When my friends and I travelled to the US the first time, Airbnb was still becoming a thing. Being the Millennials that we are, we gave it very little thought and booked a place without once considering location, proximity or security. I mean, why would we have to, right? Not like we hadn’t stayed in hotels our whole life, never having to worry about who could break into our home? How could Airbnb be so different, plus everyone was using it! And the host said it was an amazing location with all inclusive amenities… we had scored a crazy deal amongst all the other overpriced places around us. Needless to say, we were super pleased with ourselves.
The best part of this story is the naivety of it all. Thinking back, we were virgin international travellers – okay maybe not virgins, maybe we had torn a hymen playing sports level. But we sure as fuck had not been penetrated by international street smarts and fending 100% for ourselves.
What followed was a disastrous choice of accommodation for the first stop of our first international trip without our parents’ hands to hold. It was nothing short of a scarring experience.
We landed in San Francisco after an 8 hour flight delay at our stopover in Los Angeles, so all up, we had been ‘on the road’ for about 30 hours. Exhausted, we contacted our host to let her know we were sorry for being so late but please would she meet us to hand over the key. She responded to let us know someone would be waiting there for us and that she was only slightly annoyed. Appreciative of her flexibility, we thanked her and met San Fran’s humid air with excitement, despite the crippling exhaustion.
We fumbled on our phones until we found Wi-Fi and figured out how to get to where we were staying.
‘Where is it?’ I called out as I deep-throated my first cigarette in almost two days.
‘Somewhere called The Mission.’
We followed directions from an apathetic airport employee who pointed us towards a bus stop. The bus came after a few minutes and we piled in with our luggage’s trailing behind us. When we told the bus driver where we were going, she made a very sour face, looked our white asses up and down and said, ‘I can get you pretty close, but listen girls, I wouldn’t walk if I was you. Catch a taxi when you get out.’
We thanked her for being so nice and assumed immediately the taxi advice was given to us because our Airbnb was a far walk from where she could leave us. Not because we were about to walk into a junkie’s wet dream. Not that for sure.
When we reached our stop, the bus driver said repeatedly, ‘Girls, have you called the cab? Have you called it yet? Call it now. Come on, now.’
Scolding her inwardly for how pushy she was, we jumped out and by chance, a nice Jewish cab driver pulled up and helped us squeeze our bags into the vehicle. When we reached our destination, he walked us all the way to the door, and didn’t leave until someone answered.
‘You girls be careful,’ he yelled over his shoulder as he ran back (really fast) to his car.
‘Everyone is so nice,’ my friend said with wonder.
A scruffy man wearing a stained grey t-shirt and boxers let us in and took us to the room, introducing himself as our Airbnb host’s friend.
‘I hope you girls don’t mind, I was sleeping in the bed. It’s pretty late,’ he yawned. We did mind, but we shook our heads and told him not to be silly, that was fine.
After he left, we realised none of us had eaten in hours and we decided we would try and find a service station nearby, an Australian tradition when the midnight munchies hit.
Only metres from the steps to our apartment lay a woman, injecting a needle into her forearm. Why hadn’t we seen her before? We stepped past her cautiously and around the corner, a group of topless Latinos howled and whistled at us.
‘It’s not so bad, ‘I commented.
When we passed that corner, we reached the BART, the skeleton of San Fran’s public transport. This is where the horror unfolded.
To my left, an old homeless man pissed freely on the street with his dick out, when he saw us he waved it all in our direction and we avoided (possibly poisonous) droplets by side stepping.
The side step saw us end up a foot away from wheelchair – in the wheelchair we assume was a person but a white sheet covered the torso, so you could only see two feet dangling out the bottom.
On the floor lay what anyone would assume was a corpse, but the closer we got, the more unsure we became of her life/death status. She confirmed for us by springing up suddenly and screaming shrilly in our direction. She pulled her pants down and joined her buddy in the public defecation sphere and started to take a fucking shit in the street. Apart from this Cirque De Soleil, we were the only other people on this street.
Without a second thought, we turned on our heels and ran back to the apartment, without a final glance back at the shit show behind us.
We were quiet for a while…until one of us spoke.
‘It’s only four days, I think we will be fine.’
The next four days comprised of spending our nights listening to the screams from the street below us, googling “where are the ghettos of San Francisco” and realising we were there, video-calling our friends when another nut job got their dick out in the middle of the street and making a run for it to our door when we got off the bus.
Airbnb is the best thing to happen since Nutella to go, just make sure you know what the fuck you’re booking – or you too can enjoy four days spent hiding from heroin addicts.