Tom and I have an uncanny way of walking into trouble just at the moment when we’re both needing some peace. It’s not that we never have a nice getaway or a good meal out or an enjoyable concert. It’s just that we have this disconcerting way of ending up in ironic situations. I do believe we have something of a gift for it.
Take the Bed and Breakfast debacle. The autumn after Will was born, Tom suggested we head up to Door County for a weekend. We hadn’t been away in ages, and a beautiful fall trip sounded wonderful. This was back in the Dark Ages before we were online, so we got some tourist brochures and booked a room at what looked like a charming B & B. The description used terms like “quaint”, “Victorian”, and there were rich descriptions of lace curtains, crackling fires, period furniture and a hot breakfast in the morning.
We drove up to Door County anticipating a restful experience in a town known for its elegant B & B’s, shops and restaurants. It was dark when we arrived. A man who eerily resembled the late Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead came out on the porch when we drove up, and that should have been a warning. We were shown to the “Washington Room.” The rooms were named after colonial Americans (in a Victorian?), but I don’t think George Washington would have stayed in that room. Trust me.
The house was cold, for starters. It was late October and in northern Wisconsin, that meant the furnace should have been on. It clearly wasn’t. There were no “cozy fires crackling in the fireplaces.” The fireplace in our room had been boarded up. We closed the door and stared slack jawed at what we had done. The carpets had been ripped up, and the carpet tacks were still there around the perimeter of the room. Ugly, peeling paper decorated the walls. A thin, Wal-Mart quality quilt was on the bed. The bathroom was a huge room that had been converted, if you can use that term, into a bath. The ugliest black and white linoleum I have ever seen was on the floor. Strangely, a hot tub big enough to host an entire football team was in the center of the room. I tapped gingerly at it. It was made of some kind of plastic, and it looked none too clean. There appeared to be blue toilet cleaner on the floor behind the toilet. The entire thing was a mess.
But it was late. Tom thought we should just leave and get our money back. But the creepy Jerry Garcia guy didn’t look very friendly. I was furious. How had we ended up in a dump like this when all we had wanted was a little peace and quiet? I pulled the bedspread back and stared at the sheets suspiciously. Sure enough, a long black hair lay there on my pillow. Now I was completely revolted. But I knew that if we left at that time of night, we would probably have to spend the night in the car. We had been told that we were lucky to find rooms in October in Door County at all. I was so ticked off that I zipped my coat up, pulled up the hood, flipped the pillow over and lay there in the bed, shoes and all.
Tom did the same. We lay there huffily in the dark, not really blaming each other, just seething at our already well-developed gift of ending up in a mess. Of course, we ultimately began to see the humor in the situation. Before long, we were shaking with laughter. I was half crying, half laughing, but it felt good not to be upset anymore. We started making jokes about ending up in the only haunted B & B in Door County. We kept hearing the floors creak in the rickety old house all night. The bed was hard as a rock.
In the morning, Jerry Garcia tapped at our door and asked if we’d be wanting breakfast. We told him no, and then he informed us that he and his wife had just bought the place and were renovating. It was so kind of them to let everyone know that in their ad!
We got out of there and headed for a hot breakfast at a decent place. After our cold and dreary night in a haunted house, we needed it. It was one of our early, memorable experiences.
So last Friday, Tom and I headed out for what we hoped would be a quiet meal. We stepped out of the door in our normally quiet neighborhood to see a black car going way, way too fast up our hill. Right on his tail was another car, racing right behind him, like a pace car at a Nascar race. Thankfully, no child was riding his bike down that hill. It was an omen.
We got to the sub shop by a nearby lake, which is normally very quiet. We found a booth in a spot with nobody else around and ordered our subs. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I felt, rather than heard, a woman’s voice. It was one of those voices that goes through you like a chainsaw. Chainsaw lady had brought two children and her husband with her to sit right behind us. The children had inherited their mother’s voice, so chainsaws 1, 2 and 3 provided possibly the most annoying dining experience I’ve had in a while. Tom and I gloomily munched our subs in silence as the chainsaws did the talking for us. We left as quickly as possible, but as we stepped out the front door of the sub shop, a freight train came barreling down the tracks nearby, and, you guessed it, hit the horn. The timing couldn’t have been better.
We sat in the parking lot in the car to talk, hopeful that with the chainsaws and the train gone, we might be able to hear each other actually speak. Once again, we felt, rather than saw the next act. Until that moment, I didn’t know that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang had a suburban chapter. Thirteen motorcycles, all of them with shock-and-awe mufflers, went rumbling past us on the street. Tom just looked at me and said, “You know, we could not have planned this if we had tried.”
He’s right. We were talking recently about a trip to Germany in the future. Still remembering a disastrous hotel choice in Bulgaria (he ended up with a room right over the town disco), he said, “I’m not doing the booking of the hotel this time. I’d pick the one hotel where they would be having a once-in-a-decade alphorn convention. Right below our room.”