Many of you know that when I am not investigating youth hostels, I am an avid couch surfer. This is an activity that some people think is too daring, and potentially even dangerous, but in truth, the peer review system employed in the organization has ensured that I have had only positive experiences. In Burlington, Vermont, however, we did not plan to stay in a hostel or surf couches, but stay in the home of a quirky, middle-aged woman that we had met in San Francisco and who had invited us to visit her. She promised to pick us up from the Essex Junction Amtrak stop* but moments before we arrived there, she called us, flustered, explaining that something unexpected had come up, and instructing us to take a cab, that she would pay for when we arrived. I immediately felt intuitively that something was amiss, but we agreed to go there, assess the situation, and flee if it was deemed necessary.
We arrived at a pleasant looking house with three goose-shaped lamps glowing warmly in the window, which I took as a reassuring sign. This was a mistake.
The front door burst open and a shaking, underwear clad woman ushered us into the foyer, and thrust bottles of Vitamin Water** at us, exclaiming excitedly that she would keep us forever if she could. Looking around and taking in the environment, I began to shift involuntarily into self-defense mode, my senses heightened and my reflexes on edge.
The floor was mostly covered in hay, various bits of trash and broken tools and wood, through which she seemed to have cut a tiny path to be able to get from room to room. Every other surface in the house was also covered, with teetering towers of old dirty dishes, disintegrating periodicals, mechanical parts of various disassembled machines, and, I am quite convinced, the rotting corpses of house guests of yesteryear.
She sat us down, considerately warning us to avoid the large pile of crushed glass she had hidden under a newspaper, and immediately began to regale us with a story about an accidental drug overdose, the resulting blackout, and her awakening the next day in the hospital, covered in wounds and terrible bruises. The story continued with a description of her intense paranoid schizophrenia and the conspiracy theories that she entertains about her neighbor, of whom she is scared witless, and against whom she bars her windows and doors each night. She paused briefly in the story to go satisfy her inexplicable need to brush her teeth, giving my friend and I a precious moment to communicate with one another via hysterical glances, gestures, and facial expressions. It was decided. We would gather our meager belongings and back slowly out of the hovel, making no sudden movements in the process.
Toothbrush dangling from her mouth, she emerged from the bathroom*** and I very diplomatically explained our consensus that our presence would be too great an inconvenience to someone who obviously had so many... projects underway.
We ran through the snowy night until we were a safe distance away, and plotted a course**** to the local food co-op for emergency rations and the comfort of being surrounded by socialist vegan food purveyors. In a state of shock, and elated with the sense of relief one can only experience after escaping a surreal near-death experience, we joyfully exclaimed at delicious organic cabbages, homemade pickles, spicy vegetable juice, dried apricots, kefir, and a delicious garlicky soy bean dip called "edamole." We then made haste to the Burlington International Hostel***** and breathed a sigh of relief.
It was midnight in Burlington and we were alive and fed and indoors with a safe bed awaiting us, and no broken glass to be seen in the vicinity. I consider it to have been a smashing success, in the grand scheme of things.
*Located, in typical frustrating Amtrak style, over ten miles from downtown Burlington.
**This blog is in no way funded by anything, let alone Vitamin Water, I just felt that it was a weird enough detail to reference by brand name.
***Which she had filled with dead plants and had disconnected from any water source, and was stocked with more dusty, cheap makeup than most suburban dollar stores.
****iPad with 3G!!! Thank you!!! I should be getting sponsorships...
*****Another testament to my amazing good luck, karma, or whatever you want to attribute it to, the first and only hostel in town opened here only six months ago. I shudder to think what we would have done otherwise.