Archive for June, 2010

The Spot to be

Monday, June 7th, 2010

alumapalooza-tractor-parade.jpgOf course, the minute everyone was gone, the weather cleared up in Jackson Center and it has been beautiful ever since.  I’m talking about 72 degrees, dry and clear.  A big cold front shoved through the last thunderous storms on Saturday night, and then it apologized by bringing absolutely perfect weather. Although everyone said they had a wonderful time at Alumapalooza, I wish they could have had just one day like we had on Sunday.

One of the last events of the JC Community Days was the town parade in the afternoon.  It’s a classic piece of Americana, complete with horses, tractors, beauty queen floats, fire trucks, prize-winners and politicians.  They even throw candy from the floats as they drive by.

Brett, Lisa, and Dale Schwamborn were invited to sit on a platform with the mayor of Jackson Center, as honored guests.  We roamed the street taking pictures and just absorbing the down-home pleasure of small town life as the parade drifted down East Pike Street.

alumapalooza-tractors.jpgAfter the parade we went back to the rally field to see what debris was left.  The field was amazingly clean — everyone picked up after themselves, so we had very little work.  We pulled out the stakes, flagging tape, and markers, turned off the power, and that was all it needed.  The water was ankle-deep in some places, and the mud was reaching dramatic levels in a few spots.  Here and there we’d see the scars of a mighty battle to pull out through a soft spot.  But the field will heal soon enough and if we are lucky next year will be a little less meteorologically dramatic.

As a reward to ourselves and our friends who stayed on and helped, a group of us went to The Spot To Eat, a diner in Sidney. There were ten of us, and we pretty much took over that little restaurant for a couple of hours.  It was the perfect end to a great week, with heaping plates of specialty burgers (the Main Street comes with a pumpernickel bun, Swiss cheese and mushrooms), onion rings, fries, and sides (root beer, frosty malts), etc.  Eleanor and I both had rhubarb pie for dessert, too — a big dietary splurge for us these days.

slaDE asked me what day was my favorite of the week, and I said, “Today.”  That’s because the pressure of Alumapalooza was over, all the attendees had gone home happy, and I was relaxing with friends.  On Sunday, Jackson Center felt like The Spot To Be, for me.

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In the front row: Rich, Kristy, Eleanor, sKY, slaDE.  Back row: Sean, Brett, Lisa, Adam, Susan.  Photo taken with Sean’s camera on timer.

Today we are clearing up a few items before departing.  I’ve bought some LED replacement lamps from the Airstream store (for energy conservation while boondocking), and we’ve put our large items for next year’s Alumapalooza into storage.  We also bought a few other things from the store, including a piece of glass for the Caravel, so re-packing the car and trailer is part of our pre-departure agenda.

Most of the other folks are here because they need things from the Service Center.  Adam and Susan are staying on until they can get a damaged awning repaired (a victim of the high winds this week).  Brett and Lisa’s plans are vague.  Gunny is staying another week to get some aluminum repairs.  Sean & Kristy bailed out this morning, and sKY and slaDE will be gone as soon as their flat tire is repaired.

We don’t need anything further from the Service Center, but the weather is so nice again today that I hate to leave.  Still, we need to retrieve Emma in Vermont, and many other things are pressing.  We’ll head out this afternoon and make a short trip across Ohio to adventures that lie ahead…

It’s (officially) over

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

As I write this at 8 a.m. on Sunday, the Alumapalooza field is half cleared out.  The programmed part of the event is over, and only the “after party” remains.  A lot of trailers pulled out last night around dinnertime, fearing that they would be stuck in the mud by Sunday, but most remained until this morning.

alumapalooza-ken-f.jpgThere was a lot of rain yesterday — our wettest day all week.  We just dropped the walls down on the western side of the big tent, to keep the rain from blowing in, and the seminars proceeded comfortably:  Kristiana Spaulding talking about interior design, Sean & Kristy Michaels talking about their Long Long Honeymoon, and Joe Diamond’s amazing “bizarre” magic on stage.

The 7:30 a.m. blast of Jimi Hendrix was perfectly appropriate given the weather conditions.  Imagine the scene: a hundred Airstreams quietly parked in the gray early morning fog, grass glistening with dew, patches of mud at all the traffic areas, and people inside their trailers getting breakfast on … when suddenly from the tent comes the loud and clear notes of Jimi’s guitar wailing out the National Anthem in similar weather conditions at Woodstock, NY, forty years ago.

alumapalooza-europeans.jpgWe kept the schedule light on Saturday so that people would have plenty of time to tour the trailers during Open House (including a display of new Airstreams), and meet Airstream staff during lunch under the tent.  That turned out well, and despite the swaths of mud that were growing everywhere, spirits stayed high.  In the afternoon, as a few people got nervous, Guy Lotz got busy pulling out the trailers that needed help, and by sunset there was a small outpost of perhaps 6-7 trailers parked on the asphalt by Airstream’s paint building.  The Terra Port filled up, too.  I kept telling people that they would not become permanent residents of the field, and we would definitely get them out with the tractor, but some of them didn’t want to wait for the tractor and pulled themselves out at their first opportunity.

Last night the biggest storms blew through.  I have had a weather radio set on “Alert” mode for the past few days, and twice last night I heard the alarm for tornado watches.  Those were not near us, and we were never in danger, but it was disconcerting.  Eleanor and I woke up at 3:30 and checked the weather radar again on the laptop.  Plenty of action around the state, but not much more here than occasional heavy rain and high winds.  High winds are not much concern for an Airstream that is designed to slip down the highway at 70+ MPH all day long, so we went back to sleep. When we awoke, we discovered that the western side of the big tent had collapsed partially, and the vendor tent was starting to dismantle itself.

alumapalooza-slade-brett-sky.jpg…  I was interrupted in writing this blog by the arrival of a few people who wanted to say goodbye, or just chat.  Sky came over, as well as Forrest, Brett, Lisa, Zach, Deb,etc.  Everyone wants to keep the sociability of the event going, even though the field is now nearly empty.   We finally packed up our trailer and headed over to the Terra Port around noon, grateful to be out of the field.  It had gone from squishy to borderline marsh overnight.  It was getting tricky to walk around and retain dry feet.

The Terra Port is packed with leftover campers from Alumapalooza.  Most of them have service appointments for the coming days, but a few like us are just spending one more night before heading onward.  For us, this last day is our chance to get everything cleaned up (including the Airstream and the last few bits of stuff from the field) and decompress.  We’ll have a pleasant afternoon with our friends in the Terra Port and then head out on Monday.

Silver locusts

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

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I think all the trailers we expected are here now, roughly 125 in total.  Alumapalooza has taken over Jackson Center like a plague of silver locusts, and the locals love it.  The hardware store is keeping a pin-board showing where all their customers have come from this week.  Phil’s Market was completely wiped out of some items, including milk.

Last night’s lasagna dinner at the Methodist Church ran out of food at 6:10 p.m., only forty minutes after they started serving.  The Airstream store and Service Center are doing terrific business and will both have to stay open on Saturday just to keep up.  The Fire Department dropped by with their new truck last night during Happy Hour and was inundated with donations to help them equip it.  (We’re grateful to those guys for watching over us when the big t-storms were passing by.)

This is all great because Jackson Center is a small town in a quiet part of Ohio, and the economy hasn’t been too good anywhere lately.   I’m glad we were able to bring Alumapalooza together here and help the community while we also had a good time.

And we ARE having a good time!  I can’t count the number of people who have come up to tell us how much fun they are having.  Everyone has been very complimentary.  There’s no doubt we need to make this an annual event, so we made the formal announcement on stage with Bob Wheeler (president of Airstream) that Alumapalooza 2011 will be held May 31 – June 5, 2011.  We’ll have online registration opening up in July this year.

Our day started with sKY and slaDE leading the yoga class again, followed by Colin Hyde pontificating about vintage restoration. (Colin knows what he is talking about — two hours later he was still talking and people were still listening.)

Then we were excited to have our European contingent arrive, led by Michael Hold of Airstream Europe (UK).  Ten European Airstream owners have come on a group tour, all wearing identical white group shirts with AIRSTREAM EUROPE printed on them.  Some were British, two were Dutch, and I think we had a couple of Germans as well.  They turned out to be a wonderful group, very engaged and excited about being here.  They got a private tour through the facilities by Dave Schumann, then toured the factory, and afterward joined Michael for his presentation about Airstreaming in Europe.  Our “Silver Swingers” event, where American owners had the chance to interact with European Airstream owners and possibly discuss trailer swaps, was well attended, although I don’t know if any arrangements were ultimately made.

Eleanor was contracted to provide the Europeans with a private lunch, so we spent half the morning prepping for that under the shade of our awning and Brett’s motorhome awning.  The group said that her meal was the best one they’ve had since they left Europe:  lentil and vegetable curry, chick peas with onion and ginger, chicken kabouli, saffron rice with peaches, basmati rice, sweetened iced chai and hot tea, with lemon cookies and nut clusters for dessert.  Once serving was done, our crew of four sat down with them and enjoyed OUR first good meal all week, too!

alumapalooza-rooftop-photo.jpgBob was kind enough to allow rooftop access to a small group of photographers who wanted to capture images of the event.  Our official photographer, Alison Turner, was among them, and I am expecting some terrific photos from her later, which we will post on the official Alumapalooza 2011 website a little later.

alumapalooza-kristiana-spaulding.jpgI heard from our vendors (JJ Johnjulio of SkyMed, Michael Depraida, Kristiana Spaulding, Steve Ruth of P&S Trailer) that it was a great day to do business.  Kristiana was nearly cleaned out of her great silver trailer jewelry.

The day’s seminars ended with Jim Webb of Zip-Dee talking about awning care and repair, and then Andy Thomson’s fascinating talk about towing. You might be thinking that towing is a dry topic, and you might believe all the misinformation you have read on the Internet about what makes a safe towing vehicle arrangement, but Andy can broaden your knowledge on both points.  Many people told me they were impressed by the depth of his knowledge, research, and thoughtful consideration of the problems involved in setting up a tow vehicle and trailer. Today he is going to offer people the chance to test drive his Jetta diesel hitched to a new 2011 Airstream 23-footer.

alumapalooza-wheeler-kids.jpgWe had a ton of leftovers from the lunch (Eleanor always cooks too much)  so we invited a few folks over for potluck dinner.  Lou & Larry came over, along Bob Wheeler and his family (Kelly and the kids), two of their friends, our crew of four, Terry & Sue B, Joe Diamond (tonight’s entertainer), Michael Depraida, Kristiana Spaulding, and Alison Turner.  And somehow, through the magic of potluck, we STILL have more leftovers!

alumapalooza-chris-and-peewee.jpgAfter dinner we all headed back to the big tent to see Chris McDaniel do his fantastic western roping show.  Even though I’ve seen it before, it was terrific fun.  He roped Dale “Peewee” Schwamborn on the stage and then cracked off 1-inch chunks of a stick of pasta that was stuck into Peewee’s bound hands.  He sang, danced, did rope tricks, bullwhip tricks, magic, and generally just entertained the heck out of us.

Last night we had a chance to take things easy.  I got some time to sit down with people I’ve wanted to talk to, and Eleanor and Lisa went for a walk.  Around 10 p.m. a big thunderstorm appeared in the dark to the west and we got a pretty good light show for half an hour.  Eventually Brett, Joe, Brad, and John Long (pictured above with the Bowlus) all ended up at our trailer watching and photographing it.

This morning we are going to surprise a few people by playing Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star Spangled Banner” really loud on the PA in the big tent, just before the Swap Meet is scheduled to start…  A lot of people have said they are coming back next year.  Maybe a little Woodstock flashback music will help ensure they are really committed!

WOW-za, Alumapalooza!

Friday, June 4th, 2010

crew.jpegI’m finally awake at 7 a.m. on Day Four of Alumapalooza, much later than any other day because it’s all catching up with me. I think I mentioned before that we are basically running this event on a team of four crewmembers, plus a few volunteers like Tim & Alice, Kirk McKellar, and Greg Blue.  (Lots of other people have volunteered to help but we’ve tried not to impose, since we want them to enjoy the event.) This “lean” approach has worked pretty well, considering we now have 107 trailers on the field and well over 200 people attending, but it did require a lot of pre-event organization, and we’re all working hard every day.

Airstream luminaries are still streaming in … yesterday saw the arrival of Kristiana Spaulding (“Silver Trailer” jewelry designer), David Winick (designer of the 75th Anniversary Bambi), and Bob Wheeler (president of Airstream), among others.  We had a full day of presentations again, with Vic Smith, Forrest McClure, Bert Gildart, Eleanor, a representative from Dexter, John Long speaking about Bowlus trailers (a big hit, especially with his gorgeous restored Bowlus sitting right outside) and ending with Larry Huttle, chairman of Airstream.  Eleanor’s “traveling kitchen” show packed the tent again, and I heard a lot of compliments from the attendees later, which made us both happy.

But I think ALL of the seminars have been well received.  People are just raving about them.  One of the biggest compliments we’ve gotten came from folks who had planned to stay only 3 days.  They canceled their other plans so they could stay 5 days instead.  People are already planning to come again next year.

We’ve been lucky with the weather again.  The morning looked very grim and in fact the outdoor polishing seminar got rained on, but no thunderstorms, and the rest of the day was sunny and dry.  We definitely beat the forecast.  From here on in, things look much better (weather-wise) so I think we are in good shape.

sKY and slaDE are doing yoga classes every morning at 8 a.m., and getting a huge crowd each time.  That was unplanned, but clearly people like it.  We will have to invite them back next year.  It was interesting to see them doing yoga under the small tent while simultaneously in the big tent we had 300 doughnuts on a buffet table at the SkyMed presentation.  You could stretch and breathe at 8 a.m., or sit and munch — your choice!

The Service Department at Airstream has done amazing work for everyone here.  They were booked solid a few weeks ago, but they’ve managed to squeeze in lots of people like us who didn’t get early appointments.  They are even working on Saturday to clear up the backlog.  Our trailer got hauled into the Service Center yesterday for the leaks and came back a few hours later.  The skylight was replaced (for cracks) and several spots were re-caulked.  Paul, our tech, took about 10 minutes to walk through the trailer with us and explain everything he did — which struck me as remarkable considering how busy they are.

Today we have the British Invasion scheduled.  Ten European Airstream customers are coming on a group tour for Friday and Saturday.  Eleanor is catering their lunch today, so she’ll be busy half the day with that.  We’ve shut down our registration operation and will just register the last few new arrivals near the main tent after they self-park.  I hope that will give some of the crew a chance to attend a few seminars today.

Every day it gets easier, more fun, and better weather.  Alumapalooza is really happening now.  Our Facebook page is going nuts, too.  I think we are destined to do it again in 2011!

Cause for alarm?

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It is early yet in the event, but already Alumapalooza appears to be a success.  Everyone here seems to be having a massively good time.  The mayor of Jackson Center has invited us to be in the town parade on Sunday.  The president of Airstream has made it clear he expects us back next year.  The town’s businesses seem to be happy with the people we’ve brought to Jackson Center (the local population has increased 20% by our presence).  And best of all, we have not been wiped off the field by thunderstorms.

alumapalooza-storm-coming.jpgEvery day we have been threatened by thunderstorms, and every day we are getting lucky, as terrifying storms pass just north or south of our location.  Today started with mild fog in the morning again, but by 9 a.m. a gusty rainstorm crashed down and soaked everything.  We could see a strange line in the clouds overhead a few  minutes before it happened (see photo at left), and I’d been watching the weather radar, so we had time to go around and warn everyone to take in their awnings.

This happened while sKY and slaDE were leading a quiet yoga class under the main tent.  In mid-storm, Brett had to turn up the volume on the microphone just so they could be heard over the torrential rain.  But they remained calm and rode it out, stretching and breathing with their class of 30 or so people.

That was just a warm-up for what lay ahead, as it turned out.  The midday was quiet, with very successful presentations by Bert Gildart, Dale Schwamborn, and some of the service center staff.  Since only a dozen trailers were expected, we decided to skip registration and just let people self-park.  (New arrivals met us later at Happy Hour to get their credentials.)  This felt a lot better for all of us, and we actually had time to relax a little and drop in on some of the seminars.

Alas, it was not to last.  After  Happy Hour another line of storms developed on the horizon, and these appeared to be so severe that Jackson Center sounded its tornado siren.  I dashed to the Airstream to load up the latest weather radar and turn on the weather radio.  The radar picture was not good, but the worst of the storms broke to the south and again we dodged a bullet.  This gave us a light and sound show to watch, but not much rain.

We’ve since been told that if a tornado was likely, the Fire Department will come by and order an evacuation.  The Airstream Service Center is our safe haven in such an event, since it is sturdily constructed.

alumapalooza-gathering.jpgAnd here’s the evidence of how happy everyone is:  most people thought we had a very nice day.  Between storms it was sunny and hot, and the seminars were well attended in the shade of the big tent.  Folks were flying kites, riding bicycles, touring trailers, taking pictures, petting dogs, visiting downtown, holding parties under their awnings. Everyone was full of compliments and smiles.  I heard a lot of laughter.

Still, we had some stress.  I was called out to solve an electrical problem in Row 2, then there was a water leak in the generator area, and then a truck got stuck in the mud created by the water leak.  All of us were running around solving problems half the day, so we still ended up tired and sweaty.  Just as I was contemplating heading back to the Airstream for some down time, slaDE and sKY invited us to try their brand of partner yoga, called yogaFLIGHT.  That turned out to be a perfect antidote for our working stress.

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alumapalooza-rich-yoga.jpgEleanor was the first willing victim, and you can see what slaDE got her to do! Eventually we all tried it, Eleanor, Lisa, Brett, and me.  It’s a great program and we hope to learn more about it from our new friends.

The evening program was Sean & Kristy Michaels, showing some of their great Airstream videos from The Long Long Honeymoon website — another big success — and then we wrapped it up with a trio singing The Alumapalooza Anthem as composed by Kirk McKellar.  Brett, Kirk, and I sang it to the tentful of attendees … a one-time only performance.  You can see and hear that glorious spectacle here.

Tomorrow we are expecting another 50 trailers.  It will be another full day and we’re looking forward to it!

JC daze

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

We’re in a “Jackson Center daze,” caused by overwhelming activity.  It’s as if today has been a compression of three days.  My day started at 3:20 a.m. when I was pacing around the Airstream unable to sleep. Today was our first official day of Alumapalooza, and my mind was full of things we needed to do.

I got back to sleep an hour later, and Eleanor and I slept fitfully until 6:00.  We finally gave up thoughts of rest and got busy prepping the Airstream to relocate from the Terra Port to the rally field, just north of the assembly building.  I had thought I might need to be very quiet as I worked, but it seemed that nearly everyone was also up and getting ready to go.

The thunderstorms hit us hard last night, and the field was slick with wet grass and clay.  Our Airstream got into position easily enough (the Mercedes has all-wheel drive), and Brett’s Argosy 28 motorhome managed well enough, but artist Michael Depraida’s giant commercial box truck with dually rear wheels (pulling a 30 foot Airstream Classic) slipped badly and ended up digging a long furrow.  Fortunately we had a tractor on standby and it easily hauled Michael’s trailer into position.

The sky stayed deeply clouded in the morning as the trailers began to arrive, with fog on the distant fields and a chilly light breeze.  It felt like it would never warm up, but just two hours later the sun was out and we were looking for shade.  This changeable weather — typical for Jackson Center in June — duped me so that I forgot to put on sunscreen. Big mistake.  By the end of the day my feet were burned between the sandal straps and my ears were scorched.  Brett also looked like a boiled lobster.  The only good part about it was that the field dried up nicely by mid-afternoon, so we didn’t need the tractor any longer.

We parked about 65 trailers today, which is roughly half of what we are ultimately expecting.  The Airstream folks have been very supportive, which made our work easier.  Airstream’ president Bob Wheeler dropped by the Happy Hour and thanked us publicly, and he even read a little limerick of his own creation.

Brett, Lisa, Eleanor, and I were hustling all day long to get people parked, answer questions, solve problems, and set up equipment.  Tim and a few helpers went around the field and got all the electrical and water connections set up for the arriving trailers.  But the real job of the day was dealing with the unexpected.  There were plenty of problems to solve:  About half a dozen trailers didn’t follow the directions and ended up coming in facing the wrong direction.  The dumpster didn’t arrive on schedule (we’ll get it tomorrow).  I accidentally scheduled a talk for Wednesday when it should have been on Thursday.  Many of the pre-printed badges we made a week ago turned out to be missing — apparently the result of a software glitch.  We found some nasty potholes in the field that needed marking with yellow paint.  But those problems were relatively minor.  Everything else worked out fine, including getting water and electricity to the trailers.  And most importantly, everyone seems to be having a great time.

The last two years of producing the Vintage Trailer Jam have taught us that there are two essential tools for this sort of work: bicycles and radios.  The mountain bikes allow us to quickly move from place to place, even over rough terrain and between trailers, which makes “gofer” work much easier.  The radios kept the whole team updated.  A loaned Gator (a 6×4 all-terrain vehicle with a cargo bed, kind of like a little pickup truck) helped us move stuff around, too.

The entire Airstream company is feeling the impact of Alumapalooza this week.  Bob Wheeler says everyone is charged up from having us all here, which I can believe. You can’t look at all the people roaming around, and all the trailers coming in, without at least a little tinge of excitement.  I understand that the Service Center lobby was inundated with people today.  The 2 p.m. tour got about 35 people, which is a pretty large group.  It’s only going to get busier from here.  We expect an additional 12 trailers on Wednesday, and about 50 more on Thursday.

My last major obligation today was to give a talk about “full-timing,” which turned into more of a ramble by me about all kinds of random things relating to Airstreaming.  I showed a few dozen slides and answered questions, and it went pretty well.  After that, the four of us who made up the core team debriefed each other (that’s code for “a bitch session about all the things that went wrong”) and having unburdened ourselves, we all felt better and vowed to have an even better day tomorrow.  I can tell you for certain that sunscreen and a better hat will be a key part of the day’s preparations.

Everyone else is still outside, since it is quite warm and pleasant as the sun sets.  They’re talking, meeting up with old friends, eating dinner, sharing desserts, and settling in.  We’ve retreated to the trailer to shower off the day’s sweat and catch up on email.  Tomorrow promises to be a really big day, and I am hopeful that we will all get a good night’s sleep… Alumapalooza 2010 is under way!

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine