LANESBOROUGH — For more than 20 years, Suzanne Meserve has been driving into the Berkshires to stay at a timeshare in Hancock. That’s long enough to remember good things about the Berkshire Mall.
So, one day in August, Meserve and her husband motored up the hill from Lanesborough, with bicycles on the back of her silver Mazda 3, since they like to hop on the bike path.
Coming onto the mall property, she headed back toward Target on an access road and tried to steer around what appeared to be a break in the pavement.
“I thought I had avoided it, and apparently I didn’t,” she said.
The pothole ruptured the steel belt in a front tire, the folks at Tire Warehouse in Pittsfield told her later. She paid $125 for a new tire.
“I can’t blame my husband. I was driving,” she said.
Since then, Meserve, who is 66, has spent many hours trying to get the mall, which she blames for her mishap, to reimburse her. “I thought it’s their road, they should be responsible for it.”
You might suspect where this is going.
It went here: Lots of text messages and emails, encouragement from a local Realtor, advice from a mall spokeswoman and, finally, copies of the Tire Warehouse bill caroming across the internet. Even a fateful phone call with the mall’s owner, Vijaya Kumar Vemulapalli.
In Meserve’s cellphone, one contact now comes up as “Go Fly a Kite.” That’s the shorthand she assigned to Vemulapalli’s business phone. Meserve says it’s a verbatim reminder of how the mall owner viewed her request.
Christina Castaneda, a spokeswoman for the mall owner, confirmed Meserve’s account of a five-month effort to recoup $125.
“That is true,” Castaneda said. “Last I knew, the check was in the mail.”
That might be what she was told, but as of Wednesday, no payment had reached Meserve at her home in West Springfield.
Castaneda’s own words are there, expressing hope, in the string of text messages Meserve shared with The Eagle, documenting her efforts. Surprisingly, they are filled with pleasantries.
“You’re most welcome,” wrote Barb Hassan, a local real estate broker, after relaying a mall contact. “Hopefully your situation gets resolved soon.”
Hassan helped again, a month later, when Meserve reported that she had come to an impasse. “I’ll reach out to her.”
“Her” being Castaneda — who was trying to move the check-issuing business along. “I’ll definitely bring it up to him next time he calls me,” Castaneda then told Meserve, referring to Vemulapalli.
In late October, Meserve found a business listing for the owner and dialed. He picked up. He once had had a similar problem, he told her, and was informed by the party he held responsible to “go fly a kite.”
Meserve: “I wasn’t intimidated. I said, ‘Kumar, we’re not talking about you. We’re talking about me.’”
She recalls him telling her he needed to see the damaged tire. It already had been recycled, she explained.
Why put up such a fight for $125?
“I’m from a long line of ‘it’s the principle of the thing,’ ” she said.
Where does she get her tenacity?
From her dad, she thinks. He was a trampoline acrobat who performed, in his time, with vaudeville and burlesque houses and went by the name Mike Monroe and Mr. Tall Top. He also performed on stilts and, in 1969, appeared on “The Mike Douglas Show,” with musicians Sonny and Cher as co-hosts.
Back to the tenacity thing. Her dad, who was raising her, once broke his neck performing a double forward somersault and spent a year in a body cast, then fought to get back to his acrobatics, Meserve says. As a child, she toured with the family act, until a costume malfunction so embarrassed her that she left show business.
“My father was always saying ‘It’s about the principle,’” she said.
It didn’t hurt that there is a detective streak in Meserve, brought out by her years sleuthing as a caseworker on behalf of the Department of Social Services.
Meserve went back to the mall in December, while staying at the couple’s Club Wyndham Bentley Brook timeshare, and saw that a big orange barrel had been placed in the pothole she hit, replacing a smaller cone.
“It’s about someone being responsible for what they own and for the community the mall serves,” she said. “I’m sure that I’m not the only person that this has happened to.”