A Side of Crazy Couchsurfers

March 2, 2016

For the most part, I’m a staunch defender of Couchsurfing. Most of my non-travel friends don’t completely understand the concept of staying in a stranger’s house for a few nights – to be honest, I might have been skeptical before I eased into it – but it’s become my preferred mode of socializing in a new city, finding the hotspots, and getting a window into another’s life. Not every experience is full of sunshine and lollipops, but generally I’ve found people on the site to be both trusting and trustworthy, fun, and knowledgeable.

This weekend may have me reconsidering just how much research I do into hosts before requesting a place to stay. Granted, the situation that unfolded couldn’t have been foreseen, but it was so uncomfortable and cringeworthy I wonder why I still left the guy a positive reference. I’d add that the host did nothing wrong other than associate with the wrong people.

So, to set the stage. I arrived Friday afternoon in Manhattan Beach. My host was out with some drinking buddies and gave me instructions to get into his place. All well and good. A few hours later, a woman unlocks the door and lets herself in. We talk for a bit, but don’t get much past pleasantries before my host appears and we all call it a night. So far, nothing unusual or out of place.

The next morning. My host told me he’d be out for an early bike ride, so I took the time to catch up on some articles well past their deadline. Sitting on the couch as the sun slowly burned off the morning fog, I heard a clicking sound and watched as my host’s female friend charged into the living room with a serious look on her face.

“Good morning… is everything ok?”

“NO! My father just died.”

Keep in mind that I had barely exchanged a hundred words with this woman. Now, no one can anticipate death, and I certainly didn’t want to come across as unfeeling. She downed two glasses of whiskey between her tears and I tried to be as good of a sounding board as I could be, listening to her discuss how good of a father he was, how it had just happened this morning and she wouldn’t be able to get back in time for the funeral, how short and precious life is. Eventually, she went back to the bedroom and I, thinking she just wanted to be alone, went down to the beach.

Up until this point, everything was pretty normal. Granted, I wasn’t expecting this woman to be around in the first place (the host didn’t mention her), nor was I particularly comfortable with being the only one in the room to console her over her father. But, I’m still human; I tried to take it all in stride and move on with the day. I was a little concerned that she might accuse me of being unsympathetic or mean to my host. As it turns out, when I accepted a phone call that afternoon, the opposite was true.

“Turner, she’s in a bit of a state, just staying in bed, not doing much of anything… did she say anything to you?”

“Oh, she didn’t tell you? I didn’t feel it was my place to tell you, but her father just died this morning.”

What happened next really threw me for a loop.

“No, that happened months ago. She’s got some mental issues.”

This woman had practically run into the room in tears, fed me a truly disturbing lie, and just soaked it all in as I provided sympathy. I’m not saying she didn’t have the right to feel sad about her father’s death months or years after the fact, but making the choice to lay it all on a stranger is pretty messed up.

From there, things just got even weirder. I returned later that afternoon and watched as my host tried to convince her to leave. She had drunk even more, taken off all her clothes, and locked herself in the bathroom. Apparently he hadn’t even invited her over in the first place. When that failed, he called paramedics and the police and had her forcibly removed.

This is what we in the business call drama. I don’t like it, I don’t care for it, and I’m pretty good about keeping it out of my life. It amazes me that someone as seemingly normal as my host could have allowed someone like that into his life. I’ve associated with questionable characters across the globe, but not (as far as I know) someone who lies about a relative’s death to get sympathy or acts like a five-year-old refusing to leave the bathroom.

If this were the end of the story, it would still be one for the Couchsurfing boards. Unfortunately, the situation just escalated. After being forcibly removed from my host’s apartment and placed in a taxi – you’d think she would have gotten the hint – this woman came back later that evening, following my host home after he had finished a gig at a nearby cafe. He had enough sense to physically prevent her from getting access to the apartment, but that didn’t stop her from coming back in a few hours. By that time, the police were on alert and arrested her for public defecation and intoxication.

A case study in Couchsurfing. Sometimes you’ll meet someone with whom you just click: you swap travel stories, fill in the gaps with each other’s experiences, eat delicious food, share a bottle of wine, and dance over a bonfire on the beach. And sometimes you’ll get someone who makes you question how she even functions in society when you’re gone.

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