70 miles eastward

Sometimes our progress on the road is glacial in pace, but I usually prefer it that way.   Driving only short distances gives us a better chance to explore, not to mention the cost savings.   When touring the Four Corners region last year we drove less than a thousand miles in a month.   Our big trip on Monday was simply to get from Stoughton to Milwaukee, which is about 80 miles mostly on the interstate.   It would have been an easy day but we were “behind the curve” all the way.

The day started innocuously enough, with a trip to downtown Madison so that Brett could have a scheduled business appointment.   While he was in the meeting, Eleanor, Emma, and I found a coffee shop on State Street with wifi, and settled in for an hour of reading and working.   I didn’t get the name of the place, but the chairs were deep, the coffee and chai drinks were generously sized, and the wifi was decent. Emma had her favorite, a steamed coconut milk.

While I was catching up online, and just a few minutes after posting yesterday’s blog, the entire AirstreamLife.com website began to fail.   I got our boy genius programmer on the job, but in a short while everything went down, including this blog, email services, customer service, and the main website.   There wasn’t a darned thing I could do about it.   (It looked at first like we were getting a denial-of-service attack, but later it was proved to be an internal problem with our database.)   So when Brett got back, I packed up the laptop and we went back to the State Capitol building to get a few more photos, and to tour the rooftop observation deck.


On the way back to the state park, we stopped in at the International Rally at the Alliant Energy Center to pick up that replacement awning arm I needed from Zip-Dee   ($84 was the price of my lesson; always remember to take in your awning when thunderstorms are possible.)   And there, standing in front of the new Airstream display, was Bob Wheeler, the president of Airstream.   We see Bob 3-4 times a year, sometimes at his home base in Ohio, mostly on the road at events, and always like chatting with him about the state of the Airstream world.

He suggested lunch, and although we were pressed for time because we needed to get the Airstreams out of the state park before 3 p.m., it was hard to refuse.   So we went off to some local cafe that is also a yarn store (a culinary first for us).   By the time lunch was over we had to rush to get back to the state park, and when we did arrive it was 2:54 p.m. and somebody was waiting to check into our site.   I started feeling rather behind the curve by then, because it was rush-rush to get the trailer hitched up and out of the spot.   Rushing a departure is never good because it’s too easy to overlook something small but expensive.   I have to be extra careful on the checklist in these situations.

Then it was off to the dump station, and then through construction zones to the highway, and then 70 miles of fairly dense traffic all the way to Milwaukee, where it became horrific 4-lane stop & go traffic.   The new tow vehicle really shined, however, yanking the Airstream forward 100 feet and then screeching to a halt when some idiot in a car cut in front of us … over and over again.

After about 30 minutes of testing our brakes with 50,000 Milwaukee commuters, we escaped to the State Fairground, where there is an RV park.   Huge dark-blue thunderstorms were on the horizon right behind us, and we wasted no time in getting unhitched and set up.   Ten minutes later we felt the first sprinkles…

So it was that sort of day.   Although a lot happened, I felt at the end of it all that I hadn’t really accomplished much.   But here we are, settled comfortably if not in the most beautiful spot.   The Fairgrounds are like Wal-Mart, but with hookups.   We’re on asphalt, the highway roars by just a short distance away, and there are few trees.   We’re not here for scenic beauty, but for practicality.   This location puts us close to downtown Milwaukee, and there are services we need nearby like laundry and a Verizon store to replace Eleanor’s phone. (It suddenly died yesterday.)   I need to spend a few days working intensely to get caught up on Airstream Life business, too.   Sometimes we trade beauty and travel glamour for the asphalt-coated realities of life.

PS:   The website problems seem to be resolved now.

WBCCI International Rally, Madison WI

 International Rallies are always full of excitement and action, for me.   It’s not the schedule; it’s the people.   They show up with smiles on, ready to see all their Airstream friends again, and it’s like a big homecoming every time.   It’s great to see the folks who have been such good friends to us over the years, and even more great to meet new friends, like Michael and Tina Lambert (pictured below).   Michael is the author of our lead article in the Fall 2009 issue of Airstream Life magazine, about touring Route 66.     Sunday was our first chance to meet in person, and my first chance to check out their very cool trailer.


So much has happened, so many people, so many trailers, that I can’t even capture it all in my head right now.   Instead of trying to blog an entire day of non-stop socializing, I’ll just put up a few pictures of the people.


Frank Yensan and his daughter.   Those of you who listen to The VAP know who Frank is.   He recently started a restoration shop, and you can see his ad in the Marketplace section of the Summer 2009 Airstream Life.   He was parked in the vintage area not far from Rob Baker of The VAP.


Glenn Thomas (at right) is a second generation Airstream dealer, up in Wentzville MO.   His father’s name is on the door: Bill Thomas Airstream.   Glenn is a good friend and a fervent supporter of the magazine.   We always like to visit with him.   He grew up living and breathing Airstream.


John Fuller (left) shows the original WBCCI badge assigned to members way back when.   I’ve only seen   two of these, and the other one was being worn by Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn.


Brad Cornelius, Editorial Illustrator for Airstream Life magazine (right).   Brad is just a genius with illustration, and his work has appeared in most of the issues, along with two covers.   He dropped in for the day, without his very nice ’65 Globe Trotter.

dsc_0133.jpgDavid Winick showed up with his latest project.   He’s working on a 1948 Airstream Wee Wind, which is a fairly rare and very cute little trailer.   At the moment it’s just an “aluminum tent” with no interior.   In the photo, you can see David Winick and Ken Faber peering inside.   When David has it done, I expect we’ll feature it in Airstream Life, since his work is always exemplary and unique.



Jim Russell always seems to have a project going.   He unveiled his 1949 Airstream Clipper here, for the first time.   It’s very well done   inside and out.   I shot the interior for the files. I always photograph every cool trailer I can get to, because I never know when I’ll need a particular shot.   (This is why my photo archive tops 100 gigabytes.)

We could probably spend another day at the rally, but we’ve got other things to do this week.   The plan is to move out of the state park today and find a spot where my phone and Internet work better, then commute back to the rally next weekend.   The weather has been spectacular since a cold front went through on Saturday night, and there’s a lot we want to do while it stays comfortably cool and dry.   As always, it will be a mix of work and play.


Our typical days have now evolved toward the central event that brought us to Wisconsin: the WBCCI International Rally in Madison.   Over at the Alliant Energy Center there are several hundred (approaching 800) Airstreams parked and socializing.   My primary task this weekend seems fairly straightforward at first: seek out interesting stories and interesting trailers, and document them. In practice, this is a very time-consuming thing, since just one friendly conversation tends to take 20 minutes or more, but it is also fun.

dsc_0538.jpgI spent a couple of hours over at the site on Saturday afternoon, to get an initial lay of the land.   The International Rally tends to attract a cast of characters who are particularly colorful, enthusiastic, and loyal to the Airstream community, and they were immediately obvious.   Just browsing around a few minutes I ran into Forrest McClure (regular contributor to Airstream Life), Luke Bernander (pictured with his 1965 Caravel and 1960 Nomad trailer-boat), Michael Depraida (artist), Rob Baker and Frank Yensan of The VAP, Tommy Green (ukulele man), Don McKelvay, and Patti Raimondo.

dsc_0546.jpgI expect to meet up with many others on Sunday.   Tommy is already planning some uke jam sessions in the evenings, which I hope to join, and Jim Russell is readying his latest gorgeous project for photography, a 1949 Airstream Clipper (pictured).   The really fun part is that the characters in this show are both people and Airstreams.   The Airstreams have the history and the travel stories, the people (who are often legitimately interesting in their own right) add value by interpreting those stories and adding their own personality.   Since the Airstreams range from 1930s models through 21st century models — the people are, as well — there’s a lot of diversity.   It should be a very interesting day, if the thunderstorms hold off.

I expected regular thunderstorms this time of year, but was hoping for fewer.   We’re having one almost every day, which makes photography tough, and planning a day even tougher.   We got decent weather in the morning for the big Farmer’s Market by the capitol building downtown, but last night’s steaks on the grill almost got rained out.   And the bugs in the campground are still a nuisance.   There’s not much we can do about weather, but we are likely to bail out of the state park on Monday for a less forested spot elsewhere. Meanwhile, today’s forecast is optimistic, so I hope for blue skies all afternoon while I’m taking pictures at the rally.

Odd day out in Madison

After spending the morning working in Stoughton’s pleasant little public library, I was free to head out for the day with Eleanor, Emma, and Brett.   The humidity has dropped in Madison lately, still very summer-like but considerably more tolerable to be outside.   This led us to the conclusion that we should go explore Madison, and that in turn led to a day of unplanned random happenings, which is often the most fun kind of day we can have on the road.

dsc_0493.jpgOur first stop was the Geology Museum in the university campus area, on Dayton Street.   University museums are often free and fascinating, and this one met expectations on both counts.   Emma loves rocks and fossils, and at this age she has outgrown most of the Children’s Museums that we used to frequent.   Science, natural history, and geology museums seem to be more popular now, which pleases us as parents.   After the museum, we found a bit of shaded lawn in front of one of the campus buildings and had a picnic lunch.   (Cheese curds were of course on the menu. They squeak a little less on the second day.)

The WBCCI International Rally is being held at the Alliant Energy Center not far from the university area.   We drove around the site a little to check it out.   There are already several hundred Airstreams on site, but the vintage contingent hadn’t yet arrived. They will be parading in as a group this morning.

dsc_0500.jpgThe centerpiece of downtown Madison is the state capitol, a classic domed state building with a gold statue at the top.   As we headed toward it, we passed Peppino’s, which blog readers told us to check out.   Since we’d had lunch, our visit was limited to being reflections in the glass.   A few steps later, Eleanor was collared by a random guy walking by, who told her: “Barbra Streisand died!”   It was apparently a big shock for him, and they spent a moment commiserating.   Of course he was wrong.   She’s still alive.   But Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon … the past few days have seen a   lot of famous personalities shuffle off.

dsc_0117.jpgdsc_0523.jpgIt was refreshing to find that the capitol building is still very open to the public.   Nowhere did I see a metal detector, or signs prohibiting photography.   It was like the pre-9/11 days, and I appreciate that.   (I don’t like the creeping erosion of simple liberties in the name of paranoia.   I was once nearly arrested for taking a picture of an American flag inside the Trenton NJ train station, a few months after 9/11.)   The doors were open and dozens of people were milling around, enjoying the elaborate architectural interior of their capitol.   Outside, a marching band augmented with what appeared to be Power Rangers was being photographed on the steps.

dsc_0519.jpgWhile browsing around inside, a very tall man in a black suit asked Emma if she was “Too cool for coloring books.”   Emma of course said she wasn’t, and he immediately led her and Eleanor to his office on the 1st floor.   The tall man turned out to be Wisconsin State Representative Phil Montgomery. When I caught up with them, he was telling funny stories about traveling with his son, and Emma was advising him on budget issues (they were passing a budget on the day we arrived, and Rep. Montgomery expected to be there until late at night.)

The kind Representative advised of his favorite place to play mini-golf, a few miles away, and that became our next stop.   We knocked out 18 holes in some fairly intense sunshine, and decided that the cure for too much sun was a stop at Culver’s.   Culvers is a Wisconsin (or perhaps mid-west) institution for custard.   Custard is basically “ice cream+”, and it’s one of those treats we simply can’t resist.

Looking back on the day, we had a great time and yet none of it was planned.   We simply had a list of ideas in hand, and then just followed the cracker crumbs that appeared before us.   That’s a great alternative to some of the days ahead, which will be rigidly structured as a result of meetings and deadlines.

Photo note:   I’ve now begun carrying two cameras occasionally.   The D70 is wearing the Tamron 10-24mm lens, and the D90 has the Nikkor 18-200mm lens.   This gives me huge flexibility but of course it’s not very comfortable.   I’ll only take both cameras when I have plans to do some intense photogaphy, like during major rallies.   During the time we spent at the state capitol, the Tamron was extremely helpful since a super-wide-angle is the only lens that can really capture the rotunda.

Squeaking cheese

Our explorations have not led us far, yet.   The first order of business was to get things cleaned up so we’d be ready for the next few days, which will likely be hectic.   The best way to do that is to check the nearest town and start looking around.   We drove five miles to downtown Stoughton, which turned out to be a small but vibrant old fashioned city center, replete with interesting shops and everything we needed: car wash, laundry, post office, public library with free wifi, bakery with kringle, and of course cheese.

Of course, cheese is not the only attraction to Wisconsin, but it is a running joke for tourists to mention it frequently. We’re doing our best to be temporary cheese-heads while we are here, and that led us to Cheesers on Main Street in Stoughton.   Fresh cheese curds were piled high on the counter when we arrived, and we were told that when they are really fresh, they squeak on your teeth.   Well, there’s a culinary experience for you — so of course we bought a package.

It’s true, they do squeak on your teeth.     Listening to the sound in my head, I had the strangest sensation of eating a live mouse.   Texturally (and I’ll probably be hung in effigy for saying this) it’s a bit like eating a piece of rubber tire, but of course better flavored.   I think cheese curds are an acquired taste.   After half a bag, I haven’t acquired that taste, but I’m sure it is coming.

Culinary stuff is a major theme of the tourist areas in Wisconsin. Along Rt 20 on Wednesday we noted a Mustard Museum.   I’m sketchy on the details of what it contains (besides, obviously, lots of mustard), but the billboard gave us a hint:   “Home of Poupon U”.   Apparently it is also a center of higher learning.

With work and errands, the day sort of disappeared, which happens to us a lot.   Uneventful can be better than the alternative, as I was reminded later in the day.   This time year thunderstorms are a constant threat, and yet knowing that I made a complete newbie mistake in the afternoon.   I set up the trailer awning under a clear blue sky, and then went away for an hour to the grocery store.   In this part of the country, thunderstorms pop up quickly, and they can sense deployed trailer awnings.   We came back to the Airstream to find one awning arm completely pretzeled, literally U-shaped.   Fortunately the rest of the awning was undamaged.

The awning arm has since been removed and the awning is safely stowed for now.   I am lucky to be right next to the International Airstream rally, since Zip-Dee (maker of the awning) will be there and can get me the replacement parts on site.   Their headquarters are in the Chicago area and they’ll be making at least a couple of parts runs for boobs like me who leave their awnings up unattended.   I suspect Zip-Dee will do quite well selling replacement parts this week.   More thunderstorms are expected.

Trivia:   How did Zip-Dee get its name?   The founder of the company had the last name of “Dudah.”   True story.