSing can be anything you make of it, all depending on the dynamic of hosts and guests at any given time.  Members can aim to participate fully, taking guests on tours, bringing them out to meet friends, chatting until the wee hours, making room in one’s busy schedule.

Perhaps you hit it off; perhaps you don’t.

Yet there are others who don’t have the time to invest in getting to know a guest, who have to work or attend to family and social needs–but they still offer a place to stay, to lend a helping hand logistically.

The majority of us members, however, endeavor to spend time with the travelers who opt to stay with us, with surfers finding a balance between being completely dependent on said hosts and exercising some independence.  

With most things in life, neither extreme on either side of the CSing spectrum is good.

At some point in the afternoon, having gotten a good dose of “me time” and some sightseeing in, I picked up D. at ‘home’ and headed out for a bit of a driving tour on the way to a dive bar, just that kind of neighborhood joint that I would not have readily found on my own, had I stayed in a hotel.

His insights quite varied, D. described some recent flooding to me as we got out near Lake Mendota (or was it Lake Monona), and he then proceeded to point out the university down the way along the shoreline, to explain some canoeing adventures he’d taken, and to talk of pollution issues created by chemical runoff from surrounding farmlands.

Full of a newfound knowledge of Madison, I consistently reflected on how appreciative I was of their help, and with such appreciation my motivation, I offered to buy our burger meals at the bar.

It was the least I could do, it felt.

Back at their place, after I’d taken a solo stroll in a loop around their neighborhood (having dropped him off), I learned of D.’s teenage adventures while studying abroad in Holland, and at some point, he’d also shared some commendable insights into being a mentor to a young lad, sort of like a Big Brothers program role.

Always intrigued by human interest stories, I was all ears, thankful, moreover, that he was willing to share.

After J. had returned later in the evening, the three of us sat in the living room, sans couch, of course, with them listening to some personal details of my divorce court and custody battle woes in Taiwan a few years prior, with one of them even shedding tears towards the end of my monologue (though they had also sincerely prompted a few explanations with heartfelt, empathetic questions).

Such empathy and openness was indeed indicative of a bit of bonding, I felt, at least temporarily so–as is the nature of CSing sometimes.

How the hell, contrarily, could that transpire when a traveler merely rents a room at the Best Western?

The next morning, after another restful night’s sleep in the basement, having grabbed a shower in their upstairs, slightly-warn-around-the-edges bathroom (and that’s okay), after a casual bagel breakfast and a coffee chat, I bid them adieu, driving away from their neighborhood, feeling more as if I were leaving “home” than anything else.

Try finding that vibe at a hotel!

The streak of great hosts, dating back to last year’s numerous stays in Panama, Honduras and El Salvador, was, just as I had hoped, unblemished and intact.  

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2 Madison

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As I’ve attempted to make clear, hitherto, C-surfing allows for an immediate sense of connection to a hosts’ neighborhood (potential, depending on the dynamic of all players in the equation), permits a quick-to-form connection to said hosts (potential, depending on the dynamic), and gradually promotes an increased bond with the overall CSing community (potential, depending on the dynamic).

The aforementioned potentiality simply depends on you, your host, and the prime circumstances that can (potentially) be created at any given moment… well, or not.

I’d hate to write about all these positives to then have your first CS experiences fail miserably!

It all just depends.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

NIGHTS 5 & 6 IN MILWAUKEE, WI:

Well, with my third hosts, I learned more so than ever that trust is both begotten by such stays and is utterly necessary for them to occur in the first place.  That’s because they have small children, which admittedly once was a enormous bone of contention for me and my ex-wife, for I was totally comfortable in wanting to invite CSers to stay with us, yet she never did, quickly dismissing the idea when I first brought it up (and the one or two times I subsequently mentioned it before giving up on the notion altogether).

Yet with D&A in Milwaukee, trust must have been both the foundation of my request and visit and also at the forefront of their thinking when they accepted my request.

Undeniably, it was in their minds, too, when they decided on and later informed me of the sleeping arrangements.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

For a bit of insight, trust within the CS community can stem from four primary sources: 1) ones’ references from hosts, surfers and personal sources, 2) one’s photographs put on display for all to see, 3) what one writes up in his/her profile, and 4) the verification system on the platform, itself, with the site’s authentication of a government ID card, address or phone number (yet rarely do hosts do all of those steps for verification).

And, well, your gut instinct.

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From my profile…

It is a flawless system?

No.

However, in order to ensure as much appeasing reassurance from the get go, one should use the aforementioned variables to at least get the gist of someone’s background.

For me, for one, I can at least extrapolate a basic sense of understanding about someone if they have a variety of photographs which show him/her naturally engaged in social activities or with family, or on outings with other CSers, especially compared to one cleavage-revealing selfie only (the kind which would result in me moving on to find someone else, someone with a more-genuine-self display of images).  Furthermore, being that this site’s original purpose, i.e., helping travelers, should still somewhat govern its usage, I look for folks who have a variety of travel-related photos, knowing that true travelers are oft kindred spirits.

One selfie snapped in front of Walmart’s deli counter may not suffice in letting me feel a surfer or host is a legit traveler!

And then, although anyone can unfortunately bullshit anything on a digital profile (dating app fabrications come to mind), I still read all profiles in detail in hopes of establishing a better grasp of a guest’s or host’s personality.

I’ve long thought, the more information, the better (though I’d recently had a millennial quip that my profile’s write up was, politely, a bit overkill–and I transferred some of it to my blog, instead).

When someone, on the other hand, merely jots a few facts about herself/himself or themselves (for the rare couple or families) nor mentions anything about the available-to-receive-guests home on a profile, I usually skip their page and move on to the next.

Now, if someone also likes Coldplay or U2, as I do, that does not preclude them from being a psychopath (nor me, I suppose, for that matter), yet my gut still tells me that the greater the detail, the more I can rest assured.

Finally, regarding how a member goes about promoting and attaining greater trust, the reference system has to be the most comforting and assuring in helping to decide if a guest is worthy of interacting with, let alone deserving enough to let them scrub down in your shower, use your favorite fuzzy towel on their bare buttocks, drool on your pillow cases, or sit idly on your commode while reading the morning paper!

One can be more certain of their personal safety (especially when falling asleep in someone’s guest room or on their living room sofa), at least in my opinion, if a host has dozens of references from a variety of members that speak highly of said person.

What references reveal is oft enough for me to accept or request a surfing/hosting arrangement, especially when a member has 50+ write ups, all extolling their hospitality and respect.

The same holds true for surfers.

Sitting down for scrambled eggs with someone who showed up the evening before can be less daunting (or not at all daunting) if you’ve already read some 30, 50, 70 or more references touting the positivities of said member.

The more vetted, the better.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

With that said, regardless of how many smily, social photographs, insightful and  exultant references, and detailed self-descriptions a member establishes or includes on his/her profile, trusting them in your heart is the most fundamental aspect of the platform that must be present to proceed with accepting, meeting or hosting someone.

And with D&A in Madison, that fact still rings true a month after being hosted by them.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

So back to my hosts in Milwaukee.

In the afternoon of that particular day I arrived at their home, a modest-yet-welcoming abode in a few-decades-old section of the city, just off a tree-lined, well-traveled thoroughfare.

Having already gotten a little lost while driving around to burn off some extra minutes beforehand–so that I didn’t turn up ahead of my planned ETA, I was happy to have arrived to a really casual, genuine home life environment, with their enthusiastic boys (three and seven years of age) already displaying their more active sides, with mom and dad frenetically juggling chores in the kitchen, communicating about real-life issues that popped up, their trying hard to manage two entertaining kids.

They weren’t there to impress me with a prepped-for-an-Elle-Decor-mag-cover-shoot home or an utterly spotless environment (as some hosts may endeavor to present);  instead, I was able to see their lives as they live them, a kid’s backpack placed hastily down after arriving home, school work spread on the table.

This was not J’s well-kept place in Green Bay, and that was ONE-HUNDRED-PERCENT OKAY!  With all certainty in saying so, I valued BOTH experiences equally.

They were living “normally” as I stepped in, sitting down at a smallish family table in a smallish kitchen space, observing all as they went about their daily tasks, not skipping a step even with a stranger in their midst.

My gifts, a requisite bag of the world’s best coffee (at least that’s what Ticos explain) and a box of chocolate treats I’d picked up nearby, both helped to break the ice a bit, and from there we sat and conversed, though conversations were a trifle scattered between periodic ‘consultations’ with one boy or the other, with one parent or the other needing to go interrupt their play time or to set the record straight when the lads disagreed on something.

Been there, done that, as a parent, so for me, there was no sweat off my back that I was not attended to hand and foot.

I wouldn’t want to be anyway.

Because D&A had met and were married overseas (been there, done that, too), because they had lived in a third-culture country (i.e., not either of their homelands), as once did I, and because they have a cross-cultural relationship, as had I, I was able to relate to some fairly profound aspects of their existence–even if we all experience such similarities in different ways below the surface.

D., himself, is a teacher, so I was further able to comprehend a bit of his life abroad a bit more than the average guest, knowing what it is like from firsthand experience.  His stories of returning to the States to teach after being overseas were, moreover, highly relevant for this bloggin’ bloke.

To share dinner with them (as I did the subsequent evening and for two breakfasts as well) permitted more insights into life in middle-class Milwaukee.

Happy it left me.

After the first night’s meal and after the kids went to bed, D. took me on a driving tour of the city, pointing out places he had lived years before, showing me the downtown area (I was impressed by the relative cleanliness and vibe, for I’d long thought it was a more blue-collar town).

Although we had bad luck in discovering the first two places were closed, even trying the door, enthusiastically-at-first, on one brewery, we settled on a trendy lil’ taproom with a medley of craft options displayed on the wall to choose from, and we then settled into deeper chats, which covered teaching, marriage, my alienated kids, my alienated-father status, etc.

By 10pm we were home, the two older guys that we are, neither apparently accustomed to late outings.

Satisfied I was in my nascent understandings of a new city and fellow CSers.

As a tourist, in different circumstances, you see, I might have chatted with a fellow patron at a Cream City bar that night about the NBA playoffs and the Bucks budding chances, theretofore, for a title run, for example.  However, as a CSer, I became acquainted with an entire family and was able to further comprehend life on a local level.

To me, the choice is an easy one.

Where trust came into play, however, wholeheartedly, besides, by default, simply staying in another stranger’s home, was evident when D&A later explained that night that I would be sleeping in the bottom bunk of their seven-year-old son’s room.

Since the three-year old slept with the parents, and since the sofa may have been too noisy, that was my option.

The young lad was already fast-asleep.

Having stayed, theretofore on this trip, in a gorgeously quaint attic room in Green Bay and in an inviting-enough and totally comfortable basement bed in Madison, I had just found myself in a “just-go-with-the-flow, Mike” moment of hospitality, in accepting, flexibly, what a host had to offer.

Knowing that I can sleep anywhere, adaptable as hell, I simply went to sleep, having first tip-toed my way around the room to take out my contact lenses in the dark, having quietly set my backpack up at the foot of the bed, “bunk bed”, that is.

As I tucked myself in without knocking my head on the above framework, listening to a kid snoring slightly, I pondered, “Wow, CSing is truly about trust.”

The next morning required some immediate adapting to the environment (a key component of CSing, as you can now readily see), because I needed to squat ever so carefully in the bath to use the shower head–without a shower curtain present, mindful of not splashing about like a sparrow in a birdbath.

My head held proudly, for having not flooded the bathroom linoleum, I soon after joined the family in their getting-ready-for-the-school-bus, frenetic morning pace and for a bite to eat.

The night before, A. had prepared an appealing-to-the-eye oatmeal-in-milk, with bananas mixed in, concoction, which they served for breakfast–with one even prepared for me. Satiated by the scrumptiousness of the dish, I was pleased to know I was being taken care of.

Hospitality 101.  

That’s what it’s like!

Their focus on getting the eldest boy ready and the youngest fed, the adults were, nonetheless, still able to give me tips on what to see and the directions from their home to the Harley Museum (though, much to D’s chagrin, I still relied on my GPS to get me there).

I’d not said anything, but as he explained the route, I had already been mentally lost after he said, “Leave the driveway and turn left”!

Because we’d planned on a balance to our days, i.e., with my getting some ‘me time’ to explore, with talks of my coming back in the mid-afternoon, I was first able to get in a morning coffee (taking their advice to head to the eclectic-vibe of Brady Street, to the artsy, laid-back RoChambo Coffee House) before I set off to check out the newer HD museum (not the factory out of town, but the more modern installation within the city limits).

After salivating over the collection of near countless motorbikes, I then eagerly hit downtown to walk into the impressive, historic central library and then around the surrounding, seemingly recently-rejuvenated area, casually snapping some pics here and there.

I’d learned of those sightseeing options on the previous night’s tour–without having to go to Trip Advisor’s “Nice place”-like reviews, thankfully. 

Back at the family’s home by mid-afternoon, I actually found myself “with nothing to do”.  I’d been on the go since early in the morning, hitting some touristy sights, so it was a joy to partake in a respite, and what better way to do that than play Legos with a small child!

As a teacher, I was all for it.

His eagerness apparent, their youngest, W., had invited me to join him on a sort of sun porch at the front of the house, where the floor was laden with still-in-the-works creations and seemingly finished projects on display.

What better way to feel at home than child’s play!

He and I then read three picture books together on the living room floor as D., the father, frenetically prepared things in the kitchen.

Happy I was to know they trusted me with such interactions, delighted I was to share my love of reading (as both a teacher and father) with a toddler.

At some point, we decided to take off, the three of us, since Mom and the eldest son were not home yet after school.  Having tried to find the other family members at the school to grab a car seat on the way, we opted to go on the relatively famous Lakefront Brewery Tour, enjoying the tastings and the decently-entertaining guide’s goofiness.

To end the evening back at home with a home-cooked, family-oriented meal, sharing more stories of life, with a few laughs at their son’s silliness, was another fine example of the benefits of the Couchsurfing community.

“What is it like to stay with strangers?” people ask.

“Sometimes it’s as if you are with family,” I can confidently reply.

The following rain-soaked, chilly morning, after a second shared breakfast, with D. having already needed to rush off to work early, I bade them farewell, waving goodbye as A. and her two kiddos walked towards the school bus stop.

Being a father, one who has not seen his children in… forever, a momentary discomfort came over me as I drove off, feeling like I would somehow, after a mere two days, miss these Couchsurfing kids.

With minimal effort, those two boys made me feel just as welcomed as their parents had.

That’s what staying with a CSer is like.

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*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Unfortunately, however, with all the kudos I can throw at it, Couchsurfing is not a perfect platform, for human nature isn’t flawless.

[And even more unfortunately, there are far worse stories to be found about the bad eggs who’ve misused and abused the site.]

On that note (on a much lighter note in comparison), for my fourth planned-out-in-advance stop in my itinerary, I had elected Toledo because I’d wanted to see a bit more of small-city life, instead of (originally) aiming for a larger metropolis like Cleveland.  I had even decided to surpass Chicago without even an inkling of stopping (I’d been to the Windy City, twice, years ago, and I love it, but for this trip, I preferred aiming for less-hectic, less-congested locales).

My navigating goal was to get deeper into Ohio before coming up for air.

Ever aware of my hopes to stop and smell the roses, not wanting to rush through, I had also accepted this longer six-plus-hours leg of the journey (the longest one-day stretch of the entire four-week trip) as par for the course because I’d not had any luck in finding a CSer anywhere in the range of four hours eastward from Milwaukee.

Welcoming was the idea that after six hours-plus I’d have a house to call home for two meandering days in Toledo.

The pending host, who had accepted my request some two-to-three weeks before, had, however, sent me a foreshadowing message the day prior to my arrival, briefly stating something about her parents being worried about her hosting me (even though she had merited a dozen or so references, previously, from both men and women), yet she’d politely assured me it should not be an issue.

Thus, I drove from Milwaukee to Toledo directly, taking, because of construction on the interstate (i.e., single-lane speeds)–and because of heavy rainfall at times, about six-and-a-half hours.

Before arriving at our planned 6:10pm meeting, since she’d expected to be home from work then, I’d stopped at a grocery store a few blocks away, purchasing bagels and beer as a typical token of appreciation for such a stay.

Perhaps I had foolishly jumped the gun.

Her doubtful vibe apparent when she got out of her car, she stated initially, all too apprehensively, “My parents are so worried about me.  My sister and brother have been texting me all day, asking me to cancel.”

“They’re worried about your age,” she added.

Huh?

Obviously, this was not a good start.  I didn’t even bother going back to the hatch of my Mazda to remove my things nor the bagels and beer, the latter of which was still tantalizingly, wastefully cold.

She at least asked me in for a water to talk about the situation, but after two or three sips, standing in her kitchen, having listened to her tentative explanations about not wanting to cancel the day before (when her family apparently first bemoaned her decision to host me), I commented, “Well, to be honest, if you are nervous about what your parents might say or uncomfortable about my staying here because of them, then I would prefer to not stay.”

Why would I have tried to persuade her differently?  Any sense of discomfort would have made for an even more peculiar time if she had felt pressured.

Apologetic and seemingly sincere, she even added, “You can leave a negative reference if you’d like to.”

However, I am well aware of the inevitable fact that, in life, shit happens.

The reference system should, indeed, be utilized to report egregious behaviors and to notify other members of a hosts’/guests’ unhealthy or crummy antics, but I didn’t feel that she should be one to be warned about, permanently (members, for good reason, cannot delete negative comments or reviews).

With one totally unfounded negative blemish on my otherwise positive profile, I didn’t feel right to even entertain the notion of leaving her a bad reference.

Shit happens sometimes.

Undoubtedly, however, to drive more than six hours halfway across Illinois and well into Ohio, and into the outskirts of a small city (her home was on the outskirts of Toledo), did put me in a bit of a bind (i.e., leaving me with no accommodation entering into the evening).  To have arrived with the hopes of getting out of the car to relax over a cold brew, yet being essentially turned away, left me slightly inconvenienced.

Life is life.

I left.

Since I’d, just prior to departing, asked her advice on a place to sit with a beer, I then drove into downtown Toledo, finding the Alley Bar, a nostalgic dive joint with a lively vibe.

Alone at my barstool, I pondered the late Charles Kuralt’s insightful understanding of life on the road: “If the traveler expects the highway to be safe and well-graded, he may as well stay home.”

Or stay at a Motel 6, Charles!  (How the hell was I going to drive “home” to stay since I don’t even have a home to begin with!)

After nursing a savory stout for more than an hour, pondering if I could meet someone, I instead drove off to Sandusky, the next stop on the interstate with a selection of hotels, making a beeline for a relatively safe and relatively “well-graded” Motel 6, spending the rest of my evening munching on a woe-is-me-ish-comfort-food quesadilla at an Applebee’s Bar and Grill five miles further on.

Though I enjoyed chatting a trifle with the bartender and even the two ladies at the hotel’s reception desk (about my journey), it was, far and away, a very different experience than my previous expectations of being hosted by a CSer that night.

That’s life on the road.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Honestly, however, dear reader, the night solo in the hotel was actually a pleasing enough recess from the routine.  After six nights in a row of FANTASTIC conversations and socializing, swapping stories with the aforementioned hosts in three households, a night alone was, in the end, refreshing.

Alas, I could finally go to sleep in my birthday suit, the norm when life is normal, with no concerns invading my mindset either about nightly flatulence that might be heard by my hosts or even waking up with a potential pup tent that still wouldn’t go away by the time I dashed to the bathroom to shower.

Channel surfing until I nodded off, I was then able to sleep the night away peacefully.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

The last-minuted cancellation had not only altered my destination goals (I’d hastily driven the main thoroughfares of Toledo’s downtown before heading out on the highway the night before, never getting a chance to loaf two days away there) but it also required me to reach out to more CSers last minute to find a place for the second night (of the scheduled two-nights previously to have been with Ms Cancellation, no offense).

While seated at the Sandusky Applebee’s the night prior, between moments of people watching (there were but a mere seven or eight patrons the entire 90 minutes I was there) and twiddling my thumbs,  I’d jumped online to search for a new host in Cleveland.

Admittedly, my pre-planning stages before commencing the trip took hours, which entails searches (filtering for last-logged-in dates, i.e., those who are active, and also for those with references), reading profiles and references in detail, scanning photos for cluster bombs or sawed-offs in the background of each.  Then, in reaching out to someone, I use a skeleton message but change many details, even notating key elements on paper to include when I write them digitally through the platforms system.  Those changes, ensuring I do NOT send out canned communications, take time to draft, etc.

So it wasn’t that I just didn’t have a place to crash and a host to get to know in Toledo, I had more legwork to do when I should not have had to.

At least, looking at the bright side, I was going to hopefully get to spend more time in Cleveland than was expected.

I’d planned to stop there for a half day to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I’d not planned on getting a host.

Thankfully, however, one aspect of the CSing platform that aids travelers in knowing whom to contact is the “Preferences” list on the “My Home” page that members can check off for “Last Minute Requests Okay” (in addition to other notions such as “Pets Okay”, “Smoking Allowed”, “Morning Wood Not Okay”, “Kid Friendly”, etc.).

Surely one of those isn’t on the platform, but perhaps it should be.

Indeed, my request for a Cleveland savior was going to be a last-minute one, yet since I was somewhat in a bind–one created by an out-of-my-hands blunder, I didn’t feel too daunted in reaching out to folks that way, begging for a potentially disruptive change to someone’s evening plans.

If it had been my fault in reaching out to folks so late in the game, I would have perhaps felt more embarrassed or bothersome.

I swallowed my pride and wrote a handful of CSers, bemoaning my losses, licking my wounds openly.

Lo and behold, my having honestly explained the previous host’s cancellation landed me a gracious return offer from a super gracious dude and his girlfriend, both of whom had profiles–though hers revealed less CSing exchanges in total.  However, because hers was set to “Accepting Guests” and his was not, I reached out to her with my request, first.

Admittedly, though, because they were considerably younger than my previous three hosts, I felt they might exercise a bit o’ ageism, which I believe is unfortunately occurring on the platform (as do my hosts in Madison, both around  my middle-of-middle-aged age).

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

A topic I allude to in my profile (linked therein to a blog page entry recently–to avoid my typical wordiness), the notion of ageism should NOT be one associated with Couchsurfing, at least in my opinion.  Ideally, guests and hosts should be open to hospitality exchange regardless of age, for the concept of lending a hand, altruistically, should be utterly without confines.

Yet it appears to be rearing its ugly head nowadays.

In this assumption my Madison hosts had concurred because they had also noticed that their requests weren’t being answered with mounting frequency over the years.  Potentially, there could be other reasons, yet they’re smart enough cookies to be assessing the situation as I do.

Who am I kidding, they’re far more learned and erudite than I am!

For me, this ONE fact is a telltale sign: Although I have reached the 10-year CSing membership mark, I have NEVER ONCE RECEIVED A REQUEST TO STAY AT MY HOME. NEVER.

For a guy with a solid, far-more-than-average 70-plus references?  How is that possible?  Yet other, younger members have told me that they frequently receive requests.

Not a one.

Rejection may be the name of the game in my life with women, but strangers on a hospitality exchange?

Odd.

Or ageism?

Being that I had “Accepting Guests” marked on my page for around four years in both Taiwan and Costa Rica (which shows up at the top of one’s profile in GREEN), one would estimate at least a few requests per year from travelers.

Moreover, for example, if a member does a search for hosts in a city, filtering results for people most actively or recently involved in the community (by selecting “Last Login Date in the Last Month”), it narrows down the results multifold.

I’d still show up in my former cities, being active myself, logging in relatively regularly–so it isn’t like I’d just disappeared from the community that way.

For example, for Northfield, MN, the availability of hosts dropped from 362 (without any filters) to four when I recently entered that default setting also “With References”.

Thus, if someone were to have looked for hosts in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, or San Jose, Costa Rica (where I’d lived these last few years), setting the search terms specifically for recent logins and for those with references, I surely would have popped up.

And with the amount of positive references I have, far more than the average CSing bloke, one would think members would feel comfortable reaching out.

Zero travelers have, however (though I admit to not being able to host during the first five years on the site because my ex forbade it).  Still, for those four-to-five years, one would assume I would have gotten a few folks to have reached out to me.

It makes sense, then, that members filter for hosts according to age, which is possible, though I’ve personally never used it.

Why would I have?  A host is a host is a host.

To have received surfers in my home, having hitherto happily hosted about 22 guests, I instead reached out to globetrotters who had posted publicly on the platform (which you can do), having previously received e-mail updates stating, “These surfers are looking for a host in your city.”

That’s the only way I’d received CSers, the only way I was able to legitimately build my profile, by hosting (instead of those folks who have lopsided numbers of hosts’ references versus guests’, rarely having done hosting themselves).

To me, reciprocity is one integral facet of the entire Couchsurfing foundation, regardless of one’s age.

Indeed, it should not matter if a traveler looking to meet up in a foreign city and/or be hosted while traveling internationally (or domestically, for that matter) is 80, 60, 40 or 20.

The focus MUST be reciprocated altruism, I’d like to argue.

Until society changes its mindset, however, I’ll continue to reach out to others in need, for apparently being chopped liver makes for not a great host, in their opinions.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Thankfully, my ephemeral concerns about the younger (than me) couple in Cleveland not putting me up never came to fruition.

They aren’t like that.

NIGHT 7 in Cleveland, OH:

One of the greatest aspects of CSing has to be the opportunity it spurs to learn from others, whether it’s (simplistically or profoundly, superficially or deeply) about someone’s opinions on politics or religion, about lifestyle choices or experiences, or about his or her profession.

Again, as seems to be a repeated theme in my entries about this hospitality platform, this being my third blog post, a hotel stay does not beget such moments; CSing, by default, provides instant acquaintanceship and/or ready-made friendships from the get go.

And whom do we learn from more than most others (and when)?  When engaging our friends and acquaintances (unless you’re void of them and focus 100% of your energies on Instagram, Twitter and Snap Chat).

With this leg of my journey, I was enlightened instantly about previously unfamiliar territory and others’ competencies and backgrounds.

Though no ignoramus, I felt like I was in uncharted waters when I got off the boat in Cleveland.  That’s because C., the male counterpart of the couple to host me that night, had invited me to meet him at work.

Being a teacher man, a guy who’d hit 50 three months before posting this entry, I’d, theretofore, not been introduced to a co-working space, those frequently modern facilities–oft seemingly set up in gentrified neighborhoods or in restored warehouses–where mostly, I assume, creative millennials do their entrepreneurial thing.

Yet, because C. had invited me to meet him there, I was thrust into a new world, unabashedly so.

After inviting me in, he hastily toured me around, stopping, too, to pour us each a tap beer (not just any ol’ Miller Lite, either) on our way up to the four-story-high roof.

There, on a finished wood platform surrounded by shrubbery, he explained a bit about the ongoing neighborhood renovations, the nightlife and bar scene in plain view, and a bit about the lay of the land (and bodies of water on the horizon).  Open and personable, he articulated well his professional, consulting endeavors, shedding light on a walk of life I’d not encountered, hitherto.

Since he’d had to finish up a few things after, I lounged a bit with some social media, trying to blend in to the workspace where a few other solo co-workers were seemingly, astutely engaged in whatever endeavors had brought them there.

Looking around the large, open space, where there were “telephone booths” for more private conferences, sofas and chairs in circular, chat-inspiring sets, and the aforementioned bar (with snacks and fanciful fruit on display–all included in their monthly fees, I had been told), I was satisfied in knowing such personal learning opportunities had come about by actively partaking in the platform.

In so many ways, CSing is about stepping out into unknown territories, a welcome endeavor for anyone flexible and thirsty enough to do so.

Later, because she worked a stone’s throw away, C’s partner S. came by, and we joined her for a 30-minute brisk exploration about the neighborhood.  Needing a break from her evening health care shift, she’d swung by to pick us up, on foot.

Both open to dialogue, she and I talked small about our backgrounds (as C. kept pace next to her), sharing some quick insights as a mental health provider and as an overseas teacher, respectively.

Otherwise, the happy couple eagerly pointed out close-at-hand highlights, giving me ideas for the next day’s sightseeing, places like the West Side Farmers Market, the Crop Bistro (located in a former bank whose lobby made for an impressive first sight), and the Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Such first-hand knowledge couldn’t be beat.

The Urban Spoon and Yelp have nothing on such folks!

Because S. needed to work until 1:30am, C. later drove, after dropping my car off near their home, to another revived district, Ohio City, where we first walked to a corner joint called Happy Dog, turning away because there was a cover charge for music.

We, instead, had just wanted, as was recommended as a popular option by my companion, to munch on hotdogs covered with such things as Cheetos or Fruit Loops.

(Yes, check out their website, which I later did to see what I’d missed, or didn’t miss, depending on perspective.)

Disappointingly (well, in reality, with those topping selections more repellent than attraction, I wasn’t too saddened), we continued on foot to Luxe, a candlelit-yet-still-on-the-dark-side, hip eatery, the type of place that immediately begat a feeling I wasn’t dressed well enough, nor was cool enough.

I think I was in a Madras Hilfiger that night when I should have donned… shit, I don’t know any trendy designers and cannot even finish the idea without needing to Google it!

Regardless of any self-conscious awareness that I was on display to all as a frugal traveler, somewhat cognizant that I was dining merely by candlelight with a well-coiffed, affable male stranger, the vibe was soothing, the menu amazing, the pizza and apps utterly satiating.

Welcome to such new opportunities, CSers gain a plethora of insights by being open to their hosts’ suggestions and recommendations, just going with the surfing flow.

This was no exception.

Back in their current stomping grounds, where S. & C. rent an upper floor flat in a large multiple-resident home, we walked several blocks to a from-an-earlier-era pub mostly frequented by young denizens who know the local hideouts, drinking two pints, sharing some stories, with my continually being impressed (if a man can use such a term to describe another bloke twenty years my junior) by C’s varied knowledge base.

Because, in our short time, C. introduced me to a few people (e.g., the gal also on line for a table at Luxe, a theater manager who’d been in our proximity at the latter bar), I started to feel as if I’d just actually relocated to Cleveland, easily able to establish a social circle if that had been true.

At 1:15am, we returned home to meet S., just getting off her shift, and for an hour or so we tiredly chatted about gluten free dieting (of which they both do) and their CSing guests, to date.

That topic always comes up (and perhaps, consequently, someone is telling a story at this very moment about that vagabond Mike who’d accidentally “left the toilet seat up” or had shown signs of distress “when he was attacked by my duplicitous cat”).

Once again, to say that I am always appreciative of any sleeping space, flexible as hell, is an understatement, and sleeping on their sofa, only my second truly eponymous “couch surfing” episode, held true to that notion.

I slept well in the living room–just as I would on a bed, and by 6:50am, an early riser, I let myself out for a walk to the nearby café, open to greet me with its laid back vibe and mellow tunage–some 100 steps from their flat.

After my requisite morning cuppa, I stopped back in to bid adieu to my ephemeral hosts, the truly legit CSers that they are, heading out to see if their recommendations, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the West Side Market, were also legit (later, much appreciating their tip to walk up the stairs above the entranceway for a better view of the place).

Thankfully, Cleveland will long stand as a positive experience in my mental recollections, in large part due to their hospitality (just as Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee will because of my respective hosts in each locale).

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ColeTo StephSteph

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, CSing, being susceptible to the conceivable imperfections of human nature, isn’t perfect, and for the second time on the trip, adjustments needed to be made to my itinerary at the last minute.

[In explaining these shortcomings, perhaps subconsciously I am hoping to actually scare off naysayers so that the community doesn’t explode to any more than its current size–so that there will always be open options to be hosted and to host.]

This time around challenges occurred because my pending host in Pittsburgh, who had confirmed some three weeks prior, lapsed in her communication–to the point I was worried she’d changed her mind.  In fact, up until the day before my scheduled arrival, she hadn’t replied to my follow-up messages, which I’d sent both about ten days and seven days prior, in which I’d asked for her address and an ETA that suited her well.

No word came.

Then, two days in advance, realizing she’d not responded yet, I’d messaged once again, having one of those “Earth-to-__________ moments”.

However, I’d not received confirmation by the night before, with plans to leave the next morning from Cleveland, so I instead wrote to explain I was actually cancelling because I preferred to have more solid plans before proceeding with my journey early in the A.M.

Lamentably, on the morning of my leaving Cleveland, she wrote to say she had “been in the hospital”.

Though the explanation has to be considered legit, if I am to simply trust in the goodness of people, I had seen on her profile a few days before that her “last login” was, in fact, within the timeframe of my previous queries, i.e., if she had been on her profile, which she was, she could have read my messages and simply replied.

Because I’d canceled, even though my message was totally polite and respectful, and because I also had felt some fresh doubts about trust, I decided to not rebook two nights officially (and I always arrange stays officially as one the measure of personal security).

‘Tis what it is, but it left me scrambling to find another host at the eleventh hour, leaving me to consider if I needed to find a hotel instead or to even drive straight through to NJ, where family would be awaiting me, if need be, even if a day or two early.

Thankfully, as I have explained earlier, CSing hosts sometimes list on their profiles if they’ll accept last-minute requests, and that’s what I’d immediately made after finding another Pittsburgh hostess who apparently would.

She accepted, sympathetically and graciously, saving me from being in a budget-minded bind.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Now, this must be said before explaining my fifth host on this journey: Because I believe that the aforementioned ageism is at work on the CSing platform, and because single men have the hardest time in arranging a place to stay (whether with a single female or even with a single male host), I never expected this fifth host to accept, being that she is younger and a woman.

However, K. was cool in accepting my last-minute request, just for one evening, adding that she was sorry to hear that her same-city brethren had not replied soon enough.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

NIGHT 8 in Pittsburg, PA:

In the afternoon, having completed my nowhere-near-taxing, mere 120-minute trip from Cleveland, having already checked out the trendy (if a bit over-gentrified) haunts of Butler Street in Lower Lawrenceville, stopping there for a bit of coffee shop lounging and a God’s gift to creation (i.e., a scone), I parked in a designated “let’s-meet-here” neighborhood, wondering what the hell the ubiquitous signs “Mexican War Streets” meant.

Turns out that the Mexican War Streets, a select grid of seemingly endless restored brownstones, worthy of a historical distinction–however odd the name, made for a peaceful stroll mid-afternoon.  Walking about aimlessly, weather perfect, I eagerly snapped a number of pics with both my rarely-used Nikon and my increasingly oft-addicting iPhone.

A short while later, meeting K., I discovered she lived, well, in Pittsburgh.

As with meeting all CSing hosts, upon walking into her place, I felt like there was so much to absorb, both in terms of her living arrangement and about her life.  And just like my Madison host had immediately engaged in conversations about both, K. and I proceeded to sit down in her eclectic, high-ceilinged living room, chewing the fat about her profession, her two cats, her boyfriend, etc. (whether or not the cat-chat actually preceded stories about her boyfriend, I cannot recall).

However enjoyable, these initial conversations always seems like a crash course in personal histories, hopefully a dialogue which comes in the form of a two-way street, hopefully not stale like in a job interview.

Within twenty minutes, I determined that her cats were horribly troublesome (and that’s from a man who adores cats), for one of them attacked me after initially allowing me to pet its back for a couple of pseudo-tender moments, unfortunately causing me to not trust them again for the next 24 hours.

Not even for a second.

[I went to bed that night hoping the lil’ duplicitous felines weren’t going to lick my chin while I slept, with them readily cognizant of my nearby tasty jugular.  My ex-wife had aimed for that; I was hoping these two would just leave it alone.]

Within those first twenty minutes, however, I’d also established that K. was a truly cool human being.

Her outlook on life spirited, her focus on her musical career and artistic endeavors laudable, she is, at least in this man’s opinion, bound for a grand life, one filled with a habitual, talented expression of her persona–coming through in her song-writing, poetry, and musical skills.

After an hour or two, we headed out in my car for dinner, with her having set plans already with her boyfriend, who was to soon be meeting us downtown.

At least she didn’t invite the kitties.

Once again, insight from a CSing host proved valuable, since she’d wanted me to try Emporio, a centrally-located joint that serves up specialty… meatballs?

Because I’d just returned from being abroad for 15 consecutive years, and especially because I’d been suffering some fairly incredulous reverse culture shock, theretofore, my first thought upon hearing her suggestion was, “What will Americans think of next?”

A meatball-focused theme restaurant?  Really?

Yes, my query came in a somewhat cynical fashion, yet internally of course (the USA seems to have gone over the top with trendiness)!  But I went with the flow because she spoke so highly of it, with her admitting to have brought other guests and visiting family there previously.

On second thought, if one really thinks about it, the damn things are the next step away from being a hamburger!  So why not!  Right?

With CSing, going with the flow is best, open-minded to all.

Soon after, her affable-yet-a-bit-introverted boyfriend joined us, and for the 90 minutes we were there, I learned a good deal about both their musical careers, their education, their dreams, even.

It is not every day, especially for a relatively introverted bloke, himself, who does not normally maintain a large social circle, that one gets to be introduced to so many walks of life, one aspect of CSing that I still find mesmerizing, ten years on, 70-plus hosting/surfing exchanges later.

It’s as if my journey from Minnesota to Pittsburgh, theretofore, had been an ongoing parents’ career day at school, with my hosts enthusiastically explaining their chosen paths in life to an eager audience.

Curious and keen, I took in their intriguing, frenetically-paced stories, with open ears.

Heretofore in life, I’ve never really known a musician, except just in passing, so to sit with the two of them truly was eye-opening.

Indeed, it was a pleasure for that inquisitiveness factor, just by itself.

Upon returning to K’s pad after a couple of hours out, with my staying clearly away from her moody cats, however adorable they were on the surface, K. and I chatted for another hour or so at her kitchen’s high-top table.

As is often the case, stories about previous hosts and guests, both mine and hers, came up.  In fact, I think every time I’ve hosted someone, stayed in a member’s home, given tours, etc., there’s a propensity for CSing stories to take place, both good and bad.

Mesmerized I was by said stories.

Before heading to sleep on an inflatable mattress bed in a spare space (a kind of bedroom-cum-office), I was gratefully informed that she’d take those mini-monsters of hers into her room (in the back of the brownstone flat) for the night.

Thank god!  Rest never came so easily.

Being an early riser, with her being a late bird (accustomed to until-the-wee-hours shifts in the “music industry related” job she holds), I awoke, readied myself, and left even before she’d probably hit R.E.M. sleep mode.

Faced with a gorgeously blue sky day, I strolled a bit through the Mexican War Streets, again, easily finding the café she’d recommended a few blocks away, and for about two hours was able to relax, read, and write, getting some necessary ‘me time’.

K. then came by, mid-morning, having read my invitation to buy her a mornin’ brew, and there at that café we shared a few more tales about life, gaining valuable insights, as one always does on CSing, about another human being (if that’s your thing and you promote doing so, even if you’re a relatively reticent bloke like me).

Caffeine-satiated, we strolled to her flat, I grabbed my bags, preferring quick goodbyes, for I was on the road and she leads a busy life–and off I drove, bound for the Jersey Shore.

Some 20-plus years her senior, I departed her neighborhood, utterly pleased that she’d not ageism-shamed me!

Not to beat a dead horse, but that’s what surfing in a stranger’s home is like.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Somewhat mid-trip, of my four-weeks on the road, for a week I stayed with family in NJ, in a hotel for a night for a change of pace (kindly rejecting a high school buddy’s offer to stay in his family home, needing a respite from socializing and just wanting to sleep in my “most comfortable state” once in a while), and then with a really old friend for a couple of nights in Upstate NY (not her age, but how long we’ve known each other).

In terms of geography timing, I’d come to my halfway point.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

For my return voyage back to South Dakota, I had had a rough idea on where I’d go (even deciding before departing the Upper Midwest weeks prior), and a few hosts, a month in advance, had already confirmed they’d put me up.

I knew my next CSing stop was going to be Blacksburg, Virginia, which I’d guesstimated was on the way to south-central Tennessee, which I was bound for to stay for two nights (who am I trying to kid: Google Maps told me specifically that it was).

However, I left the NY/NJ area with hopes of not having to do more than 4-5 hours.

Lo and behold, I didn’t, because I’d located, last-minute, a hosting family in Scranton, PA, one able to put me up somewhat late on a Sunday night.

The experience in PA (Pennsylvania), and the subsequent exchanges I’d, moreover, had in Virginia, Illinois and Iowa, provides further insight to the whole concept of CSing, with enough variety stemming from each that I’ll give some further details to follow.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

NIGHT #-something in Scranton, PA (and, no, I didn’t see anything related to The Office, the sitcom, somewhat unfortunately):

Sometime late-afternoon on whatever date it was (too lazy at the moment to refer to my calendar), I pulled into a residential area outside of Scranton, enveloped by a momentary yet total sense of being lost (in the overall scheme of how the neighborhood was related to the city and its surroundings, and where I’d arrived to in comparison to the city center).

If it hadn’t been for my GPS getting me right to their doorstep, I would have fretted about my situation, having no clue if the area was legitimately safe or not.

[Actually, I’ve been around the block so many times around the world that I’d only added that sense of foreboding questioning simply because others may feel concerned about going into a stranger’s neighborhood–and for a bit of a different take on it.  Not once have I actually been in a CS-related neighborhood that was concerning.]

However, I suppose that one may very well risk arriving at a crack house (Is that still a thing?) if one doesn’t rely on the aforementioned reference and verification system, reading reviews, if you will, on others’ surfing stays, descriptions of homes, etc.

Instead, (sigh of relief) the missus of the house came to the door as I jostled with my bags in my hatchback and soon after walked to their front stoop, perhaps looking like a lost puppy.

Upon entering their home, I met her better half, M., handing him some craft beers I’d picked up (having run out of my Costa Rican coffee), also noticing, simultaneously, a small shadow hiding off behind the stairwell separating the dining room from the living room.

The little girl to whom the shadow belonged never really interacted with me until the next morning, since, as Mom explained, she was feeling sick (and was quite shy, I surmised), yet the vibe this was a family-oriented abode was consistent the whole time, well, for the less-than-24-hours, I was there.

No reading to one energetic kid this time around, but that was fine!

[If I cannot recognize that all kids are different, I don’t think I have a place in education.]

Their understanding and display of hospitality high, the family, soon after I’d arrived, invited me to partake in their evening meal (a baked mac-n-cheese dish with tomato sauce served on the side straight from the sauce pan).  ‘Twas a casual gathering over which we exchanged some stories about life in Central America, with the father being from there, himself (with my having lived in Costa Rica and traveling to nearby countries the previous 1.5 years).

Intrigued I always am by stories of cross-cultural romances and bi-cultural families, having been there, done that.  By default, I’d made a identifiable connection with them.

In fact, it appeared that the father, M., also knew a man I’d met just six months prior while traveling in Honduras, a friend of a Costa Rican friend of mine.

Small world.

To sit after supper with total strangers (though somewhat connected via that six-degrees of Kevin Bacon concept), lounging in their living room, sampling the beer I’d brought, having met just an hour or so before, probably seems odd, but that’s what we did (as I’d done with many of my road-trip hosts, theretofore).

Imagine, otherwise, walking into a total stranger’s house in a different context, hoping to have a meal with the residents within the first thirty minutes of arriving, plopping a seat with them on the sofa afterwards!

Surely it isn’t for everyone, which I continually am told when I reveal such stories.

Well, for two-plus hours in their intimately-sized, quaint living room, they were open to divulging engaging stories of how they’d met, of raising two kids for some time in Honduras (their eight-year-old son sat near me on the couch, playing video games), and of returning to the USA after years away, which I myself had just recently done.

Turns out, as a teacher, the mother, S., also knew someone I’d known in academic circles south of the border.

Small world x 2.

Always it is.

Unfortunately, however, because I suffer from Chron’s, the family was also readily introduced to some of my post-meal issues, for the cacophony of sounds emanating from my gut practically drowned out our conversation when they arose.

And they arose with frequency.

C’est la vie, truly, but that’s what CSing entails at times: getting to know your hosts/guests, including their negatives or quirky idiosyncrasies, immediately (whereas my intestinal ailment is NOT something I usually broadcast within the first few hours of meeting someone).

I had no choice but to apologize, prompting a bit of an explanation of my health issues.

We’re all human, eh?

Because it was a school night for the children, because it was a work night as well (not for me, of course, my being on sabbatical), they showed me my sleep space at around 9:30pm, the second floor son’s room, but unlike my Milwaukee hosts, they’d arranged that the boy would sleep with M. in another room.

This child’s room was rather spacious, uncluttered, and contained a large bed with a set of sheets, which is all this rover-on-the-go needs.

As with most hosts, but not all in such a direct, affable fashion*, they welcomed me to use the bathroom for showering in the morning, provided me with a towel, etc., and we briefly talked, too, of the morning routine, since I always ask–as to not interfere with anyone’s getting-ready-for-work schedule, which would surely take precedence over my vagabond-on-the-go, start-of-the-day hygiene needs.

[*Not once has a CSer not allowed me to shower, but some are simply more enlightening about the option, and this simply depends on personality and communication style.]

Closing the kid’s door behind me, I bid them a great night, feeling, too, as if these strangers were no longer just strangers.

They’d welcomed me, a middle-aged guy, into their home, the baked mac-n-cheese an unexpected bonus!

As is routinely the case, it was an eye-and-heart-opening opportunity.

By staying there, I had learned of certain facets of restaurant chain architecture and construction (the father’s line of work) that I’d not known before; I’d equally gained some insights into working as a Spanish-English interpreter for social services and transitioning back into life in the USA, from S, the mom.

Try gaining all that by talking to your pillow the next chance you stay solo at a Super 8.

Because the dad was off to work the next morning early and the young lad had to head to school, it was Mom and Daughter who sat with me momentarily over a cup of Joe, as the little girl eagerly ate her Fruit Loops, with tummy then apparently better–finally breaking out of her shyness.

Too bad I was leaving soon after she finally spoke!  Yet cute it was she whispered, “Is he leaving?”, coyly cognizant that I was.

Always with the mindset that two nights is far better than one, I wished it would have been doable, but a month before I’d already made plans for two nights in Virginia (again, a limitation of CSing in not permitting more flexibility nor whimsical choices with scheduling)–and I needed to be on the way to get out of their hair so they could run their errands and get the wee one to pre-school.

Thus, once again, after a quick two hours of checking out Scranton on a Monday morning, stopping by to see the capitol building, getting in some reading time while it drizzled steadily outside, the road called my name, a name that is growing steadily more fond of the CSing world I’ve found myself in, intentionally.

6a Scranton6 Scranton

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

So what is it like staying with a CSing host?  A clearer picture may be forming for you, I hope.  Yet even more variation awaited me at my next stop, a good five hours down the interstate in Blacksburg, VA.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

NIGHTS #-something-plus in Blacksburg, VA:

“Grab yourself a plate, Mike!” enthusiastically implored my next host, D., upon my entering the kitchen, noticing as I did that there were a good 10 people seated at a long dining room table and at a nearby high-top, end-of-the-kitchen-counter, bar-stool-eqeipped seating area.

He had just, seconds before, met me outside after I’d pulled into their short driveway, with my not knowing if I should have parked on the street or not.

[Because I’d lived in Virginia and traveled to this area before, I knew better than to assume that I may have been shot for pulling in to someone’s driveway in the state! Especially with out of state license plates!  Truly, these CSers were nothing of the sort!]

“Everyone, this is Mike from Couchsurfing,” he added, allowing me to nod my way around the room, extending my hand to the folks closest.

After daintily selecting some veggies, a sausage, and a couple of sweet potato fries, accepting a beer from D., too, I joined a couple at the counter nook, and we then chatted about my travels, the platform, and life, especially with their showing late-stage pregnancy signs (as one may find that evident without asking), their first.

The bar-stool-balancing bloke, who’d also explained they’d all graduated from Virginia Tech some ten years before, readily shared details about his traveling sales job and how many of the guests were previously or currently involved in Baptist ministry work.

Welcoming they were to this weary traveler; eager they were to learn of my stories from overseas living.

Admittedly, still in a repatriation phase, I delight in people asking deeper questions than “What’s your favorite country so far?”

At the head of the dining table, it turned out, a few feet from my turned back, was C., the other half of the CSing household equation.

Turning to her, at least from halfway across the dining room, I learned that she’d just, literally just, gotten back from a cross-country biking adventure, having cycled from the salty waters of the Pacific (having dipped her tire in the ocean somewhere in Southern California) to the Atlantic Ocean lapping the sands at the beaches of Jacksonville, Florida.

Just that morning they’d driven up from Florida.

Now they were hosting me, hosting a casual dinner party.

Absorbed immediately in her story, I was hopeful she’d share more, which she was willing to do over the course of two days, explaining that she’d done it to raise awareness of a rare medical condition that affects pregnant mothers.

Naturally, I was impressed by such a strong-willed, earnest approach to tackling such issues, though saddened I was to hear how this is not as rare as it first sounded.

Her conversation also turned to the generosity of hosts along the way, not just on the CSing platform but also while using Warm Showers, a site specifically for adventuresome cyclists and those willing to put traveling bicyclists up for a night or two.

Though not a fan of the name (I immediately think of ’45’ for some reason), such a platform further reveals that kindness and generosity are not history.

It’s real.

Happily, I engaged with a few folks before they slowly dwindled down to the last guests gathering in a standing circle in the living room, with many waving to me with a pleasant “Nice to meet you,” as they departed, couple by couple.

Admittedly, I internally entertained thoughts such as, “Why are those involved in the Lord’s work so fucking nice?”

Thankfully, I didn’t ask that outright!

Two vestigial blokes were chatting with D. about power tools and home renovation stories, all as I sat in the cozy corner armchair of their comfortably bright and airy living room, a fly on the wall for the last 10 minutes of the gathering.

As I eavesdropped (there was no choice), I couldn’t help but think, “I’m cool that they’re totally comfortable letting me do my own thing in their home (which was nothing more than sit there), allowing me to listen in or converse if I’d wanted, without feeling pressured to wait on me hand and foot.  They really allow guests to just blend in and go with the flow.”

I did.

After the house cleared out, I’d noticed one guy had remained, and he had been cleaning up in the kitchen, separately having made his own meal, from what I could gather.  Once done, he also came and sat in the living room with me and the two hosts, a married couple some 19-20 years my junior.

Perhaps my ageism issues aren’t that much of an issue!

Turns out, the third resident, who rents a room in their downstairs apartment, was even younger, like he could be my son age.  Regardless of age, regardless of backgrounds, regardless of our current place in life, we all sat and chatted for a couple of hours, learning about each other’s histories.

No doubt, the average Joe and Josephine Traveler cannot have such endearing exchanges so consistently as it is with CSing (though, of course, traveling in a tour group and staying at hostels does provide social interaction on a continual basis; it simply isn’t as intimate a setting as is lounging in the living room in someone’s home).

Disclaimer: The term “intimate” should NOT be confused with what some of you may assume.  That’s a whole other story, y’all.

The next morning, because I had already communicated with the couple that a good balance to the day would be grand, C. and I took off for a mid-morning tour in my car, with her leading the way in explaining the variety of sights we passed.  Being that I had actually partied for a weekend in Blacksburg in 1989, visiting friends who gone to Virginia Tech, years before she was born, I was able to… well, I, pathetically, couldn’t recognize a thing!

VT, its edifices, and the surrounding landscaping, were impressively gorgeous (especially having just come from the frozen tundra of SD/MN/WI two weeks before), yet a teenage-party-induced weekend there three decades before left me with zero recollection.

All I could recall was playing quarters in someone’s dormitory social area.

Later, we stopped for a morning cuppa at a shoulder-to-shoulder-packed, quintessential campus coffee house, sharing stories as we people watched.  Eventually, we strolled the village-like environs just off of the campus, stopping here and there, touring a restored-colonial-home-cum-art-gallery, too.

All made for a grand day, and I was appreciative of C’s communicative style and willingness to spend time together, yet I later aimed, too, for some travel planning and ‘me time’ (I think one can see a trend here), heading out to another café to lounge and write, running some errands, etc., until just before the sun first considered stepping behind its habitually employed dressing partition.

The three of us headed out in their car after getting some rest back at ‘home’–where I thoroughly embraced the time with their two amiable, entertaining cat (quickly replacing my nightmarish remembrances and animosity towards my Pittsburgh hosts’ kitties).

Why a middle-aged man recalls Jenny with such fondness two months later, at the time of writing, and why he still pronounces her name in a Forrest Gump-inspired fashion (I just did while typing this), is beyond me.

Their tenant, the young lad who’d stayed up to chat the night before, had said we should stop by his place of employment, so we made a beeline for said restaurant downtown, straddling the campus confines–where another friend of theirs additionally met up with us for a meal.

A decently pleasant place, tasty damn food, and some darn likable folks made for a positive outing.

Thankful I was for my brief two days in Blacksburg and for being able to sample places that came as recommendations straight from the horse’s mouth–with each eatery and café I’d spent time stemming from personal endorsements.

Back at home, the rest of the evening was casual, with a few more stories being told, all of us on our devices of one sort or another, simultaneously.

By 10pm, being a work night and a travel night for me, we said our “goodnights,” and I headed to my room, a carpeted, clean space just off the main hallway down from the master bedroom, an arm’s length from the shared bathroom.

They’d earlier ensured my sheets were fresh, that towels were folded on the shelving in the closet, that my pillow was plumped.  No, they didn’t go as far as that to accommodating my needs, but it was a satisfyingly snug enough room that I’d definitely write home about it.

I just have.

For a bit of zoning out, in a half-zombie-like state, I caught a bit of YouTube on my  iPhone, satisfied entirely with the time I’d spent in their abode, in their presence, in their town.

Hopefully, thirty years from now, I’ll remember something more about Blacksburg than I currently can recall from three decades prior.

Who knows?  It may be that C&D and their unabashed hospitality are what I will recall the most.

Or maybe it will, oddly, be Jenny (using my best Forrest Gump voice as I write it one last time).

7a Blacksburg7 Blacksburg

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A hop, skip, and a jump away from C&D’s home, Chattanooga (and old friends there) next welcomed me for two nights and days, and I was then bound for Bloomington, Illinois (not Indiana as I had almost forgotten when I set my GPS before taking off from Chattanooga early one morning).  I’d also stopped in Nashville on the route up into IL, where, for a few hours, I met up with an old HS friend to tour the downtown area.

What a grand adventure and worthwhile itinerary I’d set up!

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NIGHTS #-something-plus-two-more in Bloomington, IL:

Within two hours of arriving at my next host’s residence, located in a tranquil, mid-century neighborhood a few minutes from the central area of Bloomington, we were sharing a home cooked meal at her dinning room table, a spectacularly flavorful vegan combination (my first), with the main dish being a garbanzo bean concoction that was something to write home about.

Or to at least blog about some six weeks later.

Willing to share fine conversation, A., a middle-aged woman (i.e., hey, it is my age, too, even though it sounds so cynical using it), one who works in academia, was open to sharing life events, talking about her two adult children, and explaining much about the community.

Go figure!  A host who wants to teach something about her town!

Within a few hours, I knew much more about Bloomington (e.g., the headquarters for State Farm Insurance is there) than I’d known prior to my arrival–which was, admittedly, absolutely zilch!

After dinner, since I had brought along a bottle of vino (since A. had stated she wasn’t a big beer fan when I’d messaged a day prior, asking, “Anything I can bring?”), we had a glass of wine, she, and a microbrew, me, out on her front porch, an enclosed respite from the warmish outside temps.

Said porch offered a satisfying-to-the-senses breeze and the worthy-of-an-hour-or-two opportunity to clandestinely spy on the neighbors as they strolled the tree-lined streets out front.

As we shot the breeze (being an ESL teacher by training, I’m wary of using that expression–for it just doesn’t make sense), I tangentially reflected on how important trust is for this community because all too many times women friends have told me, “I couldn’t use the site because I am a single woman.”

Typically, I dismiss such comments by retorting, “Well, you can stay with couples and single female hosts,” yet I also believe that dozens of outstanding references should assure any tentative soul of the values of good ol’ hospitality.

By 11pm, having driven a good stretch of interstate driving earlier that day, I was fighting off the Z-monster (a ridiculous term I’d learned from a drill sergeant in basic training a lifetime ago) and retired for the evening.

My room, up on the second floor, one of the two options A. had given me, rooms where her two children had once lived, overlooked the greenery of the back yard and the detached garage (in day time hours, of course), with open windows allowing for a sleep-inducing freshness.

Indeed, it was a restful sleep, cuddled in the coziness of a quilt that reminded me of my grandmother’s decor–ENTIRELY IN A POSITIVE WAY, A.!

With a shower before 7am, though I’d laid in bed for a good 90 minutes beforehand, as to not wake her accidentally with doors closing too loudly or the tap being turned on too squeakily, I then detected coffee brewing as I descended the stairs to the main floor, with the aroma wafting down the hallway from the back kitchen.

There, we chatted again, with A. describing plenty of sightseeing options for the day.

Yet we started off the morning together, after breakfast (I’d brought an artisan banana loaf from an upscale bakery in Signal Mountain, TN), with a 20-minute walk downtown, where she introduced me to the general layout, pointing out specific favorites (the Coffee Hound café, for example), leading me further to the farmer’s market in the main square.

Surely, a traveler may easily come upon such an event on his or her own (though it is indeed easier being given insights from a CSers), but with an outgoing resident to, moreover, take me around, I was provided with experienced perspective and ample firsthand accounts of happenings (like the informative-yet-quick story of a friend of a friend of hers who works for one of the bakeries and the history of a group of restaurateurs who’ve recently blossomed in Bloomington).

Moreover, with her pointing out the former City Hall turned museum, I may have overlooked it as just being a impressive building.  Instead, I jumped at the chance to be shown inside, where we explored a few displays and ventured up to the old library section, where we received a thorough explanation of the room from a volunteer historian.

How else would I have known about the the flooring designs and details of the wall construction of bygone days?

CSing is partly responsible for such a lovely discovery (though I recognize life without CSing can also be so fanciful)!

After our walking tour, we stopped in at the Main Street coffee shop she’d pointed out earlier, one packed to the brim, with the line to order at the counter extending back to the bathrooms.

A good 25 people (just those on line at any given moment) had apparently loved this place as equally as she did.

Within 15 minutes of being seated, thankfully finding a place in such a hustling joint, two of her friends stopped by to chat for a bit.  Thus, I was again thrust into, happily so, sharing stories with intimate inhabitants of my chosen CSing destination.

Later, for a few hours mid-afternoon, with advice to do so coming from A., I’d taken off to see some highlights of the quintessential slice of Americana that cuts right through Bloomington (IL, not IN, y’all!): Route 66.

Just out of town, vestiges of the original road still exist (unless, as some tourist traps do, it was a reconstructed segment just to draw the crowds), and as I drove out, taking in the sites for a good 30 minutes in one direction, stopping for an “Ive-been-there, done-that” image capture, thoughts of my grandparents came to mind, wondering if they’d done this stretch at any time during their lifetimes.

Though tacky tourism traps turn me off, nostalgia does have its place in my heart.

Route 66 is both.

After two hours of walking the main thoroughfare of Normal, IL, the university-hosting sister city just north of Bloomington, where a number of bars, boutiques and burger joints line the street, I returned to my host’s home, played with her loving cat on the porch (perhaps the most tender and approachable of all the house pets on this road trip), and unwound a bit.

Why I had to unwind from being on vacation wasn’t clear, yet it was nice to.

A. had also invited me to join her friends for a downtown (Normal) street fair and outdoor music concert–heading there on bicycles, one of which I had to borrow from her friend, one of the gals who’d plopped down to chat at the café that morning.

Unbeknownst to me, theretofore, there is a fantastic paved, wide-like-a-regular-road, bike trail system that extends between the two cities, which we rode for a casual 30 minutes to the festival.

Indeed, as I oft do, I stopped (mentally, not the damn bike) for a moment of reflection, thinking, “Here I am riding along with two ladies who probably never would have talked to me if I had just ridden up alongside them and started babbling, throwing out jokes a bit as I had done.  This CSing crap is really the bomb.”

No, I don’t really think in the vernacular like that.

Although this bloke is anti-country-music, by in large, which is what the festival’s genre turned out to be, I still relished the opportunity to chat with A. and her two friends while people watching, getting in some good laughs after hearing a few recent stories of the antics of one.

Eventually, perhaps two hours having passed outside, a stone’s throw from the stage, we ventured into a popular restaurant with a second-floor open-roof seating area, and though the wait staff seemed overwhelmed and preoccupied, we sat and enjoyed a pleasant evening together.

Although I most likely may never see them again, when they said goodbyes, I had felt a slight sense of sincerity in their having said, “Nice to meet you,” and, “Best of luck!” 

Undoubtedly, those little, albeit temporary connections (and perhaps at times more profound) are what I want to focus on when friends and family ask, “What’s it like staying with a stranger?”

Now you know.

Bloomington 1Bloomington 2

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Although the above-explained experiences were not the end of my complete trip, for I continued up through Iowa on the way back to South Dakota, stopping for an evening and one full night in Cedar Rapids (with a kind host in a gorgeously decorated and furnished suburban home, one who is just starting out with CSing), time constraints currently dictate that I bring this blog entry to a close.

Moreover, about ten days after returning from this four-week trip, I ventured out to explore a bit of the Upper Midwest, staying with four more hosts in their respective towns for two nights each, with each surely providing enough hospitality to write home about.  One day, I hope to, for their kindness, generosity, and pleasant homes are deserving of accolades and recognition, even if I allow the aforementioned to remain anonymous here.

The upshot is, I want not only those who have asked what the community is like to know, but I hope to spread the word that platforms such as this (e.g., Hospitality Cub, BeWelcome, Servas) keep me hopeful that the world is still more good than bad, that the humaneness that should be inherent in humanity isn’t dead.

If you’re already a CSer, and you’ve had positive experiences (which I hope is the case for the grand majority of members), please feel free to share my blog entry as an insightful explanation of these (examples of all the) delightful folks who make the community special.

If you’re new or just thinking about joining, do so with open heart, open spirit, trust, and tolerance.  Don’t misuse or abuse it.  Both rely on and reciprocate in return.

Perhaps one day, one of your guests will be detailing his/her/their time in your home, thankful for all that you’d done.        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Couchsurfer’s Profile

Since my profile on CSing became a bit too wordy, I’ve decided to transfer the information from the site to here, just in case anyone wants to read more details before deciding to stay at my place or host/accept me as a guest.  I still believe the more you can learn of another CSer, the better off is the sense of trust and understanding.

 

First, I may be 50, but that should stop NOBODY from the hospitality concept of what CSing entails, either with my being a host or a surfer (I explain a bit more of this later in my profile).

Having worked and lived abroad in Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Switzerland, and Costa Rica (and a semester in Mexico back in my undergrad days), I am all about life abroad. Overseas living has now grown to about 18 of the last 20 years of my life. Such a lifestyle has afforded some incredible experiences, a variety in life and languages and culture. My eyes open to more, my feet desiring further usage, I hope to return to life overseas in the future.

As of June, 2018, I have been taking a sabbatical for the time being to pursue some extra endeavors, such as writing a book about divorce overseas, returning to some erstwhile photography habits, planning a children’s book, etc. During this year off, I had hoped to live all over Latin America. Starting off well, I’d traveled in El Salvador (three weeks) and did some volunteer work exchanges in Honduras (six weeks), and Panama (seven weeks), but on 1/26/19, I returned to the States for the fist time, to live, in 15 years.

Basics: I was separated in 2013 and divorced in 2014 from my ex-wife in Taiwan; unfortunately, my two children are with her in Taiwan, still. All of that story can surely be shared (best over a coffee or a beer) if folks are interested!

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Ten years now on CSing! Amazing!

I’m unfortunately not able to host at the moment, having moved out of my apartment in Costa Rica in the summer of 2018, where I had been actively hosting. However, I am happy to meet people along the way, to hopefully be hosted from time to time, and to still help traveler’s if need be! I will be moving to the Twin Cities in August and hope to start hosting again then.

During my most active CSing years in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, I toured people in town by taking them around for a few hours on a personal exploration of the city. When I had a car there, I took CSers out to local areas, on the weekends, even up into the mountains or farming areas. I used to be a tour guide for EF (English First) and at my university–so I am a pretty good one and I love doing tours! I once dreamed of making a career of international tours, but instead went abroad to teach and haven’t turned back. CSing helps appease the urge to still be an international tour guide, showing visitors the places I know, off the beaten path. Such engagements satisfy the needs to help other travelers because I’ve been new to so many places overseas that I can have great empathy for travelers in need, those curious about new cultures, etc.

The aforementioned also applies to domestic travelers and explorations, too.

My mentality for hosting guests in Taiwan (my first overnight guest was in late 2013), and then in Costa Rica, included welcoming them into my home, introducing them to the layout of the house, providing them with towels–and use of the fridge, kitchen, and washing machine to do laundry (What weary/eager traveler doesn’t appreciate clean clothes from time to time?)! With folks who stay more than a day, I always give my house keys, too, as a sign of trust so that folks can come and go as they please. In CR, since I worked early, I allowed CSers to sleep in later and just toss the keys through the window when leaving for good, indicating that this community is based on trust and respect. Moreover, I always treat my guests to a dinner out–since that’s my way of paying it forward because my original CSing friend in Myanmar bought me lunch, and Bruneian CSers did the same, too.

What comes around goes around.

Such receiving and giving provides a wonderful balance in life–and helps pave the way for closer bonds with those we come across in our travels. In fact, I’ve started to feel that CSing at someone’s home, getting to know a local’s way of life, culture, etc., is actually more important than just sightseeing in a new place while traveling abroad. When I’m 70-years old and on my deathbed (or whenever), I’ll remember with fondness how kind my hosts were in El Salvador or Honduras, for example, but I may not even be able to remember what the beach looked like in El Tunco (El Sal) or what the mountain vistas were in central Honduras. In the end, it’s those connections with people that will last the longest.

CS provides just that opportunity.

After years of hosting and touring, and meeting others overseas for simple outings together, I really started surfing during my time in Latin America, having had fantastic hosts so far (as of January of 2019) in Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama.

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I have a 2013 blog about CSing, and how it actually led to a 189-day parental abduction of my children because my ex-wife accused me of taking my kids on a romantic date, when in reality it was a CSing guest from abroad:

https://wordpress.com/post/analienatedfather.wordpress.com/13

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Something I’d like to share or teach with the CSing community is this: Sadly, I often don’t receive replies to CS requests, and I have NEVER actually received a request (even though I’ve now hosted 20 guests). That I’ve found a little strange. The only way I’ve received those guests is by reaching out to public requests for travelers to my towns, which I’ve done without care for any filters. Thus, since I have had nary a traveler write me, I’m worried that travelers are searching with parameters of either gender or age.

I hope that doesn’t happen, for a traveler is a traveler regardless of if he/she is 20, 50 or 70.  Yes, for socializing and dating and friendships, most humans collaborate with people their own age, but with CSing being a traveler’s hospitality exchange, I was a bit surprised to this potential limitation by others. We should all share the hospitality mindset regardless of age or gender. If someone has good-to-great references, honest and open explanations of their lives and reasons for CSing, and revealing photos (revealing of their travels, sharing with friends/family/CSers, of their personalities and interests) that can all combined make someone feel comfortable to host/be hosted, that’s all that matters.

I’d host a great grandfather if he was looking for a place.

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Disclaimer: My hosts in El Salvador, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras have all been so lovely in their written references–and it is references that help create trust and understanding about our hosts. However, on 10/2/16, I read a negative reference from my host in the USA that shocked me, claiming I “didn’t follow through on paying for dinner” or on “being a good CSer”. That saddened me, for I don’t believe that is accurate at all! At her home (with multiple roommates), when I arrived, I gave her a new bag of Starbuck’s coffee and even some beers for her roommates (who later thanked me for them). The dinner out the first night, we joked quite a bit, and even laughed a good deal (I was NOT “uncomfortable” at all). I didn’t expect that she wanted me to pay for the meal, which we did split. The next morning at around 9am, which I had now screenshot in my chat history on my phone, I texted her that I’d seen a number of international cuisine restaurants on my way into the city and that I would like to go for dinner later in the day–AND I WROTE, “It will be my treat”! Yet, she did not text me the entire day until later in the evening, just asking “Did you eat yet?” late in the afternoon. She also told me she was staying at home to do some jelly/jam making from berries she’d collected, offering I could go back to help them. But she never said “yes” or “no” to dinner, so I stayed out later watching the presidential debates.  Finally, because I’d been going through a horrible divorce in Taiwan, I’d told her about it, yet she wrote that I’d told her wild stories, and because I’ve had Chron’s or similar issues for years, I’d also omitted that night–which she even mentioned as debatably happening.  Finally, the chat message history on my phone further shows that she had sent me a message (the day I left to drive to Colorado) that stated, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be more accommodating.”  So to read her reference now truly saddens me–and utterly shocked me (10/2/16).

 

 

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The CSing Difference: 10 Years On

Having been a proudly legitimate member of the Couchsurfing community for ten years now, I still have to explain to people, especially periodic naysayers, what CSing entails, how it works, and why on Earth I would ever stay in a stranger’s home, especially in a foreign country.  A foreign country? Egad!

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  • A famous five-star hotel in Fez, or even a two-star for this fashionably frugal fellow.  
  • Motel off the motorway in Managua (though not the oft questionable “love”-related types found in many a land, thank you very much; been there, done that)?  
  • An AirBnB room in a family’s home, or an entire AirBnB home run as a commercial-only enterprise, with nary a sighting of any family.   
  • A home-swap-website-exchange gem discovered in Buenos Aires.  
  • Pet sitting or housesitting in a temporarily vacated household in Costa Rica.  
  • Camping in Carlsbad.  Glamping in Ghana.  Safariing in Swaziland.
  • A cheapo university dormitory in summer-saturated Stuttgart.  

Today’s solo traveler, regardless of age or status, can pick from quite the list of  accommodation options.  Without sounding pretentious about my being a forever-on-the-go vagabond, as a self-proclaimed globetrotter (though tentatively making such a claim makes me momentarily queasy), I nowadays, personally, could NOT live without my go-to site in planning a journey (not to mention, in using the site during the journey itself)–and for damn good reasons.  

Damn good reason x 10 = Couchsurfing

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Above any other accommodation choice, though it is NOT merely about accommodation, Couchsurfing now reigns supreme in my heart, and with any number of accolades ready to deploy, I stand confidently firm in my belief that the concept of CS’s hospitality exchange is an integral aspect of my traveling life.   

In fact, to me, CSing has practically become more important than any famous destination, more meaningful than any sightseeing highlight, or even more special than a journey itself.    

Those are bold statements, indeed, aren’t they? 

Indeed they are.

For damn good reason(s).

Yet, how does it compare?   

Without a doubt, motels and hotels (especially overseas)—whatever their star rating, are coldly confining places, oft void of cultural exchange.  Within, a traveler can anonymously spend one’s evening, especially when going solo, woefully surfing channels, with that remote-holding hand effectively extended at the perfect angle to activate the TV’s sensor nestled at the bottom of the idiot box mounted high on the wall on the distant side of the otherwise hollow room.  

You’ve all done it, I’m sure.

Sitting alone, a lonesome guest may even call for room service at the Bogotá Best Western, for example, for a late-night sweet tooth satisfaction, perhaps momentarily getting to whisper “gracias” to the Colombian service staff, before he or she shuffles off to the next crusty-eyed patron eagerly awaiting their midnight arepas snack binge.    

Perhaps, at such a location, moreover, if one is lucky, a bit of dialogue could be had with the passing cleaning staff in the hallway the next morning, or had with an ephemerally amiable front desk clerk during one’s check out, or perhaps had with the breakfast buffet scrambled-egg scooper standing behind the oil-spattered plexiglass display case.

Quick “holas” with the locals momentarily seem fulfilling, but are they?

Upon returning home or back to the real world, you might even think you’d lucked out to have had such a “cultural” exchange, gloating to your noisy neighbor Neal or your curious cubicle colleague Carla about how pleasant the Colombian people were.  

As stated, overall, the hotel experience abroad sequesters the average traveler from the local populace, leaving one feeling as if such a stay were happening back in their home state or somewhere like New York City, instead.  Whether you stay at the Best Western in Bogotá or Boise, the end result–regarding cultural awareness and it providing growth or understanding–is about the same if that’s all you’re able to involve yourself in.  

Of course, getting out and about into the hotel’s surrounding locales may very well provide cultural insights, proving the above comparisons false, but as far as accommodation selection goes, why segregate oneself to such a degree–wherever you find yourself?    

The same usually holds true for camping or glamping, for one is separated from the local populace to varying degrees in such situations (though you very well might have an abrupt encounter with a Chinese-language-familiar tiger in the hills outside HuangShan, or you may exchange a friendly wave with a Kenyan game warden while on safari, greeting him or her with a hearty “Jambo!” as he/she lights the morning fire). 

The point is, there’s not much opportunity for cultural swapping if you camp solo or with a partner while traveling abroad, except if a nearby local tenter is available for a marshmallow toasting around the campfire one night.    

That’s not to say you won’t meet local folk while hiking the deep forest nor while bathing in an emerald pool at the base of a jungle-enshrouded waterfall, but with camping itself, it may be limiting in terms of sustained, enlightening host-country interactions.  

Likewise can be said for AirBnB, which, in my opinion, tends to maintain too much of a focus on profit, even if Mr and Mrs Joe AirBnB might include some shared meals or chats over a glass of wine in order to be more welcoming (more than a hotel stay, of course).  Hospitality by said hosts, however, does not always stem from altruistic kindness but rather more often appears out of a need to gain financially.

Getting guests to leave a positive review may, indeed, be their first priority.    

Though gaining cultural insights and understanding is certainly more possible at an AirBnB than a hotel, motel, Holiday Inn (a feeble attempt at referencing the Sugar Hill Gang), especially where and when the host actually lives at the home, many arrangements from the site entail the use of a home without a host being present (or with some hosts, if actually present, not intending to socialize).  

In 2017, for example, I had stayed at an AirBnB duplex in Quepos, Costa Rica, with the only opportunity to interact with the hosts coming when they stopped in the next day to quickly check in on the Nicaraguan cleaning staff in the downstairs apartment—leaving us with the impression that they were enjoying the forthcoming bank deposit they’d be making from our stay more than our stay, itself.

Their dialogue distracted, they were not much interested in our presence.

With us leaning over the second-floor balcony, with them gazing up from their place on the slopping-away lawn, with our hopes high they’d engage a bit more, we had inquired enthusiastically about the macaws circling above the nearby palms, learning in a seven-minute conversation that they’re frequent visitors (the birds, not the hosts).  That was about all the culture we exchanged before they darted off to possibly check their other profitable properties.

In fact, for my sister and her family who were visiting me (I was living in CR), the brief dialogue was one of the most intimate exchanges they’d had with locals during their 10-day stay because we had opted to stay in other insulating AirBnBs and hotels.

Besides getting to know my Tica girlfriend for four days, their true Tico-related experiences were minimal.   

On the far end of the spectrum of AirBnB’s hosting options, one never even sees another soul, such as when my family and I had two days in a home in southern Utah in the summer of 2018.  Instead, we merely received text messages explaining the house’s security code after we, frustratingly, couldn’t get in.  Then, instructions posted on the kitchen wall were all we had to remind us that this was someone’s (second, or third or fourth) home rental property.

Despite AirBnB having started off as a concept that would break down barriers, allowing one to gain appreciation for a local family’s lifestyle, my few experiences with it have been nothing of the sort.  

Thus, with the aforementioned accommodation options relatively void, to varying degrees, of the benefits of cultural exchange, while making my way around the world, I’ll instead look to Couchsurfing, the hospitality-focused website, which I’ve been a member of for the last ten years.  

Ten years?

For damn good reason.   

You see, the Couchsurfing mindset, and by that I mean the ORIGINAL concept that formed the foundation of the site (at least I have always wholeheartedly wished it were for altruistic reasons), is based on helping other travelers, with its open-minded, flexible hosts helping to support the international (and domestic), wherever you find yourself, traveling community. 

Said travelers are often hosts themselves in their home country, and based on that fact, surfers and hosts help to develop a complex web of trustworthy, reciprocated neighborliness that spans the globe.  

Indeed, to utilize CSing entails opening your heart, opening your home, and even opening your eyes (perhaps at times even opening your pocket book or wallet*).

[*CSing hosts cannot ask for money, yet in participating in a gift economy, one surely can bring along a present or treat one’s guest to a meal, which I have long done.]  

But how could partaking in hosting exchanges as a Couch (as some Latin Americans call the actual surfers) be “more important“, as I earlier declared, than finally experiencing a long-in-your-dreams famous tourist trap or checking off a world-renowned landmark from your fantasy destination checklist?

First, by landing yourself in a stranger’s home for two or three days, or more, socializing, spending time out and about together, you’re bound to change your world view of said host’s country, more often than not in a positive fashion (or, on a domestic level, of said host’s city/state).

My curiosity piqued in the summer of 2018, eager to prove that a certain president’s “shit-hole” comments were erroneously ignorant, I set off to El Salvador, having already established communication and arrangements with a number of members there.

The upshot: Three weeks later, I left El Salvador behind, entirely certain that, although ALL countries have pros and cons and have issues to grapple with, this Central American nation should be on anyone’s travel list (truly on everyone’s list).  Such a judgment comes not only because of its lovely terrain and enticing geography, not only because of its off-the-beaten-path appeal, but also, more importantly for this bloke, because the CS community there permitted me insights into how delightfully, positively captivating humanity is, with all of my Salvadoran hosts helping to solidify that simple notion.

Hitherto, that’s all I have had with CSing: positivity in my perception of the peoples that proactively partake in it (even if I’ve heard of a few bad apples), and positive growth in my own viewpoints of a nation after such exchanges.

Compare that all to sequestering yourself in a hotel, where your perception of the nation you’re visiting is based on and still lingers from what’s being expounded upon these days on CNN or BBC.  Not much growth on such a level comes from your ephemeral “hola” with cleaning staff, even if you may think later that the people were nice.

Of course, remember, even if you’re primarily holed up in a hotel, you may gain some insights by joining a bicycle-to-brewery tour in Edinburgh or Snap-chatting pics of Angkor Wat to your buddies back home, but by traveling along channels created by CSing, it is different.

For… you guessed it, damn good reason.

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Undeniably not for everyone (even members of my family are startled by the prospect of having a stranger in their home or of meeting someone for a tour or a coffee), CSing, for me, has become an integral aspect of my life, with it having changed the way I travel and… with it having changed travel, itself.  

It has turned strangers into great friends and good acquaintances.

By extension, being that travel helps to shape my core identity, CSing has then, consequently, changed my life.

Indeed, in countless, magically myriad ways.

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The increasingly easy ability to share one’s travel experiences with a total stranger because of the opportunities available via the internet has become the norm for me, for, since 2009, I have relied on, and, in fact, I’ve gradually become accustomed to integrating Couchsurfing into every trip.

Not familiar with the site nor the concept?

Well,  CSing is a sharing app (having of course started as a website), which has permitted like-minded (and, unfortunately, some not so like-minded**) travelers access to the homes and hearts of hosts around the world.

[**There are those aforementioned bad apples in all walks of life, but like life in general, I would like to think that 99.2% of members are on the site for altruistic reasons.]

Having been both a host and a surfer, heretofore, I can admit that CSing has evolved from a simple supplemental aspect of my travels to a core concept that even guides the planning of my pending peregrinations–and even determines the eventual manifestations of said plans nowadays.

In other words, I have found myself outlining my routes and destination options around CSing opportunities on recent journeys–instead of simply throwing in a surfing opp on a whim to add to the overall experience.  To enhance my excursions abroad by meeting locals through the site is no longer enough; I’ve actually put together itineraries based on such possibilities.

Why would one do that?  Am I missing out on something by being less spontaneous in just going with the flow abroad, which was more my previous propensity traveling?

Or, conversely, am I gaining something?

Indeed, that is as readily debatable as whether or not chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream.  

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Now, how much Couchsurfing mandates modifications to my itineraries is up to me, not to be judged by anyone else, right?

In a nutshell, here’s why and how this process has unfolded and why CSing has largely shaped my most recent trips overseas (and the planning of a domestic one at the time of writing this entry, April, 2019):

When I first started out backpacking, my first trip abroad coming in 1992, I consulted the quintessential guidebooks back in the day: Let’s Go and Lonely Planet (even secretly skimming editions of Frommer’s or Rick Steve’s at bookstores before taking off, to aide in my sightseeing planning, hastily jotting down destination tips, hostel insights and restaurant advice before store employees discovered my peripatetic-pathway-pending-prompted pilfering).

For years, I never left home without a copy of Let’s Go or LP.

Today, however, if the latest edition of Lonely Planet were standing cockily at the end of a dusty ghost town’s Main Street, ready to draw its best weapon against any single CSing host I’ve had, the town’s undertaker would merely need to prepare a book burning instead of a burial.  The town crier, too, having collected endless pages of guidebook destination tips blowing along like tumbleweeds, would only be left to extol the virtues of the CSing victor.

Guidebooks simply cannot compare these days. 

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Eager and new to overseas travel in ’92, I partially planned my whirlwind introduction to Europe by what world-famous sites there were to visit (nowadays, I’d never travel that fast and furiously through any country, let alone five or six), with my risking being labeled with the more narrow nomenclature “tourist” rather than “traveler,” by doing so (if you can accept the inherit yet dubious difference between those two terms).

With a focus on, at least during the preplanning preparation leg of my first trip, getting to places such as the Eiffel Tower, Kilkenny Castle, a few German Altstadts, and, ahem egad, even the Heineken brewery tour, I was undeniably determined to check off a few “worthwhile” destinations along the way, based on some not-a-local author’s definition of worthwhile.

However, during my month-plus of exploring the Europass-confined circuit I’d circled out on a foldout map, pre-smart phone era, I actually learned along the way that those sites were secondary in providing any sense of satisfaction (perhaps even tertiary or less).

27 years removed from my first trip to Paris, I recall more readily, and much more fondly, my casually browsing boulangeries, checking titles and VHS box images at video stores, and languidly loafing at local side street grocery stores.

Yes, I’d visited and ascended the Eiffel Tower (nobody should miss the opportunity to gaze upon such incredible views from atop and perhaps… to simply say one has been).  My curiosity piqued, I’d, additionally, stepped in to Notre Dame to ogle the stained glass marvels, relishing the sense of satisfaction in knowing many folks only see it in travel mags or textbooks.

However, getting out into the side streets of various arrondissements, immersing myself in the local scene, and slaughtering a few phrases of French (from the back of my Let’s Go guide) remain more vividly clear, to this day, in my mind’s eye.

It was more about the people and, admittedly a bit superficially, the resulting cultural transactions, i.e., those initial exchanges were not deeply educational nor super profound.  Yet, somehow, chatting with a store clerk in his broken English (and my worse-than-that French) retains more ‘importance’ to me than having scaled the city’s most famous sky-scraping symbol.

Whatever it was that made me appreciate standing solo in a bakery, chatting with another local customer about what breads to sample, an event more satisfying than being surrounded by thirty tourists trying to snap a photo of the rose windows in Notre Dame, had set the foundation for my future travels.

Couchsurfing, over the last 10 years, has permitted me to continue building on that foundation.

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In the same token, moments spent in Salzburg a week after Paris still stand out (though 27 years have passed), not because of Mozart’s childhood home (one of many apparently) nor because of the postcard-perfect castle overlooking the downtown, but rather as a result of my local host’s hospitality and kindness–eons before virtual hospitality sites were a thing.

This woman, a well-past-middle-aged grandmotherly sort, had stood out to me and my impromptu travel companion from California, whom I’d met on the train, as we eagerly exited the Salzburg station.  Though she didn’t speak much English, communication was still doable, enough so that we two travelers both agreed that her friendliness was worth trudging across town, both laden with heavy back packs.

The two days we spent in her house, regardless of it most likely being a commercial transaction for her, were eye opening and warming to the soul.

On the other hand, if we had, upon arrival, made a beeline for a traveler’s hostel, such memories today would not exist as they do today.  Most likely, I may instead currently be recollecting something of an international party scene at said locale–or perhaps of having joyously socialized with other on-a-shoestring youth from all over the world.

Granted, those potentialities both would have been, without a doubt, priceless (and I had once thoroughly relished such hostel-inspired moments over the course of my younger traveling years), yet I had felt then, and feel now, that with gaining some insights into the Austrian woman’s home, being introduced to wall-adorning images of her grandkids, seeing how she painstakingly folded her laundry, helping sort silverware in the kitchen, all somehow emerged in my memories as a perk.  Although it wasn’t what I would nowadays label as “pure cultural exchange” (i.e., we were still perhaps only $$ in her mind), it was undoubtedly more insightful into the life of a local than what my travel companion and I would have had at a hotel or hostel.

Yet, staying with her was a basic introduction of what my travel mindset would gradually become, thanks to CSing.

The seed was planted early.

The upshot: Some 10-plus years before Couchsurfing appeared on this vagabond’s radar, I had early on seen the value in finding shelter in someone’s abode while venturing far and wide, a place to temporarily call home.

Fast forwarding from 1992 by 15 years, I was on my third year of teaching in Taiwan.

By then, I had already studied abroad in Mexico (living with a host family, fancying all it afforded me), I’d even sold-my-soul as a soldier yet eagerly requested to be stationed in Germany (having developed genuine friendships with Germans “on the economy”, having dated a local), and I had worked in Japan (where I’d gotten to know local colleagues and had also developed a relationship)–all beneficial to gaining insights into the lives of locals.

That year, 2007, a colleague gleefully mentioned in our staff room, or perhaps it was over a coffee, that she had signed up for “some site” called Couchsurfing.  Knowing that I had somewhat given my life to satiating the travel bug that had, theretofore, habitually consumed me, she promoted the idea of hosting international guests and utilizing the site, myself, while jumping around Asia.

Despite some trepidations expressed by my future wife (my future ex, for that matter), for she* “never would trust” such a service, I was eager to create a profile.  However, with some delays in traveling (e.g., getting married in 2008 and having a baby a year later), I didn’t put to use the site until the northern-hemisphere summer of 2009.

[*To put this gently, she genuinely abhorred the notion of someone staying in our home “since we have children” and, moreover, she couldn’t fathom her man meeting someone of the opposite gender while in another country–even if the purpose of such an opportunity was based on helpful hospitality and getting to know something from a local’s perspective.]

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Out of the gate, the betterment of my overseas explorations, directly due to Couchsurfing, became clear.  Soon after creating a profile in 2009, I was off to Myanmar.   

There, three members of the community, over the first four days, were all inclined to sharing insights.  All were open to opening my eyes, with the first being a Burmese man who had recommended a hole-in-the-wall local’s only establishment, a place I wouldn’t have found without him, especially on the first day in the former capital Yangon.

Imagine having a potential friend, or at least an acquaintance, upon arrival in a place where you know nobody else, a sort of shake-n-bake instant connection.  

On the other hand, imagine what it would take to be able to have lunch with a resident soon after arriving, without CSing.  Would I just approach someone cold-callingly on the sidewalk and ask them to go grab a bite to eat?  Never! 

Our chat over some spicy noodle dish allowed me to build awareness of some of the struggles of the population, of issues of the economy, and also of how changes were taking place that left him hopeful.  I wouldn’t have gotten such insights if I had not used the site in such a way, reaching out to him in advance (and others) to see if he simply had time to meet in a public place, without any desire at the time to sleep in “some stranger’s home” (admittedly, my ex-wife essentially dictated that I not get that involved with the platform).  

The following day, a German expat, who’d been living in Yangon for four years, met for a coffee shop chat for over three hours.  Her enthusiasm high, she eagerly expounded on all that was improving, how changes with the government were making her more comfortable in continuing to raise her son there, how foreign investment was taking place.  Moreover, she provided valuable tips on what to see, where to go, and what to skip.  

Surely, suggestions were based on her biases and opinions, but often times any resident’s reality-mixed-with-perspective-based explanations are more intriguing and entirely more relevant than info gleaned from the caption of a National Geo Traveler online image or a two-sentence summary description in Lonely Planet.  

Valuable were her stories, proving once again that CSing exchanges elevate one’s journey to a higher level.  For damn good reason, it had already proven itself more favorable than a hotel stay or traveling without.    

Yet Myanmar’s CSing community upped the ante even more over the following two days.

That’s because on day three, my travel buddy, another North American teacher, and I met up with a Burmese gal, spending the entire day together, walking the streets, exploring shops, stopping here and there for bites of local delicacies.  Together we also relished scrumptious eats at off-the-beaten-path food joints tucked into back alleyways.

Not to beat a dead horse, but without her active participation in the CSing spirit of things, we most likely never would have gained such a grand understanding of the city. 

For a good nine hours, she introduced us to life in Yangon, even taking us to an enclosed mall (not generally my thing, but it was actually a great insight into a somewhat unexpectedly high level of consumerism, into people’s shopping habits, etc.).  

Later, she purchased a Burmese music CD for each of us, a gift I had kept and used for years.    

Although we offered and attempted to pay for all of the aforementioned costs, she refused and treated us to everything, no strings attached.  

Day four in Burma continued the same way, with her dedicating another eight to nine hours of her time (i.e., life) to show us around, no questions asked, no gimmicks awaiting.  To practice English, to express pride in her homeland, and to treat guests with an open heart all seemed to be her modus operandi.

Those first four days triggered a keen interest in CSing that still has not abated in ten years. 

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From 2009 until 2019, traveling (and, as I’d mentioned above, life, to some degree) was partially shaped by CSing.  As a frequent traveler and regular host for a stretch of these latter years, my life was and has been influenced by such interactions.    

Indeed, “charitable views of men and things”, to borrow from Thoreau, have come about as a result–and I, indeed, gained in understanding more of each destination on a different level, yet there have been other aspects of the platform that have stood out.

With my enjoying further similar tours in Beijing in 2011 and Brunei in 2013 (with my family), and with giving tours, myself, in Taiwan (actively so from 2011-2013), I continued to reap the benefits of altruistic hospitality exchange.

The goodness of people, in a world that doesn’t always exude goodness, is often evident, making these exchanges a conduit of hope and understanding.   

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Naturally, in being toured about a city by a local, all was clearly beneficial, for I learned just as much as if I had relied instead on any professional tour guide service, and perhaps more.  

Tour operators often dictate that a guide stick to a script, with my understanding that fact based on personal experiences as a tour leader in the past.  What pros deliver are oft well-rehearsed factoids, and some will not, nor cannot, deviate from their spiel.  Yet a CSer definitely has no such guidelines, especially in a place like China when an agency may have to check themselves and their guides in what they expound on, lest ‘big brother’ get involved.  

On the other hand, CSers tend to speak freely on all topics that affect local life.  

Knowing that, I also was arguably a different sort of guide (and potentially more valuable than a pro), since visitors to my adopted city in Taiwan were able to hear from a distinctly divergent perspective about life there.  

As an outsider, I was able to share knowledge on such issues as how the history between China and Taiwan had shaped tourism development during my years living there.  Because I had seen the difference before cross-strait flights were restored and what happened afterwards, I could provide an explanation about the impact that Chinese tourists were having on local life.  Yet because that topic is a sensitive one, locals may have been more apprehensive to open up such a dialogue (especially to Chinese CSers, whom I’d guided about on a few occasions).  

I also spoke of infrastructure investments the government had implemented, racism and being treated differently, at times, as a foreigner, etc.  Sure, a local Taiwanese could potentially be equally treasured in discussing said topics, but in terms of the reciprocity of CS membership, I feel that I was able to offer a return in paying it all, the aforementioned generosity of others, forward.

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After leaving Taiwan, I’d spent a year and a half in Latin America, where I pursued an investment in the community, full throttle, hosting as much as I could (with my guests coming from a variety of global locales), traveling via CSing channels, too.

Reciprocity was my goal.  It paid off in so many ways.

For damn good reasons.

During those 18 months, my heart was filled with the joys of sharing, learning about life directly from my hosts in El Salvador, Honduras, Columbia (three countries that routinely make those ridiculously over-exaggerated and truly undeserving lists of places not to go to), and in Panama, too.  Learning about their lives, them being teachers, nurses, folks from all walks, opened my mind and heart, broadened my perspective and understanding.

Especially in the light of the countless negative images of those places presented in the media, which we are bombarded with habitually, such exchanges were a refreshing, reinvigorating take on the “real” truth: The goodness of people is alive and well still.

All of my stays were learning opportunities (as were my hosting engagements), and with such learning comes growth, empathy, and compassion.

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A balance of a give-and-take approach is key in this community, and that is what inspired me to become a full-on host in the fall of 2013, finally free to do so since my ex-wife, who was anti-CS-minded, and I had separated.  Though, theretofore, touring folks had allowed me to treat them to lunch, permitted me to drive them about (fully free of charge, of course), hosting in my home elevated my spirited investment into helping other like-minded travelers. 

Disclaimer: To have provided tours to other members and to have hosted them in my home have both begotten a deeper sense of gratification than having been hosted or toured about, myself.  

Reciprocity is key, but it does feel better to give than to receive. 

I assume that’s true for most of us who operate on the same two-way street, though there are unfortunately folks who utilize CSing for their own gain, for merely finding a place to stay (not to mention the bad apples that utilize the site for other interests).  

Granted, there are limitations at times that may preclude one from hosting actively, but the most valued members of this community surely should be the ones who strike a balance with the give-and-take approach, who return the favor.

Kudos to all who try.  

For me, that mindset is undoubtedly a benefit in living both a good life and being an active member of the platform.  Sharing with others gives birth to a whole ever-evolving cycle of connectivity, trust, and open-mindedness.  Through such interactions, we ideally learn that people are still good, that there are those who exist that would give you the shirt off their backs.

Surely, Couchsurfing is MUCH MORE than just accommodation; it is far and away the best choice in how to travel for this bloke.  

We can ALL use more of the spirit that CSing encompasses–on a grander scale.  Indeed, the world would be a better place.

For damn good reasons. 

 

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Below is a sampling of references that fellow CSers have left on my profile, with some being from those who have hosted me; others, those who’ve been hosted by me.  These references, as well as profile descriptions and even photographs (that show traveling experiences, real connections to others, personality, etc.) all allow a sense of trust to be built.

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A Violet Trigger

With the passage of time, as we all recognize and oft fret about, memories fade. Yet what happens when mental memoirs of our own family and any related experiences with them start to dwindle?

Indeed, aging is a process that inevitably relegates remembrances of childhood family events, and shall I dare say this, family members, especially those who have long passed, to an often untapped repository.  At least that’s the norm for many of us.

Or is it just… moi?

Granny and Poppy

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Born in 1895, Albert Whittaker, my great-grandfather, remains a stoic, soft-spoken, somewhat aloof figure in my consciousness.  Aged 90, he had passed back in 1985, smack dab in the midst of my mid-teen, angst-ridden high school years.  So much time has passed that any attempted reminiscence of Al comes, admittedly, with a struggle.

These intervening years since his death, 34 of them now, haven’t proven beneficial to keeping him as closely in my heart as I feel I should.

Time, indeed, is a dastardly detriment to maintaining such relations, both in our hearts and minds, with those who’d long before gone on a sort of permanent sabbatical.  Perhaps human nature calls for that, subconsciously, so that we don’t bemoan such losses too routinely.

Moreover, since my present-day family is quite small and family reunions are utterly nonexistent, conversations with any family–which only periodically pop up on FB, rarely entail shared recollections of those great-grandparent-related days spent in Watertown, Connecticut, way back in the late 70s or early 80s.

Needless to say, mentions of Albert, or Poppie, as we called him, are uncommon–as are thought processes that fully bring me back to him and any interactions once experienced together.

Along the same line of thinking, a hectic few years, a mindset of not being ‘trapped’ in the past, and a thorough numbness brought about by some personal challenges lately, have unfortunately, combined, not allowed for much family-focused nostalgia recently.

From time to time, however, I may rapidly skim through long-ago scanned photographs from childhood–now stored on an external hard drive.  Viewing photos on a device definitely does NOT provide the old-school joy of flipping through a physical photo album, does it?

And such storage devices certainly make it less likely to access them in the first place.

Back in the day, photo albums stored openly on book shelves occasionally enthusiastically called out to me to jump into their sentimental offerings, ripe for perusal.  On the other hand, my external drives are kept hidden away, quietly passing time, yearning for acceptance and usage.

Moreover, I periodically throw a it-would-now-be-ancient-with-dog-eared-corners-if-it-weren’t-for-scanning-technology picture of people from my past up on Facebook to get an empathetic yet entirely superficial thumbs up, but as we live in this all-too-busy world, not much time is actually given to pondering those peeps from the past that are present in those pics, as sad as it is to admit.

Just recently, I’d posted on FB a cell phone shot a cousin of mine had taken of a collection in her aging photo album which included a perhaps prehistoric polaroid of me and my grandmother standing side by side by her old Olds, a pic taken back in ’89 or so.  Yet because my cousin had commented on my admittedly-too-tight shorts in said image, my focus in pasting it into social media was truly about the fashion faux pas, with only a fleeting feeling of re-connecting to my grandma Shirley as I uploaded it, sorry to say.

Pathetically, with social media having shaped our habits, it seems like the norm is to spend a nanosecond or two on viewing photographs these days, others and our own, flicking through images on Instagram or Tinder as rapidly as dandelion seeds disperse upon a tween’s heavy exhale while holding it towards the heavens.

Just as those seeds disappear instantly, out of sight, out of mind, so too do our connections to the past because of these rushed viewing routines.

Yet it isn’t only attributable to my oft much-too-ephemeral viewing habits.

In my late teens and early twenties, I found myself to be a more sentimental sort.  Having hit 50, I’ve lost that art, if you will.

Why?

Perhaps the difference is merely because my memories were quite fresh then–or still in “live mode”, per se.

Am I alone in this?  Part of a slight minority?  Or do the majority of humans move on from such sentimental ramblings as a natural process in life, either eagerly looking forward to the future or simply savoring the here and now?  Or do we avoid things that may trigger regret or fret.

In fact, I also find it difficult to engage in uninterrupted remembrances.  Challenging it is to first of all recall the past, but it is even more burdensome to invest any length of time in the process.

Today, April 16, 2019, I’d be lucky to not break a sweat trying to drudge up sustained recollections of erstwhile experiences with Albert Whittaker.

Instead, after a few seconds of soul searching, scanning whatever is stored in my mental encyclopedia of erstwhile occurrences, toiling to recover and retain even seconds of the childhood hours spent at his home (I have ZERO evidence nor understanding of ever having gone elsewhere with him), only scant vestiges reveal themselves in fleeting visualizations.

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Florence Whittaker (born five years later than her husband of 69 years, Albert, in 1900), my great-grandmother, remains a sweat, soft-spoken, thoroughly caring and kindhearted soul in my mind’s eye.  Although she outlived her husband for many years, passing in 1997, aged 97, which means I had more opportunities to get to know her in my young adulthood, the intervening life associated with those 21 full-year calendars have all cast a shadowy overlay on my recollections of her, too.

Despite having known Florence, a.k.a., Granny, until I was 29, (i.e., we had shared more adult-like conversations, associating with each other differently than the me as a teenager had with her life partner years before), I cannot piece together uninterrupted memories of our times together that persist more than a few moments.

Logically, as if regurgitating facts from a Civil War textbook, my history with her contains a clear knowledge of formerly chowing down on the results of her magical baking skills: the best damn pecan and apple pies on the East Coast (not to forget her brownies).  Plus, moving a kids-sized table to the tiny entryway landing outside the kitchen, in order to eat Thanksgiving meals with my cousins, also comes readily to mind.  And to hold her hand while she prepped for a doctor to surgically remove a large growth on her forehead, around the time she was 96, was and remains a tangible event we shared.

But… because so much of the past inevitably (it seems) escapes me now, I heartbreakingly feel I’ve lost so much of a connection to her.

Admitting this in a blog post seems kind of sacrilegious, and I realize such musings may even torment family members who may read it as well.

Never would I want to offend either Albert or Florence, given the slight possibility they may be looking down, or perhaps even be looking over my shoulder, as I let my fingers flow on my keyboard.

Yet the fact remains that I lament such a loss.

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Although I openly kick myself for the lack of clarity of my childhood reminiscences and for not doing enough to stockpile them more safely, that’s actually not what perplexes me most, however.

At age 50, currently, I periodically ponder life (and death) in light of my own great-grandparents deaths, in the above context, especially because of recent health scares.

Such realizations and personally-relatable recent events permit me the right to wonder, perplexingly so… What will remain of my life and experiences once I pass?  

Will all that I will have done–or will not have done–by the time of my own death, have a vestigial place in the annals of history, let alone in the short-lived reminiscence of subsequent family members?

Will my own family members, one, two or three generations removed, even be aware of my existence?

Just as my children had never known my Granny and Poppy, i.e., they won’t be able carry on knowledge of their worldly presence, any first-hand actual awareness of my time on Earth will stop in a few generations.

That having been said, which aspects or elements of me, Michael James Alfred Brown, will be known?  That I made a damn fine western-style breakfast?  That my burgers, a recipe from my mom, were the bomb?

Will my kids’ kids one day fondly recall, “Oh, I loved Grandpa’s hamburgers”?

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One particular rumination leaves me the most queasily befuddled, if I, indeed, stop to really think about it: For how long will any memory of me endure?

Truth be told, without insult to my most recent generational genetic connections, nor to yours, dear readers, I simply don’t see most of us “lasting” two or three generations down the line, without much power to even etch a nostalgic place in the psyches of our offspring’s offspring (give or take two or three subsequent spokes in the familial wheel that will keep on spinning long after we’re, ourselves, food for worms).

Of course, a certain percentage of folks worldwide will leave imprints on humanity, getting their names and accomplishments recorded in text.  Yet I’m referring to the majority of humanity.

For some of us, for those that come from tight-knit families that have four or five generations under one roof every Thanksgiving–and continue such endearing endeavors with every passing cycle of generational propagations, then our own lives can potentially, more easily travel on in the recollections of said offspring and their children.

And their children’s children.

Hopefully positively so!

Yet for those whose families are small to start or have dispersed thinly over the years, such as mine, such limited relations over time may foment the failure of actually being cast into the remembrances and hearts of those to follow.

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Though I had indelibly loved my great-grandmother, aforementioned, with the deepest of respect, having created a bond with her until her death in ’97, and though I must have loved Albert, the love of her life, I once in a blue moon question their lives.

 Just as I do my own.  

Such reflections aren’t habitual by any means; they don’t keep me awake at night, nervous and obsessed.  Nevertheless, triggers will periodically arise that do prompt them.

Said thoughts are not meant to measure the “worth” of each’s life by any means, but they are more so along the lines of how their individual existence matters to the world nowadays, years after they’d stepped off into the horizon, physically, spiritually, and metaphorically.

Naturally, in these introspections I include predictions about my own place in the living cosmos long after I’m no longer tangible–and how I will be known some 20-to-40-to-60 years after I’m checked out from Hotel Planet Earth.  Or not be known.

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How many people are still alive that personally knew Florence?  Albert?  Who knew her well enough to actually say that they knew her, not just that they recall something like, “Oh, she was that white-haired granny who lived at the end of my street growing up, wasn’t she?”

Surely, her acquaintances and friends have long passed.  Without that generation, who is left that would know her?   

Even for my family, my cousins would, of course.  We all loved her.

Yet my brother may not retain vivid recollections of her.  He’s 25-years my junior, putting him around three years of age when she had passed.  Besides peering periodically at photos in which they may be together, just like that image of my grandmother and me in my tight shorts, will he maintain any clarity of who she truly was in carrying on her existence?

Will, potentially, his future children?  Or my cousins’ children?

Having said that, merely moving one generation down the ancestral line from him, or two from me, and the predictions grow cloudy.

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Having kept a shoebox of family photos, I’d like to think someone will one day relish having them instead of tossing them in the trash–but just as I look at a 1904 black and white of Albert Whittaker’s family, which I still have, when Poppy (i.e., my great-grandfather) was a mere lad, any subsequent generation may think, “Who the heck were they?”

Is that what we’re all bound for, except those bound for history books (or Wikipedia pages)?

“Who the heck were they?”

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However, every so often, momentary triggers can catapult us to a dust-covered recollection from yesteryear, which is exactly what happened recently at a botanical garden in the capital city of San Salvador, El Salvador, of all places (some 2,000 miles from where Granny Whittaker is buried in Connecticut; 20 years after her passing).

After casually strolling the garden’s grounds, I passed through a nursery on the way to the exit, immediately remarking, internally, as I sauntered by a display table, “Wow, Granny Whittaker used to raise violets just like those!”

I further fleetingly thought back on how, during certain months, she grew them in the back bedroom of their home, always willing to pass them out to the grandkids like one would candy on Halloween.

Perhaps barely 30 seconds elapsed there in that nursery, but for those few precious moments, I was a pre-teen again, sitting by the windowsill of that room, afternoon sun rays illuminating her potted violets, Granny Whittaker standing above me, hand on my shoulder, telling me to choose one to take home.

I’d like to think that it wasn’t merely a cobweb-covered recollection that was triggered by the sight of those flowers; perhaps, just perhaps, her spirit was attempting its best ESP-like messaging to persuade me to purchase some violets myself so that they could more routinely remind me of her.

How I wanted to, Granny, yet I was traveling through Central America with nary a place to store them.

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With hitting 50, discovering the hard way that memory is fading, I have recently promised myself to be more sentimental from time to time, to sit and not just frenetically flick through phone photos–but rather to peruse old pics with a genuine effort.

We owe it to them, those generations that came before, don’t we?

Yet, too, I’ve discovered that perhaps we need to more frequently intentionally plant seeds that will still blossom for generations to come–so that we, ourselves, will be recalled, not just as a faded image of some stranger’s face but also during moments that will trigger fond recollections of a family passed.

What will your violets be?

 

 

 

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[This post was especially burdensome to write because as an alienated father, I cannot help but think of my own children not being able to carry memories of me and our early-in-their-lives time together into their own futures.  Being that I have not had any contact with them, nor have they and I met since July of 2017 (especially since they were a mere 8 and 5 at the time), they perhaps will forgot Daddy completely.  Such a phenomenon, unless we our reunited, would solidify my being forgotten in one mere generation.  Perhaps my one saving grace might be my status as a teacher, possibly allowing a memory of me to be carried down by a different generation, longer than my own generation will survive.  That’s all I can hope for at this moment.]

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