Running a hotel can feel frivolous. Especially these days. I’ve got friends who work in immigration reform, in global healthcare, with bereaved children… and I help people with discretionary income go on vacation. Womp womp.
But this past weekend there was a massive snowstorm (think thirty plus inches in just twenty-four hours) and the whole area lost power and suddenly, we weren’t just helping these people have fun— we were keeping them alive.
I know I know! That sounds kind of dramatic. But in the depths of winter, with roads that became more impassable by the minute and all of the hotel’s heat, electricity, and running water depending on the strength of two generators well, these people’s lives were in our hands.
Four years in, I now know that in the middle of a Mother-Nature-meets-mechanical-failures shit-show I go into an adrenaline fueled survival mode that feels eerily calm as it’s happening. It’s a deep and bright calm that immediately illuminates what is important, and as the chaos flies in my face, each problem sorts itself into one of two clear categories:
#1 Things I can control
#2 Things I cannot control
Things I can control I make a plan for immediately. I become Action Casey! Things I cannot control I do not worry about right then. Later? Oh, you bet! But right then? No fucking way, because I’ve got stranded guests to feed and comfort, a baby who needs the same, and oh what’s that? The generator attached to our house and well just inexplicably kicked the bucket? Cool. So now I have no running water at the hotel and no water or power of any kind in the house. And the snow is still piling. And it’s dark out. And it’s getting colder.
My first thought is: At least it wasn’t the hotel generator. Heat in the rooms is a necessity. A shower and flushing toilet just became a luxury.
So did making much of a profit on this weekend.
Steven and I can hang with “rustic”. We’ve done 120 degrees with no electricity in West Africa, we’ve done eight months in a house with no heat or hot water in Morocco, we've spent years using squat toilets that don't flush. It’s easy enough to tap back into those old selves. Especially in a house as well insulated as this one, with a wood stove and all of our sweaters on hand.
But paying guests are another story. These New Yorkers used to Seamless and Uber and landlords and constant connectivity are another story. I swear, since opening, literally hundreds of people have told me they are afraid of the dark. And it’s dark out here even when the electricity is on.
So it’s a delicate dance, accurately conveying the potential severity of the situation to guests so they can be prepared without accidentally scaring the absolute shit out of them. (“No, I don’t think you’ll be able to head back out for dinner since I just heard troopers closed Route 42 because of fallen trees and an acci—did you bring any snacks with you? Could I tempt you with a soup and sandwich here at the bar? Tell me more about that two bedroom in Bed Stuy you said you guys might move into it sounds amazing.”)
So Steven and I communicate with our eyes, whisper about generator error codes, and generally just keep moving and moving like we’re sharks who will die if we stop. We do NOT say aloud what we are both fearing: that the second generator will stop working and we will have eighteen people we need to figure out how to keep from freezing. (Can't control it! Won't worry about it until I have to!)
Obviously we all made it. The hotel generator held on, we poured free beers and discounted the rooms and sent everyone home in the morning once the storm had stopped but the power (and therefore water) was still out. Steven probably spent eight solid hours shoveling and helping push cars out of the parking lot as I bounced and nursed the baby and made coffee for guests from melted snow. Everyone hit the road in remarkably high spirits. There was a bit of a “we’re all in this together” vibe that took over the group which was very heart warming. You never know if things are gonna go the way of Lord Of The Flies.
Steven and I could breathe easier once the Inn cleared out; now it was only ourselves we needed to take care of. Well, us and our six month old baby. But we leaned into it. We buried the meat from our freezer in the snow to keep it from spoiling. We read Mary Oliver poems about the beauty and strength of nature. We used the fold-out bed in the living room not just as a cozy place to sleep near the wood stove but as a giant mat for extended “tummy time” and now the babe can roll over on her own. We went to bed at 7pm because hell, it was dark out and we were tired.
When the power came back on a little over two days later of course we rejoiced. We showered and flushed with abandon. We ran the space heater and the white noise machine in the nursery. (Living on the edge!) We opened and closed the fridge any time we wanted to even consider a snack.
Oh so quickly we were back to normal. Which felt great! And then… irritating. Because all those things we couldn’t worry about when we were in the thick of it, we had to worry about and take care of now. Like fixing the fire alarm in the boiler room that got fried in the surges, washing the towers of dishes that had piled up in the bar, getting the parking lot a clean-up plow, sending out refunds and receipts, ordering more propane since we’d used nearly all of it, fixing the second generator, replying to the onslaught of unanswered emails, digging out our own car…
Yesterday afternoon, after getting barely halfway through my to-do list—neither Steven nor I feeling like we were getting enough done as we passed the baby back and forth—I pounded an IPA and realized:
I wanted to punch Mary Oliver in her nature loving face.
Oh the trees and the wild hawks and the oneness with everything! Fuuuuuck that. I didn’t need a walk in the woods or a goddamn poem. What I needed was four more beers and a personal assistant who was also a mind reader and a babysitter and a licensed electrician. What I needed was a vacation somewhere warm and Chinese delivery and to sleep through the night again one day please!
I was emotionally hungover.
So I started to write this. Because my friend Dominique once told me, “You bitch compellingly,” and it made me laugh. And because writing can feel just a frivolous and life-saving as running a hotel.
I have to thank our neighbors who helped us through the storm as well. Knowing that we live in a community made of people who actually help each other in moments of chaos and crisis is part of what helps me keep my cool throughout it all. Thank you Gary for plowing, thank you Mike and Brian and Garrett for coming down and helping get Gary out of the ditch he got stuck in, thank you John for the parking lot clearing... Keeping our bar open so neighbors could use the WiFi and the outlets and have some free beers was the least we could do.
Also, thank you Amina for being chill AF throughout the whole thing. If only we could all be this happy with a spoon and some boob.