The Florida State Rally is a little bit special for me, perhaps because it was the first place that I publicly announced I was going to start an Airstream magazine, back in 2004. At that time we were spending the winter in central Florida, and took our 1968 Airstream Caravel over to Sarasota to visit this event, the 2nd largest of all Airstream rallies. I met a few people at that event who became good friends, one of whom is Brett.
And so, last fall when airfares dropped I booked a cheap ticket from Tucson to Tampa so that I could revisit this rally. It’s the fourth time I’ve attended it, and it is almost exactly the same each time. That sameness drives off many people who are bored with it, but my interest in the rally isn’t the presentations or the dinner, but the opportunity to see a lot of Airstream folks who are leaders in the community. And you can’t really complain about Sarasota in February …
Tuesday I got up in the dry desert darkness at 4:30 a.m., caught a flight at 7 a.m., and by late afternoon Eastern Time I was driving over Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway with the windows rolled down, smelling the sea breeze blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico.
I love Florida. It’s full of good memories, and good friends. All I have to do is smell that curious tangy air (a mixture of salt water, humidity, and decay) and I’m transported back to all the great times we’ve spent in Florida. I like driving by the little waterways and lakes scattered all over. I like finding bits of “old Florida” along the roadside, remnants of campy tourist attractions and little shacks selling green boiled peanuts.
There’s a sense of things growing incessantly here, life just constantly bursting out of dampness, with flowering bushes and sandy grass and creepy-crawlies everywhere. You get the sense that if Florida was closed for a couple of years, the living things would take over and by the time Florida re-opened there’d be nothing left of civilization but a few moss-covered heaps. All of that and more came back the moment I rolled down the window and started on my way from Tampa down to Sarasota.
So now I am installed in Brett’s motorhome at the rally, and all the people I’ve expected to see are here. Colin & Suzanne are here (with Malcolm), Hunt & Sue, Mel & Glenda, Herb & Sidra, and many others from the Vintage Airstream Club. More friends will arrive this weekend. The folks from A&W are here doing embroidery as always, and I’ve given them my camera bag to be customized with the Airstream Life logo. Steve Ruth of P&S Trailers is here, and we talked about him polishing and clearcoating my Caravel this May at his shop up in Ohio. There are lots of other folks whose names I have forgotten over the years, but who wave to me and ask how Airstream Life is doing, or ask about Eleanor and Emma. (Inevitably people look disappointed to hear that I flew to the rally without Eleanor and Emma. For years I’ve known that they are the big attraction wherever we go. I’ve learned to live with that fact that people regard me as essentially a transportation service for them.)
My primary tasks here are to take photos for future magazine articles and help Brett with advertising sales. But there’s plenty of time to socialize and explore Sarasota, too. The Florida State Rally is what you make of it, and so I usually design it to my specifications by organizing or joining ad hoc parties or outings, rather than attending the formal program. But last night they had the Opening Ceremonies, which are a tradition full of pomp & circumstance, and I got caught up in it. I went just to take a few photos but then couldn’t leave because of the constant sequence of rituals: an Invocation/prayer, the Canadian National Anthem, the American National Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, acknowledgements of all the various officers of the club, etc. Walking out in the middle might have been construed as disrespectful, so I was forced to stay until the general announcements, about 30 minutes later.
Having survived that, I am probably done with the official schedule. Today’s official schedule included these items: choir practice, line dancing, beginning Joker (a card game), arts & crafts, bridge, and several vendor seminars. Our actual schedule included breakfast in the motorhome, some general conversation, and then a few hours of work at the laptops, with the balmy Florida breeze blowing through the windows. If I have to go to work, this is the best way I can think of to do it. Our afternoon was spent talking to the vendors, browsing the new Airstreams, photographing a refurbished vintage trailer interior, and grocery shopping at some gourmet store in town.
Of course, every day at 4 p.m. there’s the time-honored tradition of Happy Hour. Every Airstream rally has it. The vintage section usually has the most lively one, and that’s where I usually go, but little Happy Hours pop up all over the place under various awnings. Tonight’s theme at the vintage area was “the most memorable experience you’ve had Airstreaming (that you can talk about).” Mostly people talked about various interesting disasters they’ve had on the road. Being owners of trailers between 25 and 50 years old, sometimes it’s hard to stop with just one disaster story.
I’ll be here through Sunday, so there will be more reports from Sarasota this week. Let me know if there’s something in particular you’d like me to check out.