Home Sweetness Since 1985 (Sold in 2012)
(*A Blog Favorite)
A Day At The Inn
Get up early and never whimper,
there are guests to greet, feed and pamper.
Breakfast to be served delicious and hot,
the yummy waffle, a specialty sought.
Concierge at the ready,
assuring each stay is fun and heady.
There’s beds to make, and rooms to clean,
so everything’s a go by two fifteen.
Flowers to pick and appear pristine,
lawn and yard manicured and green.
There’s reservations to take,
evening’s sweet delights to bake.
The next day, get up and start all over again,
such is the rush of a B & B inn.
On or about November of 1985, in preparation for the World’s Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia, that 1986 summer, both the city council and tourist center in Blaine, Washington, began encouraging townsfolk to apply for a Bed & Breakfast license. The thought was to help ease the accommodation shortage soon to occur when the flood gates of the Fair would open.
Blaine, Washington is a sleepy little fishing town with a population of around 4500 ( 3000 in 1985) and a stone’s throw from the Canadian Boarder. It is the last bastion before committing to Canada. Over a million visitors to the World’s Fair were expected to converge on Vancouver, thus vicariously through Blaine that summer.
Accommodations in lower British Columbia were not only non-existent but repeated near the boarder on the American side as well. Reservations had been made years in advance. Blaine town leaders were beginning to panic because the money needed to encourage new construction for hotels was slim and Blaine’s yearly tourism didn’t warrant the expansion after the event was over anyway, making the Bed and Breakfast promotion even more important. Fortunately, the idea caught on like wild fire and many a wannabe Martha Stewart, like myself, enthusiastically gave it a go. I started advertising and giving the house a face lift. I allowed myself plenty of time to create a solid business plan and experiment with different culinary delights prior to the big event. I flew my mother in from Colorado and she and I fed and entertained more than 900 visitors that phenomenal summer. To say we worked our fannies off would be an understatement.
My 8 year old son, Jason, was “bell boy” and part-time concierge during that World’s Fair summer. Along with his adorable persona, a little maroon stripped button up shirt, bow tie and prince charming hair cut, he became an instant icon for Cottage by the Bay. One guest from Spain, who was childless, loved him so much, she offered to pay his way for two weeks in the fall to visit Spain and tour Europe. Eek!
Jason’s great fan base was especially endeared when he’d gather them around in the living room. With no lighting other than the flickering of a candle and a warm crackling fire, he would tell the ominous story about our haunted house: “The first owner of this house had a daughter who committed suicide in the garage after her husband was killed in Alaska. She was so sad , she could not bear to live without him. She went out to the garage one cold and moon less night, attached a hose to the exhaust pipe of her mother’s old Cadillac and calmly went to sleep, never to awaken again. Wait, if you listen carefully, the house is calling her name right now.” He then puts his little hand up to his ear, and whispers, “can you hear her crying? The air about you will begin to cool; the curtains will move a little as she silently glides by. You might even feel a slight brush against your cheek when she does. Oh yes, she is here right now,” then he’d scream,” B00!” as loud as he could muster. Jason laughed every time, especially when someone jumped or screamed. (The suicide is an actual fact, the ghost, probably not, though some guests swear they felt her presence.)
Prior to opening Cottage by the Bay, I joined a Bed & Breakfast Organization in hopes of learning how to operate one efficiently and remain in the black. I had prior managerial experience, but not in the service industry. Bed and Breakfasts at that time were fairly new and were experiencing growing pains and road blocks from the hotel industry. Hotel corporations were afraid that the Bed and Breakfast market would bring them to their knees. (I might be exaggerating a bit, but I wish it had of.) The rules at that time were quite stringent and the rates were horrid. I was told in no uncertain terms that I could not charge more than $35.00 a room. Not knowing any better I complied. Can you imagine this with over a million visitors passing me by? My rates prior to selling my business 27 years later were $89-$110 a night depending on the room. I was always lower than any other B & B in the area.
After the World’s Fair was over, 90% of the Bed and Breakfasts closed down. I soon became the only B & B still standing for at least 20 years in Blaine because my rates remained steady and I only opened during the summer season full time and part-time during the rest of the year. Cottage by the Bay became a hobby enterprise only opening for reserved guests, no walk-ins, that had paid in advance for at least one day. I worked full time as an administrator and ran “my hobby” on the weekends or days off. This was my secret to staying in business for 27 years. Just like our City did not go into the red encouraging investment in hotels and motels prior to the fair, I found a way to stay a float and still retain my integrity and bottom line after the fair. I so loved the adoration of my guests and their compliments on my home and hospitality, and all the support and positive chatter from the City of Blaine. How could I give it all up? Besides, who was going to stroke my over blown ego if I closed shop. (-:
You’re probably thinking, after all those years, she must have a few tales to tell. Well, I really do, hundreds in fact; but only a few get center stage in this post.
Not only did I rent rooms out on a daily and weekly basis but monthly as well. The longer the visit, the more the tales took on a life of their own.
My first tale involved a long term guest who I shall call Skipper for he was a sailor man. Skipper had rented a room from me for over 6 years. He was an honest, happy and wonderful guest who’s story I will leave for another time. At one point Skipper had a white parrot named Cocky (for real). This gorgeous parrot had a huge cage at the foot of his master’s bed. During the day I could hear him talking away and singing salty sailor songs. What a cutie he was until the day I volunteered to feed him. Not knowing a thing about parrots, I reached in the cage with his treat and he bit into my finger and would not let go. Finally, after nearly strangling him, I freed my bloody appendage. Needless to say, Cocky was on my sh..list. He would have go through a huge behavioral modification in order to remain on the premises.
Skipper had assured me Cocky’s behavior stemmed from abuse. Parrots can live up to 90 years old and are usually handed down to family members when the birds outlive their owners. Poor little Cocky did not have such luck. Fortunately he was rescued from a life in the orphanage by Skipper and I was forced into granting clemency. Skipper loved Cocky and let him perch on his shoulder when he walked down town. He soon discovered that Cocky was a “babe magnet” and wherever he went, women would come up and start a conversation about his bird. He proclaimed that many a date had been acquired during these conversations.
For some reason, about 6 months after Cocky’s arrival, he started to pull out his own feathers. He reminded me of a tree in autumn. One day its leaves are there and the next they are gone. So with Cocky’s feathers. He soon looked like a Thanksgiving turkey with a head. Skipper even had a little sweater made for him. (Now that’s going too far.) Eventually Cocky had to go to a bird sanitarium. His nerves were causing him to pluck his own feathers out. I never got to see the little guy again, but have never forgotten him either. Guess Cocky’s “babe magnet” hooked me in as well, and that leads me into Tale #2.
I never, ever allowed pets. The only exception, in all my 27 years of operation, was for “Sir Cocky” and he was under strict supervision inside a cage. Having said that, Tale #2 begins starring Naughty MiMi, the miniature poodle. A knock on the door one afternoon introduced my guest for the evening. Upon greeting her, I couldn’t help but notice the small white poodle she was carrying. When registering she asked if her pet could stay in the room with her. MiMi was so well behaved you know. (Sure she was.) I politely said no and reminded her of the brochure I had sent her which mentioned no pets. My guest sadly agreed to leave Mi Mi in the car for the night. It was a warm summer day so Mi Mi, being a dog, should be just fine, I tell her.
All was well and the next morning after a hearty breakfast and a friendly adieu, my guest continued on her journey. But wait, there’s more. When I went to the room to get ready for the next guest, I noticed my $800 bed grouping bundled up in the corner. That was strange, very few quests stripped the beds to the mattress unless there had been an accident. I unraveled the bedding and found that Mi Mi had smeared excrement all over my expensive comforter. Suffice to say it was ruined. My guest sneaked the little vermin into the room sometime during the evening.
Poodles are known to be vindictive and will do naughty deeds to pay you back including messing on bedding. How dare I make her darling Mi Mi sleep in the car, I’ll show her! I was so upset I cried like a baby. Why would anyone be so rude to a hostess who bent over backwards for her comfort and not even mention the mess her dog made or offer to clean it up? I called and left a message for my guest to get back to me, but she never did. And such is the downside of trusting people to behave when it comes to their pets. Embarrassment sometimes trumps manners, which leads me into Tale #3.
My next memorable guest, I shall call Bear, booked as a weekly. Bear worked for Arco in a nearby town and was staying with me until his project was completed. He was a funny and happy guy but smoked. I let him know the rules: no smoking in his room and smoking outside was available at the table I had provided. Everything went along just fine until it started to snow. Oh dear, I can’t smoke outside, it’s too cold. So I let Bear smoke in the garage. I mean how more accommodating could I have possibly been? So again everything went along smoothly until the time came to clean Bear’s room.
Typically, weekly stays get their rooms cleaned every 3 days. Off to work my guest went and so did the maid, which was me. I entered his room and noticed that my feet were sticking to the floor and upon a closer look, found the floor to be covered with a thick sheen. Bear had forgotten to hide his can of air freshener. He had been smoking in his room for three days with the windows opened whilst spraying the deodorizer from hell to mask the smell. (I bet he went through a case of the stuff to have found its way into every nook and corner of the room!) I tried to clean the floor as best I could but all the wax had dissolved off and smears of the deodorizer were still apparent.
All the bedding, curtains and furniture were covered in the gunk as well. What a mess. When I confronted my sweet Bear with a “gotcha,” he hung his head in shame. He was very apologetic but explained that he couldn’t stand another minute smoking in the cold so instead would sneak a few puffs (few puffs my eye) in the room, hoping I wouldn’t notice. Wrong! How could Bear possibly think that? He then promised to help with the clean-up and moved out the next day. I had to have professional cleaners come in and resurface and wax my beautiful 1926 maple flooring. Addiction sometimes trumps truth, which leads me into Tale #4.
A quite sad and lonely gentleman, I shall call Breezy, with a cast on his leg came upon my B&B and inquired if he could rent a room for a couple of months. He told me he was an electrician but collecting disability while his leg healed. I felt sorry for Breezy and showed him a lovely open-aired and light room with a view of the bay. He was immediately over joyed and mentioned that he had to have light and air in order to relax. I mused, this really is your ticket to paradise. Days went by and Breezy remained in his room soaking up the light, I presumed.
Every 3 days I went in and cleaned the rooms of a weekly or monthly guest. Each time I went into Breezy’s room the curtains were bellowing from all the wind blowing in from the wide opened windows. I tried to explain to Breezy that it was winter and the cold air would drive up my heat bill. He said he would try to remember to shut them or not open too wide. Settled, I thought. Next week was the same scenario except this time Breezy was in jeans and a coat watching TV while the wind was blowing through his hair. (Not really, but it could have been.) Again I had to ask him not to leave the windows wide open, again he promised to shut them.
Monthly and weekly guests would not get a breakfast because of the reduced room rate but were allowed to use the kitchen if they wished. I normally kept the kitchen curtains closed because of too much light in the morning. And there lie the rub: Breezy had now gotten in the habit of opening my kitchen curtains so wide that only a sliver on each side remained visible. I asked him not to open the curtains, I had them closed for a reason. He said he needed the light to fix his food and for his well being. Jeez… I relented and said ok but he must close them before he left. Nope, he just couldn’t do it. Since the money was good and I didn’t want to make a fuss, I put up with the craziness; me closing the curtains and the windows and him turning around and opening them.
Breezy left a couple of weeks after his first month for a job in Montana. His leg had healed and all was good. Breezy came back like a bad penny when the job was finished. Why I asked myself did he want to come back? Why I asked myself did I let him? The last straw came with Breezy’s new fetish of opening the dining room and the living room’s curtains and windows at will. Saddled with a heat bill for the second month in a row over $300.00, my nerves and bottom line could not afford Breezy any longer. I asked him to leave. He was not happy but bid me farewell. Last I heard he moved back to Minnesota. Lots of fresh air there, that’s for sure.
I was told later by my neighbor, whom he had made friends with, the reason for Breezy’s obsessive need for fresh air and light was because he had been in prison for nearly a year over a nasty divorce and drunk driving tickets. The confined space of his cell with no light and stagnate air caused him to become claustrophobic and afraid of the dark. So sad. He should have shared this with me. Misery sometimes trumps truth, which leads me to Tale #5.
My favorite guest of all time was a doctor who came up to Blaine once a month for business. I shall call him Jet because he was always on the go; never stayed in one place too long because of his job and family adventures. I once accused him of being a secret 007. Nah, he was too laid back. In the beginning Jet had come to my door and inquired about a room for the evening. I had to turn him away because at that time I didn’t take anyone without a reservation. He asked for my card and left. Two weeks later I got a call from Jet asking to make a reservation for the following month on a Tuesday. Like clockwork, Jet arrived promptly every 2nd Tuesday afternoon of the month for an evening stay and continued to do so for 7 years until I closed Cottage by the Bay in November of 2012.
We got to be friends. His wife was a sweetheart and came with him on occasion. Through pictures and conversation I saw his two boys grow up and go off to college. He and his wife even came to my wedding in Port Angeles. My new husband and Jet often had heated debates on the crisis of health care and political differences.
Every reserved Tuesday evening I pampered him with a movie and a special dessert that he looked forward to like a little boy. One month he would get a banana split another month a brownie sundae or a slice of apple pie. Whatever was presented, he gobbled up. There is nothing sweeter than a appreciative guest.
I remember on one summer Tuesday, Jet arrived in the most beautiful Porsche I had ever seen. It was navy blue and waxed to a mirror shine. He had owned it for awhile but never mentioned it to me. The Posche was his baby and he only drove it when the mood struck. On his birthday that year, I surprised him with a Porsche insignia baseball cap. You would have thought I gave him the moon. Jet then asked me why I had not raised my prices and told him they were high enough. Jet disagreed and gave me a$20.00 a night raise on the spot. Now that was one for the books! Soon afterwards I raised my rates and that made he and my husband happy.
I really miss Jet and will forever remember his wild investment stories, his antics, his crazy sweet tooth and generous nature. Jet was the kind of guest that made owning a Bed and Breakfast worth the Bear’s, the Breezy’s and the Mi Mi’s, which brings me to Black Mamba, Tale #6.
It was a rainy, winter day when my next memorable guests arrived. I shall call them Trixie and Vic. They had just gotten married and were staying with me for 6 weeks while Vic worked in Vancouver on a short job assignment. Vic was in the movie business, Trixie, a cute ball of fire who use to be a “lady of the night”. A reformed Trixie seemed to want to confess to someone about her torrid past and guess who she chose. I was actually mezmorized by her frankness and wild escapades. Trixie was the stuff movies were made of.
When they finally said farewell with a promise to return someday, I went back into the house and began preparing their room for the next guests. When I lifted the mattress to tuck the sheets under, I let out a scream of terror. Something large and hard touch my fingers. Upon a closer look I saw a black 12″ (at least) dildo conveniently hidden underneath. I shall call this dildo Black Mamba. Now, I don’t know about you, but I scrubbed my hands with disinfectant immediately and tried to figure out how and when I should dispose of Black Mamba. Would they return for their pet? Was I suppose to call and let them know Black Mamba was safe and sound? Was it merely a movie prop? Eek!
I double bagged Black Mamba with rubber gloves and waited for a call. Alas, Trixie and Vic had abandoned their baby. In the dark of night I finally felt safe to venture outside and dispose of my bounty. I worried if I didn’t bury it deep enough in the can, the garbage man might accidentally see it and Lord knows what he would have thought. Fortunately for me, Black Mamba is gone, but not forgotten, which brings me to the final memorable Tale of this post.
Because I worked full time and had to carefully blend my Bed and Breakfast guests within its schedule, I rented out the entire bottom portion of the inn. That being said, I often had guests take up long term residence. One such guest was a retired gentleman from Texas, I shall call Buck, because of his insatiable love for the dollar store.
Buck went through the usual channels to make a reservation at the B & B. He was coming from Texas to go salmon fishing with one of the charters in Blaine. Buck said he chose Blaine because he had gone to Canada in his motor home once and never forgot the “nice folks” he met in Blaine on the way. Suffice to say, Cottage by the Bay, situated on the water and quite close to the charter, was his accommodation of choice.
Buck was a 300 pound “good ole boy” from the Texas panhandle with hands as big as boxing gloves and who grew up during the aftermath off the depression. He talked kindly of his mom who had limited education, poor beyond imagination and married at the tender age of 14. She had three sons from two marriages and Buck was from the first. His step dad was always drunk and use to beat him constantly. But, when the step dad started to beat on his “mama”, Buck, a hulk even as a child, proceeded to knock him unconscious. Everyone thought one punch had killed him, but no, the drunken fool woke up and tried to fight again. Buck threw his step dad’s “sorry ass” outside and told him never to return and he didn’t. From then on life was a mixture of work, religion and school. Buck’s mom, with limited education, built the family a home from scratch using wood and material she found or was given. She built her own furniture as well. “Mama” raised her boys to be God fearing and honest.
Buck graduated from high school, the very first on his side of the family, and went on to serve in the army, got married , sadly had no children, went to work for the government and enjoyed a seamless life. After Buck’s wife died of Lou Garrick’s disease, lonely and unsure what to do with himself, he set off for adventure and Blaine. He loved Washington because it was not HOT! Buck told me the heat in Texas was unbearable. He could handle it in the winter, but with his light skin and red hair was a target for skin cancer in the summer. He wanted to live for the rest of his life in fresh air and a cool climate.
Unfortunately, Buck had Macular Degeneration and could not see well period! He was always denting up his little truck one way or the other. Buck really needed someone to drive him any long distances, and I did. I remember him telling me when he drove his little white truck from Texas he often had to cover one eye to see the road because with both eyes he was seeing double. Eek!
Unfortunately the B & B sold and his dream was shattered when no one else in the area would tend to his needs under $4000.00 a month. I only charged him $650.00 a month including utilities, and helped with his care for free. Buck became sort of a father figure to me and I the daughter he never had.
Buck stayed with me for 8 weeks his first visit and three years on his second. He was so sad and cried when I told him he had to find another accommodation. This was Buck’s home and he was so happy to be here. He absolutely did not want to leave. I had to arrange Buck’s return to Texas with his aged brother who promised to find him a new home. Buck was now 83 years young, back in the heat, nearly blind, battling the onslaught of Alzheimer’s and the adopted daughter he loved, gone. Dearest Buck did not last long under these conditions. The quicksand of death trumps all.
I wouldn’t recommend having a Bed and Breakfast unless you are willing to commit opening up your life and home 24 hours a day. Privacy will be a luxury rarely experienced. You will be under the microscope at all times. But if this does not scare you off then it might be the business for you. Guests are endearing. Guests are challenging. Guests are opinionated. Guests are noisy and check out everything, watch out! Guests can become family. Guests can show you love and understanding. Guests require pampering at all times. Guests don’t like everything you cook. Guests don’t always abide by the rules. Guests will tip for a job well done. Guests will come back to you over and over again, if you care. Guests are on an adventure, be a pirate. Guests have the internet, be careful. Guests will become your life.
Cottage by the Bay provided the money needed for maintenance and upgrades to my 1926 home that I had worshiped for 32 years. My business gave me purpose and a reason to get up in the morning each day. Through thick and thin we marched on together. Cottage by the Bay was my creation, she was my friend in time of need (just ask the bank), she was warmth in time of strife and a shield when I needed protection. I raised three tumultuous boys with her help, and went through some hair-raising divorces together. But most of all she allowed me to embrace and work side by side with, for a few memorable weeks, the most beautiful and caring mother in the world before she passed away.
It’s Time to Say Goodbye, dear friend. May your doors remain open forever.