My First AirB&B: Another SNAFU


triprptWhen I decided to start my summer trip in Washington at the Reason Rally, I wanted an AB&B near any metro station, with a place to stash my scooter (in a backyard, for instance). Parking is a premium in Washington, and I’d want to be 100% on foot and transit, not having to ride then pay to park my bike. I found various AB&B’s along the far legs on the metro; the south green in Suitland, the east Orange line by New Carrollton, west Orange line by Vienna, the north Green line by College Park. But the delay getting the separation papers resolved between Lyn and I distracted and delayed my booking them, and allowed each to be taken. In the end I was starting to look at sharing a expensive hotel room with someone from Tampa plus paying to park. Meaning I was looking at skipping the rally.

There was one place that kept catching my eye. It was advertised in AB&B as a “Business Incubator” and had a bunch of individual rooms listed. It seemed like a cross between a hostel and a college dorm, as the description stated it was only open to unmarried grad students or government employees; no tourists and no folks in town for a wedding. It was located in an old (old, not historic) 3 story clapboard house, and was smack dab in Clarendon, an area of pricey real estate. It made no sense.

I exchanged many emails with John, the proprietor, over several months. He and I were both activists for progressive causes, cared deeply about young people, were well traveled retired consultants. I’m not sure my being an atheist helped, but it certainly didn’t hurt. When I mentioned I needed to hurry out Sunday morning to get to the Detroit CNU conference, he lit up. A good friend was a CNU member, and served on the board for the national CNU conference board about three years previously. Small world.

When I was able to describe to John the purpose and functions of his little incubator, then waxed on about my thought of someday creating an incubator of my own, he relented. He was upset that I would only stay 4 days, but he offered to allow me to share his room; an army cot in the non air conditioned attic, at the top of a ladder through a fire-trap crawl hole. My enthusiasm for the opportunity to sweat in my skivvies at his bedside seemed to ice the deal: we were buds.

I kept pressing on him that I needed a place to store the bike, off the street, on a sidewalk or back patio. There was no garage or driveway, but he kept assuring me there were side walkways and a easily accessible backyard area. I clearly described the bike being “as large as a Harley” and he kept talking about how the kids store “their bikes” here and there blah blah. This disconnect eventually spelled disaster.

After my sleepless night, buying the Wal-Mart phone, and riding in rush hour, I arrived at the house. It was remarkable. A 100+ year old clapboard house tucked in a neighborhood of stately 1930’s homes, repeating 1950’s quads, and Y2K condo towers. It was sandwiched between a beautiful brick church spanning 4 lots and a tiny park mostly used by the church daycare. It was backed by tremendously expensive condo townhomes.

I eventually got this explanation. The house will never be torn down because the lot is too small. All the other housing stock from that era was long gone, into first generation 1050’s sprawl apartments and businesses. Whenever those properties could be cobbled together or condemned, they were torn down again for the million dollar towers. But neither the church nor the day care can make money on the lot, nor can something be legally built so small. I imagined someone getting title to the corner park, then combining it with the house and building a duplex; barely profitable. But it is not unheard of for churches to be sold and congregations relocated, when the price is right, so the goofy little house is in no way immortal.

When I arrived, my host was on the front lawn animatedly talking politics with a passer by. They were discussing an upcoming referendum, candidates for local office, grassroots groups that were involved in the local election and related public policy. This was hot shit for me to just stumble into. Who was this guy?

But he also cut a weird profile. He had red-blond hair with a stubbly beard peppered with gray. He wore a t-shirt and cut off shorts and crocs sandals. He recognized me and shook my hand, then promptly ignored me like I disappeared into thin air. At one point I looked at my hands to verify I was still visible. A young man, late teens, was walking about, doing chores in no particular order. It seems he was earning his keep, and at my host’s beck and call. While the place did have a rhythm and structure, the theme was definitely the manifestation of short interval scheduling and AD/D thinking. I’d been awake 36 hours, 4 hrs sleep in 2 days.

The Tiny Side Yard

Eventually his conversation partner wandered off, and then another one, and he turned his attention to me. He wanted me to park my scooter along the side of the house, on a path paved with intermittent patio tiles and grass. This path went through the porch stairs and traversed concrete raised bed dividers, but people just stepped over those I guess carrying their “bikes”. This was insane. As best I could tell, he had expected me to lift “my bike” up with one arm and gently walk it back there. I know I had mentioned it weighed one thousand pounds and that it had only eight inches of ground clearance. That factoid slipped through the cracks. I walked the sidewalk between the house and the church and there was no access, no gate into the fenced yard from the side or back. That was never stated. Also, “the patio” in the backyard was actually a raised deck of wood timbers 18 inches above the lawn, with a couple bicycles serenely parked upon it. There was no way I could in any way use this area to park my Bergie. I could never get it up there, and if I could fashion a ramp, it would crush the cheesy deck slats. So I walked back out front.

What was paramount, and made clear to me several times, was the scooter could not remain on the street overnight, or even for the few minutes as I tried to unpack. It would need a resident permit for that and he had none to give. He kept scanning up the street for the meter maid like the lookout in a bank robbery. The same tow away rules were in effect for the sidewalk, the church parking lot, or any other place within 10 miles of where we stood. I had to get my massive scooter up that absurd path. The problem was the twelve inch high curb encompassing an open storm sewer.

After My Attempt

His solution was simple. Don’t go frontal. Just drive parallel, down the sidewalk and turn obliquely onto the front lawn, climbing across the curved rising dirt and into the side yard. I pointed out, rather obviously, that his suggested path was blocked by several stacked 4 foot long lumber edging timbers, stacked along the edge of the sidewalk. It was intuitive they would serve as guardrail, and bounce my tire back as I tried to pop over them at such an oblique angle.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, and what I could have done is build a square ramp with patio tiles directly on the sidewalk. I could have fashioned a square corner ramp between those timbers and the newly laid tiles, then back up and ride up the sidewalk and hit this newly created corner solidly with both front and back tire. I would have solidly popped up onto the lawn, and then … I guess, figured it out from there. An “L-shaped” joint would have worked.

What I did, instead, was spit into my hands, back up and rev the bike. Moving at a good clip, when I turned the wheel hoping the rubber would grip the smooth wood (remember, 36 hours without sleep), the front wheel simply slid forward while pointed sideways, skimming along the timbers. It rose slightly, then when the rubber returned to the sidewalk the bike nearly skidded out from under me. I nearly dropped the bike, probably breaking my foot, breaking all the lower cowling, and busting the custom exhaust on my very first day. Suddenly the importance of that broken telephone 3 days previously again rears its head. Rushing, sleep deprived, I showed no judgment. Later, when I told Adam about doing this, he just shook his head not even asking “why?”. I stammered to explain my thinking, but I had none.

The bike tore out the timbers, and the grass, and my host was a great sport about it: “Don’t worry, we’re redoing the lawn”. I stopped the engine, put down the kickstand, and parked the bike on the front sidewalk. I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground that nobody and nothing got damaged, or so I thought. It turns out the front tire picked up a tiny splinter that would haunt me for 2 weeks, cost me all told well over $600, and chew up hours and hours of confusion and unneeded work.

Ramp and Obstacles

Thinking for another 10 minutes, I then decided the only solution was to jump the curb and lawn at 90 degrees. To do this I would need to build a ramp up over the 12 inch curb and storm sewer opening, and the additional five inch lawn railing. I started collecting patio tiles, walking them one at a time to the front yard. Channeling Eval Knievel, I stacked them 8 tiles high, then 5 high, then 3, then laid a layer of tiles across my pyramid to make a temporary road up and over the curb. I would need to hit the exact middle of this 12 inch wide tile, at considerable speed, or I would crash into the curb and destroy the scooter’s front end. Then, without pause, I’d have to perfectly hit the second ramp on the sidewalk. Then I’d need to power the bike up the grass incline using only the intermittent patio tiles for traction. I still didn’t know how I was going to wiggle my huge machine between the tight barriers of porch, trash cans, and the like. I literally said to myself, “leave that to the fates”.

Sample Parking Pic
Sample Parking Pic

After this disaster, I posted pictures on my AB&B profile showing the Bergie, its size, and how it needs to be parked. And I explicitly verified parking logistics with each new host during initial contact.

My host was scurrying around giving his helper tasks to do when I rolled the Bergie out across the street. I took a breath, hit the throttle, and drove it up the first, then second ramps perfectly. I slowed down twisting between the tree and bush and lost traction on the grass. I allowed the tires to slow and stop as I neared the porch and the second gauntlet of obstacles. My host excitedly ran over, my thinking to help or encourage, only to show me that the kickstand extension was scratching a Rubbermaid storage bin. Oh, OK.

Parked in the Sideyard

I backed up, realigned the bike, and be-bop, be-bop, be-bop slowly skirted it into the depths of the side yard. When I put down the kickstand and killed the engine, I gave out a sign and kinda cried a little to myself. I had to transfer in extra tiles, and align them, so I could stand the bike on its center kickstand. She would be here, 24 hrs per day, for 4 straight days. I got out the cover and lovingly tucked her in, patting her and apologizing, out loud, for my abuse.

I then took another 15 minutes to collect and replace all the patio tiles, move my suitcase and bags to one place, and change from my riding boots into play clothes, putting my armored gear back into the bike until I ride again. Then, and only then, I picked up my bags and started to enter the house.


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