After troubleshooting the CC issue, we were faced with a couple weeks of uncommitted time before we needed to be on Cape Cod. Even allowing for, possibly, a stop in Boston for CC Repairs. What to do….
The PERFECT RV Spot?
A pub next door to the park, and a Dairy Queen next to that!
(and LIVE MUSIC…a bonus!)
We decided to add a couple more states to our resume…New Hampshire and Vermont. No rush to reach a CC Repair facility as we are just towing it with the engine off, for the most part. We found an RV place nestled into the White Mountains which seemed nice, and could free up a space for us. Hiking, dining and relaxing. Even some local music at a pub next door to the park, and a Dairy Queen next to that! The White Mountain campground turned out to be quite large, with nice wooded sites nestled at the junction of 2 rivers. The pool was not yet closed for the year (though they had removed all the chairs), WiFi was good, and the Laundry was large and functional.
We also spent some time driving through various towns on the White Mountain parkway. The area is VERY geared up for summer hikers and winter skiers, so the time after Labor Day and before the snow is an outlier – a lot of places are closed for a bit so the owners can recover from the summer and because the help has gone back to school, or whatever. So, the time we spent wandering around the towns that normally would be choc full of tourists was quiet, calm and civilized.
The White Mountain area is full of outfitters, clothing stores, canoe, kayak, ski and board sales and rental shops. Because of the odd season, ALL of them were having major sales. Liz and I took advantage of some of this, although as you might expect, selection was a bit picked over. Like a shirt? Gr8, as long as you were size SMALL or 4XL.
Our stay in WM was replete with fortunate timing. As mentioned, WITHOUT lots of tourists what was left was some quirky local stuff to see and do. First, there was the “North Conway Mud Bowl” and associated parade. This is a 12-team football round-robin tournament which culminates in the Mud Bowl itself, the weekend after Labor Day. This is like any other municipal flag-football event, I suppose, except it is purposely played in the mud!!! And the Parade…two parts Pride Parade and one part small-town hokiness. Full disclosure: we did not go to the football event, and we were only caught in the traffic behind the parade. But still…
As mentioned, the pub was an easy walk from the park and there was live music. The first of two nights was enhanced by a bachelotte party, the participants of which were suitably wild in celebration of the impending nuptuals. The music was more than respectable, and the local beers on tap quite delicious…
I was even able to do an informal, Local-IPA-Tour since they had 4 on tap.
The nearby Dairy Queen was the PERFECT distance from the campsite…about a mile each way. I think we could have an infinite number of DQs since each would involve a 2mi. round trip walk!
Leaving the White Mountains, we identified a municipal park with RV sites RIGHT IN Burlington, Vermont which had a spot available. As we have mentioned before, in-town RV parks are VERY RARE. And Burlington had been described to us as a place which encourages flying of the Freak Flag, is eclectic, sophisticated and fraught with all the perils one might find in a liberal college town. Sounded like a GREAT PLACE to spend a few days!
The drive through New Hampshire, and ESPECIALLY Vermont was very, very scenic; we were about 2 weeks from peak Fall Color season, but you could see hints of the magnificence to come.
And, as rare as the in-city RV Park, eclectic, fantastic Burlington offered something EVEN MORE RARE… I found a mechanic who was willing to work on the Clown Car!!! But, as always, the story is more complicated than that.
I was pretty sure what the issue was, but I could not actually SEE the broken fan without a lift. Even though Liz could probably hold the front end of our tiny vehicle up while I crawled under to see the fan, this seemed not wise as I could not risk her being mad at me at the moment. So, a real garage was needed.
A Google search produced one (IN ALL OF VERMONT AND NEW HAMPSHIRE) Burlington mechanic who claimed to work on the breed, but a call surfaced that they would ONLY change the oil and/or brakes. They had a buddy who had a Smart Car and said he needed to drive all the way to Troy, NY to find a mechanic. 3 friggin hours. NOT GOOD.
I was pretty sure I knew what needed to be replaced, and I knew what needed to be done to replace it — nothing uniquely “Smart Car” about it. Just needed a willing mechanic with a wrench and a lift and the ability to discharge/recharge the A/C . Couldn’t convince the first guy, who claimed to work on Smart Cars, to do it so I simply made some calls to places in Burlington that got high ratings for Car repair. One was called “Girlington Garage,” which was advertised as (again, VERY RARE) an all female shop!
So eclectic, so Burlington, as it turns out!
She said, “Car’s not that big…how hard can it be to take it all apart and put it back together?”
The Phone Person introduced herself as “Lizzie” which I thot an omen of sorts – since that is also the name of my partner-in-crime for 27 years. Anyway, Lizzie said they would be HAPPY to fix the issue. Could be she KNEW that I KNEW I was going to be writing them a nice check for their labor. Could be my Wife’s name may have helped, who knows. Anyway, Lizzie said the shop was straight down the main drag from the campground — an easy bike ride if necessary and there was a bus. (And she said we would have a BLAST at that campground – Lizzie sounded like a person who knew what a good time was, too!).
I made an appointment for the week we planned to be there. Said we would be there first thing Monday AM to get the car diagnosed.
The original plan was to explore Burlington on our bikes while we waited; something Dr. Google and Lizzie assured us was very practical. Unfortunately, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon made that decidedly impractical. LOTS of Rain.
SO, first day was an inside day, which was OK as Girlington’s waiting room (for me, part of the day) and the bus (for Liz) were quite warm and dry. But, explore we did (the next day, after the Gordon-Gullywasher); and Burlington did NOT disappoint.
First, Burlington sits right on huge Lake Champlain, across which is New York and around which the scenic Adirondacks are quite striking. The downtown area and the University of Vermont were an easy and relatively flat bike ride from the RV Park along a lakefront trail, which was TERRIFIC all by itself. The weekend we had arrived had been their Pride Festival, and the festivities had only just begun to wind down. It seems the campground was party central, too!
The downtown area, including the Church Street Pedestrial Mall had awesome restaurant options along with 2 brewpubs and a blend of bookstores, coffee shops and other cultural opportunities.
The University, I suppose, bears some responsibility for the diversity and eclectic nature of the city, enhanced by Vermont’s Legal Marijuana status, no doubt. But I think Vermont as a whole has those tendencies — It wasn’t the University ALONE that elected Bernie Sanders!
Confirming Burlington and Vermont’s status as a weird-center-of-the-universe was a conversation with a vendor who was selling “Keep Vermont Weird” fridge-magnets. This seemed a cheap knock-off of the Austin, Tx slogan, so Liz asked the obvious question, “Why is Vermont Weird?”
The response in two parts:
Part 1: “Well, there is a guy who periodically walks around downtown Burlington Naked.”
Part 2 (The even weirder part): “You know, it is totally legal to walk around Burlington Naked, so long as you leave your house naked. It is illegal to remove your clothes in public.”
Even Austin Texas isn’t THAT weird!
Then there was the brew pub (Zero Gravity) that had a special ale containing “locally grown sweet gale, yarrow, stinging nettles and mugwort, as well as sweet woodruff and Labrador Tea.” Now THAT is weird!!!! (Also, surprisingly delicious!)
In keeping with our newly-discovered reasons for LIKING places we visit, Burlington has a GREAT museum, resplendent in its quirkiness. I would characterize the Shelburne Museum as a “Rich Guy (or in this case Gal)’s hobby.” The museum’s benefactor: Elektra Webb, daughter of major money, mostly from Sugar, but also some Vanderbilt.
How else can you explain a museum that contains: A Paddlewheel Steamboat (the Ticonderoga, which used to carry passengers across Lake Champlain) , a personal (and highly luxurious) railcar with associated engine, a set of over 100 original Carousel Figures, carved circus figures, dozens of horse-drawn carriages and sleighs of all kinds, a working blacksmith shop, print shop and weaving shop and a greek-revival style building containing 6 rooms from the benefactor’s 3-story Manhattan Penthouse, built explicitly to contain and display an UNPARALLELED collection of art. The art collection includes impressionist masters from Monet, Degas and many more.
We have seen other museums that represent the diverse and sometimes odd interests of various captains of industry, including the Ford Museum in Detroit, Alexander Graham Bell’s in Braddeck, Nova Scotia and the Evergreen Air and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. The Shelburne Museum is no less spectacular, and no less eccentric in its range of artifacts.
And, the FINAL PROOF of Burlington’s avant-guarde-ness: FREE WIFI Internet throughout the city. STRONG WiFi. I have always thought that WiFi, in todays world (well, at least the FIRST world) is AS IMPORTANT as water and sewer…it is all just necessary plumbing. Here is a city that agrees!!!
Bottom line: Vermont is a spectacular place, and Burlington is more than worthy of a re-visit!
The Clown Car issue turned out to be exactly what I expected…a bad fan bearing. However the repair turned out better than expected. Lizzie said she could get a “Salvage” Fan Assembly for MUCH LESS than a new one, which seemed impossible. Not doubting that a salvage fan would cost less, but I could not imagine a Smart Car surviving a crash with any parts or pieces large or intact enuf to be salvaged! Lizzie assured me this was available (there are other reasons besides crashes that produce salvaged parts) and would be the way to go, especially since I had shared with her we were not planning to keep the CC much longer. The labor costs was still 2x the fan, but I was happy to pay the lady for that!
Nothing is ever as simple as it should be, even when “simple” is a complicated as finding a Smart Car Mechanic. As it turned out, the salvage parts were found to be unusable. Lizzie was able to source a NEW fan and have it delivered quickly enuf for the repair to be effected. She wasn’t SURE it could be done before the day we were leaving town; but said WORST CASE we could stay overnight in their parking lot!
It turned out it WAS done on time, and the total cost was about 1/2 what I expected. I spoke briefly with the mechanic, who exclaimed: “I cannot believe how much of the car had to be disassembled to replace that silly fan.” Suffice to say, if anyone has a car issue in or near Burlington Vermont, I got a guy…well actually, a Gal. Girlington Garage
And, last but surely not least – the folks at Girlington’s were willing to print our ABSENTEE BALLOT forms…the relentless bickering and political gamesmanship, which we were oblivious to when traveling north of US Satellite News reach, needs voters in a state of disgust willing to STAND UP AND BE COUNTED, even if we are not in state for said count.
We left Burlington after a week, with the Clown Car purring and having had a fantastic (though not publically-naked) time. I think we’ll visit here again; perhaps we’ll reprise all the places we have been so far and in the future, too, that pride themselves on WEIRD, to discern the nuances and appreciate the diversity.