b Papa Dog's Blog: Pie and Fussiness at the Madonna Inn

Papa Dog's Blog

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Friday, December 31, 2004

Pie and Fussiness at the Madonna Inn

It was probably a strategic error stopping at the Madonna Inn, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. If, like me, you’re not from SoCal (or even Cal, or even UniStaAme*), you may not be familiar with the Madonna Inn. I had never heard of it in the days before Mama Dog. My drives up and down the California coast were generally down arrow-straight I-5 to San Diego for the annual gala festival of geeks, greedheads, sweaty fat bearded men, and rented tits**. I had no reason to go by way of 101, no reason to pass through San Luis Obispo, and no reason ever to see the fabulous Madonna Inn. For Mama Dog, though, the Madonna Inn was a childhood fixture, where bathroom breaks and slices of pie were had on the way north from Santa Barbara.

The place is an odd concoction of storybook Swiss kitsch and pulp-era fantasies, full of turrets, chimneys and spires, winding staircases, the damnedest stone urinals you’re ever likely to see.*** It seems frozen in some weird 1950s notion of outrageous eccentric opulence, like the sort of place Dean Martin might take a broad for a ring-a-ding-ding good time. Each of the inn’s 109 rooms is unique, decorated to illustrate a specific theme. As Mama Dog points out, kitsch it is, but everything is made to demanding specifications with the best possible materials. Much copper, polished rock, marble, stained glass, and carved wood. No plastic and Formica here.

For a while, we were making a habit of staying the night at the Madonna Inn on the way to Santa Barbara. We had a notion of working our way through all 109 of the rooms, but then we got Doggy Dog and ran afoul of their unfortunate no pets policy. We only made it through two rooms – the Cloud Nine and the Austrian Suite. I’m still kind of bummed that we never got around to the Caveman Room or the glorious awfulness of the Irish Hills, but at least we bought ourselves a passel of their distinctive water goblets, so we always have a touch of the Madonna at home.

This trip, it was past 1:30 by the time we came to Pismo, and we were considering a stop at that Scottish place**** or, maybe worse, MDD’s favourite place, when we decided to press on to SLO and lunch at the wacky Madonna Inn. I was thinking we were well past the lunch rush and could probably be seated quickly – which turned out to emphatically not be the case. We cracked a window for Doggy Dog, threw my raincoat over Baby Dog in the carseat, and hustled through the rainy parking lot to the Copper Café. We were handed a beeper and told the wait would be twenty minutes. We headed to the lobby where it’s Christmassy on any given day, and even more so at Ho Ho time…fake snow, tinsel, animatronic elves, you name it. There’s apparently a scene in Aria where Buck Henry, high on ecstasy, confronts this garden of loopiness. Never seen it, despite having lived for years with a housemate who owned a copy on laserdisc.*****

Baby Dog snoozed in her carseat while we took turns peeing in caves, falling further behind on our schedule and losing daylight. Eventually the beeper went off and we were seated. Mama Dog ordered tri-tip in hopes of making up for her recent bad experience with same. I was dreaming of a waffle, ever keen to have breakfast anytime. Alas, it was not to be. I was very disappointed to learn that the “anytime” breakfasts included any egg (ick!) dish, but not waffles, French toast, or pancakes. Oh well. Thinking ahead to saving room for dessert, I settled for just a grilled cheese sarmy and a side of bacon.

The main course went well. Baby Dog woke up but seemed interested and engaged in her new and novel surroundings. There was a seven-year-old boy at the table next to us who seemed fascinated by her and made faces and chatter at her throughout the meal, telling Mama Dog about how he’s now losing the same two teeth that are starting to come in on Baby Dog and the names of other children he knows of similar size. I don’t remember little boys – when I was one – being quite so keen on babies, but it seems they are these days. I guess we live in more sensitive times.

Baby Dog was cranky by the time we finished, but diets begin Sunday, so we were both itching for a slice of pie. Mama Dog gathered up baby and took her down to the bathroom for a diaper change, hurriedly selecting strawberry pie as she went. When the waiter came, he said strawberry was out of season. D’oh! I racked my brain. Cherry seemed the obvious substituted, but it seemed like a bit of a risk. I substituted tried-and-true apple instead. Then he hit me with: dutch apple or regular? Heated? A la mode? How the fuck should I know? Stop asking questions! We both agreed it would probably be better to wait until the lady returned. She did and ordered cherry. Figures.

By the time the pies arrived, Baby Dog was fussy again, and wouldn’t be quieted. Mama Dog tends to get stressed in this situation, so I gathered Baby up and told her we should take turns with the pie. Hers had ice cream, so she should go first. Baby Dog and I went off to explore the lobby some more, looking at Christmas lights and animatronic goobers and so forth. Nothing seemed to quite calm her down. I implored Mama Dog to take her time and savour the pie, but knew she’d be too nervous to do anything but hurriedly gobble. And of course I made things worse by circuiting back through the café, never quite sure when she’d be done. Poor Mama Dog never gets to take her time with dessert anymore.

When she had finished, she took Baby and headed back again to the gaudy bathroom for another change and a bit of nursing while I sat down and tucked in at my chocolate cream pie. I tend to gobble dessert anyway, but I tried to take my time with my tea. I knew they’d be a while.

After we were all done, Mama Dog sat with baby in the car while I walked Doggy Dog around the parking lot in the rain, a miserable little trek in my leaking Seibels, but at least I was rewarded when he took a little steaming poop on the late Alex Madonna’s well-kept grass. Then we were off in the driving rain with an hour of daylight left to cover the 231.9 miles home.

Here’s the thing that was funniest to me: of all the blinking lights and shiny toys and swivelling gnomes, the thing that most captivated Baby Dog’s attention in the lobby was the row of gold hangers on the coat rack.
*Here’s a fun thing you can do at home, too! When I told Mama Dog about the Navy’s penchant for constructing acronyms by taking the first three letters of words – for example, NAVFACENGCOMPAC is Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Pacific – we started making such constructions to describe breakfast foods. The classic was ENGMUFAVOCOF – for English Muffin with avocado and coffee.
**Much overlap amongst the first three categories. Not so much with the fourth.
***If you followed that link, stop for a moment and share with me a moment of wonder at the discovery of such a site as “urinal.net.” Hmmmm.
*****Presumably for the Bridget Fonda (and other) nudity, but I never asked.


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