In his eight rules for creative writing, Kurt Vonnegut suggests making sure your characters always need something, "even if it's only a glass of water." How convenient it is, then, that a glass of water was what I needed at the start of this story.
I needed the toxic type, though, the carbonated variety with corrosive poisons mixed in. They call this a Coke in the south, because that's what they call every type of pop, but I wasn't that far south. What I needed was a bottle of Coca-Cola -- or, a Coke.
Getting one wasn't going to be fun.
"There's Troost Mart about two blocks down," said the man I asked, "but I wouldn't go there. I mean, it might not be so bad at this time of day. Just, you know, hit the ground if you hear gunshots."
I was in Kansas City, renting the bedroom of a young lady gone to St. Someplace. I was speaking with the actual owner of the house, here to frame a doorway and paint. This neighborhood had been advertised on AirBNB as "friendly," yet here I was being advised on gunplay protocol.
Oh, you haven't heard of AirBNB? It's the new sensation, an Internet room rental service for those looking to turn that empty bed into cash! For me, it was a low-cost landing pad where no long pauses were planned anyhow. That is, ostensibly, the customer's benefit to AirBNB. The buzz of a table saw is just bonus.
The bucks I held onto, however, were doing nothing to buck my craving at present.
"So, where CAN I get a Coke then?"
"Well ..." He fidgeted the same fidgets I fidget when I'm picking a dinner spot for the in-laws or overthinking a fantasy football pick, but I don't fidget these fidgets when I just need a convenience store. Or a drug store. Or really anything with an OPEN sign at which an out-of-towner wouldn't get shot. "There's a CVS ..."
He started to point, but the strength of his arm and that of his voice trailed off together into the void. I stared off into it with him. Had I paid only $18 more per night, I'd have been crashing a single-person loft with luxury linens downtown -- though, I doubt Mr. Luxury Linens would have had this on the bedroom wall:
Cokes and kidding aside, the only problem with this house was in the bathroom. A warning was taped above the light switch, something to the effect of: "Turn the doorknob wrong and you'll be trapped in here." I circumvented this by cranking Buffett every time I stepped in there, as a sort of warning. Using "Turn on some Buffett" as a euphemism for taking a dump hasn't caught on yet, but give it time.
Otherwise, the bedroom was beautiful and comfortable. Nobody fucked with my food. I'd probably stay here again if traveling solo. I'd just make sure to bring Coke.
The owner of the house was approachable and open to tipping back beers during my downtime. He talked about how he began with AirBNB as a community-building effort, but it hasn't exactly gone famously. My secret retort was twofold:
First, most of us just want what we paid for. I have a tough time maintaining the friendships I already have. Second, he couldn't even tell me where in his own neighborhood he could safely obtain the beverage with "Share it with a Friend" on its labels.
In the end, I'd solve this puzzle with my favorite solution: Eating.
I was in Kansas City, after all.
"I'm heading to Oklahoma Joe's pretty soon," I said, and turned to step out of the room. "I'll just get a Coke there."