Northampton Elevated at the Trolley Museum
Northampton Elevated at the Trolley Museum — not where we stayed, but would have been an improvement if we had!

By Robert Gillis
Published in the Foxboro Reporter and the Boston City Paper, 7/2010

There’s an old saying that one should never complain because half your audience isn’t listening and the other half is happy you’re getting what’s coming to you, so I’m not sure where you fine folks fit, but I hope perhaps you’re in the third category, “Wow, funny story, glad that wasn’t me!”

While this isn’t exactly the “How I spent my summer vacation” essay, there is certainly a need on my part to share, to vent, to sob uncontrollably while my therapist is out of town, and to be glad I’m back home and lament how much I need a vacation from my vacation.

So Sue and I are taking our first week of vacation away in over two years, up to a lovely area in Maine not far from where we were married years ago. We’re traveling economy class.

We’ve stayed at this particular place before; it’s a nice house in a beautiful area with all the comforts of home – a home of the 1950s, that is.

So anyway, after the six hour drive past Acadia into the part of Maine that is only one orbit away from the planet Neptune, we arrive at our beloved home away from home in the foggy harbor and immediately realize… No heat.

Not an issue around Foxboro, here in Humidity, Massachusetts, but most definitely necessary out by the Oort Cloud, Maine.

So we bundle up (as it’s 3am at this point) and sleep.

The next morning, Sue tells that the stove has no gas. I go outside and turn on the large tank and supply needed gas for morning coffee.

Buoyed by my repair skills, I decide to investigate the lack of heat. Being a computer geek, of course, allows me to comprehend HVAC, electrical systems and particle physics with ease, so in short order I realize that the furnace in the Spooky Cellar ™ is NOT going to rise to the occasion, mainly because the system is at least five years older than me.

“Could be the power,” I think to myself, and start flipping breakers. And welcome problem number two: The breakers won’t reset. I flip and switch and try repeatedly and the breakers insist they are ON, but they lie to me.

The wiring in the place is up to code, anyway (as long as you’re reading the 1970s electrical code guidelines)

So we have no electricity. Or heat. Or water, because, um, the electrical pump that powers the electrical thing that pumps the water is lacking… Electricity.

So no water, no shower, no dishwashing, oh my God no bathroom.

So at this point we’re calling the owner, who comes out right away and accompanies me to the cellar. She’s owned the place over twenty years, and points to a box next to the breaker box.

“What’s that one?” she asks.

“Oh, dear God,” I think to myself. “Um, I think that’s a timer for the heat?”

“Oh, that’s right, I had that put in last year, I think.”

We stare at the breaker box and furnace for a few minutes, but our combined concentration yields no results, so the landlady calls an electrician on the ROTARY phone in the house and within a brisk three hours he has arrived to… flip the breaker. Apparently he had the magic touch, or I am far too stupid to operate what is basically a light switch. He also mentions he hasn’t been out to the place in ten years. Good to know the upkeep has been carefully maintained.

He also fixes the furnace, although he didn’t reveal that secret to that bit of magic. I suspect it involved prayer.

So now we have all the features of a modern, post-World War One home, when we realize the water coming out of the faucet is rusty, strangely colored, and likely banned as a WMD by the UN.

Another call to the landlord on the rotary phones goes unanswered until the next day, but it’s not like humans need water for basic functions, or indeed, to survive, so her timely arrival the next day is not problem. At least the toilet now flushes.

The electrician is summoned again and reveals that the filters for the well water have not been changed in years (presumably since the Carter administration). That problem resolved, we now only have to deal with simple things, like the dead mice in the cellar (really), and the windows that only half open. And the doorknob that came off in my hand.

At this point I am having SERIOUS George Bailey flashbacks.

To be fair, once these problems were resolved, we had a lovely vacation that included trips to gorgeous Acadia National Park, stops for Sue’s beloved lobster at our favorite place, a whale watch, and shopping for goodies in Bar Harbor. Even with small funds, we had a nice time.

But my vacation gripe is with the place itself, and the owner in particular. This is a house that we’ve rented for the week four or five times over the last 12 years, and we always wondered why the rates were so reasonable. Now we know.

Look, I understand that being a landlord stinks – I speak from personal experience on that point – and I know it’s a drag to have to clean up and maintain a rental every week for tourists, many who don’t give damn about anything. But if you choose to do it, well, do it. Do the work. Or stop renting it.

Sue and I (and my family) always leave a place cleaner than we find it, and quite frankly, that week is the only one we’ll have to vacation away for at least another year. So while our week is just another rental for the landlord, it’s a special, once a year (or every two year) event for us. Our one chance for a vacation.

Look, things can and do go wrong in any vacation and every rental. That’s just life. But all of the issues we faced at the rental were avoidable if the owner had simply been more diligent about keeping the property up to date, and doing extremely basic maintenance.

Now, I don’t use this column as a bully pulpit, never have, and never will. So no names, or places, or even hints. That’s not my style.

We spoke to the owner personally, and while she apologized, she was noncommittal about future upkeep, as she has been trying to sell the place for a few years. We told her that if she has lost interest in the place, perhaps she should stop renting it out until she sells.

Vacations – especially in this day — are so very precious – and when a landlord just lets a place go so badly that another regular tenant left after one day and demanded their money back, and another also expressed great dissatisfaction with the upkeep, it’s really so very sad.

Sue and I will hopefully return to our beloved Acadia for another vacation next year, but will obviously seek other accommodations. We’re not wealthy and like most people, this is our one shot at a time away this summer.

So, thanks for letting me vent, and if you have vacation woes know you’re not alone.

By the way – and this is true, no joke — if you’re interested in buying the property, the owner is selling it:

For 1.2 million dollars.

I swear that is really the price.

I wish her good luck with that.

To everyone else, if you travel this summer, to quote a favorite movie, “May your journey be free of incident.”

Maybe next time, mine will be too!

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