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Alone at a Cape May B&B

By Jane Kelly

There are days in the modern calendar when it is better to be part of a couple.

For three hundred and sixty three days of the year (364 in leap year when Sadie Hawkins day provides the single with extra opportunities), there are benefits to both the coupled and to the uncoupled life.

But specific days each year are designed for couples:

  • New Year's Eve
  • Valentine's Day
  • and any day you check into a b&b.

To get the action going in Cape Mayhem, one of my mystery novels. I sent the heroine to a fictional bed and breakfast in Cape May for a romantic weekend - alone.

The weather was chilly but not nearly so cold as the reception Meg got from the other guests. Was I exaggerating? I thought so. Right up until the moment I checked into a bed and breakfast for a quiet weekend -- alone. When my publisher sent me the galleys for Cape Mayhem I figured what better place to proof the tale of a weekend trip to a b&b than a b&b.

The inn will remain nameless but I will state it was not in Cape May. It was not even in New Jersey. Okay, it was in New England. In Rhode Island. On Block Island. I called it the IggI Inn. After years of wondering why such a beautiful place would have such an ugly name, someone instructed me to consider the typeface. Apparently, the script says The 1661 Inn. A lovely building in an incredibly beautiful setting where there is in winter absolutely, positively nothing to do -- unless you bring a mate or the galleys of your latest book.

I arrived on Saturday morning (sixteen hours late after missing the ferry -- don't ask) and checked in just in time for breakfast -- where no one spoke to me. Or smiled at me. Or made eye contact with me.

What was the problem? The car I was driving at that point did have that crazed drifter look -- but the assembled guests couldn't see the spot where I parked the old Toyota. I discounted my vehicle as the root of the problem. My clothing was innocuous. I wear mostly identical clothes so I guess that I was wearing jeans, a turtleneck, and sweater. All black. All conservative. No cause for alarm. Was my personality the problem? No one even acknowledged my presence. The guests didn't have a chance to learn if they hated me.

Let me digress. My friend, Dan, used to say of our mutual friend, Frank, that he would talk to a lamppost. In return, I would always comment that the amazing thing was that the lamppost would talk back. Now, I am not on Frank's level when it comes to conversation with strangers -- but I like to think I am in the same league. If Frank could go to the conversational Super Bowl, I could at least get to the playoffs. I can talk. Except to the guests at the IggI Inn.

I know. The visitors were there to spend time together -- not to meet me. Mostly likely each couple described their stay as a romantic weekend. But I was only seeking a little small talk at breakfast. Plus, the couples talked to each other -- just not to the only single woman. Why? Clearly they weren't threatened. Let's face it if I were the kind of woman who could steal a man I wouldn't have been there alone in the first place. Anyway, I didn't take it personally. Well, I did. But I got over it. And I aspire to help other solitary travelers who want to sample the joys of a romantic b&b.

To that end, here are a few tips to disarm the other guests and in some cases entice them into conversation:

1. Carry a guidebook for a broad geographic area. Say . . . the Americas. The other guests will think you're just passing through from a far-off, exotic locale. Potential problem: they might expect you to share some interesting information about your homeland. Make something up. Use a place you've actually visited. If you choose a nationality with a native language other than English, be sure you can speak more than a few words. You can no longer count out the probability that no one will speak your language -- even the most exotic tongue. My friend Matt is marrying an Estonian. Nancy is marrying a Macedonian.

2. Get lost in research. Carry books and notebooks and scrawl in them regularly. Choose a local topic or the local implications of a broad topic. One caution: if you choose ghosts, don't communicate with the dead in front of the other guests. It could make them nervous.

3. Feign a tragically romantic past. Fondle your empty ring finger. Dab at your eyes. You might consider the longing sigh. The other guests will stay away but they will give you respect. On the off chance that someone offers consolation, be prepared. I prefer sentence fragments. People fill in the blanks saving you from the need to lie. "I don't really . . . can't tall about . . . prison . . . my last chance." (I used that once on the way to tour a federal maximum security prison. Long story.)

4. Appear mysterious. If you get anyone to listen to a full sentence, drop hints about the witness protection program - unless of course you are actually in the witness protection program. Don't respond immediately when greeted by the b&b owners. Stumble over your own name. Wear a monogram that doesn't match your supposed initials. You may not get a friendly reception but you will get fear and respect.

5. Sneak off and whisper into your cell phone. Pretend you have the ringer set on vibrate. No one can know how many calls you really get. Let the other diners overhear only your last sentence: "Don't worry if you can't make it." "You can't control the (airlines . . . trains . . . insert the appropriate mode of transportation.)" Be disappointed but understanding. If you want to fit in with the romantic mood, it's always good to conclude with "I love you too." People are conformists. If they think someone else loves you, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt. People erroneously assume that no one loves an ax murderer. (If you take this approach, however, you have to consider the owners. You don't want them to think you were planning on sneaking a second guest into your room.)

6. Oldie but goodie - impersonate a travel writer. All you need to carry this plan off is a small notebook and a pen. Observe your surroundings carefully. Jot something down. Take a bite of food. Jot something down. Try to peek into the kitchen. Jot something down. This approach is hard on the staff but you will get good service - unless they've seen the trick before. (Don't leave your notebook lying around. You don't want the guests to discover what you are really writing -- pick up laundry, get car inspected, buy milk, etc.)

7. Pretend you're writing an article about b&bs. The same people who won't make idle chitchat will gladly talk when they are the topic of conversation. Especially if they smell thirty seconds of fame. You won't be able to shut them up. Some pesky guest will probably ask in what publication the article will appear. You might want to claim you write freelance but the persistent may press for a title. Go ahead pick one. Will you really be upset if a person you will never see again believes that an imaginary editor rejected your imaginary article?

I write here about problems getting to know other guests. If you happen into a b&b with an extroverted innkeeper --as my heroine Meg did -- you won't have any problem socializing. I suspect my fictional George isn't the only host who relishes the appearance of a solitary visitor. My hostess at the IggI Inn couldn't have been nicer.

Did I ever overcome the suspicions of the other guests? Let me put it this way. I was the toast of the ferry back to the mainland. Apparently the extroverted innkeeper at the IggI Inn leaked that I was a writer who came to the island for privacy to read the galleys of my next novel. It seems that explanation put the guests at ease and made for easy conversation. Even if you don't intend to write a novel, a short story or a postcard, feel free to use my cover.

Jane Kelly is the author of three mysteries with a humorous twist set at the Jersey shore.

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