I met Hamid at a nearby Starbucks. I wanted to be extra cautious Couchsurfing with someone new to the community. My first impression confirmed all the stereotypes I had of Southern Californians: healthy, attractive, tan, linen pants, sandals, beanie, man jewelry, shades, kinda metro. I go to shake his hand, and he tells me he’s a hugger. He has a really laid back, generous vibe.
I ask if we can go to Target before his place, because I need to pick up, “you know, some bread, some pretzels…. lettuce.” He gives me a smirk, “I have pretzels, I have bread. I have too much of it.”
Later at his place, I realized he was right. He shopped at Cosco and had a giant jar of pretzels. In Woodland Hills, the neighborhood was vivid with spring. Hamid’s yard had a forest of rose blossoms in the front. It’s a beautiful spacious house, a grand piano is the focal point of the granite and light filled living space. Musical instruments and speakers fill the rest of the surface.
He asks me if there is anything I wanted to see or do in particular when in the area. I let him know that I did want to see Hollywood when I was in the area. I really could care less about celebrities, but I feel like I have to see the Chinese Theater and the Stars to say I did. He drove me to the area and we saw the Chinese Theater and the Stars on the sidewalk. Then confidently he took me into the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It was so fancy, yet also very western! The bar area was really beautiful, but the bar was closed, so Hamid asked if I wanted to go dancing.
We ended up at Dancehall night at a local club. We were probably the only people not from the Islands. The beat was bumping, while the crowd was sweating and twerking. I personally keep things on the conservative side. After all, I am a white girl and I’m not really the type to drop it. I used to be in a girls group, in which most of the girls were Caribbean. I remembered dancing to that type of music with them and dancing with my fellow housing residents at on-campus parties. Hamid asked me how I learned how to dance so well. I laughed, because I don’t consider myself a good dancer at all! I told him about how Dancehall, Reggaeton and House were all part of my college experience in Miami. Our relationship quickly went from host and surfer to romantic. I felt conflicted, because I knew I would be leaving at the end of the week and that I wasn’t giving a good representation of what a host/surfer relationship should be.
The next day, Hamid called in to take off work. I was shocked, “What! You took off work to spend the day with me? You know I have work to do as well! How come you didn’t ask! You should have asked!” I gave in to spend time at the beach. It was a beautifully overcast day. The beach wasn’t very crowded. We rented bikes and bicycled from Venice Beach to the Santa Monica Pier. The Pacific is so cold. The wind blew in my face. We talked about how odd it is that the most wealthy people and the poorest people live in the same neighborhood, that the panhandlers sleep on the beach in front of million dollar condos.
That night he told me he was going to take me to see the best view in Hollywood. I looked out the window into the night as we wound up the hills of the city. We reached this old Japanese Palace, known as the Yamashiro Restaurant with terraced gardens surrounding the drive. We sat at a cozy table at an intersection of windows and ate sushi as we talked about life and pondered the city lights in the distance. The night was cool and windy as we walked through the gardens after our meal. Later when we returned to Hamid’s house, he tried to teach me how to play the drums. He asked, “Do you sing?” I laughed, “Karaoke.” He hoisted me on top of the piano and started to play asking, “Do you know this one?” “What about this one?” I stumbled along trying to remember the words to all the cheesy wedding songs he has in his repertoire from his long held side gig/first job. I loved the feeling of being one of those old-time vixens singing on top of the piano.
We had several people come by to practice while I was in town. Apparently, Hamid was part of a Persian pop group that toured around quite a bit playing concerts and weddings. There is a huge Persian community in Southern California. A bunch of them immigrated to California in the ’80s following the Iranian Revolution. He moved there when he was two. He loved traveling around with the band, so he joined Couchsurfing to continue traveling.
I started to feel so comfortable at his house. I would work all day and then jump for a dip in the pool. He would come home from work with a lit up face, so happy to see me. He didn’t want me to leave, but I knew I was going to have to leave eventually. He came home with a large list of things for us to do and I told him I was going to have to leave the next day. I could tell he was really upset. He started behaving really moodily. He told me he knew there was something special about me from my first night visiting. I thought he was just being a sweet-talker at the time. I didn’t think he actually meant it, now I started to worry that he was actually sincere about how he felt about me. I should’ve realized how he felt about me from the way he was treating me and also how he invited me to his nieces’ piano recital. I passed on the invite and went and saw some distant family of mine that day instead. He brought me a flower home when he got in one day, but I’m not his wife or his girlfriend. I am his Couchsurfer, I should have set a better boundaries from the beginning as I am a nomad and I think I have broken his heart. He told me the flower reminded him of me: it’s pretty and it smells good, but it has thorns.
I left. I stopped to take a picture in front of the Hollywood sign on my way out-of-town. I drove off thinking about how Hamid would get home from work and not find me there. He would fill the large lonesome house with the piano and not have anyone to listen. I got an hour down the road when I received text messages saying, “Come back, I miss you so much already and you’ve left some things here.” And I had. And they were things I had just bought, so I caved and returned for the weekend.
That weekend was wonderful, we went to the Griffith Observatory (his first time and my second time there, since I stopped on my way out-of-town) and some other places. We went to his brother-in-law’s restaurant. When am I leaving was the question of choice for the brother-in-law and it was the one question that made me the most uncomfortable. I left the next day. I had to leave. How much longer would I stay? I’m not going to live in California permanently and I’m certainly not going to stay there for someone I’ve known less than two weeks. I just knew I wasn’t meant to stay and the longer I stayed the harder it would be on both me and him.
This time I left for good. I started to appreciate more the people in my life who let me go. The special people who knew I had to take this journey and they didn’t pitch a fit. I started to realize that those people are the ones who truly love me. It was an odd feeling to hear the door slam and to walk out into the sunshine, past the garden of roses and know that I was leaving a life I could’ve lived. I walked out of Southern California and left a man who adored me and took care of my every need, but that life didn’t feel right for me. That is not who I am. I didn’t tell him that I left until I was three hours down the road. I got messages all over my phone, “Don’t go! Come Back!” I sent back a picture of a rainbow. I had left in the rain and the sky over the desert was exquisite. I could see the clouds rolling in over the desert and see the sunshine beaming through one side of the mountains and the rain fell on the other. I started witnessing rainbow after rainbow. I couldn’t hardly get down the road I was having to stop so often to bask in the wonders of nature. I started to cry, but happy tears. I was overwhelmed with God’s love for me to bring me somewhere so beautiful and I knew that I made the right decision, for if I had stayed I wouldn’t have been able to witness such weather.