Here’s the honest truth: I have only used Craigslist once. Rather, I lived on the housing-related message boards for a week before moving to Austin, sifting through responses to my request for somewhere to stay—there was the dude looking for a female roommate “with benefits,” the UT grad student who was short on cash and offered me her couch for $60 a night, and the middle-aged single woman with three dogs who sent me a head shot of herself and wrote that, although she lived in a gang-ridden neighborhood, she had never personally witnessed a drug deal. It would have been enough to scare me off for good but I needed to find housing on a week’s notice, over one thousand miles from home. Luckily, my “housing wanted” post was answered by a woman named Cynthia and her husband, John. The couple had an extra room to rent, sounded delightful, and, since our correspondence did not include references to a marijuana houseplant or needles, I decided to move in.
When I arrived, both Cynthia and John were charming. In fact, the most shocking thing about living with them was how often—and in how many ways—they used Craigslist.
“I check it every day,” Cynthia readily admitted when I asked her about the Web site. “I probably check it, on average, ten times a day.” She has a routine list of searches: people looking for housing, gigs, concert tickets, and job listings, category by category, always in the same order. “Basically, Craigslist is a huge resource for everything, for the town that you live in as well as all over the world.”
It seems like a crazy thing to tout, especially given the creepy (alleged) brutality of the “Craigslist killer.” But the site’s twenty billion page views per month—it ranks seventh worldwide in page views for English-language sites—suggest that its frenzied well of users won’t dry up any time soon.
Cynthia had a long list of success stories to back up her chronic use of the site. When she had to book entertainment for a launch party years ago, she posted on Craigslist to find burlesque dancers, magicians, fire-eaters, belly dancers, and a can-can line. She’s also used the site to find her maintenance, her cleaning lady, an RV, and lodging in New York over the holidays (when, for $200, they stayed three nights in the Upper West Side flat of an out-of-town NYU professor). When she lost everything in a house fire in 2000, Cynthia turned to Craigslist to buy all of her (eclectic and antique) furniture. Her daughter, a grad student in Boston, found her now-roommate and best friend on Craigslist when she was looking for a place to stay while visiting the college in the process of deciding whether to attend.
And that doesn’t include the comings and goings of people like me, who stay in one of their two extra bedrooms for a while, all of whom have been found through (what else?) Craigslist. Pierre was the first houseguest; he has called their house his permanent home for over a year now.
“Pierre is a total fixture in the family,” said Cynthia. “[He] has basically turned into an older brother to me.” They enjoyed having him in the house so much that “every once in a while I’d look [on Craigslist] and find different people that sounded interesting, establish a dialogue,” she said. “Now, I can’t even imagine not having somebody here, it’d be weird.”
The other bedroom, currently occupied by yours truly, has had a much more diverse guest list. Their houseguests have nicknames and anecdotes that go on and on, though no one can quite figure out the chronological order of who came before or after who, and the need for a guestbook was mentioned on more than one occasion. “It’s not just the resource, but the connections you make and the experiences you have,” said Cynthia, pausing for a moment. Then, she outdid herself, rendering all of the fantastic experiences she had just recounted mere minutiae. “You know, I met John over Craigslist.”
I was floored. Their story, as it turns out, isn’t a vapid eHarmony-esque quest for romance that’d I’d been afraid I might hear. John was teaching culinary school in Mexico, and decided to spend the Christmas holiday in Austin. He posted on Craigslist, looking for someone to give him a tour of the city. Cynthia answered.
“I was widowed, the kids were not going to be around, and I could have stayed home and felt sorry for myself,” she explained. “I wasn’t looking for romance or anything, it jut sounded like it would be a fun thing to do.” They e-mailed back and forth, but that was it. John’s plans changed when his sister’s illness sent him home to Vancouver instead. When he showed up in Austin a few months later, Cynthia was in the thick of a music production gig and had two shows that weekend. “You’re just going to have to follow me around,” she told him. He loves music, so that was just fine. In her spare time, Cynthia gave John an exhaustive tour of the city. He had to go back to work, but kept returning to Austin on weekends here and there, and that was that. When his contract at the culinary school was up, he moved to Austin.
When John walked into the room a few minutes later, I asked him what had inspired him to post that ad when he was coming to Austin. He wasn’t sure, he said, because he had never posted on the site before. Then, Cynthia took over as the interviewer for a moment, wanting to know if anyone else had responded to his post. “No, I don’t think so,” replied John. He turned his eyes skyward and reached up to the heavens. “But then, it was like higher intervention. Yes!”
We laughed. “We’ve just had these amazing, serendipitous things that happen,” Cynthia said, and she launched into yet another story of wonderful Craigslist coincidence.