News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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September 10, 2013

For travelers, there's a whole new rental world out there

(Continued)

OpenTable, I pouted, would never ignore me like this. I didn't like suffering for a dinner reservation. But if I wanted to participate in the sharing society, I had to follow its rules. So I did.

As instructed, I set up a profile on my chosen sites and included a trustworthy photo (no tequila-swilling shots) and a zesty description that made me sound peppy but not annoying. I scanned the pages of options, weighing the Awesome Oldsmobile against Rebecca's Dodge, a 106-year-old San Francisco native vs. a kilt-wearing Scotsman, a homeless tour or a mushroom-foraging excursion. Then I threw myself at these people and waited like a lovesick high-schooler beside her Princess phone. Will my crush ever call?

The reply times and success rates varied. On average, I heard back in one to three days with an even split of "yes" and "no" responses. Emmy, for instance, e-mailed within a day to say that she was on vacation and not leading her Vayable-listed Wilderness Sushi tour in Berkeley. Jeff, whom I contacted through Tripping, didn't have a guest room in his tiny studio but offered to meet up to "play tourist." Galo, another Tripping host, accepted my home-stay plea but asked for an additional 24 hours to check with his roommate, who agreed and even invited me to stay a second night.

I moved on from those who never replied and sent out a second and third stream of requests. After three weeks of planning, I'd finally locked down all my arrangements, including a Meal Sharing dinner in Oakland. And though I'll never know whether Rachel's dinner party was a success, at least I won't be forced to share my secret with a group of strangers: I don't eat oysters.

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