Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

This is a test … of Alumafiesta

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Although this month is one of the really great ones for Airstreaming in the southwest, we’re mostly staying at home.  Since the Airstream is usually out from May through September, the mild weather of a southwest Fall season is the ideal opportunity to catch up on the rest of life.  Maintenance on both of the Airstreams is part of it, thanks to cooling temperatures and a near-total lack of rain, but far more interesting is the process of planning for the next round of events.

I have spent much of the past week trying to wrap up the event schedule for Alumafiesta.  After many hours of research and coordination, I am extremely glad to say that a Preliminary Event Program is ready for public release!  We posted it on the Alumafiesta website today.

The program is looking very ambitious and I think it’s going to be another hit.  We’ve got seven seminars, four evening presentations, musical entertainment, sword swallowing, five Happy Hours, four yoga sessions, a bike ride, a big hike and two walks, glass-making, six meals, five off-site tours, a cooking demo, cooking contest, three Open Grills … AND we’re working on a few surprises that aren’t on the Preliminary program yet.

One of the requests we got last year after Alumafiesta was to make sure it didn’t repeat exactly in 2014.  I get that.  If I were attending from another state, I’d be disinclined to drive back to Tucson and do the exact same things all over again.  So we tossed out most of the excursions we did last year and substituted five new ones, plus we brought in two new entertainers, and added more seminars. We will do the same again in 2015, because there’s a lot of stuff to do in this area!

There are still a dozen details to nail down, but we are close enough to done that I can relax a bit and do the fun research.  You see, somebody has to actually go to all of the places that we will visit during Alumafiesta and check out the details. This includes the tedious details like verifying that the driving maps are good, and that each parking lot has enough space, as well as the fun stuff like testing the menu at the various restaurants.  I always leave this part for last because I regard it as my reward for weeks of desk work.  I get to abandon my desk, get out for a few hours, and make sure that everything we’ve planned for the event meets a high standard.

For example, yesterday Emma and I loaded our bikes up on the roof of the trusty old Mercedes 300D to test a bike ride I’ll be leading during Alumafiesta.  The ride is only 16 level miles round-trip, entirely on paved trail, so it wasn’t terribly challenging and it was very fun to do with my teenager.  (It seems like this will be one of the last rides Emma does on her current bike—she’s managed to outgrow it yet again—so soon I’ll be shopping for a replacement.  Ah well, it’s worth it to be able to have days like that with her.)

Restaurant testing will be next.  I suspect I will have volunteers to help with that task, too.

I hope to see you in Tucson next February!

Someone to blog over me

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

Hmm.. another long absence from the blog.  I can only plead guilty.  Life has interfered with blogging in so many ways I can’t begin to count.  But here’s a synopsis of what’s been going on.

The virus I mentioned earlier dogged me right through the week when I was supposed to be getting ready for Alumafandango, and then into the event itself.  The Saturday prior to the event I dragged my pathetic self out of bed, drove to Phoenix, caught a plane to Portland, and then rode four hours with Brett down to Canyonville to do pre-event work.  Sadly, I was in no shape to do any of those things, and so upon arriving at the hotel I collapsed into bed and proceeded to be fairly useless all weekend.  Brett did the heavy lifting, demonstrating once again that we could only do this as a partnership.

It was looking like I might even miss a few days of Alumafandango, but then on Monday things began to improve and by Tuesday when our first guests appeared I was able to approximate a smile and help kick off the event.  From there it was a marvelous week.  I didn’t have time to blog at all from the event, but you can probably read more about it from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and various blogs (Casarodante, TinCanz, Notes From The Cabin) than I could ever say.  (If you Google it, be sure you’re looking at comments about Alumafandango Seven Feathers, not the 2012 Alumafandango in Denver.)

What I really need these days is someone to read my mind and blog for me.  That’s not likely, so I recommend following my Twitter feed (“airstreamlife”) as a way to keep abreast of events.  These days I’m much more likely to get a quick tweet and a photo out, than a full blog entry.  I am, however, in active talks with a few folks who each want to become Editor of Airstream Life, and I have high hopes that one of them will work out and thus free up some time.  And I doubt I will ever stop blogging entirely, as it is a very useful outlet for thoughts.  As fellow Airstream blogger Ramona Creel says, “There’s too much stuff to keep in my head!”

Where were we?  Ah yes, Alumafandango.  We had about 65 Airstreams on site, and people just raved about everything: the campground, the seminars, the activities, entertainment, meals … Even the wildfires in the area were blowing away from us, so we had virtually no smoke.  The weather was great except toward the end where we had some pretty exciting thunderstorms.  Three awnings were damaged in the first round of storms, which the Sutton guys fixed on the spot using parts scavenged from their new display Airstreams.  After that everyone knew to pull in the their awnings when they were away.

Brett and I ran a seminar in which we accepted written questions on any subject related to Airstreaming, which we called “Airstreaming for Newbies” but really got into some advanced topics.  Nobody stumped us, and I got a few good ideas of topics to cover in the upcoming Maintenance book, from the questions people asked. We will definitely do that one again sometime in the future.

The highlights of the week were many: Randy Grubb’s “Decopod,” Antsy McClain & Edgar Cruz performing on stage, the frankly awesome seminars by Thom the service manager at George M Sutton RV, the Saturday night banquet, the on-site wine tasting and off-site winery tour, several really fun Happy Hours, Indian drumming … I knew we had a hit when people kept smiling at us and saying things like, “Wow, it just keeps going!”  About 1/3 of our attendees told us they were already planning to come again in 2014, and we haven’t even announced where or when we’re doing it again!

Now I’m back in Tucson, picking up where I left off two weeks ago, and thinking about what’s coming up.  There’s a lot of work ahead.  Our event planning team (Brett, me, Alice) is already working on the programs for our February 2014 events: Alumafiesta in Tucson and Alumaflamingo in Sarasota.  We want to have the tentative programs released in October.  Alumaflamingo already has 100 trailers signed up, so it looks like it will be a big one and we want to respond to that vote of confidence with a truly amazing program of activities.  It’s pressure, but the good kind.

I’ve also got to get the Winter 2013 issue in some sort of shape for publication this month, even though it’s not due to layout until later.  It’s looking like a good issue but there’s about 20 hours of editing work ahead.  And lately I’ve been consulting to the organizers of Tucson’s new Modernism Week event (now in its second year) on how to put together a vintage trailer show this year.  They are trying to get about ten nice vintage rigs for their show in the first week of October this year.  I may do a presentation there on the history of vintage trailers as well, if they need it. It will be a great event to attend, in any case, with lots of architectural tours.

Back in Vermont, Eleanor has managed some repairs to the trusty Mercedes GL320.  It had some minor body damage from two separate incidents (one dating back a couple of years), and we finally took it to the body shop to get all of that cleaned up.  Little dings can add up: the insurance claim was over $3,000 thanks to a ridiculously expensive front bumper part.  It’s the sort of stuff that could be—and was—easily ignored but I hate to see it accumulate and make the car look junky before its time.  The GL has about 74,000 miles on it so far, mostly towing, and I certainly intend to keep it for a few more years, so it was time to bite the bullet and pay the deductible to keep the car looking good.

In two weeks I need to head back to Vermont and then set out with the Airstream (and once again, E&E) on our voyage west.  We don’t have the slightest plan yet what route we are taking.  All we know is that we need to be back in Tucson by Oct 1, which gives us about a month to travel roughly 2,500-3,000 miles (depending on route).  I’m looking for little things along the way to fill up our itinerary so we won’t go too fast.

This is a nice problem to have, after last year’s mad dash over the concrete Interstates. Slow travel is the best.  It won’t be a vacation, but at least it will be an opportunity to take in some fresh new scenery in the Airstream before we settle back into home base for the winter.  And there will be plenty to blog about!

Escape from New York

Friday, June 28th, 2013

The aftermath of a great trip is sometimes hard.  “Back to the real world,” people say, and for sure there’s been some of that. But overall, coming back to our summer camp in Vermont has been pretty easy. The memories of recent travel definitely soften what could have been a harsh transition.

Not that everything went smoothly.  Our arrival was certainly more complicated than expected.  We had booked a hotel near JFK Airport so we could spend one night recovering from time zone adjustment before driving 300 miles back to base.  The hotel shuttle was slow to respond and left us standing at the airport for nearly an hour in 91 degree heat, and then when we got to the hotel they told us nobody could check in because “the system is down.”  A growing group of tired travelers were collapsing all over the lobby, which (for some reason) had no air conditioning, so it quickly became a refugee camp with bodies sleeping in chairs, on the floor, sweating in the heat, and one woman coughing ominously.

We waited about 40 minutes to allow the hotel staff to straighten out their situation, and they made multiple promises to me that “soon” they would start checking people in manually.  But I discovered they were telling everyone who came in the door that “You’ll be the first person we check in as soon as the system comes back up,” and they really had no idea what to do in this situation (their mini version of a post-computer apocalypse).  They couldn’t figure out how to check in the guests, they couldn’t cancel reservations, and they seemed content to just wait a few hours for some higher power to restore the system, with a lobby full of disgruntled people.  It amazed me that they didn’t have a backup procedure for something as simple and predictable as a reservation system failure. After an hour I called the hotel chain’s national reservation number and after four tries to get through, I cancelled the booking.

Now our job was to attempt to flee New York at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday, while being thoroughly exhausted (we had gotten up at 12:30 a.m. Eastern Time).  Rush hour traffic had begun already.  After two hours of battling heavy traffic we managed to travel just 30 miles.  After three hours we had gone only 60 miles, but things were getting better.  We finally escaped the traffic and spent the night at a hotel off I-87, getting to bed after 22 hours of rental car, airplane, shuttle, dysfunctional hotel, and NY traffic.

(We’ll never again drive to JFK for a flight.  It’s not worth it.  The tolls, traffic, parking, and hotels are all outrageous, easily wiping out any savings on airfare we might have achieved, without even getting into the hassle factor. Next time we’ll choose a more accessible airport.)

And after all this we still thought we had a Great Trip, so you know that the travel endorphins were pretty enduring.

Back at the office, I discovered that my health care provider had relocated the office of my primary care physician 15 minutes further from my house (“to serve you better”), and coincidentally my health care premiums are going up 25% starting July 1.  That took a bit of a shine off the day, but still I could have come home to worse news. All other things in our world seem to have hung together.

 

Rain is the theme for Vermont this week, so any thought of motorcycle trips has been quashed, as well as boating, fishing, or anything else recreational.  In the sunny gaps I’ve taken walks down the country lane just to get some exercise; otherwise it’s desk time.  The R&B Events team has been hard at work during my absence, and my major task this week has been to rejoin the crew and help summarize what we know so that we can finalize plans for all the upcoming events.

The frequent rains have given me a chance to check the Airstream’s waterproofness. So far I haven’t found any hints of leaks.  The poor trailer is covered in the usual Vermont-summer mess of decaying flowers, tree branches, spider webs, and pollen, which I hate to see, but otherwise seems OK.  Anything that can rust is busy rusting, so I can tell when I get it back to Arizona I’ll be doing some more scraping and painting. I think our Airstream ages a full year for every three months it spends here.  Fortunately, it hardly ages at all when it is parked under cover in Arizona, so perhaps it averages out.

Can you keep a secret?  I’ve got four days before I fly back to Tucson to assume my secret identity as Temporary Bachelor Man.  That’s just four days to get all fatherly-and husbandly duties in place as best I can before leaving my family for seven or eight weeks.  After that, you may not recognize me.

No drama

Friday, June 7th, 2013

I know I keep harping on about Alumapalooza even though it is over for this year, but the event gives me a lot to think about.  Although we now run three events per year (and four are planned for 2014 so far), Alumapalooza has always been “the big one.”  I meet a lot of people there who give new perspectives on what Airstreaming is all about, and also a lot of people who say they read this blog.

This year, I was particularly thrilled to hear from a couple of people who separately told me that they went full-time in their Airstream partly as a result of inspiration from this blog, or the previous “Tour of America”.  Lots of others commented on Emma, saying that they’ve watched her grow from a little five-year-old tyke to a teenager.  These friendly folks are like an extended family to us, even though we often don’t know they’re watching until years later when we meet at an event!

I kept hearing from people that one of the best parts about Alumapalooza was that there was “no drama,” meaning that there were no internal battles, no public embarrassments, no arguments, and no politics.  Everyone just laid back and had a good time.  It might seem that this should be the norm for rallies, but too often events (not ours) have been marred in the past by such things, and a lot of people are frustrated by that.  The best rallies and events are the ones where everyone sets aside their politics and prejudices, and shares the good values that bring us together.  We work hard at making sure that happens, by thoughtful programming of the activities, and selecting the volunteer staff very carefully. So I was glad to get the feedback that we’d succeeded.

We are now in Vermont, with the Airstream parked in its usual summer resting place in the shadow of a row of cedar trees near Lake Champlain.  It won’t move again until late August or September, but despite that we have many travels ahead.  Eleanor and I are focused on getting out the door next week for a long-anticipated trip to Europe.  By Friday we expect to be attending a big (for Europe) Airstream rally in Weilburg, Germany.  This is going to be a major experience for us, since we’ve never camped in Europe and we haven’t yet had the chance to meet many of our correspondents in Europe.

Our Airstream during the rally will be a brand-new Airstream 684, which is the largest Euro-spec model available.  It is being provided courtesy of Airstream Germany.  (Because it is new and unsold, we can’t use the bathroom or the galley, so it will be sort of an “aluminum tent” for us, but that should not be a problem since the campground is in town—see upper edge of photo.)  Euro13-WeilburgCORRECTION:  It turns out this is a PR and rental trailer for Airstream Germany and we will be able to use all the facilities —bonus!

We’ll be parked in a lot with about fifty other Airstreams for three nights.  Quite a few of them will be caravanning down from the UK, as well as Belgium, The Netherlands, and other countries.

weilburgaltstadtOn Saturday night I’ll be giving a little talk at 9:00 pm, about Airstreaming in America’s National Parks.  (While researching this presentation I did a quick count and found we’ve visited over 100 of them so far, which is only about one quarter of the entire NPS system.)  Otherwise, there’s not much on the program other than a barbecue, so there should be plenty of time to explore the town of Weilburg and meet the European Airstreamers.  I expect no drama.

This weekend Eleanor and I will be busy prepping for this trip. With about 10 days to play with, we are likely to visit Switzerland and a little of northern Italy in addition to Germany.  I’m bringing only an iPad and an iPhone 5 (with a German SIM card) for technology, trying to keep it light.  Also in keeping with our usual travel style, we are going mostly reservation-free.  We don’t want the pressure of a fixed itinerary.  We’ll have a car and some maps, and see what looks interesting along the way.

The trip starts on Wednesday.  I’ll blog as much as I can.

Decompression session

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

With Alumapalooza behind us, we’re off on the next leg of our voyage.  This will be the fourth year we have spent the two days following Alumapalooza courtesy-parked at the home of Lou & Larry in the “premium spot” next to their house.  They provide a very comfortable place to decompress, with a full hookup and access to the house wifi, and they make no demands on us (quite the opposite in fact, since they feed us and help with minor trailer repairs), so it’s a wonderful first stop on the way east.Ohio courtesy parking

We had extra food from the catering on Saturday night that we couldn’t let go to waste.  On the four hour trip from Jackson Center to here (near Cleveland) a lot of aluminum trays of food rode in the shower.  When we arrived, Eleanor repacked it to fit in our refrigerator and freezer, but still there was so much that we were able to prepare a sizable gift for some neighbors here who need it, and give a bunch to our hosts as well.  Even giving away many pounds of food, we will have enough ribs, cornbread, and green beans to serve the whole gang of family & friends once we reach Vermont.

Being here for Monday has given me a chance to reflect on this year’s Alumapalooza. Overall it was highly successful, with few glitches and lots of positive feedback.  People have been writing in all day to say how much they liked it, and there were a lot of memorable moments.

APZ4-2Later this week I’ll have over 480 photos from our official photographers and will definitely post an album of them online. I think those pictures will tell the story better than I can.

The things that didn’t go well are also memorable, and I’m writing them up as notes for our team so we can find ways to improve them for Alumapalooza 5.  We’ve already got a lot of neat ideas for new activities, and I think some clever solutions to the few remaining problems.  All of this will be very helpful as we plan for the big Alumaflamingo event in Sarasota.

Airstream familyIn two days at our Ohio courtesy parking spot, a lot can get done.  I managed to get a good night’s sleep, get office work under control, have some time with our friends (including Lou, Larry, Dan, sKY, slaDE, Loren, Mike, Al & Shinim), and eat a lot of good stuff.  Eleanor took care of our shopping and did the laundry. I also noticed and replaced yet another bad propane pigtail (hopefully the last of the unreliable ones I bought last year).

So with all that done, it’s on to the next adventures.  I’m feeling ready for tomorrow’s drive.  It will likely be a long one across Ohio, Pennsylvania and much of New York, so we’ll be starting as early as possible.

 

 

 

The last day of Alumapalooza 4

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Did I mention that this has been the best Alumapalooza I’ve ever had?  The attendees always seem to have a good time, but those of us in orange shirts tend to work long hours and run around solving problems ad hoc all day.  This year I have to give the credit to the absolutely awesome staff who have made everyone’s life so much easier.  We added two “orange shirts” this year and picked up about four others who have pitched in unofficially.  They’ve all been great.

APZ4 Kirk McKellarThis is making me much more optimistic about next year’s event in Sarasota FL, Alumaflamingo.  There was a lot of talk about that event. Many of our seasoned team are coming to that event, and also quite a lot of the people who are attending here.  Also, our new mascot, Sammy The Solar Squirrel will be attending.  He makes daily calls on the staff radio channel to remind everyone to put on their sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Sammy has been a little disappointed lately.  We’ve had intermittent showers Friday and this morning, which look likely to continue all day.  Not much call for sunscreen.  Yesterday we got halfway through the Backup Derby (using a 29-foot Airstream Ambassador) and got rained out. We had some pretty major showers during the Charity Auction but since we were all under the main tent, nobody minded.  The Auction was a huge success. We auctioned off some Airstream art, a special edition “Alumapalooza 4″ Zip-Dee chair, two Airstream scale models, one of Kristiana’s silver trailer necklaces, and a Lodge Dutch Oven.  That raised $1,455 which will be donated to the Fish Pond, a local food bank.

We also announced that the proceeds from the Aluminum Gong Show reached $818, which Brett and I pledged to match dollar for dollar, so the total will be $1,636 to be donated to the Red Cross for help with tornado relief in the midwest.

Today’s events are mostly under cover, so the rain won’t matter.  We already had yoga this morning, and Kid’s Yoga is starting soon.  The Swap Meet was huge (I sold a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff myself) and Rivet Masters was a big hit according to Alex, who emcee’d it. APZ4 pano1

In a few minutes we’ll start Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo and then if the weather holds we’ll resume Backup Derby at 2, then tonight we have some awesome door prizes, dinner, and The Trailer Park Troubadours.  Alumapalooza 4 is almost over, and I think a lot of people here are sorry to see it end.

The Aluminum Gong Show

Friday, May 31st, 2013

I’m sitting here thinking about everything that happened yesterday, and it’s all a jumble of images in my head.  Too much stuff is happening to keep track of it all!  Brett and I walk around with little notepads in our pockets so we can make notes about things that we need to address for future events, or announce at happy hour.  This year our notes are considerably less than the first couple of years, which I think indicates we are getting everything smoothed out.

Yesterday everything went as well as can be expected.  Our trailer numbers swelled to 128 parked on the field, plus several more in the Service Center and the Terra Port.  We should hit about 140 today.  I heard from a few people who had problems on the road, but they all eventually pulled in with big smiles and a sense of relief.

Andy Thomson was a little late getting here to do his famous Test Drives, but by 10:30 he was taking people out for a spin in a Ford Taurus SHO coupled to a 30-foot Airstream Serenity.  I took a ride in the back seat and was impressed, as always. Eleanor is going to drive it this afternoon.

Tim Maxwell and Dave Schumann of Airstream held two seminars and packed the room, talking about Airstream maintenance topics.  We also had seminars from Phil May of Techno RV and Colin Hyde.  Despite the threat of thunderstorms most of the day, Yoga, Kite Flying, and the Bike Ride around Jackson Center all were well attended.  But the afternoon Pool Party at the JC Municipal Pool was deterred by a quick cloudburst that hit almost exactly at 2 pm, when the party was due to start.  We’ve had no luck organizing Pool Parties at Alumapalooza—every year we either get rained out or it’s too cold that day.

The weather here is unpredictable, as I’ve often said.  All you can be sure of is that there will be rain, fog, cold, heat, humidity, calm wind and high wind, often all in the same day.  We’ve had two fantastic days but today it is a certainty that the thunderstorms are coming in soon.  It’s such a shame because right now (at 7 a.m.) it’s just beautiful: about 72 degrees, moderate humidity, calm wind, and beautiful clear skies.  By 9 we’ll be getting rain, alas.

Last night we saw clouds on the horizon around sunset, and after checking the radar and with our resident meteorologist Alex, we sent a text message (to everyone who registered to receive them from us, about 70 attendees) warning them to pull in awnings.  For a few people, the message arrived too late, due to the vagaries of the local cellular network, and they had awning damage. The storm was brief but severe, dumping 1/4 ” of rain in less than 10 minutes, and the main tent suffered some light damage which will be corrected today, plus a lot of stuff was blown around.

For situations like this we have emergency procedures in place, including assistance from the Fire Dept, several First Responders on the field, and access to the manufacturing building in case of tornadoes.  We’ve rehearsed these routines every year but never had to use them, fortunately.  It’s Ohio in the summer and the weather can be a little challenging at times.

APZ4 Santa BabyThe big fun yesterday turned out to be the Aluminum Gong Show.  We had more acts signed up than we could present in the time allotted, so we pared the list down to 10.  First we gave out a ton of great door prizes, and then kicked off the show with Eleanor and performing “Santa Baby.”  I played ukulele badly, and Eleanor sang.  Neither of us could hear ourselves, and we thought we might get gonged, but the crowd sat through our act and even tossed a few dollars in the Charity Jar.

After that, we had a good guitarist, and then Brett recited Dr Seuss’ “Sam I Am” in the voice of William Shatner (he got gonged), and then we had a Human Calendar Calculator, and after that the acts got better.  It was hilarious. Alex & Charon stole the show with their duet recitation of a Gertrude Stein Dada-ist poem.  Probably half of this will end up on YouTube or our Facebook page, so you can see it eventually.  We raised a ton of money for charity with this show, and we’ll announce the total tonight at Happy Hour.

Alumapalooza jam sessionLast night’s entertainment wrapped up with Laura F singing torch songs and then a great “Jam Session” that went for a couple of hours with Kirk McKellar, Curtis Remington, Art Martin, David Winick, and several others.  Bob Wheeler of Airstream and his family showed up on the field and are camping in the Terra Port this week, so we had a chance to visit with them after the lasagna dinner at the local Methodist Church (an annual tradition).

I’m pretty sure I’m missing about ten other things that happened today and were worthy of note, but as Ramona Creel (one of our presenters) would say, “There’s just too much stuff to keep in mind head!”  So I’m going to move on. It’s time to get dressed and join the rest of the staff for what promises to be another exciting day.

Life at Alumapalooza 4

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Everyone here keeps asking me how things are going for us, since we are now entering our third day of Alumapalooza.  I have been replying that his has been the easiest and best year yet.  Many of the troublesome issues from years past have been worked out, and we have an absolutely awesome team of “orange shirts” who have just nailed every problem that crops up, even before I know about them.  As a result, we’re having a pretty good time.

This is good because we are already thinking hard about the challenges of next February’s Alumaflamingo, to be held in Sarasota FL.  We’re going to be have to be at the top of our game to make that event meet our standards the first year out, especially with (likely) 200-300 trailers on the field.  Normally it takes about 12-18 months to plan a new event, and at this point we have just nine months left, so it’s definitely on my mind, and Brett’s.

But we’ll talk about that later.  You want to read about Alumapalooza, right?  What can I say—it has been great.  The weather has been excellent since the early sprinkles ended mid-day Tuesday.  We’re expecting lots of sunshine and temps in 70s and 80s through Friday, then probably a few thunderstorms will roll through.  That’s typical.

The events have been well-received.  I’m not going to go through a list of everything we’ve held, because it’s all in the online schedule, but suffice to say the attendees have been kept completely occupied, from Yoga at 7:30 through the Roving Happy Hours in the evening.  Yesterday a lot of people missed half of Marty’s talk about “Running a Business On The Road” because they were trying to chow down a little lunch between activities.  We may have programmed the day a little too tight because we had so many things we wanted to present.

Well, that’s just a warm-up because today’s schedule has a lot more on it.  We’ve got seven seminars and activities for today, plus towing “test drives”, plus the Aluminum Gong Show (Eleanor and I will be doing an act in it), plus a Pool Party, two factory tours, door prizes, Open Grill, and this evening’s Jam Session.  Eleanor and I went through today’s schedule at 6:30 just to plan what we were going to do.  She and Emma are starting their day with Yoga at 7:30.

We are taking care to pace ourselves so that we aren’t burnt out by Saturday. I’m trying to get to sleep around 10 p.m. but it doesn’t always work out.  Regardless, I have to be up at 6:30 or so to get ahead of the day, take care of email, slather up on sunscreen, and check in with everyone.  (By the way, “Sammy The Solar Squirrel” gets on the staff radio channel every day to remind the staff to take care.  Today he is going to be joined by “Harry The Hydrated Hippo,” to remind them to drink the cold water we keep in a cooler by the main stage.  We have fun with our radios …)

The new Internet system is working very well.  Instead of the marginal and occasionally slow Internet I normally get while at Airstream, my system is flying along at good 4G speeds all the time.  I’m getting a consistent -73 dBm.  Brett has a similar system with a different antenna and he’s also getting awesome performance and a better dBm rating (-59 dBM) so I think his antenna is a better one. I may switch later.  Colin Hyde has one too, and he’s very happy.  Alex is next door to Colin and finding poor reception so I suspect he’s the next one to upgrade.

Gotta go — the day has already started!  For more about what’s coming, check the Alumapalooza Facebook page.

Pre- Alumapalooza 4

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

The blog has been quiet the past couple of days because we’ve been deep into the Alumapalooza pre-event routine. We’ve settled into a pattern for the set-up of these events, which started before we arrived.  This year we have a slightly larger staff than before, and they are all really excellent, so the workload for us has gotten much lighter.  When we pulled in to Airstream’s Terra Port on Saturday, everything was so well under control that there was little to do but get updated, and on Sunday instead of joining the goody-bag assembly line, I was able to spend the day with Super Terry doing some maintenance to our Airstream.

Airstream Safari CircleThe maintenance was primarily about inspecting our tires and wheel bearings.  It has been over three years since the bearings were re-packed, and many miles, which is far beyond the usual RV industry recommendation.  Paradoxically, our heavy and regular use of the trailer is one of the reasons we’ve gotten away with it. Sitting still isn’t great for the bearings, as it offers an opportunity for condensation to get in.  I’ve also periodically checked the bearings to ensure they are running cool, and whenever a wheel is up in the air I check for smoothness & quietness of rotation.

Still, it has been nearly two years and probably over 12,000 miles since the last time Super Terry and I took the wheels off to check things out, so it was definitely overdue.  We found that the Michelin tires are still doing well, but wearing more on the outer edge of the tire tread, so we took them over to the Wal-Mart Super Center in a nearby town to get them flipped.

Airstream Michelin tire wear 2013-1

Now the white-letter side of each tire is facing out, and the tires have been swapped from side to side so that they will have the same direction of rotation.  This should even out the wear a little.  Based on the wear I saw, I’d guess we could get about 50k miles out of them.  They’ve already gone over 30,000 miles, and the date code says they are five years old so they are probably going to “age out” before they wear out.

Airstream Parbond caulk-1Our inspection revealed that the brake pads were fine except on one wheel, where the disc caliper sliders had gotten dry.  When that happens, only one brake pad gets all the wear, so we replaced that set of brake pads and re-lubricated the caliper sliders.  Otherwise all was good.  Super Terry re-packed the wheel bearings, and re-applied gray Parbond (a sort of thin caulk used for small seams on the exterior) to a few spots that needed it, and that completed our day of maintenance.

Over the weekend I had a few minutes to look around Jackson Center to see what has changed.  We knew that the Cafe Veranda, the best restaurant in town, had closed.  The building is still for sale.  I hope someone buys it and turns it back into a B&B.  It’s a gorgeous house and has some interesting history.  I’ve heard that Wally Byam used to stay there many decades ago.

The one-screen downtown movie house, the Elder Theatre, is in danger of closing for the same reason as many other old independent screens across the country.  The mandatory change to digital projection is too expensive for this little Mom & Pop operation, and so they’ve launched a Kickstarter effort to raise $25,000 to save the theater.  Check it out and pledge if you love the little village of Jackson Center, OH.  This country is going to lose hundreds of little downtown theaters if they can’t make the digital conversion this year.

Phil’s Cardinal Market, the old grocery store, has been replaced by a spankin’ new Family Dollar store.  It’s nice to see some investment in the downtown.  It just opened last week and seems very fine.  This week the Alumapalooza-goers will flood it and probably clear it out of milk and bread, as they usually do.

On Monday the big deal of the day was the arrival of the tent.  Normally the tent crew arrives in the late morning and has it up by 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but this year things ran late, so we didn’t have a chance to get in there and set up our stuff (lights, sound, kitchen, Internet, refrigerators, etc) until after 6 p.m. This was an inconvenience but really not much more than that, so overall I would say setup went extremely well this year.

All weekend we’ve had early arrivals showing up and parking in the Service Center parking lot.  At this point I think we have about 25 Airstreams there, plus another ten or so staff trailers in the Terra Port, and probably 6-10 more service customers.  Everyone gathered on the grass for the Memorial Day cookout, which was a huge success.  The rain we had gotten in the morning cleared up for the afternoon and early evening.  It rained again last night and there is still the occasional patter on the roof as I type this (at 6 a.m. Tuesday) but the forecast is calling for improving conditions all day and fabulous conditions through Friday.  Only a little rain and not too much heat is a pretty good week in JC this time of year.

Airstream guitar Yesterday Dave Schumann showed up and took a few of us into his office to show off a new Airstream guitar.  So far only two have been made, but Airstream will get more and sell you one for $2,250 if you are interested.  One of our attendees is going to play this one on stage this week.

All week Eleanor and I have been practicing for the new Aluminum Gong Show, which is a featured part of Alumapalooza this week.  We’ve got a little routine which involves both of us and a ukulele.  If the performance is not great, at least it will be entertaining.  I am hoping a few more people sign up to be in the show.  Any act is welcome, even pet tricks.  It just has to be a minimum of 90 seconds long and a maximum of four minutes.  If you are attending Alumapalooza you really don’t want to miss this show, trust me …

It’s time to get moving now.  This is going to be one of those days where we do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.  By 8 we will have a caravan of staff trailers heading out to the field, and by 9 parking of the general attendees will begin.  Alumapalooza begins now!

Arrived at Airstream!

Friday, May 24th, 2013

We’ve completed the final leg of our long long trip to Airstream headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio, at last. Yesterday we towed 330 miles from the Great Smoky Mtns to a spot somewhere between Dayton and Cincinnati to crash for the night, then the final 100 miles or so this morning.

I was pleased to see that even though our battery was severely depleted after three days of shaded camping, we managed to pick up 47.5 amp hours through the solar panels while we were towing. It was a beautiful day, and with the battery back up to about 76% it was no problem to spend another night without plugging in.

We’ve been lucky to avoid a lot of weather trouble along our route this year. Normally we’d follow a route across I-40 or I-70 to get to Ohio, and if we had, we’d have risked tornadoes and nasty thunderstorms. This year we opted for I-20 to I-30 only because we were heading for The Great Smoky Mtns National Park, and coincidentally lucked out on the weather. All we had to deal with was a lot of heat across Texas, and some humidity in Arkansas and Tennessee. Now it’s just about perfect in Jackson Center, OH, with days peaking around 70 degrees and dry air.

That won’t last, of course, because there’s nothing as changeable as Jackson Center weather. All I can hope is that the inevitable thunderstorms won’t be too severe, and right now the long range forecast seems to support that. We shall see, because even a 48-hour forecast really can’t be counted on for much. Every day’s a surprise.

The rest of the crew are here, and by the time we arrived they had the field all staked out. Tim & Alice were busy arranging the water system and checking on the power. Brett and a small crew were marking the tent locations (they’ll be put up on Monday). In other words, business as usual. Tomorrow we’ll stuff the goody bags and Terry & I have plans to do some service on our Airstream, but it’s generally light work. Nobody is too busy yet.

I see four Airstreams belonging to attendees who have arrived early; they’re all in the Service Center parking lot. Little impromptu Happy Hours and get-togethers seem to be forming, which is nice to see. Tomorrow it should pick up quite a bit, and by Monday we expect at least 25 Airstreams to be boondocked in the lot for the Memorial Day cookout.

It’s nice to see Jackson Center again. It’s always like a Homecoming. We have a lot of memories here and of course it’s the home of the company that my entire business is based upon. It’s a tiny village in the middle of a lot of corn & soybean fields, and I never would have come here if it weren’t for this amazing phenomenon called Airstream, but since I have it has become a place I think of fondly.

This afternoon has been spent settling in, and catching up with friends who we haven’t seen in months. There’s a lot more of that ahead, I’m sure. If Alumapalooza is anything, it’s a giant social occasion—and Airstreamers are very social people. This promises to be a very fun week.

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Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine