Archive for the ‘Alumapalooza’ Category

2013 travel plans

Monday, December 24th, 2012

2013 is right around the corner, and as with every year I’m considering our options for travel.  It’s looking like it will be a very interesting year.

Our first big trip will likely be in late March or April.  Normally we take a week around New Year’s to go camping in southern California, but this year we are going to hang around Tucson over the holidays, and take a longer trip to California in the spring after we’re done with Alumafiesta in Tucson.  The general idea is to meander up the California coast for a few weeks, stringing together a lot of visits along the way.

We haven’t made that trip since 2005, when we started at Florence OR in mid November and worked our way down the coast all the way for Christmas at the San Diego Zoo.  It was a very memorable trip, and I can’t believe that it was seven years ago—until I look at the pictures of Emma, age 5.

This time we’ll do the trip heading north, starting in Anza-Borrego and then working up the coast.  I don’t know how far north we’ll get, but at the very least we will see some redwood trees.

These days none of our travel is arbitrary.  Time seems to be more scarce for us, so the multi-week trip that we would just throw together on a whim in the past now requires major planning sessions.  I have to justify the time in the Airstream more carefully than ever before, because every departure from home base disrupts projects and goals for all three of us.

A good travel route comes together like a string of pearls, and right now I’m collecting those pearls along the 1,200 mile string between San Diego and Oregon.  We’ll stop in to see friends in the major cities, visit Airstream Life clients and prospects, camp in a few beauty spots, and replenish our resources of Airstream stock photography and future contributors that we meet along the way.  So far I’ve got about eight or nine stops in mind, and by the time the trip dates come we’ll probably have a dozen or more things that we need/want to do. The real trick will be getting it all done in three to five weeks, before we’re required to come back to Tucson for something.

This summer looks even more challenging, in the sense that we have to figure out some complicated travel.  As with the previous three years, everything starts with Alumapalooza in Jackson Center OH.  I love doing Alumapalooza but it forces us into more or less the same travel pattern every year, which is boring.  Once again we will hit the road some time in May and work northeast toward Ohio, then continue east to Vermont.  Fortunately, after that the program will likely change, and I can’t say how much until we get further along our planning cycle.  Most likely the Airstream will stay in Vermont most of the summer, but Eleanor and I may fly off a couple of times to attend events far away.

I’d really like to make this the year of our long-awaited Airstream trip to Newfoundland.  It’s a tough trip to make, because the miles are long, the costs are high, and connectivity (for a working person) is difficult.  Even from Vermont it’s a long trip, over 1,500 miles to St. John’s NFL, which is like driving from New York City to Dallas TX.  Diesel in Newfoundland today is the equivalent of $5.19 per gallon (US), and the ferry for all three of us plus the Airstream would run about $830 round-trip.  Still cheaper than Alaska, which is sort of the “white whale” of RV’ing in North America, but Newfoundland is definitely not easy.

Eleanor and I went there in 1995 via car, tent camping and staying in local inns across Maine, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island, traveling 2,000 miles, and all in nine days.  It was beautiful, memorable, and exciting.  This time we’d like to go more slowly and explore more.  Each year I look at it and wonder if this will be the optimal year to go.  The only thing that has improved over the past few years has been Internet connectivity, and it’s still pretty spotty compared to US standards.  So I’d have to disconnect for much of the trip, which is simultaneously a wonderful and horrifying thought.

Another “wish list” trip is Europe.  For the past couple of years I’ve been investigating the realities of European travel by American Airstreamers, and unfortunately it’s pretty hard to do.  You have two basic options:  (1) ship your suitably small Airstream over and do a quickie conversion to make it legal and compatible with EU standards, then ship it back; or (2) buy an Airstream in Europe.  Both options are expensive and would only worthwhile for an extended trip of several months, which is not possible for us right now.  We’re looking at a third option for this summer, which is basically hanging out with European Airstreamers while we travel conventionally by car & hotel.  Not ideal but at least feasible, and if the stars align it might yet happen.

Meanwhile back at in the states we have things to do too.  The big one is Alumafandango, which is our August event.  Last summer we held it in Denver.  After much consideration, we have decided to hold it in central Oregon, so I’ve got to get there for that at a time when the Airstream is going to be almost as far away as it can be.  The answer will be a plane ticket and a hotel room, unless I can borrow an Airstream in Oregon for a week.  Still working on that.

Officially we haven’t announced Alumafandango 2013, so you’re the first to hear about it, but the registration form is open now if you want to check it out.  Dates will be August 6-11, 2013, at the wonderful Seven Feathers RV Resort in Canyonville, OR.  That’s right on I-5, about 200 miles south of Portland.  Like Alumafiesta in Tucson, it will be a first-class event with all full hookups in a really nice campground, indoor displays of Airstreams, lots of activities, etc. Pricing is the same as Alumafiesta.  There’s more updated info on the website, even though the graphics still show last year’s event.

After Alumafandango I’ll have to fly back to Vermont, retrieve the Airstream and family, and then begin the long trek back west to home base.  All told, the Airstream will probably log about 9,000 miles this summer (plus 3,000 if we manage to get to Newfoundland), the Mercedes will probably cover more like 12,000 miles, and by September I’ll be really glad to just park myself back at the desk again … and think about 2014.

Post ‘palooza

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

(photo courtesy of Nick Martines)

I’ve been working on this event for a year, and now it is finally over.  Sunday morning was wonderful. I awoke around 7 with beautiful sunlight streaming in the windows and crisp air outside, and just lay in bed basking in the knowledge that I didn’t have to get up and start running around.  Emma had a sleepover at her friend Katherine’s trailer, so Eleanor and I were alone to enjoy the quiet after the storm of Alumapalooza.

By around 8:30 we were still lounging around the Airstream with all the shades drawn. I was working on the blog and Eleanor was also at her computer, when we heard an assertive knock at the door.  I figured it was one of the Alumapalooza team, finally deciding we’d enjoyed enough laziness, and being in a good mood I decided to have a little joke.  Before I opened the door I said loudly, “Eleanor, can you untie me so I can open the door?”  Equally loudly, Eleanor said, “No, I like having you tied up and I’m not done with you yet!”  I paused a moment and then said, “Aha, the oil you smeared on me is letting me slip out of the ropes!”  and I opened the door to see … nobody there.

About fifty feet away I spotted a lady heading away from us rapidly, and I called out, “Were you looking for me?” She walked back and explained she had wanted to invite me to see the work her husband had done on the interior of their trailer.  I was really not in the mood to get out of my pajamas and go see a trailer, plus it was time to go assist with the teardown of all the Alumapalooza stage stuff, so I said, “I’m sorry, this isn’t a good time for me right now,” and she agreed to email me a few pictures instead.  It wasn’t until I had closed the door again that I realized our playful dialogue had been heard by the wrong person.  That probably explains her apparent discomfort when talking to me.

Oh well.  If you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t come to Alumapalooza, because we do like to avoid seriousness whenever possible.  I think she was not permanently traumatized by it.  I got dressed and went out to help with striking the set, which took a few hours (in between goodbyes and congratulations).  By noon, the field was 90% cleared of Airstreams and tents, and most of the volunteer staff were on their way home.  We hitched up and towed over to the Terra Port.

A few people were still hanging around, including Brett & Lisa in the Argosy motorhome, Alex & Charon, sKY & slaDE, Elly C, and Kite-Flyin’ Joe.  We spent the afternoon cleaning up and getting back in the mode of “normal” Airstream life, which meant laundry, washing the mud off shoes and mats, fixing the leaky sink in the bathroom, and re-arranging our stuff for the next phase of travel. I really wanted to go somewhere for dinner just to have a change of scene, since I had hardly been off Airstream property in a week, so we ended up in Lima OH with Brett, Lisa, Alex, and Charon that night.  We had a fairly mediocre dining experience but I was still glad to get out of town for a couple of hours.

The talk lately has been a combination of Alumapalooza review and Alumafandango (Denver) planning.  Already I’ve received a few emails from people with their suggestions on how we can improve the event, and we’ve all talked about new ideas and ways to make our jobs more manageable.  Most of the new ideas will be tested at Alumafandango in August, including an all-new cooking competition that we will announce in a couple of weeks.

On Monday morning we all finally got to visit the Airstream company store like regular people.  It was blissfully uncrowded, with only a few service customers hanging around.  I bought an LED lamp, a tube of caulk, and some replacement latches.  I’m gearing up for our winter-time Airstream renovation.  Brett went into town to make his final payoffs (we buy services and products locally in Jackson Center whenever possible), and then we had our post-event debrief with the Airstream managers.  This year there was little to discuss since the event went so well, but we have a few procedural improvements for next year and we are hoping that some re-seeding and drainage improvements will be made to the field as well.

By 2 p.m. we were off, heading northeast toward the Cleveland area, where we have landed in “the best campground in northeast Ohio,” AKA Lou & Larry’s driveway.  Three other Airstreams are here as well, making it a sort of mini-rally, and Al & Shinim (Team Doxie) dropped in, and Loren & Mike.  Most of us sat around the campfire in the back yard last night telling funny travel stories until 10.

I think even the people who weren’t working at Alumapalooza appreciate the chance to decompress before re-entering the “real world”.  I know I do.  Lots of work lies ahead for ‘fandango, the Fall 2012 issue of Airstream Life, and several other projects.   But I can’t complain—my job is making fun and that’s not so bad.

Alumapalooza, Days 4 & 5

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

Wow, I was so busy yesterday that I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to write the blog until today!  It has been that kind of week.  So I’ll summarize some of the events of Friday and Saturday … if I can remember it all.

Friday was our rain day, at least in the morning.  We had to cancel the Open House and the Kid’s Swim party, but Dutch Oven cooking worked out just fine under the Main Tent.  Seven of us baked Chocolate Cobblers with Matt Hackney’s help, and about fifty people showed up to eat them.  I was favorably impressed—mine came out very well and it was really good, and so were all the others.

The Backup Derby came off as planned, on asphalt near the Service Center.  This was the event where teams of two are challenged to back up a single-axle U-Haul trailer through a course of orange cones.  “The Stig” showed up to run the course first, and set a time of 1:34, which wasn’t really great.  He later explained that he’d practiced in a different tow vehicle, but I think he was just making excuses.

The best time was handily set by Ed Emerick, who completely blew away the competition at 0:41.  We couldn’t believe it, so we had him run it again and the next time he parked it square in the finish box, earning at 10 second bonus, so his second time was just 0:39!  He won a pair of Zip-Dee chairs with the Alumapalooza logo silk-screened on them.

Andy Thomson did his towing talk again, and this year he had a nice Ford Taurus SHO (with 6-cylinder twin turbo) rigged up with a new Airstream International CCD 23.  I took it out for a spin, as did many others, and it drove like a dream.  No exaggerating, this was the best towing combination I’ve ever driven.  Very impressive.

Jim Webb did his Zip-Dee seminar on our awning, which is nice because it means it gets an annual maintenance by the pros.  They adjusted the spring tension, cleaned the arms, and lubricated it.  Thanks, guys!

At Happy Hour we gave away a ton of great stuff again, including a Mega Hitch Lock, more Zip-Dee chairs, some silver jewelry by Kristiana, the new book “Airstream” by Tom Schabarum, some Lodge enamel cookware, cookbooks, free nights at campgrounds, YogaFlight sessions, Tarot card readings by Alex, one-of-a-kind Airstream decals made by Kirk, etc.  Overall this week we gave away probably over 150 different prizes.

Hymn for Her, our Friday night musical act, was apparently a big hit.  I missed much of it but the reviews were great.   Their style of music is unusual, hard to categorize, and great fun.

Saturday dawned bright and dry, so everyone was in a fine mood to enjoy the last day.  We had a mellow schedule offering morning yoga, a 5K run in town, or a breakfast at the local Methodist church.  At 9 a.m. we had our Swap Meet, which was a huge success.  Quite a lot of goodies got traded.  I bought a never-installed NuTone food center from David Winick, which we will install in our Safari this year. (We already have all the appliances to go with it.)

At 10 a.m. the action kicked up a notch with the Rivet Masters contest, which was won by sKY and slaDE (our yoga instructors).  They had 16 completed rivets in one minute, all of them perfect, which was amazing since last year they scored zero and came in last place.  Talk about a comeback!  There was also a three way tie for second place between teams Doxie (last year’s winners), Pounders, and Buck Masters, all with 14 good rivets.

Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo came off well in the afternoon.  She made salmon and risotto, and the recipes are posted on the Alumaplooza website.  Brett and I were on stage as before, with Brett acting as sous chef and me doing color commentary.  Four couples were selected to come up and eat the meal, and they all raved about it.

After that, Charon and Alex came on stage to swallow swords, breathe fire, and were as brilliant as always.  We last enjoyed their show at the Vintage Trailer Jam in 2008.

This time they finished with a very unusual act in which Alex was vacuum-packed in a plastic bag.  Charon kept the vacuum running until we all donated enough money to the hat, then she let him free.  The money, which amounted to $420, will be used to buy seven annual passes to the community pool, for children of Airstream employees.

After that, it was more door prizes at Happy Hour, and the big act: The Trailer Park Troubadours, and at about 11 p.m. it was all over.

I am very appreciative to all the people who came up to me and said they were having a fabulous time.  Over and over I heard from people how this was the best event they’d ever attended, or sometimes, the first event.  People told me they respected how much work it was to put on something like Alumapalooza (and it is!) and that kind of recognition really helps us keep going.  It’s a tremendous job that takes a full year to organize, and a week of intense stress to manage, but we all love it and everyone on the team has been talking about how they want to do it again in 2013.  So we will—and we’ll make sure that next year, it’s even better.  See you there.

Alumapalooza, Day 3

Friday, June 1st, 2012

There are a few clear themes of this week:  (1) Everyone seems to be having a great time. I’m getting lots of comments as I walk around the field, all positive. It’s very gratifying.  (2) We are all extremely busy.  A full night’s sleep or a moment to sit and eat quietly are hard to come by, at least for the staff.  (3) We’ve been extremely lucky with the weather (but more on that later).  Photo below is of Eleanor, Brenda, Colin, and Peewee.

The day started with an early “pranayama” seminar by sKY and slaDE, our resident yoga instructors, while JJ and Sandi did their SkyMed pitch in the Main Tent, then regular yoga class, then the two Product Feedback sessions that Airstream’s top design and sales people run (which were very well attended). The kids did a scavenger hunt at 10 a.m., while Joe led a bike ride for the adults.

I missed all of that, because a production crew working for HGTV was on site, shooting video for a show to be released sometime this fall.  They wanted to do a short interview with me (in addition to several members of the Airstream staff).  I’m pretty sure my moment of fame will end up on the cutting room floor.  I was also leading three Airstream Life staff through the factory for a future article about the factory tour, so all of this kept me away from the fun that everyone else was having.

The big moment for us was Eleanor’s “million dollar sauces” demo at noon.  She made 10 sauces on an Airstream kitchen in about an hour, while Brett assisted and I did commentary.  At the end, everyone got to taste the sauces.  The recipes can be downloaded from

Colin’s talk on vintage trailer restoration was also popular.  He managed to keep his crowd mesmerized for 90 minutes, until we finally had to kick him off the stage.

Throughout the past three days we have seen almost nothing of Emma.  She linked up with a new friend, Katherine, and the two have been completely inseparable.  But that’s OK with all the parents involved.  This is a great environment to let a pair of 11 & 12 year old girls run free.  We’re in a small quiet town, inside a fence with security guards at each entrance, and surrounded by hundreds of wonderful Airstreamers.  For some reason the girls have a pact to prevent us from getting pictures of them, but I’ve managed to sneak one or two.

All through last night we were reveling in absolutely perfect weather: 70s, dry, mostly sunny, and a light breeze.  But we knew it had to end.  As I told many people, in Jackson Center during June, you can expect all kinds of weather in a single week.  Today, Friday morning, we have steady rain and a temperature of 62 degrees.  It will rain until at least 10 a.m.  But today (perhaps foreseeing this rain a year ago), we programmed a slow start day, with just yoga, Dutch Oven cooking (under the tent today), and Open House from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  The Open House will be a soggy affair but by afternoon this rain will be just a memory.  The Backup Derby should be under clearing skies at 1 p.m., and that’s the event of the day I’m looking forward to the most.

Alumapalooza, Day 2

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The Alumapalooza routine has set in again:  up at 6 a.m. with the sun rising into a beautiful blue sky, quick blog entry, breakfast, on the walkie-talkie by 6:30 (in case I’m needed) and out doing whatever needs to be done by about 7 a.m.  The hardest part of each morning is getting Emma out of bed so that she will go to bed at night at a reasonable time.  Being 12 years old, she really doesn’t like waking up early

The orange-shirted staff are running things so well that Brett and I sometimes find ourselves filling the time by counting attendees to seminars (to see which ones are most popular), selling books, refilling the ice chests, and troubleshooting little problems that come up.  It’s so much nicer than last year for us.  Of course, now certain members are referring to us as management—or even more inaccurately, “Central Intelligence.”  We’re really more like tropisms than intelligence.

Eleanor, Emma and I were scheduled to do a talk about “life aboard an Airstream” from a family perspective, and I was pleasantly surprised to find 84 people in attendance.  We did a 60 minute Q&A session with the folks there, answering questions about full-timing, where to go, maintenance, campsites, traveling with a kid, selling the house, and many other things.  A 42 minute slide show ran in the background while we talked, with photos of us starting in 2005 when we first began full-timing, and going through early 2008.

All day long I kept getting buttonholed by people with interesting questions and great personal stories. This event is generating quite a few leads for future articles in the magazine.  I think that honestly I spent more time talking to people than doing any sort of physical work, which is quite a bit different from prior years.  Again, that’s because the team is really hustling.  The parkers (Lou, Larry and their team) fit in another 25-30 trailers yesterday, working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Matt was everywhere from the sound board (for the stage) to the grills (for Dutch Oven class and Open Grill).  Alice & Tim were making the water/electric job look easy, and Beth and Lori had Registration completely handled.  Lisa and Eleanor are still on the Injured Reserve list but both are functional now and doing light duty.

The only problem seems to be the cursed Garbage Pickup job.  Lisa was supposed to drive the Gator around every morning at 7 a.m., but that was before she was injured.  We recruited Al & Shinim to take over, and they did a great job yesterday.  But late in the afternoon, Al showed up with a large hemotoma on his leg from bashing it against something.  Elly (a veteran of the Vintage Trailer Jam and an LPN) diagnosed it and sent him off with ice and orders to stay off it, so that wiped out our second team.  A third team has been recruited and they did the job this morning, but we have given them fair warning about the history …

OK, quick summary because I’ve got to get out of the trailer and onto some jobs this morning.  We had 13 ovens going at once during the first Dutch Oven cooking seminar, and huge leftovers (fruit cobblers) for everyone to sample.  Open Grill was a big hit.  People cooked for hours in a steady stream over the three big grills we set up. The ice cream leftovers from the Kids Social got wiped out last night by the grillers, so that’s good. Roving Happy Hour was a big hit too, and we’ll do that again tonight. (Photos today are all courtesy of Lisa Forsyth, Injured Reserve.)

This morning HGTV will be here to tour the factory and interview the staff for a show they are going to produce this fall.  I’m on the interviewee list, but probably won’t appear in the final show.  But that adds a complexity to this morning that I really didn’t need, so it’s rush-rush-rush to get everything done.  Off to work—I’ll update tomorrow.



Alumapalooza Day 1

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

It was a longer day than I expected.  After I finished the blog in the early morning yesterday, my attention turned to a line of slow-moving thunderstorms that were creeping northeast and bearing down on us.  The plan was to move all the staff over to the rally field at 8 a.m., but by 7 a.m. it was clear we were going to be in the midst of a potentially large storm at our scheduled move time.  At 7:30 Brett & I had a quick conference and decided to move everyone who was ready immediately.  It was already raining and the wind was blowing hard.

Most of us were lined up and ready in less than five minutes.  We parked the Airstreams in the field and set up, wearing raincoats, while Eleanor and Lisa took the Gator back to the Terra Port to escort the stragglers past the security gate.  The storm dropped half an inch of rain according to weatherman Alex, and made the field muddy enough that we felt obligated to delay the start of parking for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, eager attendees were lined up at the north gate on Jerry Drive, and by 10 a.m. they were around the corner, which means we had a line about half a mile long waiting to get in. We passed on the bad news (“be prepared to wait until at least 11″) but the wind dried up the worst of the mud pretty quickly and by 10:30 or so the gates were opened.

This made for a lot of really dull video on the GoPro camera we had mounted high above the field, as you can see from the still posted here.  But our weatherman assured us that there would be a dramatic change once the front passed, and he was right.  By noon it was time to shed the jackets and break out the sun hats.

We parked about 75-80 trailers today, which is about right.  102 Airstreams were scheduled but not everyone shows up on the day they are reserved.  We left one area unparked because it was still a little damp and we didn’t want to dig ruts, but it will fill in today.  The field is already looking great with aluminum everywhere.

Our new online iPad-based registration system completely let us down, riddled with technical glitches that we could not overcome, so the parkers resorted to paper check-in instead and it worked out fine.  We will be having a serious talk with the company that provides our reservation software later.

The only real bad spot of the day was a couple of staff injuries.  Eleanor strained her back due to lifting things improperly and managing to fall into a cooler (this takes particular talent), and was restricted to quarters for the rest of the day with some pain medication.  A few hours later, the sliding door of the U-Haul trailer landed on Lisa’s neck, giving her a nasty bruise to the trapezius muscle and sending her to the E.R. for a scan.  They are both going to be fine, but with restricted movements and pain pills neither will be on duty today.  Al & Shinim, friends from Ohio, were recruited by Larry to take over the morning garbage pickup from Lisa, and Charon will help Eleanor do the staff laundry today.  So once again, people have jumped into the breach to help out.

Emma made a friend at the Kid’s Ice Cream Social today, who seems to be a sort of clone of her. They are about the same age, read the same books, love the same things (snow and dogs in particular), and became instantly inseparable all day.  Parents on both sides are thrilled.  We had to break them apart at 9:30 after Mike Depraida’s short documentary on The Slabs ended, and the ice cream for Lou’s birthday was consumed, and the paper lanterns flew away.  We had to get Emma to bed, because her parents were exhausted and today is going to be another big day.

Pre-dawn, Alumapalooza load-in

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

It’s 4:53 a.m.  I have not awoken this early for any particular reason that I can think of.  It is the big morning of our load-in to Alumapalooza, but although that’s an exciting time, I don’t think I’m up because of the anticipation.  I just woke up, having slept well and having had lots of interesting dreams. Although our alarm was set for 6:30 a.m., I guess I’m up for the day.

There are various “industrial” sounds of machines and whirring fans that always accompany a work day at the Terra Port, murmuring beneath the usual morning bird songs.  Everyone who has camped here is familiar with them.  Soon the Airstream staff will begin to arrive and get to work building Airstreams and opening the Service bays.  They are going to have a busy week, just like us.  At 7 a.m., the tractor will come out to the Terra Port to pick up the first Service customers.

I know from prior years that in the next hour a lot of guys will start stumbling around outside their trailers in the dawn light, puttering with various pieces of equipment and generally killing time until it’s socially acceptable to fire up the old diesel pickup and start hitching for real.  This year I may be one of them.   I’ve got to dump the holding tanks and pack up a few things, and I might as well get started soon.  Besides, it’s hard to sit inside the Airstream this morning.  It’s exciting to line up the first group of Airstreams (all the Alumapalooza staff, about eight trailers) to parade into the field and take our designated spots at 8 a.m.

Everyone will be up and watching, including our little “eye in the sky,” a GoPro Hero2 sports camera mounted to a 30-foot pole.  It will be shooting a time-lapse video of the parking process today.  We tested it yesterday while the tent was being set up, and it’s pretty cool.  I’ll try to get the video of the Airstreams parking today uploaded to YouTube later this week.  We are expecting 102 trailers today.

Yesterday was another hot one, but the weather service (our own Alex K) says that today will be a little cooler with a few showers in the morning, than comfortably cool all week.  The day started with setting up the eye in the sky, while our parking crew flagged the fields and set out the big yellow “ALUMAPALOOZA” road signs.  The big old & ugly box trailer that we use for winter storage was towed over and we unloaded all the gear, including a complete Airstream kitchen and stage sound and video equipment.

This year we’re trying a much more streamlined online check-in process, so I held a brief training seminar with most of the staff after the main tent was set up.  We all stumbled through the process with a clutch of iPads until we’d finally worked out all the issues.  Despite a few challenges, I think it’s going to work fine and save everyone considerable time.  Two staffers will have laptops and the ability to fix any problems that the iPad users in the field might encounter.

A few people have arrived early and are parked in the Service Center lot.  They have no hookups of course, but seem to be fine with that.  I should note that arriving early is discouraged and there’s a risk of being turned away unless you are staff or have a service appointment on Tuesday.  Also, arriving early doesn’t get you in to  Alumapalooza early.  These folks will be parked at the same time as everyone else, after 9 a.m. today.

But those who were here seemed to make the best of the situation, heat and all.  I got a chance to take a break around 6 p.m. and wandered into a group of merry-makers who were playing and singing some of Kirk McKellar’s songs.

Kirk is the middle guy in the photo with the blue hat.  Every year he writes a theme song for Alumapalooza.  The first year it was the Alumapalooza Anthem.  The next year it was “Wally Byam Would Be Smilin’ “, and this year he has something new that we haven’t rehearsed yet.  Regardless, we will be singing it from the stage today.

Thanks to Nick Martines for this photo.  He’s one of our official photographers, and you will see his panoramic photo work from last year’s event hanging in the Airstream Service Center.

The “snake killers” are on the job

Monday, May 28th, 2012

One of the important aspects of planning the Alumapalooza prep schedule is to leave in lots of time for “contingencies.”  You never know what will crop up, but it’s virtually guaranteed that several things will.  The other key is to be surrounded by people who are really capable, so when a problem does pop up, they just jump on it without even having to be asked to do it.

I’m reminded of a quote from Ross Perot, the billionaire founder of EDS, after he got involved with General Motors:  “At EDS, the first person who sees a snake kills it.  At GM, they form a committee on snakes.”  Our core team members are all snake-killers, figuratively speaking.

So when I awoke in the morning to one of the worst sounds you can hear in an Airstream—drip drip drip—I was dismayed but knew I was surrounded by people who could help.  The air conditioner had run most of the night to beat the incessant heat and intense humidity, and apparently the condensate drain tube was clogged. This caused an overflow of water in the drain pan, and when that happens you get a light rain shower in your trailer.

One of the many handy folks parked in the Terra Port with us is Super Terry.  I threw a couple of salad bowls beneath the air conditioner and went to get him out of bed.  This took over  an hour since he had slept poorly and had his own water problem to deal with as well.  A water line had sprung a leak right underneath his bed, which needed to be fixed immediately.  S.T. put a temporary patch on his leak and then came over to help me, a gauge of his Super-helpful character.

The problem was readily remedied by blowing out the drain tube, but as we were in there S.T. spotted daylight coming through.  The air conditioner, when replaced last fall, didn’t get a layer of double-sided tape between it and the drain pan. This is not a serious issue, as rainwater won’t normally get through the gap, but in wind-driven rain or while towing we could have a minor leak.

By this time it was 9 a.m. and time for me to join all the volunteers are our little appreciation breakfast at the Verandah.  Normally we just treat the volunteers like rented mules, with nary a thank-you card for their efforts sweating in the field all week.  This year our hearts softened enough to buy them breakfast at the best restaurant in town, which happens to be a short walk from Airstream.  Eleanor and Emma even dressed up a little for the occasion.

Once back, we had to do some prep for the new Backup Derby event.  We ran the course several times (with plenty of onlookers) and worked out a nice little routine that took “the Stig” 59.6 seconds.  We expect most people will take about 90 seconds to complete it.  You can get full details about it by going to the Alumapalooza website.  This is going to be a seriously fun event.

Meanwhile, our crack team of volunteers was inside the Service Center stuffing 200 goody bags.  We have a rented Gator to shuttle all the stuff around this year, from our U-Haul trailer to the Service Center, back to the trailer, and then eventually to the field.  In previous years we used our car, but the Gator is a lot more convenient.

This year we have a nice black zipper bag that even had a little iPod pocket in it.  It’s a great souvenir of the event, and it will (as always) be filled with treats and coupons and the all-important Survival Guide.

As predicted, the heat and humidity were brutal on Sunday, but we were ready for it. Brett kept a large ice chest filled with water for all the volunteers, and everyone had their sun hats and sunscreen on.  It was only really bad for us because in the middle of the day Super Terry returned (with some of the special double-sided tape) and removed our air conditioner in order to apply the tape.  I got up on the roof with him and we managed to get it done in about half an hour.

Of course now the heat was nearing peak and the trailer had become completely heat-soaked, so it would take two hours to cool off again.  I say “would” because then Eleanor began cooking an elaborate dinner of beef tenderloin, orcchiette pasta with a smoky mushroom tomato cream sauce, white bean & roasted garlic puree for the bread, and sfogliatelle (an Italian stuffed flaky pastry, courtesy of Elsa) for dessert.   All of this meant all three burners of the stove and the oven running for two hours, which completely overwhelmed any good the air conditioner could do.  We ended up turning it off and running fans despite the 91 degree temperatures outside.  It was actually cooler that way.

Well, dinner was worth it.  I mean, really, it was.  And since we suffered in a trailer that was hotter than the outside (where the “heat index” was 100 degrees), you know it had to be good chow.  But we won’t be eating like that again this week.  Too much time involved, too much work.  This week we’ll be mostly cooking on the Open Grill with the rest of the people who are coming this week.

The night before departure

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

The Airstream is loaded and we are aiming to depart at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Of course, that won’t happen —it never does, because there’s always 55 last-minute things that need attention, and Emma is groggy if woken before noon, etc.  But at least the intention of leaving at eight means that Eleanor is feeling fairly optimistic about our packing process this year. If we actually get out at 9, it will still be a reasonable start by our lax standards, for a multi-month trip. It means we started early enough on the packing process and weren’t left with a lot of last-minute things to do.

You’ll note I said Eleanor was feeling optimistic.  I emphasize her because she’s really the Chief Packer in our family.  I pack my personal gear and all the stuff I need for business, plus I take care of the Airstream and car.  If I hurry, I can have all of this done in a couple of days, otherwise four or five days.  Eleanor has the harder job: packing her stuff, all the household gear, and (most challenging of all) Emma’s stuff.  This takes at least a week every year.

The major problem is that darned children keep growing and changing.  So the toys, books, crafts, clothes, shoes, sundries, and even foods that were perfectly suited to a kid in 2011 have little to do with what she’ll require in 2012.  And that’s in addition to figuring out a multi-functional, all-weather wardrobe that fits into a couple of plastic bins and four tiny drawers.  Inevitably this means shopping for all kinds of things: clothes that fit, replacement batteries, foods that pack well, new games (lately on the iPad, another sign of change).

I’ve struggled a little this time with packing as well, but not nearly as much.  These days I’m packing for magazine publishing, Alumapalooza, a brief visit in Vermont (possible lake activities), and (Dr C, avert your eyes!) a motorcycle tour through upstate New York.  That translates to roughly 50 pounds of books (Newbies, Tin Hut, Wally Byam), 30 pounds of technological gadgetry such as computers and cameras, a Dutch Oven, quite a bit of bulkiness in the form of apparel that will be for sale, plus one high-visibility armored motorcycle jacket and full-face helmet.  Eleanor is also doing two cooking demonstrations at Alumapalooza, which means she’s toting extra ingredients and tools too.  All of this has to go somewhere in the confined storage of our 216 square foot home.

This is what really makes it tricky.  When faced with this sort of problem, most people either get a bigger RV or a bigger truck, which explains the popularity of massive Class A motorhomes and sky-scraping fifth wheels.  We could make life much easier on ourselves if we traded the Mercedes GL320 for a 3/4 ton pickup truck with a fiberglass bed cap, but that’s not our style, so we instead we spend extra time meticulously deciding what can come with us, and where it will fit.  This forces us to be ruthless about leaving behind things we really don’t need.  Eventually all the important stuff gets in there, even things one might not expect.  Two years ago we made the trip with a four-foot fiberglass greyhound on the bed, destined for a friend in Chicago.

We tend to pack like submariners.  As we depart, the trailer is stuffed to the gills with food and supplies.  As we travel, the space gradually clears out.  I’ll sell the t-shirts and books, we’ll drop off gifts and deliveries to friends along the way, we’ll eat the food, and thereafter we’ll be more careful about what we acquire so that the interior remains liveable.  We try to buy very little that is not consumable, and tend to come home with a freezer full of interesting foods, but not much else in the way of souvenirs.  These are habits that come from years of full-time living, and I see no reason to break them.  We just have never been “weekenders,” and I doubt we ever will be.  So we try to take only what we need.

At times I am a bit jealous of the weekenders, because they only have to pack for a few days and they can bring all kinds of fun stuff.  We often camp with people who have brought their plastic pink flamingos, awning mats, Weber grills, paper lanterns, table decorations, bicycles, even outdoor kitchens.  They make wonderful presentations, even to the point of having holiday-specific decorations.  By comparison, we look rather stingy—we don’t even bring folding chairs!  That’s a part of compromise of traveling for long times.  When others are spreading out their stuff and preparing for a cookout, I am usually rummaging around in the toolkit so I can fix something.

In recognition of the fun displays that people like to put out, we are once again going to give someone at Alumapalooza the coveted Airstream Life “Wally” award for Best Open House Presentation.  I am hoping to see some really great setups while we are parked on the grass at Airstream.  A few people have already made it known that they plan to really go nuts this year.  The only limitations we impose are (a) no ground fires; and (b) no big light displays (since each trailer only gets 3 amps of power).  That leaves a lot of room for creativity.

We don’t have a traditional last meal before we leave, but it is always something dead simple.  I sometimes have to restrain Eleanor from trying to cook something elaborate, because it’s her nature to feed us well, but this year she has come up with a convenient choice of lobster ravioli from the freezer and sushi from the grocery store.  Usually our last night in the house is a little frantic, as the final tasks end up getting done in the dark of night, so it’s best to have an easy meal.

At this point I’m feeling that we are already well set.  Tonight Eleanor will move over the last of the food from the house refrigerator to the Airstream refrigerator, and pack up the last items that are strewn around the Airstream.  In the morning I’ll dump the water that we used to clean the interior, hitch up, and pull the trailer out of the carport and into the sun for final walk-around.

It will be a great feeling to be driving the big rig again.  There’s always a moment when I feel sad to be leaving the house in Tucson, but in just a matter of hours the Airstream will become our home again and we won’t look back.  We will experience that exhilarating combination of freedom and uncertainty, as we drive on Friday to a destination we haven’t planned.  We’ll know it when we get there.  See you on the road.

Modernism Week 2012 Vintage Trailer Show

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Have I finally bitten off more than I can chew?  I think so.  The blog hasn’t been updated as frequently as it should be, emails are going unacknowledged for days or even weeks, and I’ve been shelving good & interesting projects simply because I don’t have time anymore. It’s an abundance of riches in a sense —too much work to do when other folks are still looking for some, and (briefly) too many friends overflowing the driveway into the street—but drowning is still a bad thing even if it’s in a vat of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

So I’m making some tough decisions.  Brett and I went off to Palm Springs on Thursday with the decision that we would regretfully resign our volunteer positions as “Event Captains” once the weekend was over.  We’ve enjoyed organizing the Vintage Trailer Show for the past two years, but it’s time to hand the reins over to someone else, and we are lucky that a friend in the vintage trailer community has already expressed tentative interest in managing the show for 2013.

The actual Vintage Trailer Show this weekend was fantastic.  The final count of visitors was 1,935, which is a record for this event.  I was asked a few times why an owner would want to display in this show (and pay for the privilege) rather than just going to a vintage trailer rally elsewhere.  I think the volume of visitors explains why.  Nowhere else will you see such a huge volume of people who are avidly interested in your trailer, and if that’s useful or important to you, Palm Springs is indisputably the place to be.

The photo above shows Randy and Jeannet Grubb in their one-of-a-kind “Decoliner,” which was one of the stars of the show. It has a full upper deck from which you can drive the rig.  It’s for sale, and it would make an awesome promotion vehicle for those who can afford it.

My photos really don’t do justice to the event, and most of them were taken for very specific future uses, so if you want to get a better look, check out Alison Turner’s blog.  That’s a picture of Alison coming down the steps of the Decoliner. It was great to see Alison, as well as Dan & Marlene of Malimish, blog readers Kristiano and Christy, Bert Gildart (see his pictures from the event here), and about 1,930 other people.

All in all, it was a fine road trip. We met a lot of great people, enjoyed some superb weather, and had a fantastic 800 mile speed run across the southwestern desert, which always makes me happy.  We really couldn’t have hoped for a better weekend.

Next year, since we won’t be organizers, we’ll just attend the show like everyone else and that will be even nicer.  I’ll be able to bring a “date” along (guess who) and actually enjoy Palm Springs like a tourist.

Being back home now, it’s time to plunge into the remaining list of tasks.  I’m already behind the curve on the Summer 2012 issue at a time when I should have it mostly wrapped up and be planning out Fall 2012.  That’s enough to make me nervous but then atop it I have lots of work to do on Alumafandango, Alumapalooza, and a third event that we hope to launch in 2013.

Speaking of Alumafandango (our Denver event), you might have gotten an email today that says if you register for it on Wednesday February 29, you can get a free Alumafandango t-shirt. Just enter the code “LEAPDAY” when you choose your shirt size.  This code will only work on February 29.

I’ll post more soon about plans for all of the events.  We’ve got quite a few interesting things in the works, and I want to tell you about them as soon as things start to jell.  But for now, I’ve got to get back to the job …


About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine