We’ve all had them. They made our faces flame as we stood there and desperately wished the ground would open up and swallow us whole. But instead we stuttered our way out of the awkward situation and prayed for time to fast forward to the day where we could chuckle about it, think, “ah, that was pretty funny, in retrospect.” Oh, that Most Embarrassing Moment.
Back around 2003, Travelers Tales bought my essay, “R&R in the B&B” and in the 11th hour, dropped it from the anthology. The book had run too long. Never mind that I had the signed contract, the book galleys, and was waiting for the final publication and payment. Instead, an apology letter came in the mail. Heartbreaking to my ego. One of those “oh yeah? Here’s my worst experience as a writer” story. Which adds insult to injury to my “oh, yeah? Here’s my most embarrassing experience as a traveler” story that they dropped.
My poor orphaned essay.
Good thing for blogs.
Indulge me, dear reader. And then indulge me further by sharing your most embarrassing travel (or otherwise) moment. Only, mind you, if it makes you laugh now.
R&R in the B&B
“Nothing is going to get me back in the car tonight,” I growled to Barbara, my travel companion. However picturesque rural England was, it was tiring as hell for a nervous American who had learned only the previous month how to drive a manual transmission car. Combined with the wrong-side-of-the-road confusion, missed turns, early nightfall and drizzle, it was a wonder I hadn’t jumped ship miles back.
We’d booked a room in a traditional thatched Devon longhouse B&B. While I’d dodged traffic and groused, Barbara had navigated over the maze of tiny roads that comprised much of rural England. “Next, get off the A-38 and onto the B-3193,” she’d read, “then the dual carriageway to Newton Abbott…whoa, watch the cows there, then as the road narrows, look for Preston, but not King’s Day, which would mean we’ve gone too far. That must be it,” she said finally, pointing to a farmhouse on the right.
It looked just like the picture in my guidebook, a charming, thatched, seventeenth-century longhouse, several sets of boots out front next to the doormat. A “No Smoking” sign was posted over the open door. I parked and scrambled out of the car with shaking legs, muttering dark curses about driving, all those silly British rules, that idiot clutch. After grabbing our bags from the trunk, we wandered into the paneled entryway, hearing voices in one of the rooms. The warmth of the house, the rustic oak-beamed ceiling and reassuring tick-tick of the grandfather clock immediately soothed me. “I just love B&B’s here,” I told Barbara. “You get a real feeling of home.” There was even a tray of freshly baked cookies on a nearby lace-covered table. I grabbed a cookie and stuffed half of it into my mouth, feeling even better as the sugar hit my system with a rush. Dumping our bags on the floor, we wandered into the living room, where a plush sofa and deep armchairs beckoned, all facing an inglenook fireplace that crackled and glowed with burning logs. Barbara plopped on the sofa with a happy sigh. The voices grew louder and soon four people came into view.
They stopped when they saw us. Then one of the women smiled. “Good evening,” she said. “How might we be of assistance to you?”
“Oh, hello.” I waved the cookie around. “Do we check in with you?”
“Or whatever you call it in a B&B,” Barbara added, seeing the confusion on the woman’s face.
I’ll say this about the English; they are unfailingly polite and gracious. “I’m terribly sorry,” she said, her worried eyes reflecting her contrition, “but I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong house.”
A momentary pause. “This isn’t the Sampson Farm?” I asked.
Another smile of abject apology. “I’m afraid not.”
Barbara stiffened on the couch.
“So, you’re a B&B, just not the Sampson Farm, right?” I asked.
Again, the heartbreaking politeness, the shake of the head.
I hesitated, feeling a chill creep down my spine. “What you’re trying to tell us then, is that we’re in your home.” An affirmative nod this time. The other three people behind her echoed the nod.
I was suddenly aware of the half-eaten cookie in my hand.
Barbara had edged up to a standing position. “I think, uh, we made a mistake here.”
Which is worse, the agonizing heat of embarrassment that floods the body during such a moment, or the lucid part of your brain that makes it painfully clear that you’ve not only wandered into a stranger’s house, making yourself at home, but you’ve also tracked in mud? Or perhaps it’s the absence of any witty retort, which fled, along with your composure, at the realization that this was not the place you thought it was.
Barbara and I performed that timeless dance, so entertaining to witness when you’re far, far removed from the situation. We edged out of the room in a sideways, crablike motion, one apology spilling over the next.
“I’m so sorry…”
“We saw the thatched roof, the lights, the open door…”’
“It was the ‘no smoking’ sign that made us so sure…”
“Really, that’s quite all right, no need to worry,” the owner assured us. “So sorry to have confused you.”
“It’s just that I was so anxious to get out of the car…”
“We’ll be on our way now…”
“So soon? Well then, if you take this road just another five hundred meters, you’ll come upon another house quite similar to ours, except, of course, the sign, which will read, “Sampson Farm.” Polite chuckles all around at this comment. Barbara and I offered weak smiles and one last apology before slinking out.
The night was silent except for the crunching of gravel under our feet and the roar of shame that still filled my ears. “Oops,” Barbara finally offered.
I guess something got me back in the car that night.