So You Want to Run a B&B?
“You have to love people and love having them in your house,” Penny says. “If the house is empty for a day or two, I don’t like it. We like to share our wine. We like to sit and talk. Some people don’t want to be bothered, but there are lots of others who’ll want to talk all night.”
But in the business of accepting complete strangers into your home, you’re also welcoming a divergent set of personalities into your life. Not everyone who walks through your door is likable, not even to a pair of accommodating innkeepers. In a desk drawer in their apartment, the Cotes keep what they call the “Jerk File,” a short list of people they’d just as soon never see again. The two couples who bailed on trying to pay after spending a day drinking the Cotes’ wine, watching television, and then ordering dinner? They’re on the list. So is the guy who took over a second room and tried to get out of paying for it.
Also on the list is the overly sarcastic guest from D.C. who treated the inn’s staff like hired help. “He just seemed to enjoy making people’s lives miserable,” Penny says. “At one point he made our daughter cry. During breakfast he and his wife were reading, and I asked them, ‘Oh, what are you reading?’ He just looked up and said, ‘A book.’ Just like that. I had to start giving it back or I was going to punch him in the face.”
Then there are the complainers. They don’t like that there’s so much food served at dinner, that Chester’s sleepy Main Street is too “noisy,” or that the inn’s cable package doesn’t carry enough sports channels. “People, usually the husbands, get pissed when they can’t watch football,” Dan says. “We don’t have ESPN, and the world just stops.”
But, the Cotes say, 95 percent of their guests they adore: the doctor and his friend who entertained them late into the night on piano; the woman from the Netherlands recovering from cancer who “made everyone feel good about themselves”; and the ones who feel so relaxed that they’re perfectly comfortable hanging out in the main room in their bathrobes. “Sometimes they’ll fall asleep right on the couch,” Penny says.
The Florida group ranks right up there, too. Last night the contingent stayed up late with the Cotes, drinking wine and singing in the main room around the piano—which makes the goodbyes hard for Dan and Penny. They really don’t want them to leave.
But no sooner is the group’s big van backing up than the Cotes are back to work. They clear the dining-room table, and Penny helps Jessica organize the kitchen for dinner. The plan to serve pork loin gets scrapped because the meat won’t thaw in time—which means that at some point Dan will need to go to the market for steaks. Then there are the rooms. The inn is fully booked for the night, so every room must be turned over. Bathrooms have to be scrubbed clean; floors, too; and they’ll need fresh linens for the beds.
But wait! The two walking guests still need a ride to the next stop. As Dan trudges off to his economic development meeting, Penny gets behind the wheel of her husband’s green Toyota truck and drives the two women to the next inn, on the outskirts of town. “That means I don’t have to help Jessica clean the rooms,” she jokes. But it’s not a quick out-and-back. The women want to see some scenery, and Penny obliges, following a circuitous route of back roads that will ultimately keep her away from the inn for a good hour and a half.
When she returns, she jumps into the cleaning, strips beds, and fixes a shower curtain before turning her attention to a lineup of freshly washed sheets that need folding. Then it’s time to greet the new guests.
It’s 2:00 p.m.
“Let me show you something,” Dan says, motioning me to the kitchen. He points to the counter and a big bag of ice with a hole ripped into the side. “Most people, if they did this, would do something about it, but not Penny.”
Just then his wife walks into the kitchen and intervenes: “It’s not right or wrong, it just is what it is.” Then she flashes a big smile: “Besides, this wouldn’t happen if you’d bought me an ice maker.”
“Well, you’re not going to get an ice maker,” answers Dan, who begins scooping the ice out and putting it into smaller plastic bags.
“Not my bread bags!” Penny exclaims.
“That’s all I could find,” Dan counters, moving over slightly so that his wife can help him.