Sometimes the unexpected is what the soul needs. Even a dose of fear.
Everyone’s first time is a trial in unknowable outcomes, an expectation of blissful happiness or gutter disappointment.
I reserved judgment on mine when I knocked on Alain’s door, encouraged by the “welcome” sign printed on white letter paper tacked to the mahogany finish. All I could fathom was the dense weight of my pack even though I dumped items at Appartement Qualitas.
Or msybe the itch on the roof of my mouth signaled the surreal scene as I exited St. Laurent Metro, walking towards an obvious parkade (I’m couchsurfing by a parkade??), then turning sharply right on Clark leading to a state-of-the-art directory in the building’s entrance.
Between The Village and St. Laurent is no man’s land, an arm’s length from seedy stripper bars, god knows what else. Yet, here was this plushly designed, modern building planted in the middle. Puzzled, I was.
Press the suite number or # for the concierge.
A wave of hotel treatment prodded me to call the concierge.
“Ahhh-hem, yes, I’m couchsurfing with Alain?” Did I just say that? Way to moron.
Like a wizard with a charmed key, entry sprang from incantations, not my backpacker stature.
The concerige imposed a formal figure in a navy blue uniform, tapping a clipboard, a signal for me to sign my rights away. No, girl, just type your name neatly. Under ‘guest’.
A ride in a pristine elevator had me hopeful.
Within 3 minutes, Alain’s burly figure, and kind brown eyes scattered creeping thoughts.
“Bonjour!” Oh how lame my French is.
My knowledge of Alain should overflow a football field, but in couchsurfing reality, intimacy was the scale of a cookie jar. I had a verified, vouched for profile, with staggeringly positive reviews. That’s always a good start in a social experiment.
I trudged in with pack and daypack noticing two Murphy beds side by side. Sure I knew it was a loft, but stupidly pictured it in football field scale. They were close together.
I banished visions of hidden cameras in false wall panels or beefy hands sliding across my thigh. Just waited…
“You can take that bed, and are you hungry? There’s some salad and tofu… ”
“Oh yeah, the security is very good here. Many Quebecois stars live in this building and don’t want to be bothered.”
“I’m part of CouchSurfing Montreal, lots of people from there drop by to use the terrace, the pool. You are welcome to have guests.”
My eyes morphed into large saucers of disbelief. Terrace? Pool? Stars?
It’s these oddball moments in travel when decisions are clear as bacteria free water: in a stranger’s home, a traveler passing through, the air of camaraderie. Disengage or allow the first time unfold?
After a lunch of salad and sauteed tofu, Alain suggested a swim. Not us. Just me.
A sensation that I hit the hosptality lottery stayed with me when Alain mentioned his investments in real estate and maybe I could use a free room for a few days? Would I? Hell yeah.
Soon after exchanging stories, my comfort level was cemented, knowing another glowing review would land on Alain’s CS profile.
As I dove in the pool’s depths against an azure sky the next morning, it was clear: innocence is overrated.
Couch photo: Jason Spacerman