A testimonial to the best spot on the net
When you think of great web applications you probably consider Google, Facebook, or the Technoblog. But, in a recent survey of my tastes, one website trumps all the rest, couchsurfing.com. I am not alone. Couchsurfing is a social networking site for travelers looking for a place to spend the night; a Myspace for vagabonds.
The basics are pretty simple. Sign up for an account, create a profile and then browse other profiles for locales in the next town to be traveled to. Having found some cool people, jot each of them a quick note and ask if they have a couch open. A day or so later, the couchsurfing inbox will fill up with a series of responses one of which will likely contain an invitation to come and visit. The flip side of couchsurfing other's places is that one may open up their own couch for potential visitors to crash.
But, this brief description does nothing to show how fun couchsurfing actually is. So allow me to relate my experiences thus far. I've stayed with four different incredible people so far in Riverside, Pasadena and Irvine. I've played ultimate frisbee, participated in a basketball tournament, gone mountain biking twice and had my first dumpster diving experience at Trader Joe's (a subject for another post). I've partied, enjoyed a little wacky tobaccy, and had many a compelling conversation.
By far the best part of my couchsurfing experience, are the people I have met.
Riverside Adam was working on his dissertation, so he was a little preoccupied, but he still managed to take some time out to talk all sorts of nerdy biology with me and share his exploits traversing the wild blue yonder on his motorcycle. Another Riversider, Irene, didn't host me, but introduced me to her friends, invited me to play Frisbee, took me with to a kabob dinner and went with me to the Mythbusters lecture (ditched it with me, too) .
After hopping to Caltech, I found myself in the good hands of Ricky, who's just one outstanding dude. He's strong (playing squash and windsurfing), goes to Caltech (a rather difficult school, so I hear), is entering an MD/PhD program at Stanford next year, just came back from a romp in Europe and managed to organize his school to form an olive press the previous year. Damn, all that and he managed to be a most gracious host. It was Ricky who brought me on to the basketball tournament, threw a party with fantastic beer, pizza, and the uber-nerds of Caltech, then held a showing of 'Ice Station Nine' (the movie that drove Howard Hughs insane).
After a few days at Ricky's I pressed on (I'm following the advice of old Benny Franklin 'fish like guests start to stink after three days' ) and found my way to Aaron's place, also in Pasadena. Aaron is a hyperactive fellow, with passions for extreme sports, camping, computing and the World of Warcraft. He opened up his home, taught me how to make granola bars and invited me to make a business proposal for his company on the 'Citation Verification' project, which I will detail later. So for all you future minded ambitious youngersters out there, couchsurfing is a great networking tool. Best of all this networking happens very naturally, without the sour feelings that come from glad-handing and fake smiles. Couchsurfing smiles are real.
Now I'm enjoying my time in Irvine with a super-cool dude, Wes. Wes, is himself in Med school looking to be a 3 mo a year doctor of psychiatry or anethsiaologist. He shares my passion for frugality and taught me the ways of dumpster diving at Trader Joe's, which is an entertaining and lucrative hobby if you can get over the initial grossness factor. As a matter of fact, Wes' whole apartment is furnished with dumpster treasures and he hasn't bought groceries in months. Don't get the wrong impression, Wes is bright as a light and fit as a fiddle. He is an avid surfer, brews his own beer (I helped him bottle it, delicious stuff), and tenacious mountain biker (hence my own mountain biking experiences).
So I've met all of these wonderful, eclectic and amazingly open people after only two weeks of couchsurfing. Its made my whole trip better. At every place I've gone, I've tried to do some small unexpected favor for my host to return the the good Karma they are sending me by providing free lodging. I've done dishes, cleaned, helped with laundry, bought beer and some other helpful things. But ultimately, I hope to settle back down and pay the world of couchsurfers back by trying to be as good a host as my hosts have been to me.
So if you're interested in checking out couchsurfing, just go to their website.
And for those of you worried about safety or 'The Psychopath Dilemma', couchsurfing is pretty good about providing verification methods and references for its members. So you have little to fear. Of course you might end up with a very clever psychopath and if that happens, remember to call 9-11. But, rest easy, psychos are few and far between, more prevalent on television than any physical reality. Still, if one of 'em picks you out as a target, there's really nothing you can do but kiss your ass goodbye. Just think of all the time's you're vulnerable to the careful maniac: when you shop, when you sleep, when you walk to your car at night. When you get right down to it, there's no safegaurd against the unpredictable assault of knife wielding madman who's mind is dehumanized and who's motivation is nothing except the will to evil.
And with that pleasant thought, I wish you all a good night and happy traveling... (sinister laughter).