If you're looking for a romantic and inexpensive weekend away from the city, the rolling farmland of the Cumberland Valley in south central Pennsylvania may be the place to go, as Lorraine Goldman wrote [Weekend, October 5], but the place to stay is definitely not the old Ryron mansion, now the Mercersburg Inn.
Ms. Goldman wrote that the best part of her recent visit was a tour with the owner and manager, Don Clevenger. Well I wonder, did she stay there or just take the tour? I guess it's a little late to ask that question. We probably should have guessed that if the best part of a visit to an inn is a tour of the place with the innkeeper, that doesn't say much for the inn he keeps or his regard for the fundamentals of innkeeping.
Let me tell you . . . the rest of the story.
When you call in advance for a reservation, say 48 hours in advance, you will be assured that accommodations are available and advised that your room with bath will be held for you. "We don't have formal check-in or check-out times," you will be told, "but we will hold your room for you."
We arrived at 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon, after a day's drive. There was a couple sitting in the grand central hall, another standing at the reception desk.
As we walked toward the desk, the young woman behind it looked up and said, "May I help you?"
"Yes," I replied, "My name is Shafer, we have a reservation for tonight."
"Oh Jesus!" she explained, reaching for the telephone to begin a lengthy conversation with someone who had reason to discuss the staffing of the establishment for the dinner hour. I think the problem had something to do with a babysitter who couldn't.
At any rate, when the conversation ended, the young woman darted up the grand staircase without a word to any of us.
We stepped into the bar. It was not yet open for business. We walked into the dining room. There was no one in attendance and no prospect that there would be anytime soon, so we strolled back to the vestibule.
The receptionist was just returning from upstairs. "Who's next?" she inquired.Can you imagine that? "Who's next?"
Well the couple seated in the grand central hall decided they were next and stepped to the desk to register. Fortunately, I suspect, they were not asked whether they had reservations. Before they had completed the check-in, a family of four descended the curved staircase. The receptionist went to meet them as they alighted and said to the man, "Sir, could I ask you to move to another room? We'll put a roll-away in it and I'm sure it will be all right."
The man was obviously taken aback by the suggestion. "Why?" he asked. He did not get an answer, or at least not one we could hear from our perch on the steps of the other of the dual curved staircases. The receptionist somehow turned the four guests around and took them back upstairs to pursue the rearrangement of their accommodations.
While we waited for her return, another young lady entered, went behind the desk, answered the telephone, walked into the bar, went into the dining room, came back to the vestibule and inquired of no one in particular as to the whereabouts of the receptionist. The waiting guests answered in unison and she promptly disappeared up the curved staircase.
By now we had been waiting for our room for half an hour. The receptionist returned to the vestibule just in advance of the family she had relocated. Back at the reception desk she checked her records, looked at us, looked at the couple standing at the desk and said to them, "Who's next? Do you four know each other? I sure hope so because you may have to share a room!"
Without further explanation, she darted back up the stairway again. After a few minutes more, she returned, found a key for the couple who had just registered, and took them to their room.
As she descended the curved staircase again, another couple entered the grand central hall and started toward the reception desk.
"Who's next?" the receptionist asked. Everyone glared at her. "Who has reservations?" she asked, "We do," each couple replied in turn.
"Look," she said, "there are six of you. I have one dormitory room with four single beds. You'll have to share the bath." It didn't seem to occur to her that we would have to share more than the bath.
"How can that be?" I asked. "We called ahead. We were assured of a room. We drove a long way out of our way to come here. What's hapapened to our reservation?"
"I know it's been a long day and you're all tired, but we had two couples who came down together last night from New York decide to stay over tonight and we can't very well ask them to leave."
"You could," I said, "and you should. If you knew anything at all about innkeeping, you would not permit this to happen to guests who came here expecting to be provided with accommodation, as promised."
With that we took our leave. I don't know about the other couples in the vestibule, but as we returned to our car, another couple drove up and began unpacking.
"Don't bother," I said, "there are no rooms."
"That's no problem," the man said. "We have a reservation."
"So did we," I replied, "but that turned out to be six people in four single beds sharing one bath, and even at that we were kept waiting for over an hour before they told us about it."
So my suggestion to Ms. Goldman and her readers is that it might be best to avoid the Mercersburg Inn, unless you merely want to tour the place. I can't even tell you if it's worth the trip, but I doubt it.
Lorraine Goldman says that the only problem she has had in several stays at the Mercersburg Inn was some back trouble she brought with her -- and the management thoughtfully furnshed her with two hard chairs when she said she couldn't use soft ones.