Archive for June, 2011

Archaeology tour in New Mexico

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Things have been a little quiet in TBM-land, with work dominating far too many days, so I scanned the local events calendars and found something to do off the reservation.   The Old Pueblo Archaeology Center in Tucson had organized a once-a-year tour of ancient Mogollon (native American) sites in New Mexico. I don’t usually go in for multi-day guided tours, preferring to explore on my own (or with E&E), but this was a special opportunity to visit some sites that I’d never see without a qualified guide, and to get some detailed interpretation as well.

So I booked the last two days of the four-day tour (I had prior commitments for the first two days) and drove three hours from Tucson to join the group on Monday morning in Silver City, NM.  Silver City is up in the higher elevations of central New Mexico, about 5200 feet, amidst rolling hills and beautiful scenery.  There’s a nice historic downtown and a strong western style.  The famous outlaw Billy The Kid lived here.  I didn’t see any gun-slinging — these days the hotels are crowded with fire fighters, taking a break or setting up to go to the wildfires that are all over New Mexico right now.

Our tour specialized in Mimbres sites, a subculture of the Mogollon.  There are dozens in the area, most of which are protected as best they can be by laws, fences, and secrecy.  In the past pot-hunters have devastated many of the sites, even using bulldozers and backhoes to excavate them, so many of the sites have been ruined or looted thoroughly.  But those that have survived have an abundance of artifacts at the surface, primarily potsherds, pictographs, flakes of small stones, and architectural remnants like stone alignments of huts and depressions of former kivas.

As tourists, we were not there to dig.  At most of the sites we were allowed to pick up anything we found, as long as it was returned to the same spot.  We looked, and tried to connect the little artifacts we found with the living village of people that once existed that spot.  Archaeology requires a fair amount of imagination: you have to interpret the humps and dips of the land, and visualize the layout of a village that has been mostly reclaimed by the earth for centuries.  The sites we visited were at least a thousand years old, a thrilling thought when you find a fragment of that ancient life still sitting on the ground for you to see and touch.

The Kipp Ruin, near Deming, was our chance to see a real archaeological dig in progress.  Led by Dr William H Walker of New Mexico State University, a bunch of graduate students were toiling cheerfully in the heat of the low Sonoran Desert near Deming NM, looking for tiny fragments of Mimbres culture in tidy pits dug into the earth.  The work is dusty and tedious, and the results from this particular site are mostly so small that dozens of them fit into a lunch-sized paper bag.  Unfortunately, the site was almost completely obliterated by pot hunters years ago, so even the stone structures were reduced to mere lines of stones less than a foot tall.  Still, they were finding things, and learning, and they were happy to share the knowledge with our group.

The southwest is having a little heat wave right now, so even in the supposedly cooler atmosphere of the high country we endured 100+ degree days and extremely dry conditions in full sun.  When we toured the Western New Mexico University’s Museum, which had a superb collection of Mimbres pottery, there was no air conditioning.  We ate our lunches outdoors where we could find shade, and we cooled off in the cars during the long drives from one site to another, but mostly the best survival strategy was the right clothing and lots of water.  I went through 120 ounces on Monday, and it was even hotter on Tuesday.

Still, it was worth it.  A little climate challenge helped us feel less like tourists and more like explorers.  The cars got dusty on long gravel roads, the people got sweaty, and the gear got dirty.  I have a bag full of laundry “souvenirs” and a car in the carport that looks like it was dropped in a bag of flour, but I also have 314 photos that I treasure (54 of which are now on Flickr for your browsing pleasure).  I’d do it again.  In fact, I probably will do another archaeology tour this fall.  There’s a lot of incredible pre-historic culture in this part of the country, much of it very close to home, and it’s an element of the southwest that deserves exploration.


Fall 2011 cover tests

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Every quarter one of the hardest jobs I face is choosing the cover of the next magazine.  But I’m not complaining, because it’s also one of the most fun jobs.  For the past few years I have usually had several contenders competing for the cover, and that’s a lot better than the early days of the magazine when finding a cover usually meant a last-minute scramble to find something — anything — that would fit.

It works better now because I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating relationships with artists and photographers who have interesting pictures, and also because the magazine is better known today.  Often a painter or illustrator will come out of the woodwork with a really cool image and suggest it for Airstream Life.  In the past few years the magazine has been honored to feature artists Bob Brugger, Steve Gray, Taralee Guild, Eli Clark, Brad Cornelius, Michael Depraida, and Michael Lambert, plus photographer Alison Turner.  And who can forget the wonderful “Tiki Airstream” painted by Doug Horne on our Summer 2008 issue?

The flip side of having a lot of possible images is that the decision process can be excruciating.  Again, don’t feel sorry for me, feel sorry for the people who really wanted to be on the cover but didn’t make the cut.  I hate having to give people bad news about their photo or picture.  Usually the reason we pass on an image has nothing to do with the quality of the image, but rather that it just didn’t work in the context of the cover.

The current issue provided an excellent example of that conundrum.  I wanted to feature photography this time, because we’ve got a piece in the magazine with some of Alison Turner’s photos from Alumapalooza.  She did a nice job capturing people (and often, their dogs) in the field with their Airstreams.  The article in the magazine will show eight of the “characters” she photographed, with captions.

I saw three or four images (out of over 200 submitted) that I thought might be cover-worthy, and eventually narrowed the choices down to two.  An Airstream Life cover has to be bold and visually interesting at a minimum.  We almost always have Airstreams in the image (a successful exception was our Spring 2005 cover, if you remember that one).  An ideal cover is evocative, or implies a story, although I’m certainly happy with images that just excite you.

Sometimes the excitement comes from seeing a beautiful image of an Airstream in a fantastic setting, like Michael Lambert’s painting of his polished trailer at the Blue Swallow Motel sign (along Rt 66), which was featured on our Fall 2009 issue.  Sometimes it is pure fantasy like the tiki Airstream above, or Brad Cornelius’ great “butterfly” logo for Alumapalooza (Spring 2010).

This time I wanted to go for realism, since this issue is dedicated to the people of the Airstream community.  Alison’s photos provided a great opportunity.  The two photos that I ultimately chose were of Kirk MacKellar, and of Rhonda Coleman.  Kirk is a good friend to Alumapalooza, who has supported us by making signs and other useful items.  He has a 1967 Caravel that he has outfitted to become a “NASA Airstream” complete with decals, a stand-up cardboard spaceman, an “APOLLO” license plate, and other fun stuff.  Rhonda is a blogger and occasional contributor to Airstream Life.

Alison captured Kirk standing on the bumper of his trailer looking skyward (to the moon, one presumes).  I thought this would be an awesome shot for the cover, and so did Lisa my Art Director, and Alison.  But because we’ve been down this road before, just to be safe, I submitted Rhonda’s picture as a backup.

The image above shows Kirk’s cover test.   You can see why it didn’t work; Kirk’s head is scraping the logo and the whole line of his body looks awkward in the cover space.  Lisa cropped the bottom edge of the image in an attempt to make it work, but that just caused the image to lose some of its impact — now you can’t see that he’s standing on the bumper.  Shrinking it would be problematic, because we’d have to clone in the edges of the Airstream (fakery) or run some sort of cheezy border around the edge, which I won’t do.  So, reluctantly, we passed on this image.

In the past we have cloned in bits of sky or foreground to make a landscape (wide) image into a portrait (tall) one.  But when we do that we always get the permission of the artist first, and they get to approve the final result.  We did this for Summer 2008, Fall 2010, and one or two others. I don’t like to do it but sometimes it’s the difference between having an awesome cover or not. In the case of the current issue, we had the backup image, and it tested very well.  So Rhonda gets the cover, and Alison wins either way since she took both photos.

Kirk, by the way, took the loss with good humor, commenting it wasn’t his “first brush with sexism.”  I do have to admit Rhonda looks pretty good on the cover, and I hope that when it comes out in August, you’ll agree.

Changes and rationalizations

Monday, June 20th, 2011

It’s a good thing I wasn’t born earlier in the Industrial Age.  I might have ended up as a factory worker, and I’m not good at doing the same thing repeatedly.  My tendency is to take on a challenge, master it as best I can (which may or may not be very well), then move on to something new.  It’s that same aspect of personality that makes traveling and exploring new places a necessary part of my mental diet.

Occasionally this personality trait becomes a problem.  Case in point: I have been producing Airstream Life magazine for nearly eight years.  Prior to this, my longest employment at anything was about five years.  I definitely have a sort of seven year itch that means it’s time to move on to new challenges.  In the past year or so, the itch of self doubt has crept up my sleeve like a little spider, telling me that it is becoming time to find someone to take over as Editor.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the spider is reaching my neck and it is becoming less ignorable.  Today I found myself wrestling to focus on the laptop yet again to finalize articles and make editorial decisions I should have made weeks ago.  My email Inbox, normally kept lean as a result of compulsive housekeeping and fast response time, is filled with unevaluated writer queries and article drafts for future issues. For me, failing to deal with the routine tasks is a sign of burnout.

Well, there was no chance of finding someone to do my work today, so I put my head down and got serious about dealing with the unresolved questions and unedited articles for the Fall 2011 issue.  Of course, there were no really insurmountable issues, just a series of tough decisions and thoughtful editing processes that had to be done, and once I got into it the work began to fly by as it always does when I’m in the groove.  By 1 p.m., after about six hours of fairly intense work, the Inbox was halfway cleared out and I had three more articles uploaded to the FTP site and ready for layout.  Suddenly things weren’t so bad, and I found myself thinking that I don’t really need an Editor — just a little less procrastination.

At that point I had to bail out of the office, because it was time to get into another long-dreaded task: the eye exam.  I don’t normally mind eye exams, but this one was special because I knew I would be prescribed progressive lenses for the first time.  I suppose I am lucky to have held out to my current age (my AARP card is only a couple of years away, despite the common misconception that I am much younger – it must be the juvenile behavior).  But that doesn’t make it any easier to suffer the indignities of day-long dilated pupils, and having to learn how to compensate for lost peripheral vision by turning my head as if I am an owl.  Now with the new lenses I can see the wrinkles on the backs of my hands, and I can’t see the cars in the sideview mirrors.  Yes, now I can read the menu in a dim restaurant again, but somehow it doesn’t seem like a great leap forward.

In comments on my prior blog entry, I was asked why I’m not planning to tow the Caravel with the old Mercedes 300D.  I suppose it is time to confess: I sold it.  I know I said I would keep it “forever,” but then a guy from Connecticut showed up desperately seeking a rust-free 300D, and he made an offer I couldn’t refuse.  The car and I didn’t have a pre-nup, and I had already stored it for the hot summer, so I took the cash on the rationalization that (a) I wouldn’t miss the car for several months; and (b) if I kept it much longer I’d probably dump another $2k into perfecting it.  Selling it was a way to save me from myself.

But now of course, I’m wondering if that was the brightest move, since I’m here in Arizona, the Caravel is in Texas, and I have no way to get it back.  So I’m on the hunt for a new part-time tow vehicle. I want something fun to drive, since the vast majority of the time the car will be unhitched.  (Please don’t suggest any form of truck, SUV, or full-size car — I don’t regard those as “fun to drive.) The final choice will undoubtedly be something most people would never choose, require custom engineering, and be entirely safe for towing the Caravel despite appearances.  It might be vintage or modern.  It will likely be a convertible (but not the Miata) or two-door sports coupe.  I’m having fun with it.

I thought I had no theme when I started writing tonight, but now I see I do.  It’s all about change.  Some of it is forced on me (eyeglasses) but most of it is my own doing.  There are some core elements of life you never want to change because they are the basis for one’s security and self-confidence, but the rest is all small stuff.  It’s just a car.  It’s just a job.  I don’t ever want the fear of change to be ruling factor in my life.  You can’t avoid it anyway.  I’ll take the good and the bad and trust that somehow it will all work out more to the good, in the end.


TBM returns!

Friday, June 17th, 2011

After a pleasant few days in Vermont, I hopped a plane and headed back to Tucson for some summer heat.  It was cool and rainy in Vermont most of the time, so cool that we had to run the furnace in the trailer during the day sometimes, and I realized that once again I had not packed enough warm clothes to survive a Vermont June. I had to borrow a sweat jacket from my mother just to survive the evenings.

The Airstream is parked in its summer holding pen, beneath the cedar trees on the gravel driveway next to the garage.  It will rest there for a couple of months before I fly back up and collect it, along with the members of my immediate family who are spending the summer in Vermont.  (You know who they are.)  I am hoping that the bits of white filiform corrosion that started along the edges and trim on the Airstream a few years ago won’t greatly accelerate in the damp environment up there.  Each year the tiny white spider-webs of corrosion seem to spread another 1/8″ of an inch or so.  Once returned to dry conditions, it stops spreading but the damage is irreversible.  Parking by the oceanside really kicks it into high gear too, but I’m not prepared to give up camping by the beach for anything.

I flew back to Arizona, which means I once again am stuck without a tow vehicle.  The Caravel, you might recall, was left in Texas a couple of months ago, after I attended the LBJ Grasslands Vintage Rally in Decatur.  Fellow Airstreamer Paul Mayeux has been holding it at his shop ever since.  He did a few repairs and tweaks for me in the meantime.  Now I’ve got to figure out how to get it back, because I’d like to use it sometime this summer, which means I’m going to have to find a tow vehicle.  All I have is a Honda Fit, which (despite being a very useful and versatile car) can only move itself.

But first, the urgent stuff.  Temporary Bachelor Man (TBM) is BACK!  Armed with his cunning, a credit card, and a freezer full of food left by Temporary Bachelorette Woman (TBW), he will somehow navigate urban Tucson in the blazing heat of summer and survive to tell the tale.  And you’ll be the witnesses.

First mission: re-boot the house.  Although preparing a house in Tucson for vacation is not very difficult, there were still a number of things to get back in shape once I arrived.  Light the water heater, turn the air conditioning on (it was 92 in the house and took seven hours to cool down thanks to massive thermal mass in the adobe blocks), sweep up the dead bugs (few), add water to all the dried-up drains, check on the plants, plug in the essential bachelor electronics, check the car tires, wash the dust off the car, and go to fetch the nutritional food pyramid of TBM (frozen desserts are at the top).

OK, that’s all done.  Now to fill the long quiet days of a man left to his own devices.  Without a definite plan of things to do outside the house, there’s too much risk that I’ll spend all day inside working, and that’s the kind of routine that turns TBM into Temporarily Psycho Man.  There are several good events calendars for Tucson online, plus favorite haunts like The Loft Cinema, Mt Lemmon, and Saguaro National Park that all have regular events.  (Mt Lemmon seems to be off-limits at the moment due to the danger of wildfires, but with the start of monsoon season approximately July 4, that ban should be lifted.  There are no fires up there and no smoke of any of the Arizona fires can be seen from Tucson at this point.)  Browsing the events calendars gives me a few ideas of TBM-worthy events to visit and possibly photograph.  Events featuring food usually rise to the top of the list.

I have three weeks in my present guise, and then TBW arrives and we change identities again, this time into the “Kid — What Kid?” couple.  We did this last year and it was amazing.  For three weeks in July we will be utterly childless, while Emma is engaged in summer camps and grandparent-spoiling up in Vermont.  We’ll go roam around Arizona with a very loose plan, and if I’m able to get it worked out, we’ll even have the Caravel to do some of it in.  So really I’ll be spending a fair bit of my TBM time planning for the next phase, but that’s OK.  I see adventure ahead, and that’s what really makes it work for me.  Let the first phase of summer begin!



End of the line

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

We are at the end of the line, for a while.  From home base in Tucson, the Mercedes has hauled the Airstream across desert, plain, and mountain to end up in Vermont.  Except for our week at Alumapalooza and two days in Toronto, we never even unhitched.  Now the Airstream is backed into its summer parking space underneath the cedar trees and the Mercedes is sitting next to it.  I think I heard a sigh of relief from the car as it was finally released from its harness.

The trip through the Adirondacks is always nice.  We’ve established a path that we follow from the NY State Thruway, northeast along Rt 8 and eventually to a crossing of Lake Champlain at Crown Point.  I think we’ve towed the Airstream this way at least three times, and it has never failed to rain at least part of the trip, but regardless it is always a beautiful winding drive through the forests and tiny hamlets, and alongside fast-running scenic rivers. Along this route you pass over the Hudson River while it is still a moderately-sized flow, and through towns with curious names like Speculator.  It takes hours to pass through the massive Adirondack Park, even if you aren’t tempted to stop at the village ice cream stands or park next to one of the many delightful clear-water lakes.   Best to take your time and enjoy the scenery.

The new bridge over Lake Champlain is still under construction, so the states of New York and Vermont are still running a free ferry from Crown Point NY to West Addison VT.  In the photo you can see the Airstream and the blue Miata taking the ride, with the bridge under construction in the background.

When we arrived it was 55 degrees and raining lightly, as it had been most of the day.  As I write this, a thunderstorm is overhead.  We’re running the furnace.  This is June in Vermont — equal parts cold/damp, and hot/humid.  You can never be sure what to expect, but we know that it’s likely we’ll arrive and need an extra blanket on the bed for a while.  That’s definitely the case today.

Such a contrast from where I will be heading in only a few days.  Tucson is expecting 104 degrees later this week, and typically the humidity runs in the single digit percentages.   I can deal with that a lot better than the constant dampness that afflicts us in Vermont in June, so while the thought of 100+ degrees every day might horrify many people, I’m looking forward to it again.

I won’t miss the mosquitoes. The record rains have produced record mosquitoes.  This morning at the Delta Lake State Park campground’s dump station I was doing my mosquito dance again.  While trying to fill the water tank I was so thoroughly swarmed that I finally gave up until Eleanor could come over and run interference for me.  Like a fighter group surrounding an aircraft carrier, she provided protection from aerial assault while I completed the mission.  Many of the nuisances were mashed in mid-bite, and I wore the mark of squashed bug remains on my ankles for a while.  A few mosquitoes slipped into our cars too, for a few final nips as we drove.

I still need to check the GPS for the final tally, but I believe our trip has covered something over 2,500 miles.  We had no mishaps, no tire failures, no breakdowns (other than the Check Engine light on the Mazda, which turned out not to be serious) — really nothing to report in the way of drama.  In fact, we made a few small improvements along the way, and with quick stops and friendly visits we managed to make a long driving slog into something pretty fun.  It was a good trip, which makes me want to consider a slightly indirect route back home this September.

By the way, I want to show you this picture of Eleanor and me at Alumapalooza.  It was taken by our official Alumapalooza photographer, Alison Turner.  Alison is one of the most talented photographers I know, and a real joy to hang out with, too.  Whenever I can, I use her photos in Airstream Life because she imparts such magic to her images.  She has done a cover for the magazine and illustrated several articles.  I’m sharing this photo because I think it shows how she can take a fairly ordinary request (“take a picture of us, please”) and turn it into something really special.

This photo means something to me because it was taken at the tail end of Alumapalooza, when we were tired, stressed out, and sweating in the humidity.  By all rights we should have been cranky with each other (and in past years after an event we have been), but this year felt a little different.  The photo captures how we really felt: happy to be together despite all the challenges.  Life hasn’t gotten any less complicated, but perhaps we’ve gotten better at seeing what’s really important.  I don’t know.  For me at least, Alison captured all of that in one frame, and that’s why I like this picture.

Delta Lake State Park, Rome NY

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Every time we make this trip there’s a moment when we arrive in a heavily shaded forest of deciduous trees, replete with buzzing mosquitoes and the smell of green things growing, and I think, “Well, we’re really back now.”  All the time up to that moment I’ve been able to disregard the gradual encroachment of the little cues that we are entering the northern forests, but inevitably there’s a day when the Airstream is camped amidst the leaves and grass and suddenly it hits me.  Dorothy, we’re not in Arizona any more.

It’s not a bad thing.  It’s sort of a novelty after living in the desert for a while, so I like listening to the birds of the boreal forest and watching the dragonflies dance over the ponds.  But like the first snow, or the first crocus of spring, it’s a symbol of big change.

This moment happened today, when we pulled into Delta Lake State Park near Rome, in central New York.  Our campsite is in a wooded area next to a calm blue lake.  It’s so shady here that we needed to turn on lights in the trailer several hours before sunset.  (Reminds me a bit of those days camped in the redwoods back in 2006.)  We are on the edge of the large Adirondack Park that overlays most of northeast New York state, which means we are within a few hours drive of our destination.

We seem to be a long way from where we started today, in downtown Toronto, battling against commuter traffic.  We zipped past Niagara Falls, grabbed the Airstream from Darien Lake, and have trundled down the New York State Thruway to end up here.  We could have easily made Vermont this evening, but there was no rush and so we have taken the opportunity to have one last night on the road. We’ll take a few hours to pause here and there as we pass through the Adirondack Park tomorrow, and then the Airstream will be parked for the next three months.

But fear not:  parked the Airstream may be, but adventures await nonetheless.  I have to get back down south next week, and there are many interesting things on the agenda.  Among them is the task of recovering the Caravel from north Texas, a logistical challenge that has yet to be resolved since my tow vehicle will be in Vermont.  (And of course, long-time blog readers will remember Temporary Bachelor Man — he’s coming back shortly.  Things will likely get gritty.)  There are other travels planned, too.  The change that I feel today marks the transition to an interesting summer.

Post-Alumapalooza chill-out

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

The delay in posting these past few days has been the result of post-Alumapalooza recovery.  Not only am I a little behind in other work, but we have had a busy travel schedule. The Monday after the event we hitched up and headed to Lou & Larry’s home near Cleveland for a quick overnight.

Their friends of “Team Doxie” fame were there (winners of the Rivet Masters Competition a few days before), as well as sKY and slADE.  We took a short ride around the rural countryside in the “Team Doxie” 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood on that beautiful Ohio summer evening.

The next morning we got pelted by heavy thunderstorms and a little pea-sized hail, which is just a reminder that the weather in this area swings from one extreme to another pretty quickly.  I got a few hours of work done in the morning and then we hitched up and headed to the Buffalo NY area.

We’ve placed the Airstream in protective custody near Buffalo for a few days, while are up in Toronto, Ontario, to visit with John & Helena.  It’s only about a two hour drive from Buffalo, and there was really no place to put the Airstream while we were visiting, since they live in the center of the city.

Helena had previously arranged for the Airstream to stay in the Toronto Metro Police impound lot, where we could access it (but not sleep in it).  This seemed like a potentially interesting blog entry until I realized that we didn’t need to take the Airstream at all.  We’d be heading back to the Buffalo area immediately after the visit anyway.

I mentioned this to Helena and she responded by asking if I was concerned about leaving the Airstream and all of our possessions in police impound in a foreign country.  Well, when you put it that way … So we missed the opportunity for a good blog photo (at least) but saved some fuel money and hassle by leaving the trailer back in the USA.

On Wednesday afternoon Eleanor and I took a long walk down Toronto’s Yonge Street all the way to downtown, and with a few side streets we managed to get about four miles of street hiking in before 10 p.m.  We love doing that, with absolutely no schedule and tremendous urban possibilities in all directions.  Toronto is a very livable, walkable, and vibrant city.

After a couple of hours out, a huge thunderstorm loomed over us and seemed to be about to strike the downtown with a vengeance, so we ducked into a local sushi place (“Sushi Tower”).  We weren’t concerned about where to eat, so it seemed as good a choice as any, and it did in fact turn out to be great.  The thunderstorm never arrived.  An hour or so later we were back on the street, and walked the city streets until well past dark, making our last stop in a convenience store for a big pralines-and-cream ice cream cone.

John hauled me out on Thursday to show me a few of his cars (fantastic examples of design: Citroens and Czech-made Tatras), and we re-visited his 1935 Bowlus as well.  Eleanor made dinner for all four of us tonight, which we ate out on the patio by the pool in the cool evening.  It has all been really relaxing.  Our two days in Toronto have flown by.

I think at this point we are fully decompressed and ready to get to the next phase.  We’ll get up early on Friday to avoid the worst of Toronto traffic and head back to Buffalo, pick up the Airstream, and head east from here.  Most likely we’ll land in central NY state somewhere for a night, then Vermont on Saturday, and then we’ll be re-united with Emma.

Recipes from Alumapalooza

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Lots of people have requested Eleanor’s recipes from her two cooking demonstrations at Alumapalooza.  We’ll be posting them over the next few days on the Alumapalooza website.  The first one is already up, for Bananas Foster.  See it here.

We’re leaving the Airstream factory this morning, for a stopover at Lou & Larry’s house near Cleveland tonight.  That’s about a 4 hour drive through a lot of pleasant Ohio countryside.  Time to go hitch ‘er up …

Last day of Alumapalooza

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

It’s a wrap!  Alumapalooza 2011 is all done except for a little cleanup.

We had such a fabulous week of weather that nobody could complain when a tiny 10-minute rainshower sprinkled us in the morning on Saturday during the Swap Meet.  We called it “dust control.”  Brett and I were out in the Gator (a little utility truck, kind of like a 6-wheel golf cart) moving around some stuff when the rain hit.  Unfortunately, the throttle cable on the Gator broke around the same time and we ended up having to make a field repair and nurse the thing back to home in the rain.  It didn’t matter much, because at that point the rain was actually kind of refreshing.

The Swap Meet was much larger than last year.  We probably had twenty tables going, with all kinds of stuff, so that was a big hit.  I’m hoping for even more next year.  I saw a few bargains pop up on everything from back issues of Airstream Life magazine to carnivorous plants.

That was all just warm-up for the first big event of the day: the Rivet Masters Competition.  We brought twenty teams of two over to the Service Center.  Dave, Dan, and Rick of Airstream demonstrated correct buck riveting technique and then we let each team take a shot at bucking as many rivets as they could in one minute.  This was hilarious.  One person runs the air-powered rivet gun and the other person holds the bucking bar.  It really does take two people who can coordinate to do this well.  I was initially concerned that we might get a pair of ringers in the competition (perhaps professional restorers) but it immediately became apparent that I needn’t have worried, so I spent my time with the microphone making jibes at the contestants and adding color commentary.

The photo shows sKY and slaDE (known as “The Flying Riveteenees” for the purpose of this contest) working on their rivets.  They managed to buck 10 rivets.  The rule was that improperly bucked rivets would be disqualified, so it really was a matter of quality over quantity.  Too short, too long, marred, or any other defect meant that those rivets didn’t count.  The ultimate winner, announced later at Happy Hour, was Team Doxie, with 11 rivets bucked, and a 100% success rate.  They won a pair of Zip-Dee chairs.

The second big event of the day was Eleanor’s cooking demo.  The one earlier this week was just a fill-in for a speaker who had to cancel.  This one was the biggie — a full “seduction meal” consisting of pork medallions in a port wine sauce, lemon-zested rice, roasted green beans, and a salad with homemade citrus dressing.

She made everything, including the salad dressing, on an actual Airstream galley on stage in about 45 minutes while the audience watched on a big screen where her work surface was shown by a video camera.

Eleanor was assisted by myself (again doing color commentary during the quiet moments) and Brett, who acted as Sous Chef and general kitchen assistant.  Alex Kensington took all of the pictures you see here, and he did a marvelous job.

We chose four people to come up to the table by the stage and eat Eleanor’s meal.  They were picked randomly — we turned our backs and threw tomatoes into the audience, like tossing a bridal bouquet at a wedding.  The tomatoes didn’t survive well, but the people who caught them were thrilled.  After dinner, they also got Eleanor’s latest dessert creation: lemon sorbet with mint syrup, blackberries, and chocolate pizzelles.  Eleanor discovered that they fly like frisbees so she spun a few out to the crowd at the end.  The extra pork medallions were cut up into samples, and plated with a little rice and salad, so that a dozen or more people in the audience could taste the meal too.

The final surprise was when she was done cooking.  She stripped off her chef whites and presented herself as ready to share the meal she’d made.  It was, in every way, a huge success and we are going to do it again next year with a completely new meal.

During the day we’d had Open House, and David Winick roamed the grounds to select a winner for “Best Open House Presentation.” He ultimately chose Hunter Hampton’s trailer, so she is now the (very) proud owner of an Airstream Life “Wally” award.  She told me:  “It doesn’t go with my decor at all, but I’m hanging it in the trailer anyway!”

Since Saturday was our final night, we planned the traditional blow-out evening.  First we had a fully catered dinner which was great, then Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours took the stage.  Everything was going great for about half an hour …until at about 8:30 our good weather luck ran out and a line of nasty thunderstorms came through.  Things got a little dicey for a few minutes with strong wind and lots of lightning, so we suspended the show and sent everyone home to wait it out.

Problem was, the thunderstorms kept popping up.  We had given the band members a walkie-talkie so they could stay in touch (some of them were in their van, and some stayed in the tent).  They kept us entertained telling jokes and making odd comments on the radio for a while, until the crowd started to wander back despite the intermittent rain and lightning.  At that point the guys couldn’t stand it any more — they’d come all the way from Tennessee to play for us tonight, and so around 10:10 p.m. they took the stage again and the show kicked off.  They played until 12:15 a.m., and it was by all accounts a great time.  We want them back next year.

I guess it wouldn’t be Ohio in June without a little interesting weather.  The thunderstorms and the intense humidity today are a reminder of how changeable it is here.  But overall, this may be remembered as the best Alumapalooza (from a weather perspective) ever.  We had a great week.

And now it is Sunday, time to wrap up and go home.  We slept in until 7:30, and took our time getting ourselves ready to go, as the field cleared of Airstreams.  Around 8:30 friends began to arrive to say goodbye : Alison Turner, Kristiana Spaulding, David Winick, sKY and slaDE, Adam and Susan, Alice and Tim, Charon and Alex, “Laura The Lost” and others.  We took a few last minute photos and lingered for an hour, talking about past trips and future ones, because nobody really wanted to leave.  The end of an event like this is always bittersweet.

We are in the Terra Port now, plugged in to full hookups again and chilling out.  The morning was spent in cleaning up the field, running trash to the dumpster, packing up our storage trailer, and such.  Sweaty work on a day with such humidity and heat.  Now that it’s all done, we’re going out for dinner and writing the final checks to vendors.

But the treadmill never stops for us.  This week we opened online registration for next year and four trailers are already signed up.  We’re expecting a few dozen in the next month.  Time to design the t-shirts and logos …

Alumapalooza, day 5

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

It’s the last day and we are all so happy.  Not happy because it is the last day, but because it has been an amazingly great week.  Yesterday was just flawless in every respect.  It was another beautiful day of sunshine and dry air, and the place has just been mobbed with people going every direction with smiles on their faces.

(The panoramic photo here is by Nick Martines. There appears to be a corner in front of the tent but that’s just an artifact of the panoramic stitching process.)

Marty Shenkman was worried that nobody would want to come to his lecture on tax planning for RV’ers, but I wasn’t surprised to see that the main tent had close to 100 people in it at 9 a.m.  Lots of us are interested in running a business from our Airstreams, deducting expenses, avoiding audits, and learning how to properly document our business activities, and he held the crowd for over an hour.

After his talk I found a chance to walk over to the Service Center and Airstream Store.  The store was packed, with lines at the counters and about 40 people waiting for a factory tour at 10 a.m.  I met a few people and got tied up until 11 a.m. By the time I got back, Matt Hackney was already running his Dutch Oven cooking seminar and they were making pineapple upside-down cake.  I’d missed the bicycling talk by Bert G and Bert K, and with various other things going on I missed Laura Steinberger’s geocaching talk too.

But I did manage to catch Zip-Dee demonstrating awning maintenance, probably because they decided to demonstrate using our trailer.  They found that the main awning spring was wound a little too tight and that the arms needed cleaning with silicone spray.  Now the awning sets up like new, and as a bonus they installed a set of optional arms to make setting up the awning a little easier.

I was interrupted during this demo by a call on the radio that Bob Wheeler would lead a few photographers up to the roof of the assembly building for photos of the field.  Eleanor, Alison Turner, Nick Martines, and Kirk McKeller all joined Bob and me on the roof.  Nick is working on a very nice digital panorama, which I hope to see soon and possibly publish on the Alumapalooza site and/or the magazine.

One of the fun things about having so many trailers on the field is that you can just wander around and find someone doing something interesting, or who is happy to hold their door open and let you in.  I was wandering around about lunchtime and got waved into the 1935 Bowlus by Helena Mitchell for a little lunch with her, John Long, and Kristiana Spaulding (the silver trailer jewelry maven), which turned out to be hilarious.  I can’t even begin to do justice to the conversation, but anytime you put a few clever folks like Helena, John, and Kristiana together in a small vintage trailer it’s pretty terrific.

Andy Thomson’s talk on towing was as good as always, and he packed the roof with probably close to 200 people.  He brought a 34-foot Airstream Classic towed by a minivan, which you can see in the photo, and was letting people test-drive it.

There were other activities going on too, such as the Kids Program (today it was bowling), sKY demonstrating some healthy living tips, and at 5:30 we opened up the grill again with Airstream providing hot dogs and hamburgers for all.  Somewhere in there we also had Happy Hour with guest speakers Bob Wheeler and David Winick.

By the way, I haven’t mentioned that this year we are honored to be visited by several Airstream bloggers, including Rhonda C, Deke & Tiffani of Weaselmouth, and Kyle Bolstad.  Kyle posted a gorgeous picture of part of the field on his blog recently, and I’m hoping the others also talk about their time here (so you know it’s not just me claiming we’re having a good time …)

A few of the staff and I were talking and discovered that we were all adopting similar survival strategies this week.  In addition to drinking a lot of water, we’re all sneaking off for little breaks each day.  My break tends to come around dinner time, so I missed Open Grill, but got to take the Miata out for a top-down drive down to Sidney with Eleanor.  She needed to get some groceries for her cooking demo today, and we took the opportunity to talk in the car about our day, since we had hardly seen each other.  Actually, in the Miata at 65 MPH on the Interstate, it’s more of an opportunity to shout at each other than “talk,” but that’s only because of the wind noise!

When I got back I found that Brett was up to his ears in work on the stage, getting the new sound system dialed in for our evening performances.  Joe Diamond was here to do an hour of his “bizarre” magic and mentalism, and then Antsy McClain went on at 8 p.m. for 90 minute of absolutely fantastic solo guitar music and singing.  Antsy’s 14-year-old son joined him later (he’s a pretty hot guitarist himself), and tonight we’ll have both of them again plus the full Trailer Park Troubadours band.

As I said, today is the final hurrah of this event, but it’s in some ways the biggest day.  I’ve got to get going in a few minutes.  Brett is already out there working with some of the contractors.  At 8 a.m. we plan our traditional “reveille” (those of you who were here last year know what I’m talking about — this year we have 24,000 watts to play with), and then we’ve got a full program: Swap Meet, morning yoga, Open House, New Product Display, Rivet Masters competition (20 teams are signed up!), Kid’s movie, and Eleanor’s big cooking demo, plus the big Happy Hour, dinner for all, and the Troubs.  It’s going to be another great day.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine