Robin-Lee

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Return, Take Two!

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What a week! Or more correctly, what a month. Why I decided to start this old chestnut up again is beyond me, but let’s dive right in.

Recently, I moved into a modest apartment in the heart of Brooklyn with a good friend of mine from Penn State University. As I promised myself, I changed my Couchsurfing couch availability status from “No” to “Definitely!” Each day, requests began to trickle in slowly until I was receiving more than five requests before noon – I was so excited! Finally, I would have the chance to give back to the community that had been so good to me on my travels to the North and all the way down South to New Orleans, La. It was also a chance to take in CSers like myself, learn about their cultures and exchange some interesting stories and good music.

Our first couchsurfer, a French hipster with massive muttonchops by the name of Nicolas (pronounced sans s), broke our Couchsurfing host cherry and stayed for two nights. Quiet, reserved and very polite, we found this traveling loner to be a great way to start out or CS hosting career. After cooking him a runny, unimpressive concoction of what was supposed to be a sumptuous meal of chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits, our guest took whatever pathetic ingredients he could rummage up in our nearly bare pantry and fixed us a rather tasty dish of pasta.

After a somewhat awkward farewell in the Union Square subway, my roommate and I felt content about our first CSer, but admittedly found his stay to be somewhat unremarkable. Owing to the work week of Hell I had gone through and the toll that the ongoing job search took on my roommate, we figured we’d have more time and energy to entertain our next guests, who would be arriving later that same day.

Arriving from Mexico, Carlos and Roberto were certainly a more entertaining couple, but already the burden of having to take care of our foreign CSers every minute of each day began to grate on the nerves of my roommate and exhausted me to the point of frustration. By the second day, I found myself longing for an empty apartment, for some peace and quiet and for less awkward conversations that I certainly was not ready to have as soon as I would step out of my room in the morning. (Not an a.m. person.)

Before I could even shoo our tequila-drinking guests out the door (We killed a bottle or two in one night), our next freeloaders bungled in through the front door carrying a massive black duffel bag that could’ve held at least three of me inside. Slightly dreading the duo’s three-night stay, my mood improved when I realized that they seemed not to need us around and provided their own entertainment while kindly inviting us to join in anytime we wanted. Walter and Jakob might’ve been our best CSers yet, and I was soured to think that I couldn’t connect with them as much as I would’ve liked. More so, my ideal image as a CS host was turning into an indifferent host too busy with work to entertain his guests, who most likely had fascinating tales of their travels more interesting than writing up a deal for a rip-off of a flight on Iceland Air.

With my roommate shut up in his room, perturbed by the lengthy intrusions and the promise of not having to tip-toe around my own living room for a while, a nice break from hosting was in order.

Aside from taking in the world’s wandering youth, I’ve been happily working at my new internship, Family Travel Forum with a few added benefits including weekly PR events. Ranking from swank to posh to downright ritzy, I might be on the job, but that doesn’t stop me from taking advantage of the free food and booze at each venue. At the same time, I’m getting my work published and meeting some great people who may be good to keep in touch with as connections, if not just some fellow writers to emulate and PR folks from whom I can wrangle a press trip or two.

Only a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to take a press trip to my own “hometown” of Pittsburgh. It may not sound that exciting, but the foodie aspect of the trip was fantastic. I must’ve gained at least a few pounds from the trip, but every restaurant, coffee shop and bakery our troupe of journalists visited was well worth the added weight. I tried a tiny raw octopus, every kind of sushi imaginable, pan-seared Chilean bass, and more types of cheese and biscotti than I can remember. In a city famous for its monstrous Primanti Brothers sandwiches packed with soggy fries and too much lettuce, I would’ve never guessed the city of steel had such a cultural flair. The best part – all of it was absolutely free.

At one point in the trip, we visited Pamela’s Pancakes, a tiny restaurant in the busy stretch of shops and stores known as the Strip District. By this time, my stomach could handle no more, so – while the other group members ordered nearly every plate on the menu much to the dismay of our peppy PR tour guide – I settled on a bowl of delicious strawberries, bananas and cottage cheese. Tired of having to avoid conversation with the creepy cat lady journalist – whose purpose of being on the trip, I wasn’t exactly sure), I started up a conversation with our harried waitress who, despite her other customers, sat down with me and shared her story. With the end of the table all to ourselves, Idi explained how she and her family came from Hungary following the Russian Revolution. They had tried to flee the country prior to this, but her grandparents were caught and murdered along the way, forcing them to return. For years, Idi refused to learn Russian in her home country, a resentment that continued until some years ago while she was living in America. Putting the past behind her, she regretted that she hadn’t learned the language and that she had had so much hate pent up inside her. Sitting in a small café in a city that I thought I knew like the back of my hand, Idi and her story of triumphing over hatred proved to be the highlight of my press trip.

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Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

November 18, 2009 at 6:04 am

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