The host in Miami was Peruvian.
Her husband was from coastal Italy. Their AirB&B room to let, at a quiet condo in Kendall, was small, comfortable, and private, and included a larger kitchen whose facilities were completely open for use. Just minutes away from every thoroughfare and all things Miami. Perfect.
With the need to travel to the upper west side of Manhattan about a piano, going AirB&B seemed the ticket once again. And, again, everything from start to finish was just right; a young couple, she a former life coach, offering a living area, a kitchen and, together with bed and bath, easy access to all transportation hubs. Yes; I was sold on this, the world’s newest option for affordable, overnight and vacation destination lodging.
Ripley, New York had always been a vignette in the landscape of my history. Traveling to and from college via Rtes 5 or 20 back in the day, I knew its village status to house one or two fellow professionals opting for a small scale, easily paced, virtually anonymous lifestyle. So, when one weekend in late July beckoned both my professional and personal schedule to the banks of Bemus Point, I looked up AirB&B in Western NY.
Among several picturesque offerings which appeared, the real stand out hailed from: Yes. Ripley, NY.
Not only directly en route home from Lake Chautauqua, the setting seemed bucolic; an historic mansion, no less, sure to please the palate of two aging aesthetes after a long and dazzling evening making music at The Italian Fisherman’s Bemus Bay Pops, its summer concert series lakeside.
Plus, the price: for one night, a solid $25 cheaper than its regional counterparts, and with multiple rooms to tour a bonus.
The host, via AirB&B’s messaging template, readily responded to my initial queries. Yes; there was a bathroom, down the hall; no, a late check in would not be prohibitive – he was up ’til all hours. No; there would be no minimum time frame to secure a room and, yes; there was one available for Saturday. I booked it.
Immediate accessibility. A cell number, for use texting any concerns, just like the host from Manhattan. Entering the digits into my addressbook, I couldn’t help noting that the NYC host’s number was still there. And, I marveled yet again at this world-wide, yet present in the palm of the hand, travel agency.
Excitement: short-lived. Due to a number of concerns, one of them ultimately medical, our stay at the mansion had to be cancelled. As soon as I knew I texted the host, telling him so, being sure that my notice was given well within the allotted time frame as outlined by the host’s page; and, once again, he promptly replied, assuring me that no cancellation fees were ever assigned by him to guests of the mansion.
The weekend came, and the weekend went. By Monday, I began to observe more than one automated email, coming from AirB&B and inquiring into our visit to the mansion. How did we enjoy our stay? Would we rate the host? Would we complete a survey? We had not stayed; we could not rate; we could not complete a survey. Something was wrong.
Via the links they provided within the body of the automated emails, I began to send replies to AirB&B. Within hours, they’d connected me to one Sushil, an AirB&B representative, who advised that my credit card had, indeed, been charged the full fee for one night in Ripley: $125. I had failed to note, never having been advised throughout, that cancellation required notifying not the host but AirB&B, directly, via their website. My only recourse, Sushil said, was to fill out a Resolution Form.
Dutifully, I moved to the Resolution Form at the AirB&B website. While filling the message box with gushing apologies for my oversight to the host, I could not help also noting that this form was intended for guest complaints, rather than refunds of any previously cancelled fees. Since Sushil had also stated that the only way I could actually secure any refund would be through the host, directly, I made sure to gush appropriately to that end. I also noted that the maximum amount allowed by AirB&B for such reimbursement for damages would be: $107.
Tenaciously, I returned to the host’s messaging option. He had provided his cell phone number; I had saved it in my addressbook; so, I reiterated my embarrassment, per failing to note the proper cancellation procedure, in a text. I asked him if he would please refund my fee, as I fully intended to be a future guest at the mansion.
However, though he had been readily responsive during the steps leading up to my having booked the overnight, now the man fell silent. Two subsequent phone calls placed went right to voicemail; two more texts, no reply. Then, I searched out the mansion itself, for an office phone number, and found one – at their Facebook page. But, the voicemailbox, so said an automated outgoing, was full.
Summer was peaking. On the cusp of its waning toward fall, in this Great Lake region, the foliage on Rte 5 would also be full. Perhaps a drive east, toward NY state, would be not only pleasant and richly nostalgic, but effective. I texted the host in Facebook messenger, asking one last time for reimbursement and suggesting that I might just head to the mansion to resolve the whole thing in person.
Crossing into the borough of Ripley, I soon recalled that the community itself was situated between Rtes 5 and 20; turning east on 20 after taking the north-south connector, I quickly found myself leaving the town behind entirely and stopped at The House of Pottery for directions.
Its proprietor, an artist, mentioning that the mansion had recently been repainted, rerouted me back eastbound. In minutes, I came upon the stately, stone edifice, quite close to the north side of the highway which had become the town’s main street, its expansive presence encased by a wall of the same structural stone and a black, period, wrought iron fence.
Pulling up to the curb, I could see through my car windshield that a central, double main gate had been tied closed. Where was access to entry into this castle?
A smaller, single gate to the right of the main and just beyond a section of stone wall and some greenery appeared unlocked; furthermore, across a small interior patio, a large single wooden door stood ajar.
I stepped out of my car, approached the gate, and carefully released the latch. Passing through the gate, I noted gardening materials – a bag of soil treatment product, maybe a tool….gingerly, I took the two stone steps leading to the open door, and peeked across.
Voices could be heard, in a room not visible to the far left. Straight ahead, beautiful wood carved furnishings could be seen within what appeared to be an area in the process of being cleaned.
I tip-toed forward, leaning my head toward the room. “Hello…?” I tried. “…..hello…..?”
Instantly, a yipping terrier’s crescendo from the room where the voices had been heard, and charging directly toward me…. I turned, trying to get away, just as a tall, broad shouldered man appeared behind.
Reaching the door itself just after I, he took ahold of the door as if to close it, presumably to prevent the dog from escaping. I looked up at him, recognizing the face of the host at the AirB&B site.
“Hello!….I began, asking if he were the host by name. “Yes”, he replied, smiling.
And, then I introduced myself.
No sooner had the final syllable of my last name left my tongue – within less than two seconds – his whole countenance contorted. Jaw jutting forward, he bit his lip; and, bursting forth in rage, he hollered, directly into my face:
” GET OFF MY PROPERTY!!!!DON’T YOU THREATEN MY FAMILY!!!!!GET OFF MY PROPERTYYYYYYY!!!!’
Blindly, my eyes crossed. And, then, I felt it. A large, steel-tined rake in his hands and he, SWIPING it at me, slamming it against the pavement behind my hastily retreating feet, slamming and slamming and slamming it as he screamed, missing the back of my head by hairs, and the back of my ankles, hollering and chasing me all the way to the gate through which I was just barely able to escape.
From the mouth of my shaking face, the only words that came forth:
“I didn’t threaten you!!! I just came to ask for my money back — !”
Looming, with his left arm raised, pointing at me like Caligula, relentlessly roaring at the top of his lungs – as I scrambled into the car, with useless legs that buckled and folded, I lurched away.
My first thought was to wonder if anybody saw. Anybody from the town of Ripley, NY. Perhaps a car had driven by. Perhaps a head had poked out, from a nearby storefront or a residence window. Anybody. Surely, somebody had HEARD. The bellowing was ungodly.
I saw nobody.
My next thought was to drive back to The House of Pottery. I had to tell somebody, to make contact with a living human, a sane being, something that breathed healthy life and could restore me to the here and now before I endured a psychotic break from which there would be no return.
I entered the Pottery store. Its proprietor was right where I had left him, behind his counter, and a woman entering as I had left was still standing inside with her child in arms.
Both of them believed me, and the state of terror which had seized me. Both were sure that I should report the incident. Where was the police station? They looked at each other. The proprietor thought it would be at least Mayville.
I drove back toward town, and turned into the post office parking lot. The door to the post office was open. Though the time was not even 2 pm on a Thursday, a strange ceiling to floor transparent plastic vertical blind with a lock on it enclosed the entire service area, and there was nobody human anywhere near it. I exited, and crossed the lot to the bank on the corner. Inside, there were several women behind a teller window so old it seemed part of a time warp straight out of Film Noir. None of this was comforting.
All of the women, however, seemed to know the host of the mansion. The tallest one stiffened and set her lips when I mentioned his name.
After each woman registered her own reticent recognition of this situation, the tallest one gave me a piece of paper with the Sheriff’s phone number on it and let me use the restroom, which was downstairs opposite the round table in the breakroom with its door wide open.
Then, I went outside, and sat in my car, and called the Sheriff.
Two and a half hours later, after a phone conversation with a state trooper who had never heard of AirB&B, two of these finally pulled into the bank parking lot. The younger was the officer who had heard my story by phone; the elder, face flushed like someone who could either use a drink or be well on his way toward the next one, in the full authority of his seniority expected me to recount the whole thing one more time. My presence had interrupted his day, they had both traveled all the way from Fredonia, and he was in no mood to defend a single, hysterical woman in workout clothing driving a 2008 Pontiac with a PA license.
I rehashed the entire incident. Reaching the part where the host raised the rake, I was emboldened by traumatic drama. The elder officer told me to quiet down. I said I thought they wanted the details of the case, as it had unfolded. When I was finished, the elder officer set his two hands parallel about two feet apart and declared that NY law did not permit trespassing on private property. I looked at him, and asked him if he was afraid. Then, I asked him if he had already decided that he would not defend me.
Both officers were sure of two things. One: the mansion was private property, not owned by AirB&B. Two, there were no witnesses. And, without the latter, I would be subject to whatever version of the truth the host of the mansion chose to present. In court. Because, as the younger officer intoned, neither of them could represent me to the alleged. All they could do was file the report, and send it along to the court in western NY, Southern Tier or whatever the label appropriate for that string of hamlets lining wine country along the lake, each of them completely free of the presence of law enforcement until at least Mayville.
I stood beside my Pontiac. The time was well beyond mid-day. I had spent over three hours, from arrival to pending departure, on this venture. “DON’T THREATEN MY FAMILY!” he’d bellowed, as he slammed me off his patio with that metal rake. I stood, the orphan of an Italian barber and his wife the seamstress. Images of the house I’d called my own for nearly 30 years, now thoroughly spinning off into the cosmos on the wings of a twister, swirled in my head.
I looked at the two officers. Offering something about being a 60 year old woman alone in her own house, in need of protecting that which was hers, I thanked them for their time and apologized for taking it. Then, I got in my car, and drove home.
Just as I was about to sit down to a carefully prepared meal of pasta in oil, with fresh home grown herbs of basil, thyme, rosemary, and sage, and a chopped clove garlic, and some roasted reds under Parm-Romano, sprinkled with crumbles of Hilary’s Thai burger and more cheese I saw where, ringer off, I had missed a call.
It was from the official phone number of a certain historic mansion in Ripley, NY. And, it came in just as I spied two emails from AirB&B. The host had refunded me the maximum allowable by the Resolution Form: $107. And, he had done so at approximately 1:34 pm – on or about the moment I had unlawfully stepped onto his property.
I’ve heard it said that Peru is the place to go when you want to escape the present, have your senses challenged by the incomprehensible, and enter worlds yet unimagined in this lifetime.
I don’t know about that. I’ve been to Ripley, New York.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 7/27/17 All rights those of this author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Be a good person. Or, pretend to be. Make it work.