A Traveler's Nightmare: Couchsurfing in NYC 

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Next morning Kelly kicks us out. Stephen has already left for his part-time job, and she is on the way out to hers. She forgot to mention it last night, but we have to leave the apartment while they are at work. “Sorry, but you guys had better be making tracks.” This is not typical host behavior. Generally, surfers are given keys and allowed to come and go as they please. Instead, with barely time for a wash, we are unceremoniously shunted on to a nondescript Brooklyn street on a wet, blustery morning.

It’s not all bad, though. One of the attractions of CouchSurfing is the opportunity it gives travelers to experience neighborhoods you otherwise might miss. I’ve been to New York plenty of times but never really explored Williamsburg, so this is an ideal opportunity.

We are at the Greenpoint end. Just around the corner we find an old-school Polish café. Two cold, hungry, sleep-deprived surfers could not ask for more: generous portions of pierogi and bottomless cups of coffee.

Refreshed and with thoughts of the air mattress behind us, we set off to investigate Bedford Avenue, and its infamous hipsters. For a Belfast native whose only prior knowledge of Williamsburg is a couple of Jeffrey Lewis records, Bedford on a Thursday morning is a real eye-opener: skinny jeans as far as the eye can see... though at least there’s a decent arty bookstore to keep me interested.

As night draws in it looks as if we are stranded in Williamsburg. Our hosts aren’t picking up the phone, and we have no idea when they’ll be back. Nothing for it, then, but to kick back and enjoy the area’s nightlife. Luckily, the first bar we stumble across is a gem [Ed. Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern]. An old-school dive bar near the Bedford L stop where the jukebox plays country standards workmen drink Budweiser from enormous foam cups and discuss baseball, Barack Obama and the weather.

I try Kelly’s number again but still she’s not answering — looks like we‘ll be out on the town a while longer. Thumbing through one of the multifarious local free sheets — a noticeable difference between the US and European cities — I spot an ad for the free weekly alternative-comedy show at Sound Fix.

The venue’s record store/bar combination is a little confusing at first but after a bit of sleuth work we find the cozy back room lounge. I’ve come to New York for some decent shows and tonight I’m not disappointed. We are treated to a series of excellent up-and-coming comedians whose classic observational patter goes down as easily as the rum-and-hot-cider cocktails.

The laughter stops when we get back to Kelly and Stephen’s. It’s past midnight, but they are still up — and still bickering. This time the bone of contention is the salad for the next day’s lunch. “You should have used onions,” Stephen monotones. “But we didn’t have any,” Kelly shrills back. My girlfriend and I exchange resigned glances. I’m starting to realize that CouchSurfing isn’t the best way to a woman’s heart.

The following morning we wake before our hosts and, mindful of the previous night’s contretemps, leave without stirring them. A short subway ride and we’re in SoHo, enjoying a Cuban breakfast of muffins, fried eggs and salsa at Café Habana — and rejoicing at escaping our hosts’ cramped and increasingly oppressive apartment.

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