Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Man Named Ted

A cursory glance at the numbers readily available on the splash page of couchsurfing.com is telling:
CouchSurfers ----------------------------------- 1,009,067
Successful Surf or Host Experiences --------- 983,312
A pretty good ratio--97.4% positive--but that's not surprising. Most people are nice; especially nice people who offer other nice people a free place to stay.

But, also not surprising, some of those people--twenty-five thousand seven-hundred-fifty-five--are bad. Some of them are probably even real bad.

I have to assume anybody who uses couchsurfing.com approaches their transactions with a modicum of trepidation, or at least I hope they do, but I also would be remiss if I did not alert everybody to the fact that there is at least one confirmed super weirdo in the mix.

His name is Ted.

Ted came into my life one whiskey-riddled South Texas night, just after a hurricane, riding a Harley engulfed in blue flames, screaming like a hyperbolic banshee gettin' raped by the Devil.

Kidding--it was much more tame than that. It was a note.

A note nailed to the heavy wooden front door of a former 'officer's house' in which my friend rented a room, in the middle of a sleepy old naval base on the San Francisco Bay.

The note seemed harmless enough (I paraphrase):

I drove over to the house at 9pm and knocked and rang the bell but nobody was home. Where are you? I sent you an SMS but you did not reply--maybe your service is down? You must get back to me urgently, so we can make arrangements for our upcoming trip to Yosemite.

I remembered Miguel from the night before--he was visiting from Buenos Aires, a friend of one of the other five guys living in the house, a guy named Bill.

It seemed logical that Miguel might have another international traveler trying to get in touch with him for a trip to somewhere like Yosemite--that happens all the time when people are traveling. Not every international traveler has a cell phone that works abroad, so maybe Ted had to walk over from some hostel and leave a note. Maybe Miguel was being a flake. Maybe it was an honest mistake.


My friend and I smoked a joint on his front porch and rehashed an evening spent fruitlessly trolling bars in the Marina area of San Francisco, unsure of what we wanted and getting none of it.

An SUV taxicab rolled up, splitting the secluded silence, and two people got out--Bill and Miguel. They accosted us from the street and then came up the stairs to trade pleasantries on their way inside.
"Hey, Miguel, there's a note for you."
"What? No..."
"It's from Ted."
Miguel read the note, laughed, and showed it to Bill in disbelief.
"What's so funny?"
"It's a long story..."
A story which we then made him tell us.

Miguel had been skiing in Tahoe for a long time, perhaps even for the entire winter season. At some point recently, he decided he should step out of his skis for a few days and see some of the sights before he left to go East. He went online to check out his options.

On couchsurfing.com, Miguel found somebody who was organizing a trip to Yosemite. He communicated with this guy and arranged to meet him for the trip.

On the appointed date, at the appointed place--in the middle of nowhere--Miguel was confused. He was the only other person there, apart from the man who organized the whole affair.

For whatever reason--it was not clear (false promises? lack of perceived options? excessive trust?)--Miguel got into this strange guy's car and they drove away.

Miguel scrutinized the man. He was smaller than Miguel, which is saying a lot, considering Miguel is probably 5'6", 120 lbs. The important thing is that Miguel definitely thought he could beat him up if the need arose. He was old--maybe 50. He had a hunchback and walked funny.

His name was Ted. He spoke.
"We're not going to Yosemite."
"What? But..."
"We're not going to Yosemite. We're going somewhere else."
Ted drove off elsewhere, taking Miguel to a place called 'the peninsula.' I'm sure it is a beautiful place to go, wherever it is (Monterey? Palo Alto?), but not when you think you might be buried there in a shallow grave. Or raped at gunpoint.

Miguel had no idea where he was, no idea where he was going, and he was in the middle of nowhere. He began hatching an escape plan. He realized his friend Bill lived relatively nearby, in San Francisco. He bluffed.
"Hey, Ted, my friend Bill just sent me a text and said his sister is going to Buenos Aires tomorrow and that maybe she can take my skis back for me, so I don't have to lug them around New York for the rest of my trip."

"That's great! Let's go! That'll be a big help, I bet."
Ted was accommodating. He drove Miguel all the way to the old naval base in San Francisco, to Bill's house. Miguel removed his skis and his suitcase from the back of Ted's car.
"I...have to do laundry, too..."
"Oh, okay--I'll come back to pick you up in a few hours."
Miguel evidently went inside, met my friend and me, explained the weird situation to Bill, then they went out drinking. A narrow escape.

Once the bars closed, my friend and I ran into them once again, on the porch. Ted had long-since come and gone.

Miguel was stunned.
"He lives far away...in Berkeley? I can't believe he came all the way back here..."
The whole situation seemed so strange, something out of a hokey horror movie. Miguel's description of the guy seemed strange, which is fitting for a guy like that, I suppose.

We all kind of wished Ted would come back again, just to get a look at the guy, just to see what he would say or do, just to protect our new friend from this could-be predator.

It's probably for the best that he didn't, though. He might have had an equalizer.


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