Tuesday, July 31, 2007 at 7:27 AM
Yesterday we heard about gift-less birthday parties for children; today we have another budding social trend to tell you about - couch surfing! It's the practice of sleeping on other people's couches, and the people have to be strangers for it to qualify. This new travel trend caught the attention of Cleveland Magazine writer Andy Netzel. But rather than merely reporting on it, Netzel decided - perhaps against his own better judgment - to try couch surfing himself. He explains.
Okay, don't let this sound fool you. I'm not actually sleeping comfortably. I'm anxious. I'm nervous. I'm sleeping in a stranger's home - a Polish couple who I met just a few hours before.
This is crazy. I agreed to couch surf around Greater Cleveland for a week, in an experiment of sorts. I want to understand why anyone would do this. The only way I screened my hosts was to look through their online profiles. It's kind of like MySpace.
My first hosts were Andy and Kristina Kuzma in Westlake. I told them I thought this whole concept was a little crazy.
Andy Kuzma: Well, it's not a crazy idea. It's actually a very interesting idea. It's an excellent way to meet new people. Usually very interesting people.
Kristina Kuzma: My friends, especially my female friends, they just don't believe I do this. They call me that I'm crazy, and it's dangerous, and I can get robbed and killed and all that but I don't think it's happen. You have to trust people.
The next morning, I shower, dress, make my bed and get the heck out. The Kuzmas were great, but it felt weird to wake up in a stranger's home.
I can't believe I have a week of this.
After work the next day, I head to the Brunswick home of Michael Flury. He's a commander with the U.S. Army's Military Police. He says couch surfing has helped him learn how generous people can be. He tells me about one host in Spain, where he and a buddy spent a week.
Michael Flury: When we got to Madrid, I called him. He came down, met me at the metro, took me back to his flat. He cooked us dinner. He only had the one bed in the small corner. What he said he would do - he had a mattress and a box spring. He would sleep on the box spring, give us the mattress so we would have a place to sleep. Somebody who doesn' t have much is willing to give so much. We are blessed so much in America, it's an atrocity if we don't give back.
But I still don't understand. Why would anyone do this?
Michael Flury: I don't couch surf just to save dollars. I couch surf to learn the culture. Get to meet the people of the region. Get to interact with the locals. That's the true depth of couch surfing. If you're couch surfing just to save a penny, you're doing it for the wrong reason.
The next morning, I feel far much more at ease. My host left for work before I woke up. I'm still shocked that he could trust me not to do any damage to his home.
Throughout the week, I grow less apprehensive. Relying on others for hospitality begins to feel almost normal. At the end of the week, I stay with an aspiring circus performer, Heather Iriye. She lives in Ohio City, I'm no longer worried about being killed in my sleep. I am surprised that we sleep in the same room in a tiny efficiency apartment, but my concerns are for more practical. In a neighborhood hookah bar, before we head to her place, I give her the full disclosure about my horrible snore.
Andy (on tape): I have a horrible snore!.
Heather Iriye: (laughter) That's okay, so do I. We'll have a competition.
Couch surfing still seems a bit strange. Then again, trusting anyone you don't know, trusting humanity, seems a strange concept nowadays. From the living rooms, basements and bedrooms of Northeast Ohio, this is Andy Netzel.