Updated: Jun 28, 2020
It was after dark by the time we pulled into the driveway of the rental house. It seemed a little smaller than I imagined, and I didn't see a carriage house at first glance. My brother and his family had been there for a few hours so the lights were on, and we went around back to get our first look at the ocean.
My brother, his son and a friend were sitting in chairs on the beach, stoking a small fire in the sand. Even through my sandals I could tell that we were walking on something closer to gravel than sand, and there were a number of lights not so distant off the shore. The house was on an inlet rather than open water, so our view was of the channel and some buildings on the opposite side.
We all said hello, and Dave told us that Vicki was in the house trying to get the house organized. I went in to find her, absently noting that there was just a small wooden porch off the back of the house with a gas grill but no outdoor chairs or table. As I slid open the back door, I was struck by a wall of stifling heat. This week in July was predicted to be one of the hottest summer weeks on record, and we were thrilled that we were going to spend it beside cool ocean breezes. There were tabletop fans circulating furiously on the first floor and Vicki was upstairs arranging more fans in the bedrooms.
The house looked little like the photos from the VRBO listing. It was quaint and there were lots of beach-themed knick-knacks on every wall and counter top. I remembered lots of white from the listing photos....sheer white curtains, white wicker furniture, open spaces, and lots of Cape Cod charm. This house was not the same as the photos...the rooms were crowded, furniture a bit dated, not nearly as appealing as the cottage-style home in the photos.
We found out later that the home was featured in a photoshoot for a local tourism magazine and those were the photos the owner used on the listing site. We found out right away that there was no air conditioning, the cable didn't work, and that 4 bedrooms meant 2 bedrooms upstairs with a mattress in an alcove, plus an area off the living room cordoned off with a black curtain that also housed the washer and dryer. Hans and walked over to the carriage house only to find a run-down cottage that smelled of mildew, with a fiberglass shower full of cobwebs and outdoor fire pit full of empties.
Vicki was as disappointed as we were, and when we went back outside for a drink after the kids went to bed, we thought about calling my parents and telling them not to join us the next day. But with each beer we got more optimistic about the possibilities for the house, so devised a plan for the next day. We'd call the landlord about the cable and air conditioning, we'd call my parents and ask them to bring their pop-up canopy for shade, pick up some beach chairs and tiki torches for the back yard, rake the beach of large rocks and gravel to create a sandy water access, and maybe even cobble together the broken tiki bar out back to create our own tropical oasis.
Sunday morning after breakfast we headed to the nearest Ocean State Job Lot and stocked up on all of the supplies we needed to get through the week. The air conditioned store was the coolest place we'd be that day, as we spent the rest of the day raking and prepping the back yard for my parents' arrival. We took a short break to explore the neighborhood, but saw few people on our walk. The rental house abutted the public access to the water, and we did see a few boaters and bathers pass by, but no one stopped to chat.
Vicki also put a call in to the landlord about the lack of air conditioning and cable. The owner assured us that the cable repairman was coming first thing on Monday, so we set up a couple of hot spots for everyone to check email and search the web. The owner also said she had ordered some new AC window units and would have them installed as soon as they arrived. Vicki pointed out to her that the house was advertised with air conditioning and free Internet, but the landlord pleaded that stores were sold out of AC units because of the heat wave and she was doing the best she could. We accepted her excuses and felt comfortable that she would make everything right on Monday.
We went out for dinner in downtown Fairhaven that night since it was just too hot to cook. We picked a trendy seafood place with a short line outside, but only waited a few minutes until we were seated. The kids sat at their own table which gave the four adults time to talk. We had a few cocktails and a few laughs about the house, and must have been a little loud because the people at the next table asked us where we were staying. We told them, and they immediately clammed up. They said they were neighbors and not allowed to speak to any renters in that house. We tried to get them to open up a bit, but they refused. Our waitress also knew the house and the landlord, as did some guests at another table. We learned that our
landlord was a popular public figure in town who had multiple law suits on file against most everyone on her street. The suits included a gag order that prevented any neighbors from talking to tenants. Apparently the landlord was suing abutters for using the right of way access since she it was on her property, and had several other pending litigations with others in town. Now we were intrigued.
My parents arrived later that night and we tried to make them as comfortable as possible despite the heat. My brother did some quick online searches and found a number of documents and newspaper articles about our landlord, none of them particularly flattering. She had a number of cases pending, was known to represent herself in court, and was removed or asked to be silent at a many meetings with public officials because she was belligerent or rude. But we decided to let it all go for the time being. The landlord had promised the AC and cable would be fixed the next day, Hans and I were going to sleep in the carriage house so my parents had a room in the main house, and we were going to have some fun tomorrow now that my parents had arrived. Vacation had finally started!