Arranging to meet somebody in London is an exercise in civility. One person suggests a pub; everyone agrees a time; someone tries to convince you to “nip out of work a bit early” to get in an extra pint. Arranging to meet somebody in New York, by contrast, is an exercise in humiliation. You suggest a meeting. The other person offers “a late breakfast”, maybe at 7.30am? You try your best to convince them to meet at a more reasonable hour while trying not to seem like a pampered European who only gets out of bed to collect his cheque from the government. And that’s how you end up blearily munching muesli at 9am in some ghastly part of midtown Manhattan.
So it was that I found myself blinking into the humid New York sunshine after breakfast at 9.45am one recent morning. I had not slept a great deal the night before. Neither, it seems, do most New Yorkers; the subway is full of ads for a couch company called “Burrow”, featuring exhausted people passed out on their sofas. A report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 2016 found that a third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Fortunately, my next assignment that morning was to try out the “Dreamery”, a nap room in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village set up by Casper, the millennial mattress brand.
If you live in London or New York or anywhere near an internet connection, you will have passed an ad, a review, a blog post or an offer for Casper. It is the Lockheed Martin of the mattress-industrial complex, a branded behemoth intent on dominating what goes under your sheets just as surely as Tinder helps you decide who’s on top of them. Casper was worth $750m last year, is a player in the shadowy world of mattress reviews and, this being 2018, don’t just sell things to plonk yourself on at night but is also, as Fast Company puts it, a “lifestyle-driven enterprise that looks at sleep as a unique, optimisable category comparable to exercise or cooking or travel”. You can see why I needed a nap.
When I arrived at the Dreamery, I was greeted by a nice PR lady who offered me some pyjamas (nope), flavoured sparkling water (an American obsession, I’ve learnt), and face creams (still nope). She showed me to the nicely appointed loos and washbasins, where you can use a toothbrush made from the reclaimed hairs of a new-growth bamboo forest or some similar, feel-good, environmentally friendly material, and then introduced me to a man in a lab coat manning the “sleeping pods”. It’s the kind of thing you might see in a satirical television show about late capitalism, but I was too sleepy to be snide about it.
Instead, I obediently let him escort me to my bed. He drew the thick curtains and left me to my devices. Reader, any latent cynicism that might have been festering in my bones evaporated on contact with the (chastely single) bed. I turned off the light and drifted in and out of a blissful 30-odd minutes of late-morning nappage. When the lights turned themselves on, I felt genuinely refreshed. Genuinely!
There is, however, a problem with this wonderful idea. During my two weeks in New York, I stayed in Crown Heights, a part of Brooklyn about 45 minutes from the Dreamery. The Economist’s offices are in Midtown, about 30 minutes away. There is no way I’m going to commute to take a nap. The flaw in this plan – and suspend your disbelief with me here, because we both know that the Dreamery is essentially a storefront for Casper to sell mattresses – is that I have to go to the bed. What if, instead, the bed could come to me, like an Uber for naps? You could have a man in a van with a mattress in the back, and call it Snoozer.
I ran this idea by some colleagues who pooh-poohed it on the grounds of safety, hygiene and the difficulty of soundproofing a van to block out the sounds of Manhattan. Like all good entrepreneurs, however, I learn from failure and move swiftly on.
Hence my new plan to quit my job as news editor of The Economist and launch a new nap-on-demand startup. Beds tend to be empty during the day, the time most people report needing naps. Why not just rent out your spare bed or couch or the other side of your double bed by the hour? Charge a mark-up on the nightly rate, get some easy-clean sheets, and you’re in business. It’s like Airbnb, but for naps – and people who don’t have a spare room and aren’t travelling out of town.
I will call it… AirBnZ (pronounced the American way). Need a kip after a heavy lunch? AirBnZ! Had too much to drink and need to sober up before going home? AirBnZ! Just generally feel like a lie down? AirBnZ!
Airbnb has not replied to my email suggesting they implement this and pay me a million dollars for the idea, so I am now accepting offers for investment. Thanks, Casper, for the inspiration. Thanks, 1843 for sending me to nap. Thanks, readers, for reading. I shall forget all about you when I am rich beyond my wildest dreams.