Last year I was privileged to be able to attend a conference in Philadelphia for my media work. We had a limited budget for this conference, and it was important to me that I take a few of my co-workers with me, so we found an AirBnB near the convention center to stay at for cheaper than the hotel prices. The reviews for this place were pretty good, the location and the pictures were nice, everything checked out. I sent a message explaining who we were and why we were staying there, and got approved to stay there.
About a week or two after I booked the place, I noticed that the number of people staying there was incorrectly marked as 1. I was unsure how that happened, and I didn’t know you could change the listing itself, so instead I sent the manager a message clarifying the number of people that were coming. I also asked him if there was any way we could check in early because it turned out we had to get a red-eye flight the night before in order to get there. He didn’t answer me for a week, so I sent a follow-up message, to which he responded that he was currently driving and would respond further later, but that we “should be good”.
He never gave me any more details. A week later, only a few days away from the conference, I sent him another message trying to clarify how we would be checking in, and when would be the earliest we could check in, and other questions that I had. He didn’t respond until the night we were heading to the airport, and all he said is that we couldn’t check in early. He then called me while I was at the airport, and was nice enough on the phone to explain that they had someone else moving out of that room the next morning, and so he’d let me know as soon as they left so we could drop our stuff off in the apartment while the cleaning staff did their work.
He also explained to me that they were actually a rooming company that specialized in housing doctors and medical patients and that they just used AirBnB as a way to list themselves, and thus we shouldn’t mention that we used AirBnB to anyone at the location. That’s where I started being a little suspicious.
The next day we had to hang out with our luggage until the time that we were told the previous tenants would move out. He didn’t call us on time, so we called him from outside the building, saying we were there and we were ready to drop off our luggage like he said we could. He told us to go across the street to the coffee shop and wait for him. Then, as we’re standing outside the apartment building we had booked a month prior, he asked me why I kept using the word “we”. This is something I had done since the very first message I sent him (before we booked the room) explaining that me and three of my colleagues would be booking the room. I told him that there were four of us here for the convention. He asked if it was like a family or two couples or what. I told him no, it’s just four male college students here for a convention.
Suddenly that was a huge issue. He started acting like I had deceived him, and that his organization couldn’t have four college students staying in one of their places. He said he’d call me back, and when he did, he told me that management would only let us stay if we paid them an extra $100, and then he would have to escort us up to the apartment two at a time, and we couldn’t talk to anyone in the building. I argued that that was unfair, that I had tried time and time again to tell him who we were, and that his listing actually said that “extra guests” were no charge so he couldn’t charge us now anyways. He told me it didn’t matter because the reservation said 1 person and that had never been changed because he didn’t actually read my messages. He told me that AirBnB would agree with him because he could argue I had lied to him in the reservation. I tried to argue with him, and he yelled at me.
I was tired, I was in a strange city, I was trying to care for two of my employees, and now I was confused and terrified. My colleagues could see how distraught I was and they got angry, said he was discriminating against us based on our age. When he showed up at the coffee shop he talked down to us and told us our options were to do as he said or leave. I had been frantically looking up AirBnB’s policies and I wasn’t sure I could get our money back if we cancelled at this point. He got frustrated with our indecision, kept pushing that it looked like we didn’t want to stay there, and then said he was going to call management and come back. I called the hotel where the convention was being held, and I think they could hear the desperation in my voice. They said they had one room left that they could give me at the convention price, and we decided to go for that.
We left the coffee shop and couldn’t find the AirBnB guy, so we headed to the hotel. I called him, and left him a voicemail saying we couldn’t stay there and were going to find somewhere else. I had to charge the hotel room to my personal card, but we were finally cleared and got in there. I may have started crying as soon as we got inside.
Throughout the rest of the day things worked out. My boss finally called me back and told me I had made the right decision and that they could cover the hotel costs. The guy called back and tried to make amends but I told him we had already found a place, and he promised to cancel the listing and issue a refund. AirBnB saw the help articles I had been reading frantically earlier so they gave me a call to make sure I was okay, and I explained enough of the dispute to them for them to promise that I’d get a full refund.
Still, the terror of being stuck in a strange place, with no idea what was going to happen next or where we could go, shook me deeply. It affected me for the rest of the weekend. I spend so much time planning my life and making sure I have all of the knowledge and ability I need to keep living it successfully. Being in a situation where you might be completely screwed, even for a few days or a few hundred dollars, is terrifying. Imagine wondering if your whole life is about to be derailed.
This weekend, the president of the United States inflicted that kind of terror onto a few hundred people. Legal US residents and immigrants trying to go back to work, to school, and to their families were held at airports and threatened with deportation. People who had done everything right, who were legal, who were smart, who had been here for a long time, now suddenly didn’t know if they could come back. These people couldn’t just “go back to where they came from” because they lived here. That’s terrifying.
This week, Donald Trump created terror to “fight terror”.
Sweeping bans don’t work, they just create pain. Republicans used this argument last year when they rejected a proposal banning people listed on the no-fly list from purchasing guns. They said that list is imperfect and might result in good people being banned. Mike Pence and Paul Ryan both said last year that banning people from Muslim countries would be un-American. The outcry from people who agree with that this weekend has been tremendous.
I want our president to be a good person, to stand for American values, protect American interests, and lead America to success. And whenever he doesn’t do that, I hope that everyone who thinks so tells him so.