I didn’t think the day could get any worse.
In the span of 24 hours, we’d said goodbye to the friends and the home we’d never wanted to leave. We’d driven over 500 miles and two state lines before we finally escaped the wildfire smoke. A stranger had yelled in my face about what a terrible mother I was. And the kids had degenerated from griping about their Zoom calls to clobbering each other in the back seat. It felt like we’d hit rock bottom in this Pandemic Odyssey.
But as we drove through Utah and the skies began to clear, we felt some of the grip of what was behind us loosen. We remembered that there were still people and places to look forward to.
I’d wanted to go to Zion National Park ever since I was a teenager, when I saw pictures of the red rock formations that looked like a painter’s dream. It was magic hour as we entered the park, and even the kids took a collective gasp when they looked out the window. I pulled out my phone to take a picture.
And that’s when I noticed the explosion of texts that had just come in. While we’d been driving, our first AirBNB guests had shown up and promptly thrown a party in our back yard complete with music so loud that it rattled the walls two houses over, and thick clouds of smoke from cigarettes and weed. No one was wearing masks or social distancing. By the time I got these messages, the party had been going for hours.
As we drove through the park, I thumbed out responses as fast as I could. And then my three bars of reception turned to two, and then one, and then zero. All of my messages bounced back. I looked out the window and tried to breathe. We were driving through tunnels of red rock and some of the prettiest scenery I’d ever laid eyes on–but there was a lump in my throat and I felt like I might throw up.
I dropped off my family at the campsite and kept driving. It took me another half hour before I found a place in range. I braced myself for an unpleasant conversation, but when I finally reached the guest, whose name was Aidan, he was nice. He said he didn’t know that smoking wasn’t allowed or that AirBNB’s updated COVID-19 prohibited parties. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The next day, my phone started bleeping again. One of my neighbors sent a video; another wrote, “I think your guests are using your house to film porn.”
I spent the next three hours on the phone with AirBNB, who told me they’d ask Aidan to leave immediately. I wouldn’t lose any money; he’d clearly broken house rules and violated AirBNB’s COVID-19 policy. But Aidan and his crew stayed anyway. A week later AirBNB deducted $300 from my account and paid it to Aidan for the last two cancelled nights of his stay–nights where, just to be clear, Aidan was very much still in my home. I called AirBNB again, and the rep admitted that they’d screwed up, but there was nothing they could do to get the money back from Aidan. When I asked her to flag his profile so other hosts didn’t have to go through this experience, she said they couldn’t do that either.
There’s a saying that’s attributed to Confucius: “if you seek revenge, you should dig two graves.” I hate knowing that Aidan is out there $300 richer, but I’m not seeking revenge. What bothers me most is that the system that was supposed to protect me failed me. If I’m feeling that way about a situation that in the grand scheme of things wasn’t that bad–no one was hurt or killed, our house was not destroyed–then I think it’s fair to give space to those in our country who have been failed by our systems repeatedly. But it raises the question of how to fight injustice without letting it poison us. I’m still learning how to hold our systems accountable without digging my own grave.