Uniform courtesy Little Joe’s Package Store

aaa_approved_logo_50pxls  The AAA inspector comes roughly, the same time every year. And it is always a little nerve-wracking, whether we were trying to get our 4 diamonds, or trying to hold onto them.

It was one such attempt, a AAA inspection, around 1998, that I’ll never forget. We’d finished serving all our guests breakfast and one man was left, sitting at the table. He was offered the twelfth cup of coffee, he refused, went to his room, (all part of the ruse), and then returned 20 minutes later.

“I’m from AAA,” he says, thumbing his card onto the table.

“Oh, so nice to meet you,” I reply. I’m thinking, I should have known. None of our real guests would have asked for jelly on their pancakes but I smile, hopefully conveying the calm of a genuine, hospitable host.

He has his official nondescript black plastic/faux leather folio and his ink pen, which he snaps into service, simultaneously smoothing down his abnormally long moustache and clearing his throat. His tie almost is choking his neck and his pants a tad short.

“Please sit down.” I offer the dining room table.

“Thank you”, he manages. I can tell that he’s been to a lot of Holiday Inns, that he actually prefers them, and that he has been yelled at, a lot. It’s not easy telling someone they can’t have 4 diamonds, again.

About this time, the office door opens. I am facing the door, the inspector’s back is to it. Out walk my two maids. Now, I should preface this whole chain of events with the fact that during the “inspection season”, I made sure all areas were in tip top shape. And I had many, many meetings with the staff, to impress upon them that they would be miserable, if they didn’t take it seriously. This meant wearing their uniforms, without fail, which they hated, beacuse they were black dresses with frilly white aprons. “Is it okay if we wear pants sometime?”

“Is it okay if we wear pants sometime?”, Kay had asked.

And I replied, “Sure, as long as they match. I’ll see if I can find some uniforms with pants.”

So this particular morning, I’m sitting there and the office door opens and I’m chatting up the inspector. And Mattie and Kay walk out, just having arrived for work. They are both wearing “matching uniforms”. They consist of black pants and bright pink t-shirts. On the front of each is a big cartoon Mercedes and a cartoon African American woman, wearing a bikini, surrounded by dollar signs and in quotations, “I can’t stand No Broke Ass Man”, in BIG letters. Big PURPLE letters. They’d gone to Little Joe’s Liquor Store and Clothing shop and purchased “uniforms”, with pants.

They paused, right behind the inspector, who is consternated over his moustache and his folio. And they waited.

Mattie and Kay are beaming, obviously proud of the matching ensembles. Kay’s right hand rests on the back of the inspector’s chair, a white unbrella hanging from her wrist. Mattie’s arms are crossed at her waist, just a dollar sign and a big bouffant hairdo visible across her chest.

I consider knocking the leftover scones into floor to create a diversion. “Oh, ya’ll can start in the kitchen!” They turn, a little disappointed, I can sense because I hadn’t mentioned their matching shirts.

“So, did we make 4 diamonds?” I ask the inspector after they left, with the most sparkly, sparkle, upbeat innkeeper voice I could muster.

“”Not quite.” He’s staring at his plastic black thing and I’m looking at the top of his skinny, already thinning head, bent over to avoid my eye.

“Well, it seems that you have a chandelier in the cottage that some of my inspectors would find, well, sub par”.

“That is an antique. It has been in my husband’s family for four generations.”

“Well the AAA guidebook inspections code requires all light fixtures to have been purchased at Lowe’s, Home Depot , Sears, or likewise similar faux home store, and must be comprised of faux brass or faux copper and installed in the last 12 months.”

“And, at turn down, you placed the pillows facing up, not out.” He scratched his head with his pen.

“It says, ‘turn the pillows up’ ‘” I say. “Yes, that means down,” he says, writing in his black plastic faux piece of propaganda.

“Pardon me?”

“The pillows must be down. On the bed.”

“Okay, I see,” I said. “Well, there’s always next year, I guess. Any advice?” I offered him a scone, which he took and dribbled crumbs on my “assessment”.

“Just change that light fixture out and you’re pretty much there, and oh, the pillows, and oh yeah, next year, all bathrooms have to have marble floors and countertops”, he mentions.

“But they didn’t use that stuff in 1870, this hexagon tile is perfectly appropriate and it seems so wasteful…,” I say.

“Well, you know those big chains, they set the standard. Marble baths used to be considered 5 star. Now it’s standard, even for 3 diamond.” He rocks back on his heels, one hand in his polyester pocket. “Even Embassy Suites have marble now”.

As he gave me a copy of the year’s inspection, I noticed 2-3 crumbs of Lemon-Ginger Scone, half hidden, like so many diamonds, in his red-brown moustache . And  we said goodbye, until next year.

Mel Gibson slept here… for quite a while!

mel-bWhen I opened the Rothschild-Pound House in 1995, my first guest was Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter to Duke Ellington. She stayed for a month and Garry and I were thrilled with the fact that we had such a cool first customer, albeit arranged by Paul Pierce. I cried when she left.

Our next guests came about two weeks later. I’ll never forget the phone was ringing at the B&B in the kitchen and we had just come home from Home Depot. A north Alabama accent, introduced himself and proceeded to quiz me on the particulars. Did I have hardwood floors? Was it an old house? Do you have breakfast? When was the house built? He was coming for a job interview at Ft. Benning and wanted to bring his wife down. They were Civil War re-enactors and loved B&Bs. Freda and Gavan Erwin checked in the next week, in the Rothschild Suite. He went on to interview and finally get the job at Ft. Benning. They first rented an apartment from us at 730 First Avenue and then bought the house next door to my Few Street Cottage about 6 months later. And for the next 10 years or so, Freda Erwin and I were together constantly, starting at 6:30 in the morning, every morning. The only time we weren’t was when I had my first child and she actually brought me breakfast in bed, upstairs in the Garrett Suite. She and I served thousands of people pancakes and coffee, eggs and bacon, while Garry sat on the barstools in the kitchen , reading the Ledger-Enquirer, trying to ignore us. I don’t think I could’ve done it without her help. I am sure I could have, but it surely wouldn’t have been the same. We surmised personalities and critiqued individuals according to how they dressed their grits. We had our favorite guests, the fun ones, the ones that would joke with us. We had those that hardly spoke, (those were usually the ones that put sugar on their grits). We had the newlyweds, the Olympic attendees, the new Veteranarian in town, a good looking Brazilian who Freda had to serve French toast sans clothes, he, not her. But when she came back, she had to go smoke a cigarette. .

I’ll never forget the time Sunshine, the hotdog man, drove Keri Russell down 2nd Avenue on his bike trailor. She ended up moving here from the Hilton. After she got here, Chris Klein, Greg Kinnear and Madeleine Stowe came over as well. Then I got a phone call inquiring about our accommodations, lots of detailed questions. The woman let me know right away that she was scouting locations for a very high profile individual. Of course, discussed it all with Freda. We discussed every aspect of it and were beside ourselves that Sam Elliot would be our guest, hopefully. The woman was coming over that very afternoon to look. Of course, Freda cam e to “help me” show her the cottages. We went from house to house, listening to the woman go on and on about how she could imagine all the men sitting around the big dining room table, drinking scotch and smoking cigars, etc. I listened to every word . Finally, I managed, “can you tell us who it is?’

“oh no.” “I can’t do that”. I’ll call you and with a smile, the 20 something was off . She seemed a little smug. But I was so excited. I knew that Sam Elliott staying here would be GREAT for business. Even though Freda did have to tell me who he was.

“You know, the Marlboro man”, she said, blowing smoke through her nose. We always sat on her front porch.

“I sure hope he stays, that would be so cool”.

The phone rang . My phone would reach to her porch. “Rothschild-Pound House”.

“Yes, we can secure the windows, no problem”. I was determined. “Okay, see you then”

“They’re coming at 4.”

Freda let out a yell. “I gotta call Carlie”. She left me to go wash her hair.

“I’ll see you at 4, on the big house porch”. I left with a great big sense of secret and hopefulness welling up in me. How cool is this? I thought to myself.

At 3:30, we were in the big rockers on the porch. Freda didn’t even smoke so she’d smell her best.

“It’s the Marlboro Man, Freda, of all people, he’ll understand.”

“Nah”. She licked her teeth.

About 4:05, a big white SUV drove up and parked right in front of the big house. We rose out of our rockers. They walked, on the street toward the Few Street Cottage. We took the stepping stones behind the wrought iron fence. Neither of us turned our head toward them as they made their way on the street to our meeting spot. But we had seen enough as we descended the porch. As we measured our steps, cooly on the stepping stones Freda said, in a whisper so extreme, I thought she was jumping up and down behind me, “It’s Mel Gibson”

“I know” I said, smiling my biggest, coolest, smile, laughing without moving my lips. “I know”.

During the month of March 2001, Freda and I cleaned his house. We didn’t trust the maids with our secret.We saw his bible and his rosary, his AA book. He never touched a drop of the scotch I left for him, remembering the comment from his housing scout.  He was never less than exceedingly kind, even joining us in the kitchen of the big house,  discussing Batman with Murphey, then, about 2 and a half. I lost interest in cleaning his room about halfway through the month, busy fielding calls from local hostesses with offers to give dinner parties in their honor?

“I’m not sure who you mean, Mrs. Leeburn”.

The ledger had daily Mel sightings and it was all I could do to keep it from my closest friends, luckily Susi was really busy planning Christy’s wedding.

One day, Freda announced at breakfast that she was taking Gavan over to Mel’s room. The toilet seat needed replacing. “Thanks, I said”.  And, she added, “I’m takin’ the toilet seat to my house”. She did a little dance, then, “see you in the morning”’. And she was gone.

As far as I know, when Gavan and Freda sold us their house and moved to Key West, they left most everything there, china, beds, sofas, stuff in closet, even their Civil War re-enactor provisions. Now Gavan had a shaved head, Freda lost 40 pounds and they rode a Harley most places. But as they drove off in that truck, pulling the travel trailor, she waved goodbye. Her, Bubba the Cat, Gavan, and Mel Gibson’s toilet seat.

I

My fear of plastic cocktail plates AND dreadlocks

Ivory. Not Cream!!!!!Okay, I sold my business a year ago, or so I thought. Unfortunately, after 10 months in the business, the couple began divorce proceedings. That is normally someone else’s problem, but since I financed the whole deal, I am back in business. Well, I was back in business, for three weeks in November. But before I could even spray paint the porch rockers, another couple came along, this time from California; African-American lesbian drummers, with long dreadlocks. We’re in Georgia down here and we’re not in Atlanta. But hey, they were up for the task and I already had a foot and a half out the door. And I enjoyed four months of sweet freedom, marred by certain long periods of non-payment. Finally, sometime last month, (28 days, 28 minutes ago), after almost every imaginable excuse was applied to the situation of non-payment, these two were asked to vacate. Like I told someone, I’d have left in the middle of the night, if I were in their shoes. The power was disconnected in part of the inn, telephone service off, no gas. It was crazy. The good news is that the business itself is healthy and there are reservations pouring in, along with many already on the books. So, I’m thinking, not too bad, lots of rooms coming in, a couple of parties, a wedding. And at first, the wedding woman seemed calm, laid back and even reasonable. I’m sure in her former life of singlehood, she was just, well, her. But, as time has rolled closer to the big date, I find my inbox to be visited by her on an hourly basis sometimes. Not only that. She has diagrams. And she’s had them since the first time I inherited her from the lesbian drummers. But way back then it looked like a different situation. It appeared to be a simple, small wedding,plastic plates preferred . The only thing I can relate it to is a curve ball. It looks easy on the outset, but then it goes around the bend just before the finish. And that’s where I am now, running ahead of a curve ball.  Isn’t there a margarita somewhere she needs to be drinking? I know I’m looking for one. Or skip the whole sour mix thing and break out Senor Cuervo. This headache hurts worse than a hangover. Did I mention the lesbian drummers had to be FORCED out?  Inn, anyone?