“So it'd be quite a coincidence if they weren't, ya know, connected.”
--Marge Gunderson, Fargo.
In 1993 I was doing a gap year between stints living in France and Montreal. Chantal signed up for a stateside gig with Sodexho as an ops manager at the Good Samaritan Medical Center and I got a corporate security job in a downtown Boston high-rise. Over the next year, Chantal got pregnant, we bought a house in Braintree, Seamus was born, and we moved to Montreal after Chantal went to work for Sodexho-Canada.
The time and travel between then and now feels like a quantum leap, as if one moment I was standing in the lobby of a shiny building, and the next I was running a tractor in the snow outside my inn. Such is the nature of life: plodding and interminable in the present, implausible in the future, and fleeting in the past. And in that time as a security guard, my manager, an erudite man named David Anderson, who was misplaced leading a team of disparate employees that included a nascent writer (me), a boxer, a college student, a new-age guru, and a recovering alcoholic, came to me with a scheme.
“You’re a writer,” he said, thrusting a news story in a paper at me. “What do you think of this?”
(Note to Millennials: In days of yore, information was extruded through ink onto paper, which we often thrust into each other’s faces in order to communicate. Think of it as a tangible-mechanical version of Facebook.)
The article was about a guy in Maine giving away his B&B to the best 200-word essay he received. The entry fee was $100.
“You’re a writer,” Dave repeated. “Tell you what. I’ll put up the hundred bucks and you write the essay. If we win, we’ll split it.” How we would split an inn didn’t occur to me, but it sounded like a good idea.
A little backstory: Sure, I was a writer with some publication credits to my name by then, but I was also broke, and Dave knew it. Everybody that worked as a security guard was broke. And due to the nature of corporate building security—long stretches of nothing to do but talk to your coworkers—Dave also knew of my plans to one day buy an inn. At the time, it was a novel idea (now people build and buy inns as a “transitional strategy,” forgoing the novelty), and it intrigued Dave—himself transitioning—enough to contemplate it as a serious opportunity.
So I wrote an essay, crafting and beating it down to 200 words, and dutifully submitted it to Dave. As he read it, I felt like a kid showing his dad a finger painting. Would he like it? Would he just tell me he liked it and pat me on the head? Dave finished reading and looked at me with the kind of level gaze a man metes out rarely. “That’s good,” he said, in his spare style. “That’s good.” He walked away, and only later did I find out he had gone ahead and entered the contest. But I never found out if we won; I assumed we didn’t, because Dave never mentioned it, and he continued to work as my manager until I left for Montreal.
You all know what happens here; you’ve seen the bio on the Auberge’s website (hereyou go), and you’ve all read my memoir, ABrief History of Innkeeping in the 21st Century. Right? Right?
Yesterday, a friend in Ohio posted something to my Facebook page, something about an inn in Maine that the owner is giving away to the winner of an essay contest. Bells and whistles go off, and that quote from Fargo jumps into my head, and I read the attached news story (thanks for sticking it under my nose, Herta, Millennial-style), and it’s the same place: the Central Lovell Inn in Maine, and the person who won the contest 22 years ago (not Dave and me) is getting out of the innkeeping business and she’s doing it the same way her predecessor did: essay contest.
The synchronicity of the universe cannot be ignored here. That this inn in Maine would be offered in the same way and presented to me by people connecting my writing and my innkeeping 22 years apart is impossible to attribute to coincidence. You can decided for yourself what brings people and places and events together; better men than me have gone mad in the effort. I’m going to keep writing.
Oh, and I’m not going to enter the contest this time. I’ve been an innkeeper for 15 years, and I’m trying to get out of the business myself now. Maybe I should hold my own contest. How about this: On the back of a $450,000 bill, in three words or less, tell me why you want to own my inn. I’ll announce the winners via Twitter from Tahiti.