Last weekend Eileen and I decided to partake one of our favorite activities: spending a couple of nights in a Bed and Breakfast. Normally, we choose our destination based on what we can do there – hiking, biking, swimming, siteseeing, etc. – but often the major attraction turns out to be the accommodation itself. Our New Year’s weekend in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia had its draws – hot springs, spas, good restaurants, hiking and birding – but afterwards we decided that our B&B experience was what made it most memorable.
Specifically, we enjoyed the long conversations we had with our hosts and other guests over our breakfasts. Topics ranged from how to care for cyclamens and favorite IPad apps to the Republican’s race for the presidential nomination and Colombia as a place to travel. But inevitably, the conversation turned to B&B’s, and to stories about some of the unusual places that we had stayed in, in the past. We told our tale of the one in Virginia which was so well furnished that there wasn’t a space for guests to put their stuff. It turned out that one of the owners was an antique collector and just couldn’t stop patronizing yard sales, estate sales, antique dealers, etc. In fact, he and his partner bought the house and started the B&B just so that he could indulge in his passion.
The story we didn’t tell, though, is one that’s better read than heard. I wrote it up a few years ago – about a B&B we stayed in August of 2004. I know it’s a bit long (for a blog), but I think you’ll find it purrfectly amusing, if not a bit catty…. Enjoy! [Note: the misspellings, emphases, etc. are not mine. Rather, they’re the B&B owner’s. I have photos to prove it…]
‘It’s the Cat’s Meow,’ said the sign on the street. “I sure hope so,” I commented to Eileen, as we traipsed up the driveway to what was to be the seventh Bed and Breakfast we had entered within the past 45 minutes. “It’s time to make a decision and get settled for the evening. I’m getting hungry.” We were in St. Andrews, New Brunswick on the last night of an adventurous outdoors vacation, touring the coastline, biking, hiking and kayaking. While we had camped throughout our ten-day visit, we decided to luxuriate our last night, staying in a comfortable and relaxing bed and breakfast in this seaside resort. It was mid-August, the height of the tourist season, and several of the promising inns we had visited were already full or too pricey for us. The most affordable one, painted bright lilac on the outside, was crammed with sunken, overstuffed couches and bookshelves of musty paperbacks. It looked and smelled too much like a fraternity house for our tastes, so we continued our search.
While we regarded our tour of the town’s B & Bs as a way to learn about the community and meet some local folks, it was getting late, and we were ready to rest our weary bodies. If true to its name, the Cat’s Meow would be a easy-going place to hang out, so we approached with hope and high expectations. The house was attractive, a large, white Victorian home artfully landscaped with native shrubs, flowers and a small lawn. It was a classic upper crust New England turn-of-the-century home, even though it was just over the U.S. border in Canada. The sign on the front door said:
TO INQUIRE ABOUT OUR B AND B
PLEASE RING THE DOOR BELL
NOW PRESS THE SERVICE BUTTON
ON THE FRONT DESK
AND WAITE TO BE WELCOMED
I pressed the bell and looked around, noting another sign on the adjacent window:
PLEASE BE CAREFUL NOT
TO LET THE CAT OUTSIDE
Considering the name of the establishment, I would have expected the an ‘s’ at the end of cats, but I was quickly learning not to trust my first impressions of this St. Andrew’s inn.
Eventually, a large, jolly-faced woman, dressed in a summery calico dress, appeared at the door and welcomed us in. After making introductions, she showed us the two available rooms, apologizing that she didn’t have one with twin beds available (no matter to us). During our survey of local B&Bs, Eileen had made it a point to test each bed to ensure it wouldn’t aggravate her achy back. She moving aside the two plasticized sheets of instructions lying on the quilted queen-sized bed, lay down on the mattress, and declared her approval. After choosing the larger room with the sloped ceilings, the proprietor led us downstairs to register at the front desk. While waiting for her to locate her glasses, I looked around for the cat, but there was no evidence in sight. Instead, I noted the signs on the desk saying:
WHEN PAYING BY CHECK
BE SURE TO WRITE DOWN PHONE NUMBER
AND DRIVER’S LICENSE NUMBER
IF USING A CREDIT CARD
INCLUDE PHONE NUMBER ON MERCHANT COPY OF RECEIPT
All right, I can manage.
With the business transaction completed, we retrieved our luggage from the car, and headed upstairs to relax before dinner. It was to be the last carefree evening of our vacation. Closing the door of our room, I noticed two large notices on the back:
FOR YOUR SECURITY
KEEP YOUR ROOM
AT ALL TIMES
DON’T’ FORGET TO LEAVE YOUR
“IN FOR THE NIGHT” CARD
ON THE FRONT DESK
Okay, I thought to myself, signs on the back of the door are pretty standard for hotels. I put down my backpack, and flopped myself on the bed for a brief rest before dinner. The plasticized 8½ x 11” pages poked into my leg, so I pulled them aside and started reading:
YOUR KEYS ARE FOR YOUR OWN PROTECTION
WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE WHEN ROOMS LEFT
COMING FROM THE USA YOU HAVE ENTERED
INTO THE…ATLANTIC TIME ZONE…PLEASE
SET YOUR WATCHES AHEAD BY…ONE HOUR…
BREAKFAST IS ONLY SERVED AT 8:45 PROMPTLY
IN THE MORNING
COFFEE IS IN THE DINING-ROOM AT 8:00 AM
CHECK-OUT TIME IS 10:00 AM
AN HOURLY CHARGE WILL BE APPLIED
TO REMAIN LONGER..$10.00/HR
WE ASK THAT YOU BE CONSIDERATE
AND NOT LEAVE LIGHTS ON
WHILE OUT OF YOUR ROOM
DURING THE DAY WE WILL ENTER YOUR ROOM
TO CHECK WINDOWS DURING STORMS..BUT
PLEASE BE RESPONSIBLE FOR CLSOING THEM
DURING THE NIGHT
THANKING YOU FOR YOUR KIND ATTENTION
I closed my eyes and tried to relax, but for some reason I wasn’t finding it restful. So, I got up to use the bathroom, bracing myself for what was becoming an emerging pattern. Sure enough, next to the sink was a note asking me not to waste water and to hang up my towels on the towel rods. Above the toilet, a message advised me not to put extraneous items in the toilet. And by the bathtub, a message reminded me to keep the shower curtain inside the tub. I had never taken a class in basic manners. In fact, I don’t believe one was offered at either of the two institutions of higher learning that I attended. I asked Eileen if she had taken a course in household civics, and she, like me, responded in the negative. I guess it was time we got educated.
We decided to take a break from our lessons and go out to dinner. While Eileen locked the door of our room, I glanced at a small table in the hallway. It held a lamp with a note asking visitors not to turn off the light. I wouldn’t dream of it. As we exited the house, a sticker on the inside reminded us not to forget our front door key and to return quietly to the B&B before midnight. I’m not much of a drinker, but I found myself in need of some alcohol. So much for a carefree time in St. Andrews by the Sea….
After a tasty, low key dinner of Bay of Fundy halibut and Caesar salad, we returned to the B&B (quietly and well before midnight, of course) and immediately went to sleep. I figured that as long as I kept my eyes closed, I could avoid feeling like I was in Etiquette 101. I slept well, dreaming that I was in a workshop full of literate cats working intently at drafting tables producing hand-written instructional materials. The next morning Eileen laughed at my dream, and told me that she had imagined a classroom full of cats reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. We quickly decided that the best way to rid ourselves of feline fantasies and fears of additional didacticism was to head out as soon as we could. But we weren’t going to forego the promised gourmet breakfast.
As instructed, we went to the dining room promptly at 8:45 am. All four walls of the chandeliered room had two rows of wainscoting lined with small wooden blocks depicting famous buildings and monuments across America. We were impressed by the variety and accuracy of images portrayed and the sheer size of the innkeeper’s collection. When we asked where she got them, she looked at us incredulously. “Haven’t you ever heard of the Cat’s Meow?” she asked. Not in this context, I thought. It turns out that the Cat’s Meow is a company that has produces and sells these two dimensional miniatures, each with a small seated black cat hidden somewhere in the picture. Millions of such replicas are sold each year as ‘purr-fect gifts which preserve history and add a special touch to any décor,’ according to their promotional material. I wondered if our hostess had created rules and accompanying signs for how each icon in the room should behave.
Hesitant to ask, and ready to let go of instructions, I headed for coffee. A cup of Joe would clear the mind for our final day of leisurely vacationing. And, it was bound to be strong, as our hostess had asked me beforehand how I like my morning drink. I turned to the thermos and found:
For some reason, I wasn’t ready for that, nor for the note next to it on the table:
TO DISPENSE COFFEE
UNSCREW LID SLIGHTLY
BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVERPOUR
I resigned myself to my evident need for constant schooling on domestic issues, and gradually became catatonic. In spite of the XXX coffee….