“You’re hitchhiking to DETROIT?” friends asked of me incredulously. “Are you mad?” they would enquire, ever before I even mentioned that I would also be couchsurfing there. i.e. staying on an absolute stranger’s couch for the weekend.
I never planned to go to Detroit, it all just seemed to fall into place. I was invited to attend the Detroit Couch Crash, a meeting organized by all the wonderful couchsurfers in Michigan to unite people from all over for the US for Memorial Day weekend. It also happened to take place during DEMF (Detroit Electronic Music Festival), an annual event attracting thousands of hard core music fans.
After standing awkwardly on the main highway out of Toronto, with my thumb stuck out and a strained smile on my face, I waited patiently for a kind stranger to pick me up. Many people pulled in, slowed down or stopped, before performing rude hand gestures or shouting obscenities in my direction and subsequently speeding off. The joys of traveling in a country not accustomed to hitchhikers!
Eventually I secured a ride with what seemed to be a very decent man travelling all the way to Windsor, a town on the Canadian/US border. However normal he appeared, his initial greeting once I sat into the car was anything but conventional.
“I hitchhiked myself once”, he said. “All the way from LA to Montreal about fifteen years ago. Yup, and I got picked up by a mass murderer and all. You just ‘know’ when you have sat into a car with a mass murderer, don’t you.”
Words escaped me, but he continued.
“Lucky back then I was a lot bigger.” He flexes his now deflated ‘guns’. “We were driving through the corn fields of Iowa and BAM I knocked him out and threw him out of the car. You gotta do what you gotta do, right?”
Indeed, I thought, as I contemplated jumping out of the moving vehicle.
The four hour journey continued on a similar note with him telling me about how he asked God to find him a wife – he found one 2 weeks later and they have been married ever since, how he broke his crack cocaine habit in a bar days before ‘finding’ his wife, and of course all about his journey becoming a born again Christian and door-to-door salesman.
If having to listen to this mans slightly scary and equally bizarre life story for four hours wasn’t interesting enough material for a blog post or two, soon my worst nightmare was coming true. We were running out of petrol with not a gas station in sight. Hopping over the border for a weekend break to Detroit was proving to be more hassle than I ever could have anticipated!
Upon finally making it to the American border, alive and well, I was quizzed about where I was from, where I was living, and of course where I was going in a stuffy little immigration office and was once again questioned about my sanity.
“How did you get here?” the large, stern looking woman asked.
“I hitchhiked from Toronto”. Cue shocked, incredulous looks.
“Where are you staying in Detroit?”, she continued.
“Oh, I’m couchsurfing in Corktown with…”
‘You’re what??’ she interrupted.
‘I’m couchsurfing…it’s a website where you can stay on peoples couches for free all over the world’.
“So it’s (glances at her watch) nearly midnight on a Friday night and you are planning on meeting a total stranger in the ghetto, who you met off the internet and you’re going to sleep on their couch?! Are you crazy woman?!”
I was beginning to think she might have a point, but couldn’t help but laugh. As I get my visa approved and head for the exit, the woman’s colleague calls to me, ‘Have you got a gun with you?’
Puzzled and thinking they are trying to catch me out and deport me from the US before I have even taken a step over the border, I immediately (and truthfully) reply ‘Of course not!’ to which the male immigration officer quickly responds,
“I would if I were you. This is Detroit.”