There was an odd thing about the apartment on Airbnb, the apartment I had rented in Medellín: it seemed that the owner — I’ll call him E — did not live in Colombia, but rather in Chile. His phone number had a Chilean country code. But he always responded very rapidly to any message I sent within the Airbnb app. His message with the details for my arrival mentioned that two neighbors, N and G, would meet me and help me with any question I might have. But he would sometimes use “we” not “they.” “We’ll be waiting for you,” he replied, when I sent him the news that the plane had landed.
When the airport taxi dropped me off, for a moment it seemed that there was no one around. Then I heard a woman’s voice saying “Dave... Dave....” Was she calling me? I looked up and saw a woman leaning over the edge of the roof. I figured that it was N. A moment later, a man emerged from the door next to mine. It was G. He was very friendly. He gave me my keys, showed me how the front door worked, and then the apartment. It looked exactly like the pictures on Airbnb. He offered to give me a brief tour of the neighborhood, and I accepted. Before we set off on our early Saturday night tour of La Setenta, the nearby strip of bars and clubs, I asked about E.
“So is E the owner? And you and your wife—”
“No, no,” he said. “My wife and I are the owners. Or actually, my father.”
E was a friend of theirs, a younger man, an engineer who now lived in Chile. E was connected to the internet all the time, and it made sense for him to handle the internet side of the Airbnb listings. As a sort of an independent Airbnb agent, you might say.
So this couple and this guy had devised an arrangement based on two kinds of presence and availability: E was always present and available on the internet, but impossibly far away when it came to any task that required physical presence. N and G were on site, in Medellín, Colombia, with the care and concern of landlords renting out the space just below the one where they lived; but they were often disconnected from the internet, and if it had been up to them, they might be too late in responding to inquiries about the listing.
It’s an arrangement, a division of labor that captures perfectly this moment in time. The three of them function, through this arrangement, as one very attentive host.