In one of my favorite-ever Gilmore Girls episodes, Lorelai and Rory go on a road trip, get lost, and find themselves, desperate for food and rest, at the Cheshire Cat, a flowery, chintz-filled New England B&B. After chatting with the unnervingly perky Laura Ashley-clad proprietress, Lorelai takes Rory aside and says, "We must leave this place immediately."
But their hunger and exhaustion get the better of them and they stay, only to end up trapped in their rooms, too afraid to walk past the other guests who are gathered downstairs for the obligatory cocktail hour. Lorelai explains to Rory that they cannot take a chance and rush past them to escape because, "if they catch us they'll clamp onto us like leeches. And you know what that means. Chitchat. Stomach-churning, mind-numbing, soul-deadening chitchat."
As always, Lorelai Gilmore speaks my truth. I too would rather starve or dine on a meal of old Certs than endure the forced camaraderie and over-the-top bonhomie that to me largely defines the B&B experience.
I realize that some may protest that I am being too hard on such a beloved American weekend getaway pastime. I know there are many earnest and dedicated innkeepers and some lovely "B&B-ers" that I would probably like under different circumstances. I know that many people find the whole thing positively charming.
I am not one of those people.
I admit: I have (repeatedly) been taken in by promises of historic charm and relaxing rusticity; sun-soaked photos of gleaming antique furniture and serene country views; not to mention the allure of homemade scones, "world famous muffins," or the "best-ever egg bake."
But in the end, these carrots all turned into sticks in the form of creepily creaking floors, hard beds, inexplicable rules ("We suggest you're in bed by 10 p.m.!") and — worst of all — truly "meh" breakfast foods that must be consumed with alarmingly chipper vacationers at an unreasonable hour. The fact is, even if the food were superb, 8 a.m. is far too early to expect me to eat it with strangers — much less with a smile on my face or a coherent word from my lips.
I have given B&Bs no fewer than three chances, and each experience held its own unique horrors.
Strike One: My First B&B
My first B&B experience went down on Maryland's Eastern shore. My then-boyfriend and I were B&B virgins, and had been ensnared by the lovely exterior shots and cozy-looking antique bedrooms. The first bad sign occurred at check in: The reception room was festooned with conservative Christian literature. You would think they'd mention something like this on their website.
The proprietress grew positively pinched when we answered her first question to us with: "No, we aren't married, actually." The rooms had no locks — apparently B&B-loving Christians don't steal things? — so we didn't leave anything of value in ours, and spent a good chunk of our "peaceful nature walks" avoiding a zealous-looking woman.
Strike Two: Winter in Gettysburg, PA
On the upside, this historic — and fairly calico- and chintz-free — B&B was nearly empty at that time of year, which mercifully reduced the endless questions and chitchat from fellow B&B-ers. But this created a problem: The dearth of guests made the owner lonely. Very lonely.
Breakfast meant an endless barrage of questions, which I tried my best to answer politely on only my first cup of coffee. Coming and going became a stressful game of "Is he out there? Can we make a break for it?"
Strike Three: I'm Out
By this time, my boyfriend from B&B one and two had become my husband (now ex), and I will never understand the folie a deux that caused us to consider staying at a B&B for a "mini-honeymoon getaway." Could you be romantic in a deadly quiet, creaky old house where you can hear every whisper, and know that everyone else can hear you in turn?
This B&B also served breakfast at a communal table — a very crowded communal table filled with shiny, happy, wide-awake sporty types who chirped at us as we filled our plates at the breakfast buffet: "Hey, you two! Don't you want to sit with us? Here's some space! Pull up a chair!"
Naturally we fled this hell to the outdoor picnic table, which sat under a tree that aggressively flung its October nut harvest perilously close to our heads.
Maybe there is some perfect B&B out there. One where the floors don't creak, no one can hear you scream (I mean, whisper), and everyone sits in silence at a gourmet breakfast minding their own business. Maybe the newer breed of so-called "upscale B&Bs" offer an entirely different experience. I, for one, won't be finding out. Instead I'll be staying at an Airbnb, where I can make my own — silent — breakfast whenever I please.
Are you a B&B frequenter, or more of an Airbnb person?