Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bed & Breakfast from Hell

This is a snippet from a story. This snippet perfectly describes my relationship with Chelle:

Chelle was in the first bedroom and bubbled, “I’m going to take this room because it’s sunshiny yellow and happy!” I, in the farthest bedroom, replied, “I’m going to take this bedroom because it’s farthest away from the door where the axe murderer will come in.”

And if you know me and you know Chelle, you know it’s an absolute truth. That brief exchange reveals the way our minds work, and the yin and yang of our friendship.

A few years ago, Mom, Chelle and I went to Long Grove, IL for their Chocolate Festival. We were especially interested in the cake decorating exhibit and the free samples!

Mom and I had stayed at a bed and breakfast called Wakan Cove before, which was nearby (and a lovely place) but when I tried their number and website, both had been disconnected, and the e-mail address bounced back at me, so I figured they must be out of business. There were two bed and breakfasts that came up for an internet search of Long Grove. The first had a website that played this awful rinky tink piano music that made my skin crawl, and I had to go to a different website after a few seconds to get away from it. It also promised lace and dried flowers and all things Victorian, which seemed a little too frou frou to me.

So I visited the other website and it seemed all right. I spoke with the owner on the phone and booked our room and paid the deposit with a credit card.

Now, I had had lots of luck finding bed and breakfasts before. Mom and I went to Vancouver in 1997 and ended up staying in this GORGEOUS three-story bed and breakfast. Each room had a patio or desk, a fireplace, and a private bath. It was four blocks from the beach. We got there at sunset and walked to the beach. You could see mountains in front of you, the cityscape to the right, and the ocean to the left. Live jazz was being played nearby. Couples were walking, kids were playing, dogs were chasing Frisbees. It was like utopia.

The second B&B I stumbled into was this cute place in Michigan when Mom and I went to Saugatuck one summer. We had a private bath with our room. There were wild gardens and manicured gardens to walk through, and the friendliest golden retriever named Jenny. When we went to breakfast the next day there was music playing (our introduction to Jia Peng Fang’s CD River), and breakfast was amazing.

The third B&B was when I met Jan in New Orleans and we went on a cruise to Mexico, then back to New Orleans where Jan flew home and Chelle flew in and we stayed a couple more days. We stayed with a couple Charlene had recommended. The house was incredible. The furniture was incredible. Our room was incredible. Not to mention the neighborhood and French Quarter (and we won’t mention the cruise – Pineapple, I still miss you!). And the food – oh, the steak at Paul Prudholme’s was to die for! Beignets! Atmosphere! The smell of alcohol and sweat and horse dung and the sound of jazz coming out every restaurant door. What a place!

The fourth B&B was Wakan Cove, where Mom, Mitch and I shared an attic getaway with pine-paneled walls and ceiling. There was a story in every nook and cranny of the place – over here a quiet reading corner with small lamp; over here an old-fashioned dress with hatpins and gloves; over here a lap harp and music stand. Goodness anywhere you looked. Outside was a pool and the lake. We were in town to go to the Lincoln Zoo and see the Cirque du Soleil perform. We wanted to go back just to stay at the B&B.

And then…

The owner called two weeks before the Chocolate Festival and said because of recent changes to Illinois law, they couldn’t have guests sleeping in their main house any longer. Did we still need a room? Well, yes! So he told me about this little cottage on the property that had a fireplace and a television and VCR, three bedrooms, a piano in case anyone played, full kitchen, and private bath. Sounded great, so he moved our reservation to the cottage.

Well, our first problem was that we could not find the cottage. We drove past it and turned around and went back and parked. I said, “This can’t be the cottage, right?” Oh, but it was. Surrounded by knee-high weeds and brambles, it had the look of a place that had not been occupied for a good many years. We walked around and saw the main house and a few more outbuildings and decided that yes, this had to be the place.

Upon opening the door, we were greeted by a washer and dryer and a dark and scary room beyond which contained a variety of equipment, furniture, and a giant cesspool half-full of inky water. We went into the kitchen and were overcome by the smell of water damage, though the kitchen looked reasonably all right. In the living room, we discovered the source of the smell – the ceiling above the fireplace had been leaking, and pieces of plaster were scattered across the mantel. Mold was growing.

The windows would not open because they were old and had strange handles and mechanisms. But they were double-paned and in between the glass lived a variety of spiders and a veritable metropolis of spiderwebs. In fact, spiderwebs also lurked in every corner, under the beds, and on top of lamp shades.

Chelle was in the first bedroom and bubbled, “I’m going to take this room because it’s sunshiny yellow and happy!” I, in the farthest bedroom, replied, “I’m going to take this bedroom because it’s farthest away from the door where the axe murderer will come in.” Chelle rolled her eyes and made a comment to the effect of, “Oh, that’s nice.” But Mom and I exchanged a look. Because we knew. We wondered about the existence of our so-called “hosts” and their motives for bringing guests to their B&B. Were the bodies tossed in the cesspool out front? Kept to nourish the spiders?

We went to the festival and had an over-priced dinner that was not all that good (at a restaurant that did not serve Coke, no less). The tent for the cake exhibit was overflowing so we decided to skip that and went shopping instead. Cute little town, well-kept, but not a lot to do in Long Grove. We discussed our options – should we go back to the B&B? Find a safe hotel? Drive back home and call it a loss? I, as the person responsible for booking the place, felt horrible. Would they ever trust me to find a hotel again?

By the time we got back to the B&B, it was dark. Evening brought a new, rather creepy feeling to what had already been a dismal place. The highway was nearby, but otherwise no homes or businesses were close, and the amusement park across the street was still closed for the season. It was quiet, except for the occasional unidentified noise outside. We turned the television on, desperate to find something cheerful.

When we finally decided to go to bed, Mom asked if she could sleep in my room with me. I said sure. Chelle decided to move from her happy room to the one next door to ours. We heard her skulking about in there and finally we asked, “Chelle, is that you?” She said, “Wooooooooo.”

By this time, Mom and I were beginning to giggle quite a bit. We both have over-active imaginations and we both knew we had over-active imaginations. I attempted to barricade us into the room, so that when the axe murderer tried to get us, we’d have enough time to wake up and realize we were under attack with no escape route. As I made to close the folding door, it fell off in my hand. This brought us to new heights of laughter and tears as I complained about being charged for breaking the door. I managed to get it back on the track and closed it, then stood a chair in front of the door so that when the axe murderer tried to quietly sneak in, not only would he knock the door off the track but he would make the chair squeak on the floor. It was a brilliant plan.

Morning actually arrived. Our hosts visited us with a picnic basket of breakfast goodies. We went back to the festival and found lots of yummy things to buy. I think we ended up going to a movie and out to dinner at a lovely restaurant with excellent food. Then we spent another night in the B&B, older, wiser.

The next morning we had breakfast in the hosts’ home. The hosts were pleasant, the food was good, and we surmised, based on newspaper clippings framed on the wall, that our hosts had been a commercial actor and a photographer who probably managed to earn enough to buy some land and thought it would be nice to run a charming little B&B. Our guess is it took a lot more money and work than they knew, which forced them back into the workplace and gave them little time to clean or maintain the property.

See, our imaginations make up nice stories, too.

No comments: