The Dirty Inn

Curran bought the place at a county auction. No one else had bid. The county had gotten it for back taxes from the estate of a dead drunk. He’d owned it and run it for forty-three years. Seems he hadn’t paid taxes on the last ten of them. According to the guidebooks, he hadn’t cleaned the bathrooms in twenty.

The day Curran showed up there were mice, leaks in the roof, raccoons in both sheds, broken windows, peeling paint, and plumbing like something out of Dickens. Even the hikers had complained. Even when they only had to pay five dollars a night for a bed.

Curran waited for a rainy night to get the grass good and soaked. Then he splashed gasoline all over the inn and lit it up. He sat at the edge of the clearing, watched it burn and drank a six-pack of beer. Took six hours for a cop to make it out there, by then it looked like an ash-tray after poker night.

The cop asked him what happened. Curran said he spilled some gasoline and it caught fire. The cop asked him if he’d ever heard the term ‘insurance fraud.’ Curran said he didn’t have insurance. The cop couldn’t think of a response and went away.

Took him a few weeks and a few guys to get all the char cleared away. Took longer when there wasn’t a road, when all they had was four miles of rocky ATV trail through the pines. They could have widened the path to admit a truck but it would have cost money, taken time. But more than that, Curran didn’t want a car path. He wanted this place only for the hikers.

The Trail was just a quarter mile away. It was a beautiful stretch of trail, wooded and lonely. For the northbound hikers it was thirty miles since they’d last passed anything, for the southbounders it was fourteen but the last town was little more than a crossroads and a boarded-up church. This was the perfect place for an inn.

So he built an inn. Nothing fancy, nothing storybook. Four little buildings, with small windows and peaked roofs. Ten bunk-beds to each of them. Then a main building with a half-dozen showers, a big kitchen, a cozy dining-room. A basement with supplies for sale and four big laundry machines. And a second floor for Curran. That was it.

The price went from five bucks a night to fifteen. Nobody complained. The water was warm. The bathrooms were clean and modern. A couple solar panels and a shed full of batteries and they never ran out of juice. That first year he put in two hothouses. The next year he added three more. The third year he planted three dozen apple trees. Ten years later and they started baring fruit.

It was easy to keep it clean – he offered people a second day’s stay if they took the rest day to clean and scrub. Not two days went by that someone didn’t take him up on it. Eight out of ten scrubbed the place until it shined.

He’d wanted to keep the old name. It’s rep was so bad that he knew he couldn’t. So he called it The Dirty Inn. The next year’s guidebooks said it was manna from heaven.

It was easy to run. Practically ran itself. That’s when he turned his attention to the food.

Curran had been a cook for twenty years. Put away a little money. Put away a lot more vodka but that was behind him now. He’d cooked a lot of places, eight years at Czárdás in LA and three at Mì Fú in Miami. The kind of places where people came to be seen and nobody had eaten a filling meal since they were old enough to stand in front of the mirror. Now he was at a place where the only diners were seventeen hundred miles into a twenty two hundred mile hike. They would have eaten whole pigs without stopping to cook them first. And most of them didn’t have the money for much more than another jar of peanut butter.

He’d serve something different every day. Waffles one morning, pancakes the next. The next day omorice or ful medammes. Quick lunches for those passing through, arepas or pita sandwiches (and always ice cream). But dinner was his big meal. Sometimes for thirty or forty people. Always for starving hikers. Always for weary travelers. Always for the fuckin’ hungry.

One day he’d make dumpling soup, with leafy greens and bitter roots floating in the broth. One day he’d spend five hours making pasta dough to serve forty dishes of ravioli with butternut squash and ricotta and fried sage. One day he’d fire up all the ovens and cook twenty loaves of bread, four at a time. He’d throw fresh herbs on everything and anything. He made food rich with fat and oil – and the hikers would come back for seconds. If not thirds.

He didn’t call it Hiker’s Food. He called it Traveler’s Food. Because when he tried a new recipe he imagined what a traveler would eat. Back in the day when they were just passing through, tired and hungry and they wanted to be happy and be warm. Close-to-the-earth food. Nothing fancy, something beautiful. If you asked him nicely he’d even bring up a few mugs of homebrewed beer. He made more money on the beer than on everything else combined.

Sometimes he got the distinct impression that people had hiked in from the road just to get to eat his food. He didn’t mind. It was the flattery of a lifetime. After a few years he wrote a cookbook. After a few years, he heard someone on a different Trail had opened a proper inn.

 

 

 

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~ by davekov on 19 January 2018.

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