Archive for the ‘Temporary Bachelor Man’ Category

Travels this fall

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

I’m in my last week as TBM.  This weekend I’ll be riding a Boeing back to New England, and then driving up to Vermont to regroup with the family.

This year my TBM experience has been a bit of a bomb.  I lost too much time to illness, work, Alumafandango, and obligations at the house.  I had great plans to go for a tent camping roadtrip, which clearly is not going to happen now.  But don’t feel too sorry for me, because in September the entire family will be back in the Airstream and towing west, with a full month to burn if we want to.  It will be our last chance for a long leisurely family roadtrip for several months, if not a year, so we are planning to make the most of it.

For the last few weeks Eleanor and I have been thinking about the trip plan, and neither of us has come up with much.  Usually we are overcome with ideas of things we want to see and do on a cross-country trip, but after having made this trek something like 10 or 12 times, we are running out of major attractions.  (For us, a “major attraction” is not a theme park, but rather a national park, or perhaps a gathering of Airstreams.)

I never thought that would happen.  Are we getting too jaded, too experienced, or are we just not trying hard enough to broaden our horizons?  I think it may be the latter, so I am re-doubling my efforts to seek out the little things instead of the big ones.  To that end, Eleanor and I are planning to follow a pattern we used when full-timing: have a long term destination (like home base) in mind, and then take the trip day by day.  This leaves lots of opportunities for the unexpected, and often that’s when the most interesting adventures occur.

The process has already started in a sense.  In the past week I have been contacted by three Airstream friends, each of whom—completely coincidentally—is likely to cross our path as we head southwest.  Just spending a day or two with each of them is likely to result in some new experiences.  Think of it as Airstream cross-pollination.  We get a taste of their style, and they get a taste of ours, and together we discover things that individually we might miss.  It’s always a good thing.

So when we head out, our route will be affected by the routes of other Airstreamers, and we’ll go places we might have skipped.  This is tough on fuel budgets, but to be on the safe side I’m planning for about 3,300 miles of towing, which means a fuel budget of about $1100.  Seems like a lot but for a month of roaming I think it’s a bargain.

Eleanor is already thinking about getting the Airstream in shape for the trip.  She’ll be cleaning the interior and stocking up on supplies; I’ll be checking all the systems and cleaning the exterior once I’m there. Everything should be in good shape, but after a summer of sitting still amongst the trees and insect life of Vermont, you’d be surprised what little problems can crop up.  I’ve learned to start checking at least a week before any major trip, just in case I find a problem that requires a parts order or a trip to the local RV service center.

The Safari, by the way, will celebrate its eighth year on the road with us in October.  I have lost track of the miles it has traveled, but it is certainly above 100,000. I can’t think of any other purchase we have ever made that has given us such a great return, in terms of life experiences and pleasure. When it’s not our home on the road, it’s a great guest house. People talk about houses as “investments,” and RVs are just “depreciating assets” but I have to disagree. Our house is worth about 2/3 of what we paid for it (not counting the cash dumped into fixing it up), and it costs many times more to keep running than our Airstream.  It’s a nice house, but in the end it’s just a house.  Our Airstream is probably worth about half of what we paid for it, but it has changed our lives and enriched us in ways we can hardly enumerate.

So by my accounting, the Airstream is the bigger bargain by far, and we will once again prove that in our month-long saga with our recently-minted teenager.  She still wants to spend time with her parents, and I think some of the credit for that can be given to the Airstream as well.  Going out this fall will remind us all of those precious years (2005-2008) that we spent full-timing with Emma, and I bet we’ll all want to recreate a little of that magic as we roam westward.  I hope so.

Thinking of it that way, I realize it doesn’t really matter where we stop along the way.  The memorable moments will happen.  We just have to get out there and let them come to us, with our Airstream to keep us comfortable along the way.


A Mixmaster, a Mercedes, and a zombie

Monday, July 15th, 2013

When I’m TBM I must admit that I don’t eat as well as during the rest of the year, when Eleanor is here to cook.  But it’s an opportunity to eat like a bachelor, and believe it or not that’s not entirely bad.  It inspires independent thinking, for one thing.

Sure, the blueberry/chocolate smoothie wasn’t my biggest success (nor the caramel/bacon smoothie).  And my annual survey of Tucson’s Sonoran hot dog stands (ongoing at the moment) is a health fanatic’s nightmare.  It doesn’t matter.  The essence of TBM is trying new things, following sudden inspirations, and taking small risks to uncover the answers to questions nobody cares to ask.

This can encompass culinary topics as well as almost anything else.  For example, which is the best zombie movie of the past few decades?  The only to be sure is to watch as many of them as you can. I personally favor old-school classics like “Omega Man” with Charlton Heston and Anthony Zerbe, but I recognize I may be in the minority with that choice.  More recently “Shaun of The Dead” with Simon Pegg & Nick Frost could be a contender for its relative originality, and I think “I Am Legend” with Will Smith deserves a vote.

As you might be able to tell, I’m not a huge fan of the straight horror-style zombie flicks filled with shuffling idiots.  I like the ones with something new to push the theme forward, while respecting the genre.  To keep my research complete, Rob and I went out to see a late showing of “World War Z” last week.  I thought it failed to have a good plot climax, but it was good to see that the movie industry is still revisiting this tried-and-true theme.  Zombie movies are sort of self-mocking, since the movies themselves are often “undead” versions of those that came before.

Another aspect of TBM has been the traditional buying of an unnecessary car.  I haven’t blogged all the cars I’ve bought over the past few years, but basically I seem to find one every year or so, and then sell them a year or two later after sorting them out.  The green Mercedes 300D was only bought last fall and I am planning to keep it for a long time, so I told Eleanor I would not break with tradition and not buy a car this summer—and then promptly discovered a flashy red Miata at an estate sale and put a bid in on it.  To be fair, I called her first and she encouraged this irresponsibility, because she wants it for herself!  (I lowballed the bid so we probably won’t get it anyway.)

At the same sale I found a Sunbeam Mixmaster Model 12 (made from 1957-1967) in fairly good condition.  Eleanor already has a Mixmaster Model 9 (late 1940s) that was handed down through her family, which she still uses regularly.  We thought the Model 12’s beaters might be interchangeable with the Model 9 beaters, but as it turns out the Model 12 won’t release the beaters at all. I’m going to have to take it apart to fix that problem, and while I’m in there I’ll clean up the gears and motor parts, and re-lube it with new food-grade synthetic grease.

Two Mixmasters is really more than we can use, so I’m not sure what we will do with the Model 12 after I’ve fixed it up.  Right now I’m admiring it as a great example of durable American mid-century mechanical design.  It just looks good sitting there, and it’s amazing to me that these old machines still work as well as they do after fifty or sixty years in the kitchen.  It’s also neat that they are still so inexpensive and easy to find, despite being antiques.  I paid $22 for this one complete with beaters and two original milk-white glass bowls, all in good condition.

Sunbeam Mixmasters model 12 and 9These Mixmasters are analogous to my Mercedes W123: built in abundance, well-designed, long-lasting and hence beloved.  In a way they represent a pinnacle of engineering, because they achieved everything that could be hoped for at the time.  I wonder if the builders knew that they’d created things that would not be surpassed for durability by anything to follow.

I really like things like that, machines that are timeless in both design and function.  I’m not a fan of disposable industrial design.  “Disposable” is for Kleenex.  This bias is probably most of the reason why we have Airstreams, too.  Of all the things we own, the mid-century products are the ones I respect the most.

The machine that makes my smoothies is another antique, a Sunbeam Vista blender from the 1960s. When it just keeps working for decades, why replace it?  In that vein, we recently acquired the final bits we need to install a NuTone Food Center in the Airstream Safari.  The NuTones are highly sought by some RV owners because they are designed to be mounted in the countertop (thus saving valuable space when not in use).

We had one in our 1977 Argosy 24 known as “Vintage Thunder,” and kept most of the accessories that we’d collected for it.  The NuTone motor is permanently mounted under the counter, and you just pop whatever appliance you want on the power head at the countertop:  blender, coffee grinder, juicer, mixer, food processor/slicer, knife sharpener, etc.  Collecting the accessories is easy on eBay but the prices tend to be high these days because they’re out of production.  Our final piece was the motor base, and we got one of those from David Winick at Alumapalooza.  I plan to install it over the next winter, when I’ve got to get under the kitchen countertop to re-fasten it anyway.

Speaking of Airstreams kitchens, the Caravel’s new dinette table has been cut.  The dimensions are identical to the current table, but by using solid poplar instead of plywood/ash/Marmoleum, it is 8.1 pounds lighter (23.1 lbs).  That may not seem like a lot, but it makes a huge difference.  We’ve trimmed the weight by 26%, enough to allow one person to heave it out of the wall mounting bracket and convert it to a bed without help.  And it looks better already.  Neither Eleanor nor I were crazy about chunky look of the previous table.

I’ve got to let the wood settle for a few days before I proceed with sanding, shaping, finish, and hardware, so for now it’s just resting flat on the floor of the living room.  It may also require a little bracing underneath to ensure that the table never warps.  I’ll get to that over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’ve had a chance to contemplate why it matters to me to fine-tune the Caravel, a trailer that we hardly ever use and are seriously over-invested in.  It’s really for the same reason that I’ll take two hours to disassemble an old kitchen mixer that we really don’t need, and carefully clean & lube it so that it can work as designed for another few decades.

You could look on it as a form of recycling, but it’s more than that.  The 1948 Sunbeam Mixmaster Model 9, the 1968 Caravel, the 1971 General Electric P7 oven, the 1984 Mercedes 300D, and the 1970s era NuTone could all be replaced by modern equivalents, but none would be as durable, or as inspirational to me.  These things seem to deserve attention and respect and repair.

They were made to last, in part because they were built in a time when “value” meant more than lowest price.  More importantly, they have lasted, proving their designer’s principles were correct. If you want to make a product today that will last for ages, you don’t need to guess the future—you only need to respect good design.  Not to get too romantic about it, but those few antique machines we still use and value prove that great principles endure.

Just like zombie movies.



Smoothies in the night

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

It’s quiet here in Tucson.  This is the time of year that sane people flee the heat if they can.  Snowbirds have flown to their summer nests in the cool shady north, college students are on vacation, and local Airstreamers are taking trips up to higher elevations or the California coastline.  The result is that Tucson’s traffic (which is never really bad) has declined to Sunday-morning levels most days, there are no lines anywhere, and large-scale outdoor events are rare.  When there is something organized, it’s usually at night.

I would be one of those Airstreamers on the road somewhere if I had a tow vehicle here.  Every year it’s a temptation to find something used & cheap just for this purpose (and many vehicles are capable of pulling the Caravel, so I’d have a wide range of choices), but I never buy anything because I really don’t have a place to store it.  So the Caravel sits all summer, a “hangar queen” that consumes resources but rarely works for its keep.

With everyone hibernating during the day, I’ve followed suit for the most part and have been seeking evening entertainment.  Last week of course there were fireworks all over the city.  I took the Stuttgart Taxi up the Catalina Highway, which winds up the Santa Catalina mountain range just north of our home, to get a birds-eye view of the fireworks.  It turned out I was not the only person with this idea.  Hundreds of people were parked along the roadside to get a glimpse, even though the fireworks were easily ten miles away.  The distance meant that this wasn’t the most dramatic vantage point for fireworks, but it was neat to see them popping up like magic colored bubbles over the yellow sodium lights of the streets, and we could watch fireworks from three different venues all at once.

IMG_2432I also encountered a group which walks up Sabino Canyon every Friday night around 6-7 p.m., and joined them for an evening. The walk is up a paved road, about seven miles roundtrip through the canyon and following a perennial stream.  Following a thunderstorm last Friday night the air was reasonably cool, but most of the walks this time of year are in the upper 90s or even low 100s even after dark, so you still have to bring water and face some heat.  The desert creatures are out too, and the regular hikers report seeing wildlife routinely: lots of birds, bats, rattlesnakes, gila monsters (quite rare), bobcats, and occasionally even a mountain lion.  They hike in groups, stay away from the edge of the road in snake season, and carry flashlights.

Back at the TBM Cave, I’ve begun a challenge to myself to “take back the Smoothie.”  You see, ever since “Rocky” came out and popularized the idea of drinking shakes full of raw egg and sprouts, the classic, decadent, fat-laden, and wonderfully unhealthy smoothie of old has been largely overrun by quasi-health-nuts who feel the only good smoothie is something green with chunks in it or at least the potential to transmit salmonella.  OK, to each their own, but I’m just not a fan of calling blended kale and wheatgrass a drink.  I mean, you could blend almost anything and call it a smoothie (as Dan Aykroyd aptly demonstrated in 1976 with the Bass-O-Matic), but that doesn’t make it a treat.

IMG_2431Oh, I know I’m going to horrify several good friends with this, but we can still be friends.  I like smoothies that are cold, thick, delicious, and not pretending to be anything but pure indulgence.  In the interest of finding middle ground I’ll temper my fiendish love of Torani flavored syrups, coffee, chocolate, hazelnut, and even Torani Bacon syrup, by basing all my recipes on plain non-fat yogurt. I’m going wild with experiments in the kitchen this week, working alternately with fruit smooth concoctions (my favorite so far:  mango V-8 and raspberry), dessert smoothies (top pick: mocha/caramel), and occasionally a completely whacked mixture.  Two nights ago I whipped up a peanut butter & bacon smoothie that was pretty good.  Mike came over and refused to even consider trying it.

This is the sort of thing that happens when I’m left to my own devices, which I think is good. A little childish play of any type helps reboot the mental processes that lead to creativity.  And the results are delicious … mostly.

The other exciting news of the day:  I received an email telling me that I have won the Microsoft email lottery.  My prize is €1,000,000 “and a Toshiba laptop.”  I like how they threw the laptop in, as if I wouldn’t be able to afford one of my own after winning a million Euros.  It’s the little touches that make me love the spam.

Hmm… that makes me think.  Spam smoothies?

Temporary Bachelor Man, 2013 edition

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Yes, he’s back!  TBM is re-installed in Tucson and prepping for a month or two of adventure … and work.  (Mostly work, actually.  But let’s not dwell on that.)

I flew back to Tucson on Tuesday in my everyday guise of mild-mannered magazine editor, and then once back in the Man Cave (formerly known as family residence) I pulled out the full TBM suit complete with fake pecs and flaming torch.  It turned out there was not much need for a flaming torch, since this time of year southern Arizona has one up in the sky which has been frying eggs on sidewalks and melting shoe adhesive for several weeks now.

The first order of business is always to re-boot the Man Cave.  After six weeks of abandonment, there are always a few Manly Tasks to be handled, such was washing the desert dust off the cars, firing up the central cooling (it took nine hours to get the house cooled to 78 degrees), collecting mis-addressed junk mail, and sweeping up the detritus of desert life that tends to accumulate in and around the Cave.

IMG_2428Eleanor received a particularly charming offer while we were gone (see photo).  It wasn’t clear from the letter inside whether this offer was for her personal use, or an offer she could use to dispose of someone else’s body if needed. As generous as it sounded, this letter among many others ended up in the recycle bin.

While the central A/C was fighting to expensively pump BTUs out of the Man Cave, I took the official TBM-mobile out for a quick wash and a run to the store for supplies.  Also known as the 1984 Mercedes 300D or “the Stuttgart Taxi,” the car impressed me immediately because after six weeks of sitting unattended it had absolutely no oil drips at all, the vacuum system still had full pressure (or perhaps I should say full lack of pressure), and it fired up like a new car.  All that work we did last October has paid off.

I must say that the temptation to put a trailer hitch on the TBM-mobile is very strong.  With that, I’d be able to tow the Caravel somewhere for a little trip —as long as I avoided hills.  But I’m afraid that the ancient transmission might not like the added stress of towing, and even if it did I might encounter some challenges towing a 3000-lb parachute with an old diesel that was rated for 120 horsepower when it was new.

Yesterday was an excellent start on TBM-type stuff.  I cleaned up a lot of the emails and minor tasks that had accumulated while we were in Europe, took care of some overdue errands, got my hair trimmed into TBM style, and then Rob called with an invitation to the monthly guys-only card game.  You can’t ask for a better TBM activity than a card game with the guys.  The other saps in the game (all married guys with kids) started whining about needing to go home around 10 p.m., and I just waved my flaming torch at them and told them the night was young.  Sadly, none of them seemed willing to break their shackles, and the game broke up not long after.  It’s lonely being TBM sometimes.

Southern Arizona summer heat is hated by many who live here.  I can understand that.  Like a northern winter, many activities are off the table.  I can’t go bicycling during the day, for example, and people tend to huddle inside their air conditioned houses except for the hour or so after dawn (when the temps might be “only” 80 degrees).  But we live in an area riddled with “sky islands”, meaning mountains that poke up steeply from the desert to heights of 6000-8000 feet above sea level. So hiking and exploring in the mountains is still possible less than an hour’s from Tucson.  And we live only a few hours drive from the forested Mogollon plateau of northern Arizona, seven hours drive from the relative coolness of the southern California coast, and four hours drive from the beaches of Puerto Peñasco in Sonora, MX.

That may seem a long way to go for coolness, but at least the option exists. When I lived on the east coast during bitterly cold winters, the nearest place to go to escape was Florida, 1,500 miles away. So I regard the heat as just another excuse for a good roadtrip sometime in the next few weeks.

I plan to be here through late August, with a break to attend Alumafandango in Oregon during early August.  (Still got a few spaces left, by the way, if you are thinking about joining us there!)  In the time I’ve got there are many TBM missions to complete.  I’ve got to scout some new locations for next year’s Alumafiesta in Tucson, check a possible location for a new event in the southwest for late 2014, supervise some home improvements, finish the Caravel plumbing project, work on a new book, edit the Winter 2013 issue of Airstream Life (Fall is in layout right now), check out a new sushi restaurant, see lots of family-unfriendly movies, and of course once again try to find the ultimate in Sonoran hot dogs from this year’s crop of roadside food trucks.  If you’ve got a mission to suggest, feel free to pass it along and I’ll see if it can fit into the TBM plan.

LED lights

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

My short time in my alter-identity of TBM ended with a sputter on Sunday.  The prior two weeks had vanished in a series of indistinguishable work days, in identical 100+ degree temperatures, and the primary variation most days was the choice of evening entertainment.  There were quite a few torn movie stubs on the counter by the end of the period.

I made on last attempt to seek out something worth of a Tucsonian bachelor hero, with a second “annual” Sonoran hot dog test.  Alas, as it turns out Sunday is not a good day for Sonoran dogs in Tucson.  The mobile food trucks which normally can be found on every major boulevard hawking these beloved examples of Tucson’s primary contribution to the culinary arts, were notably absent on Sunday.  I found just one: El Sinaloense, working in a vacant lot along Alvernon between Pima and Speedway.

For $3.50 I got a very nice variation on the classic bacon-wrapped Sonoran dog, with a nicer bun (a little flaky, like a muffin) and a bacon-wrapped pepper on the side, plus a Mexican soda, served in the ultra-casual environment of a plastic chair in a dirt lot.  No pretense here; the “atmosphere” of the restaurant is just plain atmosphere, the kind that we all breathe every day.  I like that because (a) it’s a uniquely southern Arizonan experience to eat a bacon-wrapped hot dog under a tent when it’s 105 degrees, and (b) there are no poseurs just hanging around because it’s a place to be seen by others.  There’s a sort of clarity of purpose in that.  You go for the food.

I did try a second local establishment, whose name I will withhold because despite a decades-long reputation the “famous” chili dog I was served was horribly disappointing.  From a look and taste of the product I would say that the old chili dog has met its superior in the Sonoran dog, and it won’t be long before the chili dog has to step up its game or go extinct in Tucson.

That was it. I sadly packed away my TBM suit with the symbolic ying-yang, wrist protectors, and ever-flaming torch (the latter item quite hard to pack, by the way), closed up the house and boarded an early flight back northeast on Monday.  Time to shift gears again.

This week is all about enjoying a last few days of Vermont summer and prepping the Airstream to hit the road.  Older brother and I took apart the rear of the BMW motorcycle and replaced the chain and sprockets on Tuesday, had lunch on the deck and looked at the beautiful lake & mountains, then we took Emma out on the boat to watch the fireworks from Burlington harbor in the evening.  It’s about a ten mile trip via boat across the deep dark waters of Lake Champlain.  Last night the water was smooth and warm, and twinkling with the red/green nav lights of hundreds of other boats that came up the lake to do the same thing.

Today we are going to see the 4th of July parade with some friends up in the small town of Bristol, and this afternoon Emma will go sailing, and maybe Steve & I will take a little motorcycle tour under the green trees that line the rural roads.  Everything we’re doing feels like a very northeastern summer thing to do, so despite the very short visit up here I think I’m getting a full dose of the necessary vaccination against the hot southwestern summer that still lies ahead for us.

As part of our Airstream prep I installed a bunch of new LED replacements for the standard bulbs that came with our 2005 Airstream.  I have wanted to do this a long time, since lights are huge power consumers in our trailer and we’re always operating in dim light to save power when we are camped without hookups.  This trailer has 27 individual lights in it (not counting the refrigerator or stove light, or any of the compartment lights), each one either incandescent or halogen, and if we turned them all on at once they would consume something like 40 amps of power, which is huge.  Even our large Lifeline GPL-4D battery with 210 amp-hour capacity would be drained in an evening if we dared turn on all the lights.  So most of the time we restrict ourselves to just a few crucial lights, and so the trailer tends to look like a cave in these situations.

I have been slowly experimenting with different LED solutions over the past two years, installing various LED “pads” and bulb replacements in different color temperatures to try to find the best for our situation.  Quite a few of them were disappointing, either for poor light output or inconsistent color (some looked greenish or bluish).  A few were defective, and I returned them.  None were particularly impressive.

Recently I bought a bunch of newer bulb replacements from LED4RV, which is run by a guy named Dan Brown.  These were different from the ones I’d tried before. Instead of individual LED bulbs mounted on a single pad or cylinder, the new models used Surface Mount Device (SMD) type LEDs, which appear as small yellow squares when the light is off.  The SMDs put out more light with fewer LEDs, so don’t just buy the bulb that has the most LEDs and assume it’s the brightest.  Dan provides a little chart to compare the lumen output of each bulb.

After some experimenting, the choice was clear.  For the big double light fixtures that are mounted on our ceiling, Dan’s “1156 Bright White 18 SMD LED cluster bulb” is perfect.  The color temperature is just slightly cooler than the incandescent bulbs it replaced, so no weird blue/green color like a fluorescent.  A pair of these use 12% of the electricity of the hot incandescent bulbs and put out nearly the same amount of light.

For the swiveling halogen reading lamps, we used the “12 LED Warm White Reading Spot” (G4 style).  In these light fixtures the lens is clearer than the overhead lights, so a bit of warmness in the color temperature helped.  These lights were incredibly bright and really output more of a flood than a spot of light.  They’re great in the dining area but by the bed they’re really almost too bright and I may replace those later with the 9 LED version.

The power savings is incredible.  The draw of these lights has been reduced from amps to milliamps, as measured by the Tri-Metric amp-hour meter installed in our Airstream. We can use twenty of our new lights on roughly the same power budget as three of the incandescent bulbs.

The only catch is the high cost of LEDs.  These lights were about 15 bucks each, which really adds up when you’re trying to replace 27 lights.  To economize, we focused on the lights we use the most, and in some cases we only replaced one side of a two-bulb fixture.  When trying to conserve power we can turn on only the side that holds the LED bulb.

Even considering the cost of LEDs, they are a relatively cheap solution to the power problem.  You can do very well simply by adding battery capacity and swapping out your lights for LEDs.  With those choices you can reduce the power demand of your lights by nearly 90% and perhaps double your power supply, which translates to extra days of boondocking capability for a few hundred dollars. That’s less than a quiet generator or solar panels, and it’s a solution that always works regardless of sunshine or fuel supply, so it’s a very sensible option for occasional boondockers.

I should also mention that these days Airstream has, uh, seen the light, and their new trailers come with a lot more LEDs than ever before.  It’s just those of us who own older models that need to make the upgrade.  Based on the success of the lights we have installed so far, I’ll probably go ahead and buy eight or nine more of the bulbs later this year.

That’s not our only Airstream job this week.  Our plan is to launch the Airstream on Friday, which means part of today and all of tomorrow will be dedicated to getting road-worthy again.  Eleanor and I need to glue a patch onto the awning where carpenter ants chewed a hole in it last year, I need to clean the roof again, and there’s plenty of re-packing to do.  Our trip plan is vague but we know we have to get back across the country by July 17, so we’ve got to get moving.

TBM stalled?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

There are two reasons that I came back to Tucson for two weeks, while the rest of the Airstream’s crew is up in Vermont.  Reason #1:  I had a dentist appointment that just couldn’t wait, and couldn’t be done up in Vermont.  Reason #2:  I had an enormous backlog of work as a result of being on the road for a few weeks and being at Alumapalooza.

Now, I can get the work done fairly efficiently up in Vermont because we have friends who will lend me their home offices with fast Internet.  (It’s still not as efficient as being here, because if I’m home alone I’ll work longer hours.)  But the big requirement was the dental appointment; I just couldn’t skip that.

See, these days I’ve got braces on my teeth.  Yes, at age forty-something I went to the orthodontist to finally have my crazy bite and radically misaligned teeth straightened.  They were driving me bonkers whenever I tried to eat. Now both Emma and I have braces, a moment of shared father-daughter experience.  I can’t say that it has been especially bonding, but Emma has been helpful with tips, like how to eat popcorn.

I thought I was pretty old to get braces until I ran in our good friend Petey at Alumapalooza.  She said, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re doing that!  I was very happy that I had braces.”  Her teeth looked perfect.  I asked her, “When did you get braces?” and she replied, “When I was 70.”  So that put me in my place, and now I don’t feel particularly old to have tinsel teeth.

And I’ve been amazed that the things really work as well as advertised (see pics, I apologize to those of you who really didn’t want to see a closeup of my mouth).  Two months into it I’m already seeing quite an improvement.  22 months to go …

Having two members of the family in braces at the same time has been detrimental to our Airstreaming.  This is the first time in several years that E&E haven’t spent eight to twelve weeks in Vermont.  With our mutual dental appointments we just can’t stay away from home base for long, so I will be flying back up to Vermont on Monday and next week we will hitch up the Airstream and haul our traveling circus back the 2,700 miles to Tucson.  We’ll be here for the rest of the season, riding out the heat until it’s time to go to Colorado for Alumafandango.

The trip back from east coast to (nearly) west coast is a mammoth one.  When we were full-timing we would take about a month to go this far, but this time we have a mere twelve days.  That’s 225 miles per day on average, although realistically we’ll do a lot of 400-500 mile days and then stop for a couple to catch our breath.  I would really like to see a few things along the way.  It’s torture to just keep driving past interesting stops, and I’m not crazy about spending $750 in fuel just to see Interstate concrete roll by for 44 hours.  In the end our trip will probably come in at more like 3,000 miles because straight lines and Interstates are boring — and even that represents a serious effort at avoiding distractions.

I’ve discovered that two weeks as TBM doesn’t give me enough time to get into trouble, which is unfortunate.  The backlog of work was so massive that I’ve been locked to the laptop.  So my plans to do a follow-up Sonoran Hot Dog test, go tent camping, and take a roadtrip have all failed.  Instead, I’ve been working on Alumafandango (which is coming together nicely now), next year’s Alumapalooza, and of course that “other job” of publishing a magazine.  (The Fall 2012 issue is now in layout and will be distributed in early August.)

Plus, I’ve been working on two other projects.  One of them is a caravan, and the other is a third Aluma-event.  Brett & I have talked extensively about this and we know we can really only afford the time to do one or the other, and right now it’s not clear which we will pull off.  We are both approaching total saturation and after this we are either going to have to stop launching new projects, or get some help.  (I mean staff help, not psychiatric help, although we may need both.)

We’ll figure that out soon.  In the meantime, Alumafandango is occupying both our minds.  This summer’s heat meant that everyone is anxious about baking while they are in Denver, so we managed to work up twenty “30-amp” campsites (which allow you to run your air conditioner).  We announced them to the current registrants with an upgrade price of $125 and POOF! they were gone in 48 hours.  We now have a waiting list of people who are hoping we can get more, and that’s definitely something we are going to try to do.  So if you were staying away from Alumafandango because we didn’t have 30-amp, now you can go ahead and register and get on the wait list for delicious coolness.

TBM has been stalled this time by tedious practicalities, but I’ve got one weekend left before the TBM flag comes down.  I’ll ponder a few ideas for this weekend and try to get into something that will make you proud.

TBM wraps up

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Plot summary:  After the last burst of wonderful road-trip glory, Temporary Bachelor Man (TBM to his friends) finds himself in the sad anti-climax of his adventures.

I knew it would be hard to top the big three-city tour that I did last week, and upon returning to home base I had to face a mixture of painful realities:  (1)  the end of the 2011 TBM season was fast approaching; (2) I would have liked a drop-in visit by my wife/girlfriend (it’s a dual role this time of year) before returning to family life; (3) we had absolutely no plan for where we were going in the Airstream once we resumed travel; (4) I was bored with Tucson.

For me, the charm of a place is often inversely proportional to the amount of time I have to spend in it.  I have enjoyed weekends in absolute hell-holes and dull-as-a-butter-knife cities simply because they were novel to me, and I have completely lost my mind after eight days on the action-packed Las Vegas Strip.  It’s the experience of learning, exploring, and being stimulated by new things that makes a place fun for me, which is the same personality characteristic (some would say “flaw”) that causes me to shy away from the routine.  And lately, home base has become a little too predictable: not much happening, always hot, nearly always sunny, and everyone hiding indoors to avoid the weather, like northerners hide in the winter.

With only a few days remaining, I scrambled to find things to do, but at every turn was stymied by forces beyond my control.  There’s always work, of course, but with excess time the Winter 2011 magazine is not only well in hand, but actually — for the first time in years — somewhat ahead of schedule.  The Vintage Trailer Show for Modernism Week 2012 is almost ready to begin accepting trailer-owner applications, and we’ve got the new Alumapalooza 2012 website up, too.   That’s all good, but there’s got to be more to life than work.

More sensible people than I have all fled the desert southwest, of course, so few of my local friends can be found.  (Note for next year: plan more trips up into the cool country; this means FIND A TOW VEHICLE FOR THE CARAVEL, YOU DOPE!)  Over the weeks that I have been in TBM guise, I have satisfied myself with a little checklist of absolutely inane & mostly unnecessary goals, all of which I can accomplish solo:

(1) Eat ice cream at every local place within 2 miles (Baskin Robbins, Culver’s, Dairy Queen, and Frost).

(2) Buy a bunch of used books at Bookman’s for the long trip back in the Airstream and in the process reclaim my “Mayor” status on Foursquare.

(3) See every R-rated movie of interest that I can, either in a theater or via Netflix.  This summer I’ve managed about a dozen, including X-Men, The Trip, Potiche, Rango (OK, it wasn’t R but I’m a sucker for animation), The French Connection, Sucker Punch, The Adjustment Bureau, The Illusionist (another non-R animation but charming), Night and Day, and Inception.  I’m not recommending all these movies, by the way …

(4) Go for at least one hike above 8,000 ft. (accomplished 8/13)

(5) Cook my own dinner at least a dozen times.  This has been accomplished mostly through the miracle of pasta and a very robust sauce Eleanor left in the freezer.  I may not be able to face pasta again for months, however.  The Weber grill is also a TBM friend.

(6) Sell the Miata.  This has been done, although at painful cost.  We never intended to keep the car for longer than this summer, but our impetus to sell it became more urgent when the car began to puke up intermittent “Check Engine” lights.  The suggested repairs (from three different sources) ranged from simply cleaning carbon out of the EGR passage, to a basketful of repairs that would have cost $2,500.  Nobody really knew what the root cause was, and we didn’t have the time or inclination to get into it.  Finally we found a buyer who was willing to take on the car as-is, and so we sold it well below the price I would have liked.  It was a gamble, and ultimately a failed experiment, but in all failures there are lessons to be learned.

So with those momentous accomplishments behind me, I can turn to the final tasks of the week.  Mostly that means buttoning up the house and thinking about where we are going to head once we leave Vermont.  Planning travel would seem to be the really fun part, but I have to justify my miles with business along the way, so the planning gets complicated quickly.  When we were doing the Tour of America I didn’t write about all the business stuff I did along the way because it was not all interesting and some of it had to be kept confidential.  But regardless, nearly every mile had a purpose that related to growing Airstream Life magazine.  Marty says that I need to keep that justification in mind and document it better — daily —  in case I get audited.  In addition to that consideration, I’ve got more projects going on these days, so any time out of reach of cell phone towers is a problem.  It puts a high burden on the planning process.

At this point I can only say that we are planning to head down the eastern seaboard again.  Beyond that, we may be winging it.  If prior experience is any guide, many opportunities will pop up as we go, and the trip will turn out to be much more than we could have foreseen.  Traveling in the Airstream tends to go that way.  So I’m not worried about making the trip work, but rather anticipating interesting opportunities.  If you have any suggestions along the general direction of Vermont-Georgia-Arizona, let me know.

Roadtrip, weather or not.

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

If you would like the short version of this blog entry, here it is:  500 miles later, I’m back at home base.

But there’s so much more to it than that.  The day started beautifully in the best fashion of southern California, with a light summer fog in the air that was quickly giving way to sunny skies and views of green desert hills.  I opened up the car windows and sped over to meet Uwe for breakfast in Orange at 8 a.m. We talked for over an hour, sitting at one of the outside tables at the Watson Drug & Soda Fountain, watching as very fit-looking men in blue Fire Dept. t-shirts ran around the block a few times.  The second time they came by I felt like getting up and joining them (and I don’t run, that’s how inspiring the morning was), but then I came to my senses and tucked into the waffle I’d ordered.  Extra maple syrup, please, I’m going to have a long day.

After dropping Uwe off at his shop, I automatically headed east on CA-91 toward Riverside, but a few minutes into the trip I realized that I didn’t really want to rush back into the desert heat.  It was still gorgeous where I was, near the coast, and it seemed a shame to have to close up the windows and turn on the air conditioner.  I’ve been doing that all summer.  So I took a right onto the Rt 241 toll road instead, with the vague plan of enjoying a scenic route along the California coast all the way to San Diego.

This turned out to be a bonus.  Being a toll road, Rt 241 is lightly traveled, and it rises up dramatically into the hills on smooth new pavement.  The toll charge of $5.25 was well worth it for this driving experience — at least once — and after about half an hour I was dropped off at I-5 in the traffic south of Irvine.

Nearer the coast, the way became foggy and even cooler, to the point that I eventually rolled up the windows just to stay warm.  Listening to the radio and distracted by scenery (I took a quick stop at San Onofre State Beach), it wasn’t until I was well into the Camp Pendleton area that I realized I hadn’t gotten gas, and now the car was running drastically low.  I exited I-5 at the first opportunity south of Pendleton to fill up and consider exactly what I was doing heading toward San Diego.  This plan wasn’t making a ton of sense.  Here I was, eighty miles from my starting point and still only a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean.

Well, I had all day, so what the heck.  I don’t get to just wander around aimlessly very often (or at least, not often enough).  Despite appearances, my travel usually has a definite purpose.  Besides, it had warmed up a bit, and that meant I could I roll down the windows again for a few minutes before the upcoming plunge into the desert heat.

Only a few minutes later, I picked up I-805, and then finally I-8 to head eastward for the next 300 miles or so. The road climbs out of the San Diego area, through La Mesa and El Cajon, past the inevitable & lonely Indian casino, and up to 4,000 feet over the portion of I-8 known as the Kumeyaay Freeway. This is a beautiful stony scenic area through the Cleveland National Forest, followed by a long descent right back down to sea level through a series of fantastic twists to the flat desert floor near Ocotillo.  At that point there’s little remaining to see, and the speed limit opens up to 70 MPH.  As I traversed this part I had to fight the urge to hang a left onto Rt 79 and drive the road up toward Julian — there just wasn’t time for that detour.

As I left the San Diego area I was watching the temperatures climb and the landscape grow steadily more arid.  By Ocotillo, it was a rousing 113 degrees and only Mexican stations could be picked up on FM.  I tried to remember that only a couple of hours earlier I was freezing in the cool fog of coastal California, but it seemed to be only an impossible dream.

I-8 runs tightly to the border from here all the way to Yuma, tediously straight most of the way, and there aren’t many places to stop for a cold one.  Fortunately, I had a cooler full of drinks and lots of calls to make.  For a long portion of this road you are south of the Salton Sea and below sea level.  The highway gets pinched between canals (like the one that formed the Salton Sea) and the fences along the US-Mexico border.  Then there’s the Imperial Sand Dunes, and then you’re seeing another Indian casino and the AZ border at Yuma, followed shortly by the welcome increase in speed limit to 75 MPH.

Somehow I managed to completely overlook Dateland (AZ), which is a great place to try a date shake and pick up fuel.  Not much else.  Having missed that opportunity, I paused in Gila Bend instead, where it was still 106 degrees under a cloudy sky.  Thunderstorms were threatening in the distance, and I knew at that point I was going to have an exciting end to my trip whether I wanted it or not.

Five miles later, the temperature plummeted 20 degrees, and for the rest of I-8 was buffeted by winds and sprinkled by the remnants of thunderstorms.  Lightning was everywhere to the east and south.  By the time I reached the end of I-8 where it merges with I-10 near Eloy, the rain was occasionally torrential, the desert was puddled with water, and kamikaze tumbleweeds were blowing across the road.  I clipped one with the right wheels and saw the tumbleweed explode into a thousand dry match sticks in my rear view mirror.

The weather was getting seriously threatening. I stopped to check weather radar on the iPhone at a gas station, and the gas station turned out to be closed for lack of electricity.  I saw one serious accident with police & rescue on the scene (two cars in the median, heavy damage), then another a few miles later.  Brief sections of the road were flooded a few inches, and the radio was filled with warnings about dust storms and lightning.  I had that feeling again — was it really only an hour or two ago that I was blinking in the burning sun at a rest area and marveling at 113 dessicating degrees?

Finally, Tucson: 72 degrees in light rain, wind blowing, flashes of lightning over the Rincons, carport half flooded.  Whatever.  It didn’t matter if it was snowing, I was home.  Time for laundry, dinner, and a few days of catchup.  It’s nice to be back, but the trip was so great that I’m wondering if I shouldn’t zip out for a roadtrip somewhere again this week.  I have only seven days before my TBM license expires.  Hmm… what next?

L.A. story

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

OK, I dropped Brett off at the airport tonight so we now we can all talk about him.  He’s catching a redeye back to Florida and I’m spending one more night at some anonymous hotel in the Los Angeles area.

Actually, I’ve got no lurid tales to tell of life with Brett.  We’ve done the business trip thing so many times that it’s just second nature now, and we know how to get along like an old married couple.  (No wonder that when we go to Palm Springs we sometimes get offered a single King bed.)  And this was a particularly successful week, starting with our two nights in Denver, then two nights in Tucson, two nights in Palm Springs, and one night in Anaheim.  The summary: we got it all done and we had fun doing it.

Driving back from LAX after dropping Brett off I was starting to feel the L.A. vibe and start to regret that tomorrow I’ll be heading back home.  The car was bouncing along the uneven concrete of “the 105″ (as locals say it) with a 72-MPH/ 72-degree breeze blowing in the open windows and KLOS taking classic rock requests on FM.  I was zipping and merging according to the whims of Garminita, listening to Jimi Hendrix and getting whiffs of the Pacific salt when I was near LAX.  It all felt like an experience I could only have in mythical southern California.

You know that California has a huge car culture, which is why I always feel most at home here when driving.  Yesterday we took the twistiest possible route from Palm Springs to Los Angeles.  The highlights were the climb out of Palm Desert along Rt 74 (the “Palms To Pines Highway” pictured above), the climb up from Lake Elsinore (below), and the Ortega Highway.  With stops at scenic overlooks, the drive took us most of the day and I didn’t regret it for a second.  I’m tempted to take the same route back.

Towing the Airstream I tend to pick straighter routes, but now that I think back to it we have towed on curvy and narrow roads without hesitation.  I remember a few roads that we probably shouldn’t have been on (89A heading south to Sedona, for example) and a few that people recommended we avoid with a trailer (coastal Rt 1 in California comes to mind).  In every case the effort required to navigate the road with a 30-foot Airstream was well repaid in scenery and memories. So I’m not surprised that the road less traveled in California was a great choice yesterday.

Well, that was yesterday when we had all day to kill.  Today was a different story.  Our goal was to visit a few clients and friends in the area and get tours of their facilities.  I like to have a good handle on the resources available for Airstream owners, and it’s always useful to snoop around in hopes of finding an interesting restoration project or contact person for a future Airstream Life article.

Our first stop was M.E.L. Trailer in Orange.  Named for the three partners in the business (Mike, Erasmo, Lucas), this little shop is turning out some very nice work and seems poised for even better things in the future.  By the way, Mike Keenan is the organizer of the very popular annual Pismo Beach vintage trailer event.  This year he offered 300 spaces and got 600 applications.

Right down the street is Area 63 Productions, run by Uwe Salwender.  I’ve known Uwe casually for years, since he wrote a short article for Airstream Life, but we had not met in person until last February at Modernism Week.  Like M.E.L., Area 63 is doing great restoration and customization work and so I’d be proud to capture Uwe as an advertiser in Airstream Life sometime in the near future.  Bill K., another Airstreamer and blog reader, happened by while we were visiting, and he joined us for lunch in town at The Filling Station.

Since we were in the area, and because Dr. C suggested it, we zipped down to the Mercedes Benz Classic Center for a quick look at their Museum Of Unattainable Classic Cars.  That’s not actually what they call it, but it certainly struck me that way, especially the ones on the upper rack that could be glimpsed from below but not fully viewed.  Still, the cars are cool, and I am appreciative to Mercedes Benz USA for opening their doors in Irvine to let us drool for a few minutes.

Our final stop was C&G Trailer up in Bellflower, run by Rod and Darlene Beltran.  These folks have been in the Airstream repair business for 48 years, and Rod is the second generation since his father worked at the Airstream plant when it was located in the L.A. area.  Amazingly, they’re far from burned out; they seem to thrive on it.  Their shop has the unique appeal that comes from being a long-time specialist. In every corner are stacks of vintage parts, so much that we spent half our time there just marveling at all the goodies that we could use.  C&G Trailer has been an advertiser in Airstream Life for seven years and I love ‘em for it.  Just recently I sent soap opera actor Ingo Rademacher to them for an interior makeover of his Airstream Safari 30 bunkhouse.  The trailer came out great and we’re going to have a photo spread on it in either the Winter 2011 or Spring 2012 issue.

We had a few minutes to kill before dinner, so we got the car washed (all hand wash & dry, $7.99, only in L.A.!) and cruised around town a bit since the temperatures were perfect in the evening.  Having accomplished all of our work goals and feeling the summer air, I’m pretty sure we were both thinking that it would be much nicer if the other suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a friendly female.  Not that we don’t enjoy each other’s company, but that’s what happens after a week on the road without our ladies.

Brett will be back to his girlfriend tomorrow.  I, on the other hand, face a long and quiet drive back to Tucson tomorrow and no prospect of romance for a while.  I’ll use the time to digest the events of the week and prepare for whatever lies around the corner.  Temporary Bachelor Man still has a little time left on his clock.

Southwest road warriors

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

The transition from home life to road life can be jarring.  Things were moving in slow motion when I was in the house in Tucson, giving me the feeling that I was living in a world where Jello had replaced the air and I had to fight my way from one place to another.  Then suddenly the roadtrips began, and now things have sped up to the point that I have trouble keeping track of where I am and where I am supposed to be next.

My Friday return was classic Air Travel 101: the TSA confiscated my 3 ounces of toothpaste because it was in a container capable of holding 4.6 ounces, and I lost my watch in the confusion of undressing and dressing by the side of the conveyor belt.  By the time I realized that the watch was gone, I was in Terminal C, a solid 10-minute trip away from the security checkpoint by train and moving walkway.  I went back for the watch, which required me to go through the long security line again in order to retrieve it, and so 26 minutes later Southwest closed the door to the jetway and left me behind.  Brett got to Tucson at 9:30 in the morning with my bags, while I got re-routed through Las Vegas and arrived five hours later.

Saturday was quite a bit better. We blew off all accumulated work and spent the day up in the Santa Catalina mountains north of Tucson.  Not only was it much cooler than in Tucson but we had spectacular skies and great hiking weather.  The photo above is from Windy Point, an overlook along the Mt Lemmon Highway.

Near the town of Summerhaven we took a hike in the national forest that led us about 3.2 miles (roundtrip) past tiny waterfalls in deep canyons, then dropped in on the southernmost ski area in the continental United States for lunch at the Iron Door Restaurant.  The ski area is pretty minor when compared to those of Utah and Colorado, but for being located about 100 miles from the Mexican border it’s a minor miracle.

Sunday was another travel day, this time a long-anticipated road trip from Tucson to Palm Springs.  We’re in town to scout sites for next year’s Modernism Week Vintage Trailer Show (February 2012).  The entire valley is a tough place to park trailers, especially vintage trailers.  Some of the towns have rules against overnight parking even on private property, others have been intimidated by campground owners, some campgrounds won’t allow anything over 10 years old, some are “55+”, and many non-campground venues we approached won’t allow trailers on principle just out of pure snobbery.

Fortunately, the organizers of Modernism Week have good connections in town and had found a few prime spots near the center for us to evaluate on Monday.  We think we have a venue that will work very well, but won’t know for sure until we’ve had further discussions with the land owner.  I expect that by the end of September we’ll have the plan nailed down and can begin to accept applications for the show in October.  We’ll have only about 25 spots available, seven more than last year.

Let’s see, if today is Tuesday then we must be traveling again.  I would be tempted to spend the day in the valley here at the Indian Wells Resort Hotel (a golf course resort that is cheap in the off-season) but it’s scorchingly hot and the cool San Jacinto mountains are beckoning us.  Since we accomplished all of our site evaluations yesterday we are free to take our time heading to Los Angeles today.  I have a 143-mile driving route planned that is designed for pure pleasure (lots of twisties) and absolutely zero practicality; a real antidote to the sort of rush-rush straightline travel we’ve been doing.  We’ll start with the Palms To Pines Highway (Rt 74) from Palm Desert, and then pick up interesting roads to Temecula’s wine country and then Lake Elsinore, and San Juan Capistrano. We can take all day to do it, since we have no meetings planned for today.

So, time to get started.  It’s 7:28 a.m. and the heat is already building past 90 degrees here in Indian Wells, CA.  We’ll hit the hotel’s courtesy breakfast buffet, throw our road warrior gizmos into our bags, check that the cooler is loaded with drinks, and move on.  Another adventure awaits us along the road.




About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine