First and foremost, a big word of thanks to all my besties and boos who have welcomed me into their humble (and sometimes mansion-esque) abodes over the years. From Tahoe to Tampa, the list is lengthy. I’m hard-pressed to think of one state that doesn’t have a buddy or galpal willing to let me stay at their place for a brief spell. (Well, except for West Virginia or North Dakota—no one ever wants to visit there.)
I’m not sure when wanderlust got the best of me, but it was early in life. It’s kinda like remote control living. No matter where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else. Just as easily as changing the channel, I’d call up another friend and visit them. Bonus points if they lived in a town that had never been graced by my presence. To this day, I liken myself to a self-contained M*A*S*H* unit. I’m ready to go and set up shop on a moment’s notice. (And, yes, I’m CPR-certified.)
Most friends have house do’s and don’ts and they aren’t hesitant to let you know the rules of engagement ahead of time. I gladly abide by all of them. Take my friend Don in Palm Springs. “Michael, I’ll gladly humor your sorry ass for up to 72 hours,” he once told me. “After that, GTFO. Deal?” (I’ve since learned that three days is—by and large—the max I can extend my welcome without upsetting the balance of a gracious homestead.)
Given my go-with-the-flow nature, I rarely need to be entertained. But some hosts feel an obligation to ensure I’m humored 24/7. Those friends deserve a medal for pre-planning. My friend John in St. Louis takes the cake. I was just there two weeks ago, and he picked out, like, nine different restaurants for us to try. “Now I know you’re only here for 36 hours, but I think that should cover your stay,” he announced. What can I say—he gets me. (John will also mandate my coffee cup is pre-warmed before filling it. Now that’s hospitality. Anal-retentive hospitality.) How stunning is John and my bestie Jill’s house? It was written up in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Not every stay goes well, but that’s usually because of my mental state. After my dad died unexpectedly, I was going through a tsunami of grief. My friend Anne suggested getting some fresh air at her Colorado villa in the mountains. I arrived broken, disheartened, and morose. Couple that with altitude, lack of sleep, Xanax, and general malaise—and I was barely sentient. “Michael, thanks for almost being here this weekend,” Anne told me as I boarded the airport shuttle. I’ve apologized for that one about 100 times. Here’s another—sorry Anne, that was poor form. Thanks for being understanding.
My Florida friends—and the list is infinite—often know that when I call, there’s usually a DefCon1 situation happening. More often than not, I need to use their place to regroup and get my bearings—sometimes for weeks at a time. Every time I’m, uh, jettisoned from a job, I’ll typically go nurse my wounds in Orlando or Fort Lauderdale. My friends give me space, always ply me with copious amounts of gourmet coffee they’ve procured, and let me figure out next steps. It helps that Disneyworld and/or the beach are nearby options. My Florida friends also know that if a major holiday is looming, I get first dibs on their guest room. Florida and New Year’s Eve practically go hand-in-hand.
Florida is also where I discovered chicory coffee. My friend Don keeps a vat of it in his house. This magical elixir is like crack, but in cup form. Drinkable tar, if you will. It also makes me poop within .02 seconds of drinking it. (TMI, I know.) I’m not sure what’s in it, but it’s nature’s broom.
How do I keep getting invited back, you ask? Two words: The Bevinator. She taught me—while I was in pre-school, mind you—the fine art of being the perfect guest. “Step one, thank everyone all the time,” she would remind me. “You take so much as a drink out of their garden hose, you send a thank you card.” The Bevinator was fastidious and hyper-tidy, so step two came naturally. “You leave a place cleaner than when you found it,” she would admonish. “And don’t forget to strip the sheets and put them—along with your towels—in the laundry.” (Mom also taught me that the toilet paper roll goes over, not under. “If it’s under, you’ll need to fix that for them,” she’d chide.)
When I visit my hometown of Des Moines, I stay with a revolving cast of characters. My friend Mindy was clearly an old-timey innkeeper in a previous life. She sets out essential oils, artisan soaps, and creates an entire charcuterie board and relish tray upon my impending arrival. My friends Erin and Michael have a luxurious “Fonzie bedroom” over their garage that’s a mini-oasis. Every time I visit, Michael has upped his own DIY ante. “Hey, I just installed a gas fireplace by hand for you to use at your leisure,” he once told me. “And I’ve used reclaimed driftwood to craft a coffee nook outside your bedroom. In addition, I’ve hired a barista to swing by every morning from 7 – 8 a.m. to make you whatever you want. He’s also trained in the art of Swedish massage.”
As if that isn’t enough, my friend Katie often asks me what sort of gourmet meal she can cook while I’m staying at her casa. She’s a foodie’s foodie. “It took me a minute, but I finally found organic kiwi and guava for your morning smoothie,” she once told me. At last count, Katie had four dogs and six cats—maybe more, maybe less. Her house is homey, warm, and inviting. It’s also like being plopped into the middle of an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but, you know, with domestic pets.
This past July I visited the hinterlands of Montana where my friends Michelle and Dave vacation in the summer. Despite tickets to Kalispell, Montana costing more than flights to London, it was easily my best vacation in a decade. That’s mainly because of the sheer beauty of Big Sky Country. See the above pic? That was snapped at 4:15 a.m. while crawling back into bed after waking up to pee. I remember thinking, “Is this real life?” She and her husband’s lodge-like home overlooks Flathead Lake. The place was so serene I actually booked a few more days just to soak it all in. I could easily become a mountain man if given the opportunity. And, uh, eat my weight in huckleberries which had just come into season during my visit.
My friend Sarah and her hubs Brent who live just outside Austin have let me crash at their place so many times over the past few years, I should probably be paying property tax. Sarah has the patience of Job. When I arrive at her house, accidental drama often follows. (Read that: ice storms, speeding tickets, an actual plague of frogs, and job loss. This week I was at her place less than 18 hours this trip before getting unceremoniously dumped by my employer of sixteen years. Bless.)
Austin is a notoriously expensive town for hotels and Airbnbs. At the rate we’re going, I technically will owe her the equivalent of her kid’s first year of college tuition. If I don’t stay with Sarah, I will crash at my bestie Eric’s place. He lives on a dude ranch where I’ve seen the food chain in action countless times. Step one foot outside his door and you’ll see a rattlesnake attack a bunny which was then scooped up by a hawk who was subsequently mauled to death by a coyote. Of course, that may have just been an episode of National Geographic. Who knows?
This past year I’ve traveled more than I have in my entire life. My career as a burgeoning travel writer demands it. If I could find a job that keeps me perpetually on the road, I’d sign up with zero questions asked.
But here’s the weird thing? No one every visits me. My guest room is revamped. My guest bathroom is newly remodeled. And, yet, I’ve had nary a visitor stay at my place in almost four years. That needs to change. For God’s sake, I’ve learned the fine art of hospitality from all my friends. Turnabout—and turndown service—is fair play.