Travelers—it's not me who brings them home, it's my roommate.
Since she profiled all her hobbies, interests, and odd habits and slapped up a photo on a couple travel-networking websites, they've flocked from all over the world and crashed at our house.
She usually has something of a fair warning and idea of who these people might be before they ever step foot in our home. Me, their feet are usually the first inkling I ever get.
They breeze into our house with an aura of strangeness, an odor of transience. Just off the road, off the train, been traveling all day, all night, been waiting for hours to make the next travel connection, haven't showered in days or slept in at least as many; I'm always impressed by their spunk. They greet with polite friendly smiles and, inevitably, the follow up: 'Where is the bathroom?"
I point in the general direction and reply in my best host gracious voice with, "Right behind you." We wait—30 seconds, one minute, minute-and-a-half... . While we're waiting, my roommate and I usually exchange a series of looks to gauge the other's first impressions before they emerge, relieved, from the bathroom.
Then it begins—the process of dissection, dancing on toes, (without offending of course), the next 15 minutes or so we all spend weighing expectations, involvement, reliability. We're wondering whether or not we'll have to baby sit, coddle and coon the new arrival(s) or if they'll sprout wings and fly off to all the tourist destinations without any help at all; they're wondering if we'll insist upon tagging along, footing all the bills for grandiose dinners during which we toast new life and longevity when all they want to do is take off their socks.
I kind of like the luck of the draw with these strangers—if they are cool, yay, new friend; if not, I have the option to immediately ditch responsibility of hostess and leave that up to Roomie—she's the one who let them in the door.
I like to imagine that somewhere in the back of their minds they are reveling in how lucky they were to have scored two hostesses and a cushy couch like ours (as I'm sure somewhere in the back of their mind they like to think how lucky we were to have scored travelers like them). After all, we know the process they went through to find us, reading all the profiles, sending the requests, coordinating dates and times of arrival, and perhaps in the end never arriving at all.
In a city like ours where only a handful of people are signed up to host on these websites, we play an unspoken, unofficial game with the other hosts called "We Got a Traveler."
It starts with the coolest new traveler(s) contest, i.e., whose traveler had the best stories, most interesting conversations, best personality, hobbies, and interests (30% of the final score); moves into the popularity contest to see whose traveler will ditch someone's couch for that of another (30% of the final score); and ends with the comment competition—whose traveler leaves the best comment for which host—since they are likely to meet most of us on any given weekend (40% of the final score).
Bitterness has indeed been expressed after a traveler passes through town and leaves only a moderate, ho-hum, yeah-they-were-fine comment to a host who poured blood, sweat, and tears into making sure their guest had optimal conditions in which to stay and writes a public declaration of stellar sublimity and cult-like reverence to that of another they met for a few hours at a bar. Every town has their "Golden Boy" host; we hate ours.
In the vein of this game, ultimately it's my roommate up on the chopping block for comments and traveler-approval ratings, and I offer my presence and personality as secret weapons she can pull out of her hostess hat if the audience isn't impressed with her initial card tricks. There's not just one—there's two cool people at this house, tah-dah!
On off days, spending alone time with either of us can be a bit awkward as we both have tendencies to flounder, flop, gasping for breath like fish out of water for flow of conversation, but combine both our discomfited selves, and oddly enough, out steps Leave-It-to-Beaver June Cleaver from behind the curtain with fishnets, dreads, lip ring, and a tray of freshly baked vegan cookies. Oatmeal raisin, anyone? We rolled the oats ourselves.
Let's face it—we're all vain, and at the end of the day we want nothing but accolade after a traveler passes through our house, our town. The competition is fierce, and if ever anyone is likely to think about coming to the 'Du for a rousing round of hot-pot-panda Buddha-belly fun, we'd like to think they'll crash on our couch and come back again 'cause their hostesses were just too damn cool.