The Introvert’s Innkeeper Script

In the course of a normal day at my historic bed and breakfast, I converse with somewhere between two and five couples who are visiting me from the far reaches of the globe. I’ve hosted people from every continent except Antarctica (I’m still hoping), with hugely varied backgrounds, vocations, and personalities. I’ve learned more than I ever needed to know about these people’s hobbies, grandchildren, pets, cars, diseases, and heartbreaks.

Yes, running a bed and breakfast is a wonderful way to meet and converse with people, to learn about different lives and cultures and see a bit of the world through other people’s eyes. It’s an ideal profession for an extrovert.

So where does that leave the Introvert Innkeeper?

I have a little secret for you, something they never tell you about a job like this: real conversation is as rare as icebergs at the equator. Rather than being a polished conversationalist, I am a talking robot, a computer program who responds to fixed cues with identical streams of words every single time. Instead of conversing, I am performing a part in an improvisational play where I’ve learned 100 lines, and the only question is, which order will I deliver them in today?

Fifty of those lines are delivered as a matter of course to nearly every guest. There’s the regular check-in and room-tour speeches, of course, but there are also certain questions that every guest asks, almost without fail:

“How long have you lived here?”
(“We’ve been in the house for seven years. This is our fifth summer as a bed and breakfast.”)

“This house is so beautiful!”
(“Thank you, we think so too. We feel very fortunate to be able to take care of it for awhile.”)

“When was the house built?”
(“We didn’t name it the 1899 Inn because that was our favorite number.”{charming smile} “1899 – just like the name!”)

“Do you know anything about the history of the house?”
(“No, it’s never occurred to me to ask any questions about a significant historic house in a significant historic town.”
“It was built by a gentleman named H.B. Wardman, who was a local hardware merchant… etc etc.” )

As you may have noticed, after answering the same questions several times every single day, the temptation to go snarkily off-script starts presenting itself, but I’m too well-behaved to do that while on stage.

The second set of 50 answers is for the chattier guests, the ones who have more in-depth questions about the history of the house, and for the ones who are, themselves, genuine extroverts who want to get to know me and do some bonding. I can gracefully handle almost all of these questions:

“That strange knob is where a gas fixture use to sit on the wall.”
“Yes, we live on the second floor at the top of the stairs.”
“It had been vacant for three years when we bought it.”
“I grew up down in Rapid City, so yes, I’m sort of local.”
“Deadwood has a rather complicated relationship with the casinos.”
“I had it dyed professionally, but I do the upkeep myself.”

But there’s a subset in that second set of 50 questions that I have come to fear and loathe, a set of questions that feels too intrusive, too impolite, but which 8 guests out of 10 feel compelled to ask anyway. The questions come in several forms, but they’re all seeking the same answer:

“So do you love doing this?”
“Do you ever get to take any time off?”
“How do you stand having people in your house all the time?”
“Has it always been your dream to run a bed and breakfast?”

And the fact is, they don’t think these questions are inappropriate because secretly (or not), everyone who visits me has daydreamed about running their own bed and breakfast some day, and they want confirmation that their fantasy is a good one, or sometimes, they genuinely want to know if they could handle the reality of it.

My responses to these questions are, like all the others, scripted and well-worn. Though I will give a different reply to the folks living in a fantasy world and the folks who seem to genuinely want to know, all of my replies to these questions are carefully-worded half-truths.

“You get to meet so many fascinating people from so many different places!”
“We slow down a bit in the winter, so we get to take some time off then.”
“You can learn to sleep through anything!”

The fact is, people don’t want to know my real answers to these questions, and I certainly don’t want to share them. I’m convinced that one of the ingredients for being successful in a job like this is to make sure people believe you love what you do and that talking about it is always a pleasure in itself.

But maybe some people really, truly want to know about the hard stuff. So here, for the first and only time, are some honest-to-gods answers to those questions:

Running a bed and breakfast as a primary source of income is hard. It’s not like putting your spare bedroom up on AirBnB. It’s not like hosting your out-of-town family for two weeks in the summer. It’s not like a sleep-over with your girlfriends.

You probably expect the work that will go into keeping your house immaculate all the time, the work that goes into making nice breakfasts, that goes into recommending local attractions. On the surface, you understand that you will be sharing your house with strangers every night, but until you do it, it’s really hard to understand what that means.

You don’t think about how you’re on the clock 24 hours a day, how you can’t leave the house without putting a sign on the door that says, “be right back, call if you need me right away!” You don’t think about all those special diets you have to cook around, the people who will be grumpy about things you thought went without saying, like the existence of your well-photographed cats, or the lack of closets in the historic bedrooms. You don’t think about how important it is to set limits for yourself (earliest breakfast is at 7:30am and latest in-person check-in is at 10pm because I have GOT to protect my sleeping hours) and about how unhappy some guests will be when you try to enforce those limits (“but we have to LEAVE at 7am!”). You don’t think about what it means to know there are strangers in your house with you every night of your life, how they might not come in until 3am, how they might wander into your kitchen and eat all your Oreos, how they might accidentally (or otherwise) bang doors at 5:30am, how they get confused and try to come into your bedroom instead of theirs, how they get first dibs on your big TV and on the bathroom where the laundry machines are. How they ask you the same questions every single day of your life, the single most infuriating of which is, “so do you have a real job too, or is this what you do?”

(I won’t counsel you on any other kind of conversation to have or not have next time you stay at a bed and breakfast, except for that: for the love of all that is sacred to you, never ask “do you have a real job too?” I will testify at the assault trial of the guy who punches you for asking, and tell the judge it was completely justified.)

This post isn’t here to solicit pity of any sort. In many, many ways I am incredibly fortunate to be doing what I do, and there are many parts of the work I enjoy. I will always answer the questions guests have about my house happily (if formulaicly), knowing that if I were visiting someone else’s beautiful historic house, I’d be helpless to resist asking the same questions myself.

If there are things I don’t love about this job, I also know that I am not stuck here, and when I’m ready I’ll be able to move on to the next thing, knowing a whole lot more about humanity than I did before.

Small Updates

asteroids

I’m working on something I need to procrastinate, which leaves my mind wandering in every direction except the one that’s on-track. One side-effect is that I’ve been dreaming up ridiculous facebook status updates all morning. Here, for my procrastinating enjoyment and your reading pleasure, are all the things running around in my brain so far today.

What ISN’T funny at 5am? 

Oh, running a bed and breakfast. So many things you never expected, like guests literally knocking themselves over with laughter in the room above you at 5am. I don’t use the word “literally” lightly – there was so much thumping accompanying the laughter that I have to assume they were, literally, knocking themselves over in their hilarity. Needless to say, I missed some sleep this morning.

Oh look: the singing orange cat has returned to the neighborhood. 

That cat I took up to the shelter last week? Yup, he’s back. Strolling around the neighborhood meowing and looking for love. Fortunately, the kind of love he is looking for won’t result in any unplanned kittens, since the shelter was able to confirm that he is fixed. The shelter was also able to confirm that he belon

gs to my IMMEDIATE NEIGHBOR. (“How could you not have figured this out for yourself,” you ask? Well! Let me tell you!)

The neighbor this cat belongs to lives in a house that never has lights on, but does have a couple of trees growing out of the roof. If only it had a few cracked window panes, it would be a perfect haunted house. The only reason I even believe people live there is because their car is sometimes there, and sometimes not there. Driving ghosts…? (Or maybe this cat’s name is Toonces……)

Our house guest just returned from running an ultra-marathon. He looks like he’s been hit by a bus. Do I congratulate him or offer to drive him to the hospital?

What I actually did was offer to make him breakfast. There is healing power in food, right? He looked like he wished we had not been around when he came back – I wouldn’t want anyone to see me looking that horrible either. I mean… seriously. If I was casting for a zombie movie, I would hold this guy up as the ideal for all my actors. Why would you DO that to yourself??

I’ve got peas!

Status sort of says it all. My garden’s first fruits are nearly ready to be turned into a delicious dinner. 🙂 Yay peas!

So… my story is kind of awesome. 

And now we come to the crux of it. I’m on a revision deadline for my short story project, and I finally sat down to get something accomplished. I haven’t given the story a single lick of thought since I turned it in for critiquing six weeks ago, and I opened my document with serious trepidation. I can only imagine it’s like sending your kid off to his first day of school, and then getting a note back from the teacher when he returns that says “your child is terrible and you should never have brought him into this world.”

Of course, the note didn’t say that. It said, “Your child is a wonderful, creative boy who is friendly and plays well with others. Of course, he seems to be a bit behind in his verbal skills and his socks definitely do not match his shirt. Here are some suggestions on how to make sure he’s a bit more together before you send him in again tomorrow.”

Haha. I think my metaphor is cute. If you’re a real parent, please don’t kick me.

Anyway, the comments on my story were all really helpful and insightful, and now that I’m actually working on the thing, rather than thinking about working on it, I am much happier. In fact, rereading it after six weeks of not thinking of it? I’m back to the place where I think I’m kind of freaking brilliant, and that everyone should read my awesome story.

Of course, three of my commenters had NO idea what the conclusion of the story was supposed to mean, so maybe I should work on that a bit first. By which time, no doubt, I’ll be back to believing my story is perfectly terrible. It’s a very bipolar process.

(That photo up above totally goes with my story, by the way. Yup, it’s awesome.)

I make dinner for the cats every night. You’d think they’d return the favor by making me lunch once in awhile.

Lunch time. And since the maid has the day off and I wouldn’t actually want to eat anything the cats prepared, guess I’ll go see what I can dig up for myself.

Phoney Fable 2

Phone Pet Peeve #26: people who *69 a call or call you back off their caller ID without knowing who you are.

(most names have been changed to protect the guilty)

Laura: (picks up ringing phone) Bob’s Blue Boxes, this is Laura.

Caller: Did you just call me?

Laura: Uhm… I don’t think so. May I ask who’s calling?

Caller: My name is Jose.

Laura: I’m sorry, I didn’t call you, but someone else might have. Would you like me to check?

Caller: Who is this?

Laura: This is Bob’s Blue Boxes. We’re a business in Deadwood?

Caller: Deadwood…? OH! Oh, you said Bob’s Blue Boxes. I talked to someone there this morning. Let’s see. Sam maybe? Ted? Mike?

Laura: You mean Bob?

Caller: That’s right! Is Bob there?

Good thing I talked to Bob earlier in the day and just happened to know that he’d had a conversation with someone named Jose.

The moral of the story? Don’t assume everyone is out to get you (unless they are), or if they are, don’t call them back without knowing who they are. If they didn’t leave a message, they’ll probably try again. Or, at the very least, try not to blame the person you’re calling for the fact that you don’t know who they are.

Tune in again next week (or month or whatever) for more Phoney Fables!

Reply from Toll Troll HQ!

And surprisingly, the customer service folks are much less troll-like than their booth attendants. I’m pleasantly surprised by the reply (if not horribly impressed by the proofreading skills. Have I mentioned how important I think those are?)

Laura, I would like to apologize for the frustration in trying to find out how to pay the missed toll at the same time I would like to thank you for bringing the issue regarding no information on your ticket to pay the toll.  This is a new system and I have brought this to my managers attention along with supervisors for toll collections so this can be corrected.  Indiana does not send violations for unpaid tolls, some other states including Illinois does.  If you could please send the unpaid toll to

ATTN: Donna Behre
ITR Concession Company
52551 Ash Road
Granger, IN 46530

Also in the future I believe you will have the option to pay online for missed tolls.

Thank You
C. S.
Customer Care Agent

“Mile for Mile we’re here with a smile”

So there we have it, and I am satisfied with that reply. It was a personal reply and sounds like they’ll be trying to correct the confusion. The mild dig at the Illinois system amuses me too, since I took pains to point out how lovely I thought their system was compared to Indiana’s. I suppose it’s only fair that Indiana fires back.

And thus Indiana has redeemed itself in my opinion. I’ll leave that address in tact up there in case anyone else is trying to get this figured out too. Customer Care Agent’s name has been left off to protect the innocent and such.

Paying the Toll Troll

I have just finished paying my missed Illinois tolls. Thank you, Illinois, for making my job so easy.

Next, I tried to figure out how to pay my Indiana tolls. There is no information anywhere on the web (that a reasonable amount of searching has revealed, anyway), and so I am writing an email to the Indiana DOT. I want to make very sure that they know I’m making a reasonable effort to get this taken care of. I am not toll dodging.

Dear DOT,

My husband and I recently traveled through Chicago and up I-90 into Indiana and eventually north to Michigan. Upon beginning our journey, we were unaware that the interstates around Lake Michigan were toll roads. As we have gotten into the habit of not carrying cash, we were unprepared for the tolls. The toll attendants in Illinois helpfully informed us that it wasn’t a problem, we could pay the tolls online, which I have just finished doing.

Grateful for the easy option, we continued our trip onto the Indiana portion of I-90. When we reached the first toll booth there, the attendant was helpful (if annoyed) at our lack of cash. She gave us a receipt for the missed toll, which I confess I did not examine very closely at the time. The next toll both we encountered was at Lake Station, where we exited the tollway. The attendant there insisted we had to pay cash. When we clarified our complete lack of ability to pay cash, she demanded our license and registration, eventually issuing another receipt similar to one we’d gotten at the previous booth.

Let me start by apologizing for the inconvenience we caused your toll attendants. If the ease of the Illinois toll system had not misled us into believing that our situation was reasonable and easy to fix, we would have made a detour to find cash before arriving in Indiana. However, the fact remains that we missed two tolls through no fault of our own, and I will not be happy if I receive a bill in the mail with a penalty. There is no information whatsoever on the receipts which provides directions on how to pay these missed tolls. I am a good citizen and wish to get this taken care of as soon as possible, but I have also been unable to find information on how to remedy this situation on your website, or on the izoom website. Please inform me as soon as possible what I can do to take care of these tolls. Our trip will not be taking us back through Indiana (and I will take great pains to avoid your toll roads in the future), so I hope there is a way to resolve this by mail, online, or by phone.

Missed Toll ID #1 6649531684301200 for $.50
Missed Toll ID #2 4982981684429002 for $.30

Regards,
Laura Floyd

Toll Road of Dooooom

Toll Troll

Onward in our epic journey!

Yesterday we left Madison, Wisconsin for the most distant locale on our trip: Chelsea, Michigan. My father’s family has been here since shortly after they hopped off their respective German boats, though that’s been several generations ago. Our arrival brings the town’s population up to a round 4,400. (Oooooh.)

But to get here, we had to travel down around the tip of Lake Michigan, through Chicago, and back up again via Interstates 90 and 94. Much to our dismay, the interstates there are currently toll roads. I couldn’t tell you why – they certainly don’t seem to be in especially good shape.

The first toll stop we came to snuck up on us. No sign, just a spot where you could pull off and pay a toll – but only if you wanted to. We were already past it before we realized what it was. I’m sure there was a camera somewhere shooting a picture of our license plate so they could send us a ticket. Swell.

The second toll stop was easier to figure out; if you didn’t stop, you couldn’t continue traveling. Much more logical that way. We scraped the bottoms of our purses, wallets, and seat cushions to come up with the required $0.65 and thought to ourselves, “uh oh.”

We don’t carry cash anymore, as a general rule. Who needs cash, these days? Credit cards or checks make life so much easier. While I was in Europe, you could even use your bank card to buy pops out of machines, or newspapers from stands. It was wonderful.

And so we came to toll stop three. We pulled up, looking guilty and hopeless about our lack of cash. The woman in the booth just laughed, though, and told us we could pay online within 7 days. She gave us a little ticket with the toll stop info on it, and off we went.

Wonderful! think we. This just got a lot easier. We don’t need cash after all!

Well, that was Illinois. (Thank you, Illinois, for making tolls as un-yucky as possible.)

The Chicago Skyway had its own special toll. The troll in the toll booth there wasn’t nearly as happy to help us out, but did anyway. Turns out you can’t pay that toll online, you have to mail it in. Oh well. Toll plus stamp still isn’t so bad.

And then we arrived in Indiana. Up we roll to the first toll stop. “Hello, we’re sorry but we ran out of cash. Can you please give us the info so we can send in our payment?”

“No, we only take cash,” says the toll troll.

“I’m sorry, maybe you didn’t understand, but we don’t have any cash. Not any. Well, three cents, but I guess that isn’t enough. What are we supposed to do?”

The toll troll purses her lips and looks like we just spat on her wedding cake.

“I’ll need your license and registration,” she says in her most intimidating voice.

Ye gads! Are we being arrested for not having $0.85??

She takes our info and retreats to her booth where she clacks away at some machine for awhile, shortly reappearing with a ticket (her word – looked like a receipt to me) showing who we were and that we had failed to pay. It looked almost like the other forms we had received, but there was no information on it about how to pay.

“How do we pay this?” we asked.

“I don’t know. Most people pay cash like they’re supposed to,” she replies. “They’ll probably send you a bill.”

And thus, off of the toll road we went.

What a mess! If I hadn’t been set up by the wonderful system in Illinois, I might have expected it. We can’t be the only people who try to operate cashless, or Illinois would never have set such a lovely system up to start with. Do the people in Indiana know that they have a trap set like that? If my “bill” arrives with an amount due of more than $0.85, believe me, they will hear about it. I can be a toll troll too.

It’s 10:00 AM. No Waffles for YOU!

No Waffles for You!

I am a lazy clerk’s nightmare. I am the bane of the rude telephone help center operator. I am the scourge of idiot salespeople.

To be fair, I could be worse. I don’t throw fits. I don’t make scenes. But I do tattle. I am of the belief that if no one tattles, the problem I encountered will not get solved and someone else will be slapped in the face with it later. (Also to be fair, I tattle when I’m impressed as easily as I do when I’m unimpressed. I think people who do a great job should be rewarded for that.)

If I wasn’t so young, I’d say I must come from the Old School of Customer Service, where having some customer service skills was actually important. Back In My Day, people treated you right! But no… there have been people doling out bad service as long as I can remember. I truly believe that I was never one of them. All my first jobs were in retail and sales, and somehow, I found bosses who cared whether I was friendly and polite. They trained me in making customers happy and why that was so important. As a result, I have no patience with people who can’t be bothered to help me out.

We are currently on the Madison stop of our Epic Voyage Across the Midwest. We stayed in a Super 8 Hotel last night, and I was delighted by the stay because it was a very good value for the money, quite clean, and everyone we spoke with last evening was friendly and helpful. All in all, the Madison Super 8 gets high marks.

This morning, however, I ran into a shining example of What Not To Do at the continental breakfast. Fortunately, I wasn’t the recipient of the irritating incident, but I found it so surprising, I have to share anyway.

Continental breakfasts, as a rule, end at 10:00. Checkout is at 11:00, so that makes plenty of sense. Since this is a lazy part of the vacation, Dustin and I didn’t make it downstairs until 9:50, which was just fine. It was nothing special as far as continental breakfasts go: a couple cereal options, a plastic dome full of toastables, a couple waffle makers, coffee, juice, etc. I took some cereal and tea and settled down.

Ten minutes later, at 10:00 on the nose, the gal from the front desk came around and started cleaning up. Just as she unplugged the waffle makers – just! – a gentleman came down and asked if he’d missed his chance for a waffle.

“Oh, well, I just unplugged them,” the clerk says. “It’ll take them ten minutes to warm up. But you can help yourself to anything else over there.”

I had a hard time not dropping my Rice Krispies-filled jaw at this. She had just unplugged the waffle irons. We had, all three of us, watched her do it. There would not be ten minutes of heating up involved. They were still quite hot enough to burn a body. The gentleman pointed this out.

The clerk, looking annoyed, replied: “I really need to get these cleaned up.” And that was the end of the discussion. The man, graceful in defeat, grabbed a cold, stale pastry instead.

Now tell me. Is 10:00 a sacred hour? If those waffle irons aren’t put away by 10:10 on the nose, would the desk clerk lose her job? Would it have been a terrible inconvenience to plug one of the irons back in, let the man take 5 minutes to make his waffle, and start clearing up on the other end of the little buffet? What did she really gain by denying him his waffle, other than irritating him and – unknown to her – me too?

Sure, there have to be limits. If you have 50 people who want waffles and don’t come down until 10:00, that’s more difficult. Allow me to make a suggestion: let them make waffles until the pre-filled cups of batter are gone. It’s a tidy solution. “I’m really sorry… this late in the morning I can’t make up any more batter, but perhaps you’d like some toast instead?” By the time the lucky ones are done making their waffles, you can have the rest of breakfast cleaned up and that only leaves one little project to finish up while all the diners slurp their coffee.

But there weren’t 50 waffle-crazed fiends. Just one lonely guy who wanted one lonely waffle.

A little inconvenience on the part of someone who spends most of her shift reading newspapers is certainly worth the price of two customers who might not return.