This past summer I took a month-long trip to a few major U.S. cities. New York City, Austin, Atlanta, Portland, and Seattle. I was still working full-time while I was traveling and a large percentage of my job at Praxis is customer service calls, emails, and live chat on our website.
At this point, I feel very accustomed to handling uncomfortable, weird, and challenging social interactions. Beyond my current job, I’ve worked at several restaurants and spent endless late night hours taking drive-thru orders from stoned teenagers.
One of my favorite orders I ever received:
Me: “Hi, thank you for choosing Culver’s! I’d be happy to take your order.”
Me: “I’m sorry, what? Mint?”
Me: “A mint milkshake? A mint sundae?”
But my threshold was tested in a new way when I was in Seattle a few months ago.
Where I was staying in Seattle was one of those hotel-style Airbnbs where this guy named Eric owns a 4-story building in Capitol Hill and rents out all of the rooms on Airbnb.
When I got there, I couldn’t find my room and had to ask one of the very friendly and accommodating house-keepers to point me in the right direction. He walked me downstairs to the basement and unlocked the door to room 110 — an 80-square-foot room that used to be a utility closet. No window. Concrete floors. A thin cot on a metal bed frame. A toilet right next to the bed. A showerhead drilled into one of the walls. Basically a jail cell with a mini fridge and some clean towels.
I can’t complain, though. I was warned. This was the description of the room on Airbnb:
“Very, very small, 80sf, single bed. 8feetx11feet. it is in the basement and has a small, window. It can be cramped. This place is meant for someone who values quiet, privacy and efficiency.”
It was cheap, in a great location, and I was only there for two nights. I settled into my room after a long day of travel, checked my email, opened a bag of chips, and started watching an episode of Planet of the Apps in my underwear.
Then my doorknob turned and the door swung open. A young Korean girl was standing there with her iPhone in one hand and the handle of her rolling suitcase in the other. She quietly gasped and jumped backward.
She said nothing, clearly still stunned at the sight of me sitting there with no pants on and a hand full of Doritos.
To break the silence I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I just checked into this room today. What room are you?” I asked.
She confirmed she booked room 110 and we exchanged a few more sentences, while I still sat there pantsless and politely explained to her that this was my room and she must have made a mistake. She nervously nodded and left.
Then I was filled with guilt and realized that if she had the code to unlock the room, then clearly she booked this room as well and our Airbnb host messed up. I put on some pants and opened my door – she was still standing outside my room scrolling through the Airbnb app on her phone.
Her English wasn’t very good. Everything on her phone was written in Korean. I pulled up the Airbnb app on my phone as well and showed her that I was also booked for room 110. I texted the Airbnb host, Eric, and told him what was going on. I had to wait long periods of time in-between texts until I heard back from him.
We stood in the hallway for at least 45 minutes while I texted back and forth with Eric, and she asked me where I was from. We made small talk. It was her first time in the U.S. She was here for a tech conference.
I finally got on the phone with Eric and put him on speaker. He explained to us that she had accidentally booked two reservations in his building and the second reservation overrode the first one, so room 110 was double-booked.
The girl didn’t understand everything Eric was saying so I did my best to explain. At this point, nearly an hour had gone by of us standing in this hallway. Eric got her a new room on the same floor and I helped her unlock it with her new key code.
When I was still on the phone with Eric he said to me, “You’re awesome. Thank you for the help. Seriously, can I hire you? Like, for real.”
I appreciated the nice ego boost. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t abandon my customer service persona until everyone was happy. Some people may have been annoyed by the situation or shrugged it off and said “Not my problem,” but from my personal experience, I knew this situation would have been a mess and taken a lot longer to resolve without my help.
Despite my shitty room and awkward series of events, it was an awesome Airbnb. Every housekeeper said hello to me. There were fresh muffins and cucumber water in the lobby every morning. And someone offered me a job to work for his weird but pleasant prison hotel.