Friday, 19 October 2012

Down in the Pitts

When I was researching Operation of US of Heeeyyy! a couple of months ago at work, there didn't seem to be many places to stay in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Then I stumbled across Not Another Hostel, run by Jon and his then girlfriend, on a donation-only basis. If you couldn't afford the suggested $25 a night, you could pay whatever you could or they would let you stay for free. A highly philanthrophic idea that seems rather unusual in the United States of Corporate America.

However, as Jon told us the night we arrived (holed up in a church that had been converted into a pub), he didn't always have good experiences. He left home at 18 after falling out with his ultra-religious parents and opened the hostel after returning from travelling for four years. His first group of visitors were in town for a music festival and invited total strangers to sleep in the lounge so that Jon woke the next morning to find a bunch of decrepit tramps on his sofa. Another flushed tampons down the toilet, causing the plumbing to break down and flooding the basement with a metre of shitty tampon water which cost $1000 to fix.

ONE GUEST EVEN SHAGGED JON'S GIRLFRIEND, then had the absolute cheek to hang out with him the following day and ply him with drinks. Out of guilt I suppose, but what the eff!? Who would have the nerve to stick around? Pig dog.

You'd think after this catalogue of horrendous episodes, Jon would just give up and shut the place down. Most people wouldn't have the heart to carry on. But Jon has 'social experiment' stamped through him like a stick of rock and a generally optimistic attitude, so not persevering was never an option.

The $25 per person per night donation keeps Not Another Hostel in operation. It pays for laundry, rent (the landlord is an old hippy who doesn't mind the place being used as a hostel), food, toilet roll and beer. Say the hostel is full every night, and everybody who stays coughs up the money, Jon easily clears $2500 dollars A WEEK, just from hosting travellers in his house. It's not even his full-time job, he runs a paragliding school over the city during the day. And because the hostel is donation based, there's no requirement for fire escapes, extinguishers or the need to pay additional tax or insurance. Schweet. The address remains a secret until you arrive, to avoid an army of tramps and vagabonds pawing the front door. Staying there is sort of like going for a sleepover at a mate's house; it's comfy and a bit messy but you don't feel awkward helping yourself to a beer.

It's a brilliant concept, and a pretty brave one too. I don't know if I could have randomers in my house ALL THE TIME. You couldn't wander around in your pants. Or watch Emmerdale without judgement. Or pretend you were starring in a reality TV show. Whatever.

It relies heavily on people not being douchebags. And while most aren't, you never know which sly bastard about to trip into your living room could be about to poke your girlfriend in the vagine.

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