Americans are most adaptable creatures. With the economy rapidly withering away and fuel prices reaching nausea-inducing heights, all our wonderful summer vacation plans have melted faster than ice on Mars. No worries, we’ll just smile and plan a “staycation” instead; thereby coining yet another annoying buzzword we can use to create yet another new marketing niche to hawk stay-home vacation gear and local hotel packages and drive ourselves even deeper into the credit pit. With any luck, local tourist meccas will be able to make up for the missing out-of-town dollars by servicing North Idahoans too broke to trek elsewhere and willing to rediscover their own backyard.
A great way to begin gathering some ideas for your staycation is by visiting one of the local visitor centers such as the lofty new downtown Coeur d’Alene facility or the small hut located at the Huetter rest area on I-90. Both are majorly stocked with a ton of free maps, magazines and brochures featuring every imaginable thing to see and do in every little blink-and-you-miss-it town in North Idaho and beyond. Pretend you’re an actual tourist visiting for the first time; you’ll be surprised to realize all the places you’re basically unfamiliar with no matter how long you’ve lived in the area.
Get ideas from the visitor host and ask important questions like “Can you recommend a good lake” or “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” Have lots of the free cookies and coffee; make it a meal. Load up your arms; take exactly one copy of each publication even though you’ll probably never actually use them and don’t forget to throw some Canadian coins in the donation jar.
Send the kids off to Bible Camp and book a theme room for you and your significant other in the vintage splendor of the Bennett Bay Inn on East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. It’s been there as long as anyone can remember, once serving as the first sign of civilization for those whizzing eastbound into Coeur d’Alene on what used to be Interstate 10, then Interstate 90.
The Bennett Bay Inn harbors a bit of a bawdy reputation, something I witnessed repeatedly many years back when I was working as a pizza delivery boy. I’ll admit, the first time I had an elderly gentleman accept his pizza drunk, dripping wet, and buck naked it was rather shocking. Several similar incidents later and I was un-phased, peering in and waving “hi” to hungry lady-friends soaking in the bubbles of the in-suite hot tub, dirty movies playing in the background.
The Bennett Bay Inn is notable for its unique theme rooms, including the frilly Garden and Victorian suites, the Ocean Room, the Roman Room, the Hawaiian Room and my favorite, the cozy Jungle Room with it’s luscious ferns and stuffed dead parrot. The Galaxy room is custom-built for Sci-Fi geeks in love, complete with Star Trek paraphernalia, glow-in-the-dark solar system stickers and like each of the theme suites, a huge old-school Jacuzzi, not a skimpy little jetted bath.
The “Presidential Suite” of the Bennett Bay Inn is the wood-paneled Montana Room, the largest room at the inn and the only one with a fireplace. It has a giant, 500-gallon hot tub and a living room with a spectacular view of the lake, although the vibe is more Cabella’s clearance sale than it is rustic mountain cabin. There’s also an outdoor pool so you can refresh yourself between hot tub sessions, and an on-site c-store in case you run low on Zima and Kool Lights.
Roll east to Wallace and book a night or two at the Molly B’Damn Motel, named after the beloved nurse-prostitute folk-hero who once charmed everyone in the greater Wallace area, well, at least the men, with her strawberry locks, Irish charm, and Shakespearian wit. She died young trying to save her people from typhoid, and she was legendary in the sack, so the Silver Valley perpetually honors her memory.
Appropriate then, that the Molly B’Damn Motel seems like it has experienced more than it’s fair share of disease and debauchery over the years. It’s nothing fancy, faded red velvet bedspreads and white ruffles vaguely evoking the original B’Damn style, but it makes for a good home base to check out cool Wallace stuff like the Bordello Museum, Sixth Street Melodrama and the massive quantity of saloons and bars all within a tiny four block radius.
Slightly higher on the fancy scale is Bayview’s Dromore Manor, a Bed and Breakfast with a Victorian theme and a cotton-candy pink exterior that’s half Tim Burton and half Hello Kitty. The romantic “Rose Room” is definitely for couples, with a giant 4-poster bed nestled in between bay windows overlooking an awe-inspiring view of Lake Pend Oreille. If your staycation companion isn’t exactly your bed-buddy, the “Willow Room” has twin feather beds and enough elegant frou-frou to suit both Queen Victoria herself as well as posh Victoria Beckham.
Providing an even better celebrity hideaway is the Manor’s “Lilac Cottage”, a detached, very private hut which overlooks the lake and can be rented by the week. Breakfast can be enjoyed overlooking the lake out on the veranda and is made “with personal attention to your dietary requirements.” Pop Tarts and Gatorade?
For the ultimate affordable getaway, don’t go anywhere at all. Hang a “go away” sign on your door, put on your comfiest sweats and settle in your living room for a few days of do-nothing laziness. Order meals for delivery – King Pizza is the best local option for a hot pie, but Pita Pit never fails to hit the spot and Domino’s is even delivering Haagen-Dazs ice cream now, so there goes any reason to leave the house. Have a “National Lampoon’s Vacation” movie fest, including the classic Chevy Chase original and all four sequels, from “European” to “Christmas” to “Vegas” to the direct-to-video “Christmas 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure.”
Run a cold bath but don’t get in, just sit next to it in a folding lounge chair wearing your swim gear and sunglasses listening to Brazillian jazz, sipping Mai Tais and reading People magazine. When was the last time you actually sat and put together a jigsaw puzzle? Better yet, figure out ways to turn Scrabble or Operation into drinking games, then dust off the disco records and boogie the night away whilst flipping the light switch on and off really fast for that strobe light effect. It might not be the same as week in the south of France, but you won’t have to spend a cent on gas or airfare, and the locals are much friendlier.