Archive for the ‘Alumapalooza’ Category

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 …


Spreading out

Friday, January 6th, 2012

We’re still not in the Airstream but life at home has been just fine.  There’s snow up in the Santa Catalina mountains, which has afforded Emma the chance to use her Hammerhead sled with friends at 7,000 feet elevation, and down here in the valley we’re been having days warm enough to have the windows open every afternoon.  I like the dichotomy of snow up above and palm trees swaying in the breeze down below this time of year.

The Airstream is slowly getting unpacked, as we pull out things that we would have used during our 10-day trip.  Every day we go “shopping” in the Airstream for whatever we need:  clothes, frozen food, a movie, some tools, etc.  Mostly we’ve been taking out food since Eleanor had a program of meals planned for the entire trip.

The Dutch Oven has been fun for both of us, even though our second attempt at cooking was disastrous.  We tried apple crisp, a favorite of mine (traditional up in Vermont, where I grew up), but naively followed the recipe in the “Dutch Oven Cooking 101″ booklet.  We should have followed our instincts instead.  The recipe called for way too much nutmeg and not enough brown sugar.  It smelled fantastic as it was cooking out in the back yard, and we were drooling with anticipation, but when we sampled it after dinner the taste was repulsive.  Nobody could even finish their serving.

It was a complete loss, and things got worse the next morning.  Disappointed with the outcome, I left that terrible apple crisp in the Dutch oven overnight rather than transferring it immediately to the compost bin.  When I scooped it out in the morning the bottom of the crisp had an absolutely incredible skunk smell that nearly drove us out of the kitchen.  Some sort of chemical reaction occurred, a final insult in the apple debacle.  Fortunately, after cleaning the oven didn’t retain the smell.

Cooking-wise, the oven has done a good job.  I stacked up some leftover flagstone to make a temporary windscreen, with an aluminum turkey pan for the coals, and it worked so well at retaining the heat from the oven that it may become a semi-permanent feature of our back yard.  (Someday I’d like to build a permanent brick & stone oven that we can also use for pizzas, but that’s way down the home improvement plan.)

Even though the potato recipe we tried earlier did work fairly well, it was a bit on the greasy side and there was more bacon in it than we would have preferred.  So based on that and the apple crisp we’ve learned that the booklet recipes are really just starting points.  From now on, we are going to modify the recipes as we go, using Eleanor’s culinary experience and training as our guide.  Tomorrow the plan is to make “Chisolm Trail Blueberry French Toast Cobbler” from a different recipe book as a special Saturday morning breakfast.

We’re also going to break out one of Eleanor’s Christmas gifts, a deep fryer.  Now, some of you are probably thinking, “You got your wife a deep fryer as a gift?  What’s next, a vacuum cleaner and a scrub mop?”  But don’t worry, Eleanor loves cooking tools.  I once bought her a second refrigerator as a Christmas gift and it was probably the best received thing I’ve ever given her.  She’d rather have a new oven than a diamond ring (and the oven she wants costs about the same as a 1-carat diamond).

All of this cooking is a way of maximizing the value of our staycation.  We would have used the Dutch oven once, maybe twice, and the deep fryer not at all if we were in the Airstream.  The fryer is just too big for our style of travel, especially with the gallons of oil it requires.  Dear old Vince Saltaformaggio would have brought it all—and more—but we don’t have a separate trailer just for the cooking gear, as he did.  So we’re taking full advantage of being at home by spreading out and getting into messy projects.

Until Tuesday, things were nice and quiet.  With the New Year everyone has come out of the woodwork.  Suddenly I’m getting calls about Modernism Week and Alumapalooza again, I’m getting article pitches from PR agencies and freelance writers, advertisers with shiny new budgets are looking to spend money (yahoo!) and people I call are actually answering their phones again.  This has impacted the vacation aspect of this week but I can’t complain because stuff is getting done.

Even Carlos called, wanting to shoot some neon this week.  In the past two years we’ve documented just about every historic sign in Tucson, and certainly all of the “live” ones (those that are still operable).  These days we are just picking up the remaining “dead” signs, like this one.  The upholstery shop is moving and the long-dead neon sign will likely be torn down, so this photo shoot was slightly urgent.  This particular sign doesn’t look like much because the neon is broken and the background was repainted.  In its original form it looked like a ribbon and was undoubtedly considerably more attractive. We’re trying to locate a historic shot that shows the original design, for inclusion in the book.

The brake actuator problem is on its way to resolution.  I have decided to get a Dexter replacement, which is currently on order and should arrive fairly soon.  The replacement unit has a good reputation, takes up about the same space, and requires only four wires.  I’m hoping to install it later this month with Eleanor’s assistance.  As Jim & Debbie pointed out in a comment earlier, installing it ourselves means we’ll know that much more about our Airstream, which is very useful when you are on the road and something goes wrong.

@Alicia Miller:  We hope to be more skilled with our Dutch Oven by Alumapalooza time, but in any case both Eleanor and I hope to attend the DO cooking class this year.  I’m pleased to say that Lodge is going to be a sponsor and so we’ll have a few pieces of their cookware as door prizes too!

’tis the season to get things going!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

So for the past week I’ve been tap-tap-tapping at the keyboard and relentlessly thinking about the future. This is the winter and in the winter it always seems that I have too little to physically do but too much to think about.  There are so many interesting plans to execute.  “What’s next?” is the question on my mind when I wake up, because for me, ’tis the season to get things done in preparation for an even more interesting 2012.

It has always been this way for me during the winter.  In the past it was easy to get bogged down in the minutiae and the winter doldrums, but since 2003 when we began Airstreaming I have not had that issue.  Wally Byam was right when he outlined the Four Freedoms that result from Airstream ownership, one of which was “the freedom to relax and lose oneself mentally.”  For me, the Airstream is a vital tool to regaining perspective that might otherwise be lost in the press of work and ideas.  Every year since 2004 we’ve spent a week or more around New Year’s Eve to get lost somewhere sunny, and not think about the things that need to get done back in the office.  I’m looking forward to that trip.

That’s a few weeks away still.  In the meantime I’m energized by the prospect of all the interesting possibilities that life presents. My challenge is to push things and people along the path so that every idea can get closer to fruition. It’s a rather delicate process.  I can’t just pick up the phone and yell at people to get their jobs done.  There are always obstacles to every project, and there’s never enough money.  So I spend a lot of time figuring out clever ways to circumvent barriers and financial limits (with the help of a few trusted advisers and partners), and then gently applying pressure in the right spot.  This is actually fun.  I do get a kick out of seeing ideas become reality, even if they’re not my ideas—and they often aren’t.

Of course, it’s important not to lose sight of the crown jewel that makes all the other projects possible: Airstream Life magazine.  I still spend most of my time working on it.  The magazine’s Spring 2012 edition is about 80% through the editorial process at this point, and going to layout as of today.  We are going to have articles on the 1958 model year Airstreams (continuing the series by Fred Coldwell), a Buyer’s Guide on 30-foot slide-outs, a very interesting Airstream with a Victorian interior, a personal perspective on Chaco National Monument by Bert Gildart, the Shooting Star Drive-In (Airstream park), an Airstream barber shop, a soap opera star’s customized Airstream in Hawaii, another article in Andy Thomson’s towing series, and more. This issue will be in the mail in February.  By the way, it’s going to have a really cool cover illustration.

While I was sick in Tampa last week, I had a lot of time to talk to Brett about our plans for Alumapalooza 2012.  The event is coming together very nicely.  We would have a much easier time if we simply replicated the event each year, but we like to change it up.  That way it’s never predictable, so people who come two years in a row won’t be bored.  And, we like to look for efficiencies that make the event better.

I already talked about the three grills we had built.  We tested them at Brett’s place last week and they did spectacularly well, so you can expect hot grills for at least two hours a night during Alumapalooza.  Bring lots of stuff to cook!  We also have completely revised the seminars and entertainment so that more than half the program will be all new for 2012.  For example, we’re working on a new event we’re calling “The Backup Derby.” I’ll leave the details to your imagination for now…

But in my opinion the best idea we’ve had is a new format for “the process formerly known as registration.” Last year people were waiting in a line to confirm their registrations on site, and it was kind of a drag in the hot sun.   This year, we figured that since you’ve already registered online for the event, there’s no reason to make you wait in line when you get to Alumapalooza.

So when you’re there in 2012, either before or after you’ve parked (your choice), all you have to do is approach any orange-shirted staff member anywhere and tell them who you are.  Most of the staff will be able to check you in, on the spot, using a wireless mobile device.  The process will take about 30 seconds and you’ll be handed a plastic token for every paid member of your group.  Ta-da! You’re checked in and ready to start having fun.

At your convenience, you can swing by the Vendor Tent or visit the daily 4 pm Wally Byam Happy Hour under the Main Tent and exchange your plastic token for your personal badge, which will get you into all the seminars, qualify you for door prizes, get you dinner on Saturday, etc.  The primary registrant in each group will also get a goody bag full of coupons and freebies.  No lines, no waiting, no hassle. 

I love this sort of stuff.  We didn’t have to make this change, and it will cost us some bucks for the added technology, but it’s going to make life easier for everyone and allow our attendees to get right to the job of having fun.  I know when I get to a campground after a long day of driving, the last thing I want to do is wait in line at the front desk and go through some overly-complicated registration process.  Getting geeky with our technology to eliminate that tedium is very satisfying.

OK, let’s talk about another project:  This week I am pleased to announce the Airstream Life has published another book, “The Collected Adventures of Tin Hut.”  It presently is available only in ebook format (Amazon Kindle right now, Apple iTunes bookstore for iPad & iPhone in a few days).  The book is a complete set of every Tin Hut episode ever published in Airstream Life—a total of 22 episodes, complete with the original illustrations by Brad Cornelius.  It’s pretty damn funny.  The price is just $9.95. We’re working on a softcover print edition to follow next year, which will probably be more expensive because of the cost of color printing.

I have four other book projects waiting in line right now.  They’re all going to be great (I say with as much modesty as I can muster) but each one has a set of barriers holding it back.  With luck, I’ll be able to announce two of them next year. Even when I’m not writing the books, it’s a huge job just to get each one out the door.  I love doing them despite the hassles.  By the way, speaking as a print publisher, I think ebooks are the way to go.  I can offer more titles at lower prices, especially books that would never see print because their audiences are too niche.  Some titles must be in print for logistical reasons, but I’ll always offer an ebook edition at the same time.

Another announcement:  the free Airstream Life Online Edition is now compatible with Apple iPad.  I get emails almost monthly from people wondering when they’ll be able to read it on their iPad.  Now you can.  iPad users, try it here.  The underlying software is still in beta, so it’s not quite perfect but we’ve been promised that the platform will get better in the next few months.

Events:  There’s more in the pipeline that I can’t talk about yet, but trust me, it’s good stuff.  Hopefully we will be able to announce a second major Alumapalooza-type event, out west, for next summer.  We’re just waiting for confirmation that the venue is available, and then we’ll open up registration.  And we are already at work on a third event for February 2013.  Each event will have its own name and be completely different, so rather than Alumapalooza 1, 2, and 3 clones, they will be more like a set: collect ‘em all.  This is really fun work. I just wish we could make it all happen faster.

One last announcement.  I’m once again working with Brett to curate the Modernism Week 2012 show in Palm Springs.  The show will be February 25-26.  For information on times and tickets, visit Modernism Week’s website.  We have space for just 20 exceptional vintage trailers at the show, and already half the spaces are taken by some unbelievable restored and customized rigs, including Randy Grubb’s one-of-a-kind Decoliner. It’s going to be an awesome show.

Modernism Week is a different kind of display opportunity from vintage rallies.  When you go to a rally you are showing off your trailer to other trailer enthusiasts.  That’s nice, but you’re sort of preaching to the choir.  At Mod Week, nearly 1,000 people who aren’t yet vintage trailer owners come from Los Angeles and southern CA specifically to see what’s cool.  They don’t know trailers, but they know what they like and they love good design. That’s why lots of smart trailer customizers and vendors of trailer-related products are bringing their best rigs to Palm Springs for this show. Airstream will probably be there to show their new Sterling concept trailer too, and we are hoping Chris C Deam will put in an appearance at the same time.

To encourage the best of the best, we have put together a special owners-only program which includes a private reception before the show, tickets to an evening event/party at the new Saguaro Hotel, and a chance to win one of three coveted Airstream Life “Wally awards.”  If you’ve got a sweet vintage trailer of any make (not just Airstream) and want to be considered for the show, just ping us at info (at) for the application form.

This is only about half of what’s on my plate.  You can see why my head is swirling right now.  There’s so much fun stuff out there to work on!  I’ll keep pounding away at the keys and working the phone this winter so the Airstream and vintage-trailer lovers can have a great 2012—and I will too.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine