Years ago, when my friend Adam Turteltaub and I were groomsmen at a buddy’s wedding in Mobile, Ala., he took one look at the spectacular four-poster bed in my room at the bed and breakfast where we were staying and observed — referring to my wife — “I can’t believe they’re wasting this room on you when Victoria is home in Vermont.” Indeed, the inn was elegant, inviting and romantic.
I have, of course, stayed at inns that were somewhat less appealing. Once I stayed at a place that felt a little bit like the Bates Motel of bed and breakfasts.
Now, when I’m traveling on business, I don’t need a flat screen TV the size of a billboard, turndown service at dusk or chocolates on my pillow. I may want those things — especially the chocolates — but I don’t need them.
And when I’m staying in a bed and breakfast, I’m likely to be especially content because most folks who become innkeepers like people and derive disturbing amounts of pleasure from scrambling eggs. The only downside to a bed and breakfast is the guilt you feel when you steal the soap. It’s one thing to steal soap from anonymous corporate monoliths: It’s not as if you’re pillaging Paris Hilton’s doctoral program trust fund when you throw an unwrapped cake of Ivory into your carry-on. It’s another thing, however, to steal the soap from retirees Hal and Mindy who just offered you a breakfast scone that Mindy baked herself.
I mention this so you know that my hospitality standards are not rock star ridiculous. They are only novelist ridiculous, which means that I don’t have to have specially selected colors of M&M’s waiting for me in a bowl: I simply have to have a bed.
Which is pretty much what this inn offered. My room had been booked by the venue that had invited me to speak, and I arrived there about 1:30 in the afternoon. (You will note that I am not revealing the name or location of the inn. That would be an abuse of columnist clout. Besides, others have done this for me on a website for travelers. A few reviews could only be called damning.) The inn’s exterior did not look dingy, but the door was locked. I knocked and rang the bell and was about to give up when the innkeeper came to the door, as well as the inn’s one other guest: A woman in a nightgown, bathrobe and tattered slippers who exuded scary silent film star in denial. The front hall was dark, shadowy and a little dusty. When I asked where I might get a bite to eat for lunch, the innkeeper gave me a warning: “You’ll just get lost if you go into town.”
“There’s only one other guest here,” she said when she showed me the room, “and if you hear a door slam in the night, it’s not her.” On a bureau was a television about the size of a lunchbox.
“Then who would be slamming the door?” I asked.
She shrugged and gave me the code to log on to the Internet. It didn’t work. And then she disappeared. There was a phone, but no handset.
That night I did hear a door slam. (In all fairness, it wasn’t followed by a scream.) The next morning when I went to check out, there was no sign of human habitation. The dining room table was set for two and there was a small handwritten menu, offering toast and cereal and eggs. But the innkeeper was nowhere to be found. Absolutely no sign of her anywhere.
Later, when I called the inn from my car to give her my credit card number, she did pick up.
“I was right in the kitchen,” she said.
“No you weren’t,” I corrected her. “I called out for you. I went into the kitchen looking for you.”
“Well, we have solid walls,” she said.
I shook my head. I really wished I had stolen the soap.