A few weeks ago, a story showed up in my buzz bin: Some guy in Phoenix was advertising on Airbnb for people to spend the night in his Tesla. He was charging $85 for the experience:
Sleep in World’s 1st TESLA Hotel!
Want to experience the amazing TESLA Model S? Now is your chance to CAMP in a TESLA for the most unique stay possible. The TESLA will be your “Private Room” but you still get access to a kitchen, TV room & bathroom/shower.
His listing went on to say that the Tesla sleeps two “in climate-controlled comfort all night.” The host would provide a 6’6” long, three-foot-wide airbed, along with clean sheets, pillows, and a blanket depending on the weather. “Since the Tesla uses NO gas,” the Airbnb ad continued, “the Tesla’s A/C or Heat can run all night without any problem locked securely in my attached garage. You can set the mood with your selection of any Internet music you would like on the huge 17" monitor.”
The ad made it clear that guests had to be out of the Tesla by 8 AM so the owner could drive it to work. “However, this is very flexible,” he said, and renters were free to hang out in the condo as long as they wanted.
Maybe this should have been a sign to me that the offer wasn’t entirely serious. But I wanted to believe. Eighty-five bucks a night is a good AirBnB deal no matter what the accommodations are like.
“How often do you get to sleep in a $118,000 Electric Car?” the listing asked. Not very often. I had my own question: What kind of wacko might try to profit out of people spending the night in his car? I wanted to know, so I logged onto AirBnB and submitted a request. The host accepted it almost immediately.
Ten days later, I got an email titled “Tesla Hotel Rental…Are we really doing this?” This was from the Tesla’s owner, Steve Sasman, who runs an Arizona vacation rental business. The “sleep in a Tesla” offer, he said, was a publicity stunt, “more of an Onion-esque PR move for fun, laughs and some web traffic than a real attempt at creating a new vacation sector.”
Also, he’d found my byline and knew that I wrote about cars. My deep cover had been blown. “So, as long as you let me know your honest intentions, and we are on the same page, I will honor the booking,” he wrote. “If you want to cancel it, that is fine too, no problem either way.”
But my plans to travel to Phoenix were set, whether the ad had been satire or not. I had no intention of canceling.
“Make it comfy,” I wrote back.
I had called his call of my bluff. He wrote back that he was going to announce “a major price increase so people can experience the magical mystery of sleeping on the same airbed as the author of Jewball.” Sick burn, dude.
I was still going to sleep in his Tesla.
I arrived at Sasman’s modest Phoenix condo a little before dinnertime on a Monday. He answered the door looking casually bemused, saying that he’d kept expecting me to cancel. Absolutely not, I said. I’d paid my 85 bucks and I was going to go through with it.
He’d already received more publicity from this stunt than he’d expected, he said, taking particular pride in an article headlined “Douchebag Rents Out His Tesla On Airbnb.” During the big push, Sasman received about 10 requests, but mine was one of only two he’d accepted. Because I’d grown up in Phoenix, and he’d lived there a long time, we had three mutual friends on Facebook. He could track me down if I trashed his car. Once he’d booked me, he raised the price to $385 a night, and the offers stopped immediately.
Sasman, I quickly discovered, is 47 and happily single. In addition to his vacation rental business, he’s the author of an e-book called “How Anybody Can Afford A Tesla,” which has sold 10 copies off his personal website.
“Whenever anyone sees I have a Tesla,” he says, “the first thing they say is, ‘oh, man, I love it, but I can’t afford one. I want to show them that they can.’”
His first tip: Buy it used. This saved him about 40 grand. The second tip: Give people rides. He drives three or four Uber runs a week, and drove all week long the Super Bowl was in town. This takes care of most of his overhead. It also helps to not have children and to live in an inexpensive condo.
Sasman intended to place his Tesla on the car-sharing site Relay Rides, but he met resistance. “When I mentioned that to the insurance companies, their eyes just melted,” he told me. “You want to drive this as a limo and you want to rent it out? It’s not possible.” He told me all this before I’d even put down my bags, adding, “The Airbnb thing was in the back of my mind. It did prove that if you attach the Tesla name to something, you’re going to have an easy time getting publicity.”
It was time for Sasman to proudly show off his car-bed, like Milhouse’s dad. We went into the garage, which could technically be called “one-car” because the Tesla fit into it, but there wasn’t room for anything else. “It’s the world’s worst garage for this car,” he said. “I can barely maneuver.”
The car was in neutral with the parking brake on, the only way the Tesla will allow you to leave it on all night. Sasman had added a “hotel” setting to the automatic front seats. They came up far enough for him to put the airbed, which he’d bought for 40 bucks, into the back, inflating it by plugging into the Tesla’s cigarette lighter. He’d made my bed up quite nicely, like I was a cousin coming to visit for the weekend.
The Tesla was on, with the radio going and the temperature set at a cool 68 degrees. The climate control could be adjusted via the car’s 17-inch touchscreen. It was forecast to get down to 45 degrees that night. I might need some heat.
“Can I drive it?” I asked, hopefully.
He wasn’t in favor of that idea, saying the insurance people, who he clearly feared, wouldn’t like it. But he was OK with driving me around. He pulled the car out so I could get into the passenger seat. The garage is so small that if I’d tried to enter the car there, I might have dented the doors.
We tooled around his neighborhood in the Tesla and chatted amiably. The blown-up bed, complete with pillow and sheets, was still in the back. I was very familiar with the neighborhood. In fact, I mentioned, my favorite restaurant, Pizzeria Bianco, was right around the corner.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to eat there.”
We drove forward in silence for a few seconds.
What the hell, I liked this guy.
“You wanna go?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said.
And so it came to pass that I spent an hour eating delicious pizza and talking about yoga with the guy who’d rented me his Tesla off Air BnB. We got along very well. He only drank water. “It’s Monday night,” he said. I, on the other hand, had several glasses of wine, because I was about to sleep in a car.
We went home and watched TV. The Bachelor was on, which seemed weirdly appropriate. Then at 9 PM, Sasman announced that he was going to go hang out with his next-door neighbor for a while, something that single people do, apparently. First, though, he had to finish preparing my automotive bedchamber.
He put a pair of electric candles on the seatbelt rests, to create ambience. They had a remote separate from the car’s key fob. There was also a piece of black foam to put over the dash, because the dash stayed neon-lit when the car was on and needed to be blacked out. The center screen was also quite bright. He showed me how to put it on “Clean” mode.
“It’s sorta dark,” he said.
Suddenly, he looked almost guilty. People usually only sleep in their cars when they’re broke, drunk, or otherwise desperate. It’s not supposed to be a pleasant experience.
“This couldn’t work for real,” he said. “How could it work? It would be horrible.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said. “I’m looking forward to it!”
This was sort of true. More like “I’m looking forward to having done it.” I assumed that I’d survive.
After Steve left on his mysterious personal errand, I was on my computer in his condo for about half an hour. Finally, I could delay no longer. I put on my pajamas, brushed my teeth, and went into the garage. There was no way for me to access the car from the side, so I squeezed into the front seat, which was all the way up and all the way forward. This meant I was basically bent in half. Still, I managed to wrench my arm toward the touchscreen, where I pressed a button labeled “Trunk.”
The back of the car rose like an alien pod. I went around back and crawled in. Pressing the remote, I turned on my electric candles, to get me in the mood to sleep in a car in a tiny, frigid Arizona condo garage. Then I plugged in my phone to the Tesla’s USB outlet, and turned on a white-noise app, which filled the car with a pleasant fuzzy sound. I set the heat to 71, adding a layer of vented whoosh to the white-noise fuzz. I pressed “Trunk” again, and the car closed itself around me, sealing my night-fate. The interior only glowed slightly, like the bar at a hip hotel.
I could sort of feel the seats beneath me, but the bed was comfortable enough. There’ve been nights where I’ve found myself with worse accommodations. If nothing else, this was different. I was sealed into a Tesla with only my Kindle and my iPhone to keep me company. If that doesn’t say 2015, then nothing does. Here I was, living the glorious future in the present. I’d been sealed inside the car. It was a little claustrophobic, but also kind of soothing, almost like I was being cryogenically frozen to be studied by the descendants of Elon Musk.
I took four Melatonin, started reading a boring history book, and prepared for Dreamland.
By 10:30, I was asleep in the Tesla. Three hours later, I woke in a full sweat. So I messed with the screen and turned the temp down to a comfortable 68. The Tesla cooled immediately and completely, and I went back to sleep again.
When I awoke, the sun was coming up, or so I assumed given that I was in a car inside a windowless concrete tomb like some sort of mob-violence victim. I looked at my phone. It was 5:45 and I’d essentially been inside the car for eight hours. I had to pee.
So I got off of “Clean” mode, pressed “Trunk,” and my car-pod opened. It would have been killer if I could have emerged naked in a dry-ice cloud, Terminator-style, but that effect doesn’t exist in stock-model Teslas. After I was done in the condo, I went back to “bed,” but I’d had enough sleeping in the Tesla. I lolled around online for a bit and then left the car for good.
Surprisingly, my back wasn’t killing me, and neither was my neck. I wouldn’t say I felt fresh, but I also didn’t feel completely depleted. As I walked into the condo, Steve was coming down the stairs, wearing a Purdue sweatshirt. I was wearing plaid pajama pants and a T-shirt that read “Cheese Is For Lovers.” It was like I’d walked into a community-theater production of The Odd Couple or a remake of Bosom Buddies, only with a Tesla as the third wheel.
“Do you want a cup of the world’s worst instant coffee?” he asked, as he began snarfing down a big bowl of cereal. I guess he was Oscar.
“Pass,” I said.
He asked me how my night had gone.
“Great!” I said.
He looked surprised.
“Or at least interesting.”
Obviously, I said, the Tesla wasn’t meant to be slept in. On the other hand, In some ways, it contains the elements for a perfect smart home — it’s intuitive, energy-efficient, constantly updating, and beautifully climate controlled.
“Plus if you run it all night,” he said, “it only uses 16 or 17 miles of range.”
That was stunning to me. Obviously, the Tesla Model S is no sleeper car, but maybe the Model X SUV, when it finally appears later this year, will be a better option. Steve had the same idea.
“There’s a Supercharger up in Flagstaff,” he said, “so you could drive up there, do a little car camping, and drive back to Phoenix and never spend a penny on gas. With the Superchargers across the country, if you want to take a road trip, it gives you some options. And that sunroof would look pretty nice in a national park at night.”
He had more than a point. It was kind of a revelation. There’d be no more sleeping in a garage, though.
“This garage sucks,” he said to me between mouthfuls of cereal. “There’s no two ways about it. Then again, a lot of condos don’t have garages at all. And then I couldn’t have a Tesla. So I guess I shouldn’t complain too much.”
With that, we said our goodbyes and I left. When I got to my parents’ house about a half-hour later, he’d already sent me a Facebook friend request. I accepted gladly.
It’s always good to have a friend with a Tesla.