Having a wife, an almost-3-year-old and another on the way (child, not wife), I've shackled myself to a life of uneventful domesticity, at least for the next 18 years. It's a comfortable setup, but one that can induce restlessness, so when fate put me in Dallas a full week before starting at Unfair Park, and a full two weeks before Megan and Connor joined me from Texarkana, it seemed a shame to let the opportunity pass.
So what to do? Beer was a given, as were mostly sleepless nights and irregular meals, but the novelty of those wore off in college. Besides, I wanted to meet new people and hopefully see some parts of the city I didn't pay much attention to growing up here.
It happened that I had just read the New Yorker's article about couchsurfing.org, a kind of social network that connects travelers too cheap to spring for a hotel with people who think it's a good idea to let strangers who may or may not be carrying axes (you don't have to say one way or the other when registering for the site) sleep in their bed.
I'd heard about the site before but had never given it much thought. Couch surfing implies travel, which is something I figure I won't have time to do 'til my unborn child graduates from high school, at which point, judging by Schutze, my joints will have deteriorated to the point where I'll be confined to a Temper-Pedic, which I saw advertised nowhere on couchsurfing.org.
I hastily filled in my profile (Male, Newspaper Reporter, Devoted Husband and Father -- so no, I'm not just trying to get laid) and sent out a barrage of surfing requests. The idea was to mooch off of as many different types of people as possible: young and old; male and female; interesting and boring; ax-wielding and not, etc.
The people who volunteer to accommodate strangers on a social networking site tend to be young, bohemian types -- but again, the novelty wore off in college. So it wasn't just the open-jawed, life-sized shark hovering behind him that made Ed Young stand out. It was his gray hair and, more to the point, his profile: "Noted author and pastor Ed Young says there is one thing that can change the tide of society and culture as we know it -- strong, biblical marriages," it begins.
"Sweet!" I thought. "I can debate theology and shit with an evangelical pastor and egotist!"
It wasn't until 10 seconds after I sent the request that I turned my investigative reporting tools (read: Google) on the right Rev. Young, who heads Fellowship Baptist Church in Grapevine.
The first thing I came across was a 2010 investigation by WFAA's Brett Shipp that detailed a lifestyle unusually lavish for a man of the cloth. Key details include an $8.4 million private jet that ferried him to the Bahamas and other tropical locales in need of the gospel, and a $1.2 million annual salary/parsonage stipend. I also learned that the couch I hoped to sleep on was in a $1.5 million, 10,000 square-foot estate on Lake Grapevine.
More recently, I learned, Young was the center of a controversy over his church's use of live animals in its Easter Service. We're not talking downy chicks or baby rabbits. More like lions.
The rest of the articles, including a feature in the New York Times, were mostly about Young's "sexperiment," his book and diatribe advising couples to perform the marital act every day for a week to solidify their union.
All of which was interesting but turned out to be academic. I never got a response to my surfing request, and Young hasn't returned the phone call I left at his church this morning. In a video posted on his blog, Young sits town with a sympathetic attorney who advises pastors to talk with the Holy Spirit when dealing with the media and to grant interviews with outlets and reporters one trusts. Come on, Ed. You can trust Unfair Park. Just look at Jim's photo. We're friendly as can be.
Of course, Young wasn't the only person who ignored my couch surfing request. Of the dozen people I contacted, only one person agreed to put me up for the night (Hi, Holly), and she lived not in some unexplored corner of the city but in the apartment complex my wife and I moved out of two years ago. Holly was nice and had a comfortable couch, and the conversation only occasionally strayed into awkwardness, like when I mentioned that the original Legend of Zelda was still the greatest in the series and she said she was only 23 and too young to have played it.
The rest of the time, I surfed on the couch of a friend who lives off Oak Lawn. I had a good enough time, but it was more of a nice vacation than anything deep or revelatory. I was introduced to no weird subcultures, had no late-night philosophical discussions, and encountered neither lions nor sharks. Oh well. At least there was beer.
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