By MAX KAISLER
College students are a lot like hermit crabs. For four years they divide the warm and cold seasons between home and school, shuttling back and forth with a few overstuffed bags in tow.
Twenty-nine-year-old Ed Casabian has pushed this transient lifestyle to the extreme. For the past six months, Casabian has relocated every Sunday. He hauls his two bags and air mattress from one New York City home to another—the apartment of an acquaintance or friend, the house of a stranger—and stays for a week. His visits are rent-free, a simple exchange of a floor to sleep on (his blog’s motto is “Have Bed. Need Floor.”) for company and a home-cooked dinner or a meal in town. This routine doesn’t stem from economic necessity—Casabian is employed as a financial analyst for the website outside.in. It’s about discovering his city from new, continually shifting perspectives. One week a penthouse, the next a cramped apartment at the opposite end of the city. After six months, Casabian can call Central Park South, Harlem, Crown Heights, the Lower East Side, and a dozen other neighborhoods “home.”
Casabian describes the experience as “immensely rewarding.” The six month period is “a social experiment of sorts…looking for different perspectives and ideas.” He is not a new NYC arrival but returning after time away. His mission: to rediscover the city with a revived “spirit for adventure.”
This could all be a glorified (and well-publicized) pragmatic choice on Casabian’s part—free room and board and hundreds of followers is a pretty sweet deal, idealistic mission statements aside. Further, hundreds of thousands of people in the United States use couchsurfing.org to organize temporary stays with strangers, just as Casabian does—his story is not necessarily unique. And yet it has seized media attention. Perhaps it’s the routinized nature of his travel, the way it denies sentimental lingering. Or maybe it’s the way his story caters to the romantic ideal of New York City itself, its sense of unbounded possibility, the millions of lives and stories to be discovered, the fantasy of being able to leap from one life to the next if you only had the charisma and social agility.
Casabian aims to stay in all five boroughs. There’s a calendar on his blog that sketches the next two months: Tribeca, then the Bronx, an intermission in New Jersey, then the Upper West Side. Aside from the possible host cancelation, there’s relative stability in Casabian’s life. He works a full-time job, sees friends, updates his blog and online calendar scrupulously, and maintains an amazingly precise account of his weekly homes: the people he met, the food he ate, the layout of each neighborhood. In fact, he makes his migratory lifestyle look almost normal, even desirable, especially as the concept of a functioning neighborhood grows increasingly vague in many cities across the U.S. Why shouldn’t we emulate Casabian and locate our life wherever there is a welcome? Why shouldn’t home be a concept that defies city blocks and zip codes?
Casabian’s peripatetic life does make you wonder: How long can a human maintain a hummingbird pace of constant motion? Following Casabian’s story is like watching a marathoner who runs toward no designated finish line. When will he call it quits, or collapse? For now he shows no sign of tiring. There are still miles to go before he sleeps…on a floor of his own.