I had just followed her down a long and dark concrete passageway, over grit from the past century, past shadowed and hulky shapes, across ancient railroad tracks, and then up the raw wood stairs to her live/work space. Our voices echoed in the vast abandoned factory, bounced off the old machinery. “I can’t wait to videotape this tomorrow,” I said. “It’s pretty cool,” she responded, adjusting my heavy office bag on her hip, as she unlocked the door. I carried my backpack, food bag, toiletry bag and purse.
“Is that all you need?” she asked. I assured her it was. I had gathered from my car a small batch of bags – what George Carlin describes as “an even smaller version of my stuff.” This is the stuff that will serve me for overnight. The rest of my stuff was still in my car, which was sitting in a row of other cars on the back street, taxi-yellow NY plates conspicuous in the gloom. We were going over her schedule for the next day, which was totally jammed until 4 pm, at which point we would meet up for dinner and some quality time.
She was complimenting me on being a low maintenance guest. She’s right. I am easy to please. I don’t even need a bed. I have my camping gear in the car and can make myself comfortable almost anywhere. I have my books, my travel coffee maker and supplies, enough food for a meal anytime, and a good flashlight. All I really need is protection from the elements, a bathroom, and electricity to charge my devices.
There is an old saying, “Treat your friends like family and your family like friends.” Treating family like friends means not taking them for granted, considering their comfort and needs, and remembering to be gracious. Treating friends like family, on the other hand, moves into the area that I am discussing – namely, allowing them to be on their own, not feeling obliged to entertain them.
Though I have been entertained on my trip, treated to dinners, taken to parks and parties, even given the best bed, I feel quite sure that my hosts did not resent giving me that royal treatment. I, on my side of the bargain, kept things clean and neat, bought dinners and household supplies, even left some chocolates on some pillows when I departed. I also stayed out of the way, giving them room to have their normal lives. And by doing that, I got to have my normal life too – with my usual minimum daily requirement of solitude, reading and sleeping.
I’ve now been on the road visiting family and friends for nearly three months. I have been invited to either stay longer or come back by every one of my hosts. I believe these extended invites are indubitably connected to the lack of obligation my hosts feel about me being entertained.