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COLUMN: Couch surfing in the deep end

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

My brief time with Miles began with a groundhog. To be more specific, it began when that groundhog ran in front of Miles' bicycle about 17 miles south of Columbia. That accident created a strange story, which created a strange text message, which led to my very strange meeting with Miles.

It was all a little strange.

"Hi its Miles. Just texting to let you know i am on my way. I had an accident with a groundhog on my bike so having to get train to jefferson then ride to yours. The groundhog was ok unlike the bike and me. Should get to yours by 7.30ish."

This was Miles' first accident — that day. When I signed up for a profile on couchsurfing.com, I agreed to host strangers in need of a slightly uncomfortable sleeping arrangement, but my futon is not for groundhog killers. A Brit with an accent somewhere between "Shaun of the Dead" (which he hates) and Hugh Grant (whom he also hates), Miles is a friendly, enormously tall Newcastle native whom I would soon learn had incredibly bad luck (or "look," as he pronounces it). In the same hour he met the suicidal groundhog, Miles' back bike tire met a tiny arrowhead rock and was brutally murdered in a second unfortunate act. It would appear that groundhog days are a lot less fun without Bill Murray.

Sweaty, mildly depressed and slightly afraid of the natives of Hartsburg between here and Jeff City, Miles asked me to come get him and his broken bike in my Prius before they got to him and, undoubtedly, ate him alive with Worcestershire sauce. Dude has clearly seen "The Road." "I have seen too many films," he texted, followed three minutes later by, "I am very tall wearing combats and look a mess. Plus only person mad enough to be walking up massive hill in middle of no where."

Miles is not a liar. I'll admit I had no idea what to expect from my first time hosting a couch surfer, but I was not expecting Miles. I did little to prepare other than clean my apartment, think about sweeping, decide not to, hide a steak knife in my book bag and silently pray that I wouldn't be shanked or robbed. "Livin' On A Prayer," indeed. As evidenced by the fact that I am writing this, I was not shanked or robbed, but Miles hit me and my studio apartment like a freight train. Or a rabid Robbie Williams concert. Or something else that is English.

Halfway through a bicycle-only trip from New York City to Los Angeles, Miles realized that he does not like biking very much. He had not even been much of a biker beforehand. The evidence suggests that it might not be his strength. Before we met, he had contracted pneumonia, visited the hospital, been robbed of the majority of his trip money and was once wrestled to the ground by the police. He had also been hit (lightly tapped, he'll tell you  — as he points to his giant bruise) by a bus. My apartment meant the opportunity to fix his tire, the ability to eat something not sold at Lee's Fried Chicken and a mutual break from the daily grind — in his case, the grind of at least one flat tire, and in mine, a severe lack of eccentric Brits. It also meant the chance to wash his clothes in my bathtub.

In the next 48 hours, I learned the differences between English accents, the reason why Hugh Grant should be bludgeoned by the Queen's guard and a canny (good) amount of British slang. Along with the very important difference between pants, knickers, underwear and trousers, I learned that a tuxedo is referred to as a "dickey bow tie," for reasons I will not even attempt to fathom. Because I am an Anglophile and Miles has a Union Jack tattoo on his left forearm, it turns out we have startlingly similar taste in music and film. When I came back to my apartment from work the first night of his stay, I found the large Brit lounging on my couch, camouflage-clad legs stretched out, watching my copy of "Sense and Sensibility." When he found The Spice Girls on my iTunes the next day, his reaction was one I can only describe as nirvana. If you wanna be his lover, you gotta get with his friends.

Miles is afraid of crumbs. I know this because I came home the first day and he said, "I was going to do the dishes while you were gone, but I couldn't. I'm afraid of crumbs." Enough said.

But the most interesting — and awkward and several other adjectives both canny and not — parts of his stay chez moi were the late-night discussions. Because I work long hours, we invariably stayed up late to eat quesadillas (his first) and watch "The Princess Bride." And when we went to sleep, we stayed up even later. I never failed to have some pressing question about what people in the UK think of Americans, whether the band Oasis is still relevant there, why their French neighbors hate us or why we can't agree on what chips are. On the second night, I was flattered and slightly freaked out when Miles told me I'm the kind of woman he looks for in life, but eventual silence kept that bomb from becoming atomic.

In approximately one hour, I will have dropped Miles off at the bus stop and ended our short time together in my suffocatingly warm apartment. But that ending is not without one last story. After waiting to have his bike fixed this morning, Miles rode to my apartment and texted me that he had inexplicably lost the key. "Do you have a spare?" Mildly depressed after a frantic call to my landlord, I responded that I do not — and I leave for a flight in four hours.

"I was joking, sorry. I could not resist it."

So maybe Miles actually is a liar. And maybe he's also a friend.

Kelsey Whipple is the deputy editor of Vox. She really hopes that Miles successfully makes it to California. She also has a free futon should you be in need of one.


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Comments

Camila Silverman January 27, 2011 | 7:26 p.m.

What a great story! Hosting Miles sounds like so much fun. In case you or any fellow readers are interested in taking the plunge again in hosting (or traveling), you can also try this site: https://www.tripping.com.

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