Special post yesterday, if you missed it. And now, today’s matinee presentation:
It’s the dark side of the summer travel season, the kind of thing they make cheap horror movies about.
You’re in an unfamiliar town a couple hundred miles from home, and fixing to leave, and the engine in your usually trustworthy car won’t turn over for love or money.
And there you are, stranded amid strangers, praying you can find a repairman who doesn’t automatically tack 40 percent onto the bill of anyone with an out-of-state plate … and secretly, desperately hoping that the townspeople don’t turn into flesh-eating, cult-worshiping, shambling ZOMBIES at the sound of the mid-morning church bell.
OK, I may be exaggerating a little bit about that zombie business. But it’s true that being stranded a long way from home is a drag, especially on getaway day.
And that’s where my grandparents, and probably my great-grandma too, seem to have found themselves this month in 1967.
(It’s possible, based on my grandpa’s handwriting, that he got the battery replaced after returning to Stamford. You’ll notice that “Steamtown/Bellows Falls” is written in a relatively light hand, while “New Car Battery” and “Back Home” are in a different, visibly darker hand. For my purposes, I’m going to presume that the battery got replaced in Bellows Falls. Makes a better story.)
If I had to get stranded anywhere with a dead battery, the village of Bellows Falls, Vermont, sounds like a pleasant enough place. It’s perched on the Connecticut River, hard by the New Hampshire state line, about as quintessentially New England a location as Central Casting could produce. Heck, if I broke down there, I might just rent a room above the drugstore, buy a fishing license and throw in my lot with the townies.
(Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, with his typical gamy brio, has been known to refer to the town as “Fellows Balls.” Stay as sweet as you are, Steve.)
Perhaps, while my grandpa was waiting for his repair, one of the locals might have chatted him up about a big piece of local news. The Boston Red Sox, New England’s own Olde Towne Team, had made a Bellows Falls native their first-round pick in the January 1967 draft. The kid hadn’t yet started his pro career as of that August, but people were already predicting big things for him. They were right.
That makes things sound kind of idyllic, of course — a brief inconvenience, a friendly chat, and back on the road. The real situation might not have been so clement as simply stalling out in front of the town green. My grandparents might have had trouble somewhere outside of town and been towed in, which is never any fun.
(My mom, my brother and I had that happen twice in one road trip in the mid-’80s, when heavy rains kept causing the poorly designed distributor cap in our Plymouth Horizon to break. I can remember eating a glum dinner in some grungy fast-food outpost, wondering how long it was going to take us to get home. Lee Iacocca lost himself a customer that night, somewhere between Fairfield and Monroe counties.)
Anyway, back to 1967: My grandpa was a train buff, so it doesn’t surprise me that he would have gone to see Steamtown USA, which was then a privately held steam railroad museum in Bellows Falls. It has since been moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania, and is now operated as a National Historic Site. That’s only about an hour from my house, but I’ve not been there.
I’m also pleased to see my grandparents got good weather for their Lake Sunapee cruise on Aug. 23. As previously mentioned, they were not see-the-world types, so the Lakes Region would have constituted a pretty significant vacation for them. I hope the dead battery didn’t ruin things.
When I think about small-town America in 1967, I think of Virgil Tibbs, another stranded traveler whose primary problem was a dead body, not a dead battery. He did well enough to come back for a sequel. In contrast, I don’t know that my grandparents ever went back to Bellows Falls.
That’s about it for now. For all my readers squeezing in end-of-summer vacations over the next week or two, here’s hoping you stay shiny side up and rolling in the right direction.
Oh, and check your batteries before you go.
Next week on 5,478 Days: A jazz odyssey. (No Derek Smalls content.)