CouchSurfing!

Apparently I joined CouchSurfing 6 years ago in 2009! It took me 2 years to actually stay with someone: Ken Tomilson in Vancouver in 2011. And it took me another 4 years to actually host someone: Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter this past week. It’s great that I finally had chance to host someone, and wonderful to host 4 Hungarian College Students for a few days after their 12 weeks of working at a kids’ summer camp in Pennsylvania.

Maccabee Shelley showing glass to our group.

Their 1st day they came to visit CSULB. Akos parked their car at the turnaround at the south end of campus near theatre. We did a walking tour of the campus from there down to The Pyramid and back. Since their meter had 2 hours, our tour took 1 hour & 58-1/2 minutes! One of the 1st people we ran into was Maccabee Shelley, recently returned from a spring-summer trip to build a ceramics workshop at an Italian vineyard.

3 people in a tiny kitchen

Eszter, Denes & Csenge in the kitchen

2 people in a tiny kitchen

Denes & Akos

Denes in the kitchen slicing a just-out-of-the-oven pizza

Denes slicing his a-maz-ing pizza! The crust: so light, crisp, and delicious! I’d previously told them to be sure to buy giant slices of cheep pizza when they went to Venice Beach, but after this I had to tell them to avoid the sad Venice pizza at all cost!

Road Trip

After 4 nights here in Los Angeles, Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter headed off for San Francisco and then San Diego. They mentioned that they’d be coming back to LA to return their rental car and catch their flight to NYC. I offered that they could leave anything they wanted here, and then pick it up when they got back. They said they’d like to take me up on that offer, and also asked if, when they got back to Los Angeles, they could stay 2 more nights: I said sure.

If they’d left after the 1st 4 nights it would have been a lovely visit. But somehow coming back and staying a little longer really seemed to amplify the experience. Maybe it was just more time. Or coming and going. Or IDK, but I felt like we were able to learn a little more about each other and connect a little deeper.

Our visit was interesting in how simple it was, and yet how it seemed to add up to something more than simple.

Packages of Mochi, Boba, Pocky & M&Ms on the floor of a Domino's lobby.

Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter left and headed up to San Francisco and then down to San Diego. They loved the Golden Gate and spent way more time at the San Diego Zoo than they planned to – they just couldn’t leave! After that they came back by for a couple more days. Akos & Csenge went to Warner Brothers’ Studios where they finally got to sit on the couch at “Central Perk” (Friends). Denes & Eszter stayed home and we took a walk to a nearby Asian market where we bought a few treats. Then Denes said we should pick up a pizza from Domino’s on our way back. I warned them that it wasn’t going to be a “Denes Pizza”, but they thought the speed & convenience was worth it. While we waited for our pizza to bake, I spread out our Asian Market Treats for this photo.

Glenn & Eszter taking a selfie and wearing western hats

Glenn & Eszter in the Domono’s lobby.

luggage, luggage, everywhere!

In the luggage room!

Divorce

We Americans are famous for our tragically high 50% divorce rate. I was surprised when they told me that the divorce rate in Hungary is 70%! Apparently the job situation in Hungary isn’t the best either, with 500,000 young people, or about 5% of Hungary’s 10 million population, leaving last year! You can get free college tuition if you’re grades are good and you promise to work in Hungary for 10 years.

available light image of Denes, lit by his glowing laptop screen

Denes at the computer

Website?

After our Domino’s lunch I was babbling about something about large Open Source projects like Linux or Drupal or WordPress. Eszter asked me about WordPress. She’d heard of it, but didn’t really know what it was. She said in Hungary nobody makes websites. Only businesses do. People just have Facebook or Instagram or whatever. Of course the USA isn’t really different. Social Media sort of ended the age of the personal website.

Do you remember websites?

Back in Web 1.0 lots of people made websites. A lot of them were ugly. Mine sure was. Ugly as it was, I bet nobody had a website quite like mine.

Then MySpace came along. It was pretty flexible. They didn’t have Facebook’s authoritarian Identity policy, and they didn’t have Facebook’s “any color you want, as long as it’s blue” policy. Even though MySpace was a Social Network you could still write your own HTML for your page. Or as most peeps did, just copy & paste what you liked. OMG there were a lot of hideous MySpace pages! Enough animated GIFs to pop your eyeballs out! Some pages were really slow to load. Some never loaded. And I had no idea just how much beautiful freedom I was looking at back then.

And then Mark Zuckerberg came along with his billion-person-long steamroller. Yes your Facebook page can have your family’s baby-photos, and my Facebook page can have my family’s baby-photos. And yes we do love those baby photos. But still, through its regimentation of persona, experience, and culture, Facebook has become a deeply, fundamentally, anti-human, anti-humanist platform. Your life, with all the humanity sterilized out of it.

I miss websites.

I miss ugly MySpace pages.

available light image of Akos sitting on the floor and lit by his laptop screen

Akos at the computer

Webside!

I had a wonderful student over summer, Ngoc Tran. Ngoc’s Vietnamese, and like Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter, Ngoc’s English is very good. But not quite perfect. When it came time to pick a title for her website, instead of something like “Ngoc’s Website”, she named her’s “Ngoc Tran Webside.”

I don’t really know if that was intentional. Or if she was just less familiar with the term “site” and substituted the more familiar “side”. Whatever it was, it was a small but brilliant thing. Websites are great. But they’re old. I look at dozens every day.

But Webside? Oh wow. What does it mean to be webside? Like when Jack Nicholson gets those crazy expensive courtside tickets for Laker games. Is that what it means to be webside? To be where the action is? Or like Lou Reed singing,

Said, “Hey, babe,
Take a walk on the wild side.”
And the colored girls go
“Doo do doo do doo do do doo…”

I miss websites. And MySpace pages. And The Blogosphere. Let’s all make websites!

Let’s all try to be more Webside!

Csenge chopping ingredients in the kitchen

Csenge preparing “Hungarian Stew” for our final night’s dinner.

Csenge & Eszter cooking in my tiny kitchen

Csenge & Eszter in the kitchen

Moments

There wasn’t really any great event in our time together. They went off and did a lot of things they’d been dreaming of, but as for our time visiting and chatting, it was small things: Eszter talking about her family, Denes giving me a Google Maps tour of Budapest, Csenge talking about experience at summer camp, or Akos talking about all their plans for the next day.

When I came across a Periscope broadcast about hundreds or thousands of refugees stranded at the Budapest Train Station, it was “nice” to have just “toured” the city 2 nights before.

Our walk to the Asian Market & Domino’s was similarly nice. Small. Sweet. I do like walking. Sitting and talking is good. But there’s something about being on your feet.

Denes & Akos illuminated by the light of Denes laptop screen

Denes & Akos in the living room

Denes, Csenge, Akos & Eszter around the backyard table

Dinner under the stars. Well, actually, more like “under the star” since between the moon and the city light pollution we could really only see about 1 star. Still, a beautiful night.

Dinner table photo of tapioca pearl & honeydew desserts

After our Hungarian Stew entree, I tried a little dessert experiment with pink tapioca pearls inside green honeydew rings

Denes & Csenge at the backyard dinner table

Denes & Csenge

Akos & Eszter eat dessert in the backyard. Available-light photo illuminated by candles

Akos & Eszter

6 Years

It only took me 6 years after joining CouchSurfing to actually host someone. It was really nice to host college students who’d been working all summer and were now treating themselves to a few days of travel. I remember being a “starving college student.” I had to laugh a little when Denes came home with a bunch of packages of that college student staple, 19-cent Raman Noodles!

No doubt there are plenty in the Global South who need more help than college students from Budapest do. Still, it was gratifying to feel like you’d helped them tie a bow on their American summer before they headed back to classes and dorm rooms and so much studying.

Csenge & Denes at a laptop in the living room

Csenge & Denes looking for a place to stay in NYC.

Akos lying down in the luggage room and surrounded by lots and lots of stuff

Akos takes a nap

¬°Disaster Scale!

The night Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter arrived they had a little driving mishap. They thought they might get to my place around 10pm. But with slow baggage claim, slower car rental, and the small matter of accidentally driving to Griffith Park instead of my place, it was a little closer to midnight by the time they arrived.

The next day Akos, who’s a great driver, but possibly a less great parker, locked the car keys in the trunk. And the phone. And Csenge’s flip flops. The day after that he lost his passport. And visa. And other documents. And then there were sunburns and other mishaps to contend with. So here’s a rough draft of a Disaster Scale. Please leave any additional Disaster Scale Entries in the comments below!

  • +100 Actually making it to Warner Brothers Studios and sitting on the couch at Central Perk
  • +50 Actually biking from Santa Monica to Venice
  • +20 Getting everything in you suitcase & still being able to close it
  • +15 Having your suitcase weigh less than 50 pounds
  • +10 A good photobomb
  • -5 Late to Warner Brothers’ studio tour
  • -10 No parking anywhere in Los Angeles
  • -25 Locking your keys, phone & flip-flops in the trunk
  • -30 Rope burn on your foot
  • -35 Sunburn at the beach
  • -50 last minute reservations at hostels that turn out to be disgusting
  • -75 Making jokes in the airport security line
  • -100 Airbnb hosts who don’t check to see your reservation & then try to put you in tiny rooms for the same price
  • -125 Losing your passport
  • -150 Missing your flight
  • -175 Losing your passport, again!
  • -1000 Having your kidney stolen
Akos holds his suitcase and stands on a scale

Weight Check: (Akos+Luggage)-Akos<50 pounds. Hopefully! He made it with 2 pounds to spare!

Eszter stands on a scale and holds her suitcase

Weight Check: (Eszter+Luggage)-Eszter<50 pounds!

Denes, Csenge & Eszter sit on the purple couch in my living room. Csenge holds Denes suitcase on her lap and laughs

Denes, Csenge & Eszter admire the marvel of Denes suitcase only weighing 20 pounds and carrying everything he needed for the last 3 months. Next year Denes will be teaching a special workshop: “How to travel light!”

About the Moments, again

We live in an age of superlatives. Katy Perry vs Taylor Swift vs Kanye West. The “Super” Bowl. The “World” Series. The battle between FIFA & The IOC to see who can be the world’s most corrupt sports governing body and who can inflict the most damage on the people of Brazil. We drive Monster Trucks and we have Monster Energy drinks while we drive them. Kardashian. Kardashian. Kardashian.

As I tried to say above, my week with Akos, Csenge, Denes & Eszter was more notable for the small moments than the large ones. I do think they had some wonderful moments during their time in California: Akos talking about Warner Bros all week, and finally making it there on the very last day. All of them talking about biking from Santa Monica to Venice all week and finally getting to do that on the very last day. (PS: they urged me to join them on the bike ride, but unfortunately I had a “Course Outline” for a new course for next year’s catalog that had to be written that day) Csenge talking about everything they saw at the San Diego Zoo, or watching her spend so much time on the laptop trying to find a place to stay in New York. Denes cooking. And talking about his career plans. Making a cup of tea with Eszter.

Six years after signing up I finally hosted a group of Couchsurfers. What a sweet week. What a wonderful platform.

Thank you for visiting Akos, Csenge, Denes ‘n Eszter. Have a good trip home. Good luck in school. Have a good life.

Denes & Glenn standing in the front of the house

Denes & Glenn

Standing on the driveway in front of the house, just a minute before leaving for the airport

Akos, Csenge, Glenn, Eszter & Denes in front of the house

Denes, Eszter, Akos & Csenge's feet!

Shoes! Puma, Nike, not sure & not sure

Akos & Eszter wave out of the driver's side of the car

Bye for now! The trusty Toyota Corolla heads off for LAX with 1,500 more miles than it had when they arrived.

Package of Raman noodles sitting on top of a small shelf

Oopsy! Denes forgot a package of noodles!

Written by Glenn Zucman

BA, Psychology, University of Hawaii, MFA, Intermedia Art, Long Beach State. Host of American Public Media's "Border Patrol." Host of KBeach Radio's "Strange Angels." Interested in Identity Art that explores our Oracle-at-Delphi-like straddling of corporeal and virtual realms in our new media century. Civil rights in online space. 10 years...
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