Short Story: Caring Economy

Background: This December I decided to write some Scientific Fiction as an exercise in exploring different futures and how to communicate them. This story was again sparked by an episode of Pivot, an excellent podcast by @karaswisher and @profgalloway.

“Hi, is this seat taken?”
I looked up and saw a young man standing next to me. He had a coffee in one hand and was balancing a tray with cake and his backpack in the other. I looked around. Every table was taken by singles or couples, although it was not really packed. I was sitting alone on a table for four.
“Sure,” I nodded and gestured to one of the free seats on my table. Then I went back to typing on my mobile.
I heard rustling as the man first put down his things, took off his winter coat and sat down opposite to me.
I continued typing, deep in thought. I was literally minding my own business, writing messages to former and new clients. As I reached for my coffee I noticed that the cup was empty. I grimaced and sighed.

“May I get you another?” came the voice from the other side of the table.
“I, um.. All right? A large regular, please,” I said.
The man got up and went to the counter. A little while later he returned with a new cup, which he put down in front of me.
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” I took a sip.
“You are very welcome. My name is Tom,” the man said while sitting down.
“Aria,” I replied and waved. I know the wave is silly, but it’s what I do.
“Nice to meet you, Aria. May I ask what you do or are you busy?”
“I am booking my next assignments. I am an Airbnc,” I explained.
“A what?” he looked puzzled.
“An Airbnc. A freelance concierge working for Airbnb hosts. A Bed and Concierge.”

He still looked confused. There was a polite smile, but I could tell he didn’t know what I was talking about.
“OK, do you know what Airbnb is?” I started.
“Sure, people rent out their places,” he nodded.
“Yeah, so others can stay relatively cheap in other people’s apartments and houses, right?” I went on. He continued to nod.
“And usually these are nice and clean when you arrive as a guest. You do your thing and when you leave you pay rent and something like a cleaning fee, right?” I added. He shrugged, still nodding. So far, so good.
“So, imagine the place is not clean or has a list of things attached that need to be done while you are there. That is where I come in. I stay at the place and get things done, whatever they are,” I concluded.

He thought about it for a second. “You are a cleaner?” he asked.
I sighed. I get that reaction a lot. “Low level Airbnc’s are cleaner, yes. While I do clean from time to time, I’m a bit more specialized.”
“Naked cleaning?” he guessed with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. My smile didn’t flicker as I suppressed my gag reflex. I’m a professional.
“Uhm, no. Simple tasks might be making sure the house is in order when people return from their winter sun homes. They rent out their place in winter and return now in spring, but want to make sure everything is as they left, with the temperature just so, a fridge full of their favorite things and their bar replenished. You know, comfy.” I shrugged.
“More complex things would be construction or reconstruction jobs. The owners would move out during construction and I act as their proxy on-site to make sure everything is in order. I would coordinate the work, make sure everything is as it should be, move in their things afterwards and they return with everything done. And pretty much everything in between. Stuff like that.” I shrugged again.

He looked at me for a while. “And you pay for that?” he finally asked.
“Ah, no. With Airbnc the owner pays. I get to stay for free and have access to an expense account that will cover for the defined task plus extras. Then there is a list of perks, usually the ability to use things around the house, for example the car and so on. Depending on the property, task and perks I decide where I want to stay next and then I live there for a while, taking care of things,” I explained.
“Wait, you don’t have your own place?” he asked.
“No, why should I?” I pointed at my backpack. “That’s all I need.”
“But, what happens if you don’t find a place to stay?” He asked.
I shrugged. “That happens sometimes, but not as often as you’d think. I just stay at a regular Airbnb, then. As a five star Airbnc I get vouchers for free nights from time to time. I might as well use them.”
“So you are effectively homeless, right?, What happens if you get sick?”
Jesus, the guy started to sound like my mom. Only I didn’t like him as much. He was pretty much the stereotype of every stupid question possible.
“I get better, then go back to work. Just like everybody else, really. And before you ask, I’m an Aircare subscriber. So wherever I am, I can call Airbnb and they will refer me to a recommended doctor in the vicinity and take care of the bills.”
“Airbnb offers an insurance?” He looked completely lost now.
“Sure, but only if you participate in certain services and are above a certain rating. I think employees get it, too, but they don’t pay subscription fees.”
He eyed me suspiciously. I think he wasn’t sure if I made fun of him or not. I decided to tease him a bit further. “Aircare also includes a general liability insurance if something happens while I take care of a property as well as some other perks like access to gyms, a mobile phone contract and discounts for several healthy food services.”
“How is that different than just working for Airbnb? You are endorsed by them, have insurance and they even get you health care?” he asked.
“But I’m paid by clients. Airbnb is just providing the infrastructure and making sure I’m fine. I also have to do my own taxes. Essentially I’m freelance. And I like it.”

“So, what was your worst experience as concierge?” he asked.
“Sometimes I take care of pets while owners are on vacation. This one said I needed to take care of a cat and keep the apartment in order. The property was fine, but when I arrived it turned out the cat was a fricking lunatic. One night it caught a rodent or something and it had dragged it across the entire apartment. I woke up and everything was full of blood. I kid you not, somehow she had even sprayed a wall. At first I thought something had happened to the cat, but it was happily sitting on the sofa, cleaning herself. On the phone with the client he just said ‘Oh, yeah, she’ll do that’. Thanks for the heads-up, mister.”
“And what did you do?”
“I used the expense account and got a professional cleaner. Then I got rid of what could not be saved and scouted the net to find exactly the same pieces as replacement. And I made sure the cat was inside and the cat flap was locked before I went to bed.” I shrugged and finished my coffee.
“Tom, thank you for the coffee, but I have to go. I still got a bit of a journey ahead of me to reach my next client and I need to get there by 7. Cya!” I waved again.
He got up. “Well, it was certainly interesting to meet you, Aria. Have a good assignment.”
I nodded and made my way out of the coffee.

On the street I popped in my headset and made a call.
“Oleg? It’s me, Aria. Look, I need a favor. Do you still own that restored fire truck? Great, I might need to borrow that.”
It was indeed looking to be a great assignment.

Living in Berlin / Germany, working at Microsoft, loving technology, society, good food, well designed games and this world in general. Views are mine, k?