Only in Wheeling: “The Dog Ate My Homework”

Ed. Note: This is the third installment of an occasional column titled “Only in Wheeling.” The stories featured here are stories of the quaint, quirky, weirdly alluring things that happen in a unique town like this.  The column is intended to be a sort of celebration of the “magic” of Wheeling life and of the people who make it so worth being here.

The dog ate my homework.” “My printer ran out of ink.” “My grandfather died.”

As a teacher, I’ve heard them all. Students offer any number of these classic, stock excuses when they are unprepared for class, and occasionally, they’re true. The fact of the matter is “stuff” happens. And it has happened to all of us. Life has a way of interfering with best laid plans at inopportune moments. Throughout my teaching career, I’ve tried very hard to listen to my students with a compassionate ear when the proverbial dog has eaten their homework. This kind of compassionate approach to the homework-hungry dogs in life would seem to come with the territory of my profession. However, in the cutthroat, capitalist world of business, life’s homework-eating dogs are usually not met with such compassion; they typically result only in us customers being forced to swallow the cost ourselves.

My father-in-law has always loved camping. He loves everything about camping: playing cards around a pop-up table, having a few cold ones, and grilling up “mountain pies” on an open flame. But really, it’s all about the fire. I’ve never known someone to take such joy in the building of a campfire. Throughout his lifetime, my father-in-law has owned a lot of different equipment to help him slake his thirst for camping—from his impressive collection of walking sticks to the series of pop-up campers he has bought and sold, all the way down the modest cabin he and his two brothers proudly co-owned in Somerset County, Pa., for all those years. However, at this point in his life, my father-in-law has tapered off in his collection of camping paraphernalia. No more Somerset County cabin; no more pop-up campers. Only the walking sticks and trusty “mountain pie” maker remain.

Suffice it to say that since my wife and I settled back in Wheeling roughly seven and a half years ago, my father-in-law has had his eye on Oglebay Park. This not-so-hidden gem offers so much for the outdoor aficionado to love: that Lodge, all those rustic cabins, the walking trails, that roaring fire atop the ski slope during the winter months. In fact, from time to time, my wife and I have, ourselves, become somewhat jealous of all those out-of-towners who get to take advantage of the rustic lodging and amenities. It just always seemed a bit odd for us to take a “vacation” five miles away from our home. However, that’s just what we did. Because of some unforeseen circumstances during the summer, my mother- and father-in-law did not have an opportunity to attend the annual family vacation last year. As a consolation—and with a special nod to my father-in-law’s love for camping—we decided to plan a weekend getaway in an Oglebay cottage early last autumn.

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We checked into Willow Cottage on a Friday afternoon. After unpacking the cars, my father-in-law immediately set to work on collecting kindling. It was a damp, rainy weekend, so he had to find his kindling early enough to bring it in and allow it to dry out a bit. After quick dinner at a local eatery, we returned to the cabin and proceeded to do all the things my father-in-law had come to associate with camping. We gathered around a roaring fire in the cabin’s fireplace. We cracked open a few cold ones. We played cards. We roasted marshmallows for s’mores. (After all, who needs a “mountain pie” when you’ve just had dinner?) Then, we retired to our cozy sleeping quarters to cap off a perfect night of camping. It was only night one of two, so we would get to do all again the next day. Or so we thought.

The call came in around 3 a.m. (hard to say for sure amidst all of the sleepiness and confusion). We had just gotten word that my wife’s 95 year-old grandmother was being taken to the hospital. As a result, my mother- and father-in-law left immediately to make the 90-minute trek to the hospital. The rest of us (my wife and I as well as my sister- and brother-in-law) got to work on packing up the cabin—reloading the freshly unpacked suitcases, emptying the fridge, gathering all the belongings that had only just begun to get settled into our weekend home. Our two-night weekend getaway had turned into a half-night nervous scramble.

My sister-in-law called the front desk of the Lodge first thing in the morning to explain the situation and arrange the sudden, change-of-plan checkout. When my sister-in-law placed that early morning phone call, it undoubtedly sounded like “the dog ate my homework.” In the dog-eat-dog world of business, our family’s misfortune was neither the fault nor the direct responsibility of the Oglebay Resort & Conference Center. After all, the job of a successful business is to serve the customer while maximizing profit. If the customer experiences a change of mind, heart, or plan, that’s on the customer. As a result, we were fully prepared to eat the cost of the unused night’s stay. However, the customer service representative from the Lodge informed us that she would be crediting our account for that second night. We were astonished when my sister-in-law hung up the phone and relayed the news. There would certainly be no way for Oglebay to clean, prep, and rent that cabin for Saturday night. That night would simply be lost revenue. But the amazing thing is that rather than passing that cost on to the customer—a result we fully expected—the park chose to swallow the cost itself. The Oglebay Resort & Conference Center had placed service of the customer as a higher priority than maximization of profit. In short, it had chosen to adopt our family’s misfortune as its own misfortune. The company had treated us—a nameless, faceless customer—the way a caring teacher might treat a near-and-dear student. Life’s proverbial dog had eaten our homework, and we were being given a passing grade nonetheless. Only in Wheeling would a business treat a customer with understanding and compassion at its own personal cost. And that is why I live here.