Crossing USA: Kansas & New York City

“Kansas? Really? …But why? What’s there?”
-Everybody

Alright, Kansas was a mistake. We could have picked New Orleans or Denver, but we picked Kansas because it was dead smack in the middle of the US. We figured we’d want to see the natural beauty in the west and just skip the east, and Kansas seemed to be the midway point.
Little did we know, all things interesting, including any form of topography, ends where Denver begins. Literally. If you take a map of the US, you’ll see the mountains end abruptly and the lands turn into fields of corn and boredom as far as the eye can see. And into those fields we rode, zig zagging between road works and sunsets, for two long states, until we had to stop for gas which was about 6 times. Damn SUVs and their sub-optimal aerodynamics.


We left Canyonlands in the early morning, in hopes of reaching Kansas by noon, the next day. Google claimed it was a 14 hour ride, but of course one does need silly things like sleep, food, and copious amounts of gasoline. We had about 27 hours to get there.
To be honest, I enjoyed the ride. I drove most of the way and never really felt like I was getting tired, though the endless roads tend to put me in a bit of a trance. For someone deemed unfit to drive, I think I did pretty well fuckyouverymuch.
After shipping our tent home for a small fortune and all above things, we had about 1 hour to catch our flight as we arrived. We cleaned the Jeep frantically in hopes of avoiding the cleaning fee, before we managed to catch our plane with a mad dash and subsequent boring wait.

Just because we were done with campsites doesn’t mean we were done looking for a place to stay. We hadn’t really bothered to plan this part of the trip so upon arrival, we stranded in a shabby internet café in Queens, reading over the 3-digit room prices with growing disbelief.

New York
is fucking
expensive.

And fully booked, at that. Our couch requests, sent 10 days before, all came out negative. Technically they didn’t come out at all, since not a single soul that we contacted, even bothered to refuse. So much for our “get personal” tactic.
I can’t remember when I last felt so scared. I have expensive equipment on me that I would gladly fight for, but somehow I doubt that won’t actually save it -or our skins- when we turn into the wrong neighborhood. Stuck in a city so immense while the sun remorselessly sank down the horizon, I felt a feeling of powerlessness wash over me. It was hard not to panic.
While leafing through depressing pages of hotel prices, I dropped a message in the CS emergency forum. My friend told me not to waste time on it but I felt that you can’t get lucky if you never tried.
I still can’t believe our luck.

Minutes later, we had several responses. From people in California inviting us there, from shady figures deleting their invitation immediately, and from one guy, who said, “I wasn’t planning on hosting tonight but since you seem to be hosting so much, I’ll take you in.” An address in Brooklyn, instantly securing that Woodkid song inside my head for the next 2 days.
So to Brooklyn we went, and slept in  this guy’s living room.

It’s hard to explain to people how valuable these experiences are to me. I think offering a stranger your home to stay in is an absolutely priceless thing, and and a great honor to receive. Even at this basic level, the exchange is a very intimate one. Especially when someone takes you off the streets right when you need it the most. Right then, I could suck our host’s dick if he asked kindly. But he didn’t. Which made him even more awesome.
He made it clear that while he was willing, he preferred not to have us stay over for the rest of our stay, and we might want to try and find another host. So we wrote back to the few more-or-less believable replies that we got from our original message, and one pulled through.

Girls ted to find a place in New York, because apparently over 90% of the hosts there are guys looking to use their place to score chicks- and succeeding continuously. This leave us at the mercy of those who are left: The originals, the people who don’t think of hosting as a method of getting laid. And even they can’t always be trusted, some simply aren’t enjoyable to be around or will expect things we wouldn’t do. It’s hard to distinguish one from the other but trusting your gut feeling when you read through a profile carefully, is a good way to avoid awkward or difficult situations. And my gut was not feeling this guy much.

He wrote to us in all caps, which I found curious- If you communicate over the internet a lot, surely you learn that this is not done. He had a NY skyline as a profile photo, and little personal information. His references however, sang beautiful songs about his character and apartment, which was in Manhattan. The people that left these messages, checked through.
If you know anything about New York City, you know that Manhattan is where it’s at. It’s the rich area, with the skyscrapers, Times Square and M&M’s World. It is also one of the most expensive places to live, in the world.
Despite my doubts, we decided to go for it.
“This is either going to be the jackpot of all hosts, or the longest, weirdest night of the trip,” I told my friend.
-“Why not both,” he offered, but I was less optimistic.

We met our host on the corner of the street, and he lead us into his apartment.
I’m on thin ice here because I swore to keep his place a well kept secret, but I should mention that the place had a terrace. Between the skyscrapers. He made me promise not to take any photos there but when I saw the view, I considered breaking that promise. What a place.
He himself was difficult to approach, at first. He takes a little while to get used to because he is very much like the city itself: Always busy, doing different things, and never quite says what he means. He usually interacts through some quip or joking sarcasm. Curiously, I didn’t have a problem with that, as I grew up in an environment where emotions were shared through some tough, manly oneliner rather than directly.
He was a strange character, but a warm one indeed.

So Dieter ended up being right. We had both hit the jackpot, and had the weirdest night of our trip. I see why our host wants to keep his location secret- His place is what most surfers hope to find with every request they send. Even when his status is set to inactive, he gets messages from people wanting to check if he didn’t happen to change his mind recently. The guy intentionally wants to come over as creepy so that this would not escalate. New York is an insanely popular destination, who woulda thunk it.

Even though I prefer to stay a while longer in a city in order to experience it fully, we both left separately on day 3, after barely setting foot outside Manhattan. I took a day off on the last day even, spending my very first time in over a month completely alone. For all that time, I’ve been running from place to place, seeing what I could see. I thought I deserved a break, regardless of where I was, or how lucky I was to be there.
New York is a challenge. It has so many different facets, its ghetto only a street away from its world famous districts. Surprises are around every corner and it’s cool to discover them, but at the same time you find yourself taking the subway because your destination is just so stupidly far away. It’s not like in a tiny place like Ghent, where you walk or bike everywhere and any small change in the city is quickly discovered.

I found that I quickly grew bored with the city’s grandeur, however. This whole ‘lifestyle of the rich and the famous’ shtick can’t keep me interested and the elephant in the room, the citizens’ hypocrisy towards NYC’s urgent problems, bothers me. People getting shot and losing their lives in the north doesn’t even make the local newspaper anymore, but that one taxi taking the wrong kid home in Brooklyn was reason to scream, ironically, bloody murder.
New York is a city where you can get anything you want, if you can pay for it. Nothing is ever free and kindness is very hard to find. Everyone is laughing and cuddling but if you’re depressed or lonely, you can go solve your own problem. Internet connection? Restrooms? Human interaction? Not without coughing up dollars first. If you can’t, then it sure as hell sucks to be you, son. No one cares.

So yes, I am glad I went to New York City, the big apple. It was magical to find kindness among the unkind, free warmth, priceless in a world where everything is for sale. Discovering a city all day is great, but having a place to come home to, and a dinner to share, is a whole other ballpark. It made me feel so privileged that I was picked off the streets and got to sit on a friend’s terrace, keeping our voice low for the neighbors’ sake while discussing morality, religion and genital size, as the city that never sleeps… slept.

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