The Bachelor Zone

… episode #1

Imagine, if you will, a man, torn from his beloved family and Airstream and sent to a strange land where nothing is as it used to be.  Food no longer magically appears on the table, ready to eat.  Uninterrupted naps are possible at any time of day.  Things left out, stay out.  Working by day in one’s underwear, and venturing by night to the local art cinema, become the norm.  You’ve entered … the Bachelor Zone.

I have never been separated from Eleanor and Emma for the length of time that now lies ahead of me.  Three weeks of complete bachelor-hood is the program for June, as I live in the Tucson house while they spend the summer in New England.  I will survive only by my own skills (and those of Eleanor’s via telephone link, more on that later).  I will pace the house wondering why it’s so quiet.  I will buy my own groceries.  I may get to a level of loneliness experienced only by prison inmates on remote desert islands in French novels, and end up giving names to the cockroaches.  But I will persevere, because this is all part of the grand adventure of Temporary Bachelor Man.

On Wednesday Eleanor and I drove down to Manchester NH for a night in a hotel, so that I could catch the 6:20 a.m. flight to Tucson this morning.  It was cool and damp in Manchester, the way June has been consistently in the northeast this year.  Two easy hops, and by 10 a.m. local time I was stepping out in the morning sunshine of Tucson, with the temperature at 86 degrees and rising rapidly toward 103.  Even without the three hour time change, the change was disconcerting.  I had left Manchester wearing warm socks and a fleece, feeling like mold was going to grow on my skin from the relentless humidity, amidst the gray industrial/commercial wilderness that is so common in the northeast.  Back at home base, I had the strange sensation of having never left, because out here in the desert the seasons are subtle and things always seem to look approximately the same.  It was just like the day we pulled the Airstream out, back in May, except hotter.

The house has survived well without us.  A thin layer of dust covers everything outside, of course, since it hasn’t rained in a long time.  Inside, a few plants died and there was the unfortunate discovery of three dirty plates in the dishwasher, but otherwise the house just seemed empty.  (The food on the plates has baked on in the sealed environment of the dishwasher, and the smell is … unpleasant.  Fortunately,Temporary Bachelor Man — TBM — knows how to turn on a dishwasher.)

Despite being seriously jet-lagged, I attacked my first task — groceries — almost immediately.  Right off the bat I needed Eleanor’s guidance.  She left the freezer packed full of pre-cooked dinners for me, but I had no idea of what the house might be missing for my other meals.  As it turned out, the house had been mostly stripped of the really useful food items, e.g., those which can be prepared easily and quickly.  All the good stuff was in the Airstream, 2000 miles away.  We consulted on the phone for a few minutes (the first of many telephonic consultations), and with a short shopping list in hand, I headed off to the grocery store.

But let’s not get our priorities mixed up.  A car left outdoors in Tucson quickly becomes unconscionably dusty.  It wouldn’t do for TBM to be seen in a filthy car, so I hit the local car wash first.  Once the car was appropriately shiny again, I felt it was safe to attempt the grocery store.

There are mostly two types of people in a Tucson grocery store on a 100 degree afternoon on a weekday:  Moms, and old folks.  And me.  I felt a bit out of place, but then it wasn’t a comfortable geek-land like Best Buy.  This was a place full of mysterious packaged items, none of which plugged into anything.  I was definitely out of my element.

Although I had been in that particular store many times, it was still a battle to find the Bachelor Essentials, such as prepared guacamole and salsa. I never paid attention to where things were, before.  Eleanor was not answering her phone at that time for some reason, so your hero was left to his own devices, but I maintained my composure and came out with everything I went in for … plus a few things that seemed critical to bachelorhood once I saw them on the shelves.

Ask Eleanor the definition of an “ingredient,” and she might mention examples like paprika, eggs, and butter.  My view is that the ultimate bachelor ingredient is the “Spice Packet,” as mentioned on the side of a box.  (“Empty contents of Spice Packet into bowl with 2 cups water and contents of box…”)  Ah, the miraculous Spice Packet.  It’s right up there with the amazing Sauce Packet used to complete the premium-type macaroni and cheese.  Who knows what’s in it?  It doesn’t matter, it’s darned convenient.  When the Spice Packet is around, a pair of scissors are the only cooking implements needed.

My first cooking attempt went well, involving two microwaving experiences and one Spice Packet.  Sure, it was easy, but it’s best to ease into new routines.  I also made a salad, although “made” is sort of hyperbole when the process involves a pre-mixed tray of salad greens into which I sliced a couple of mushrooms.

Once these domesticities were completed, I realized two fatal mistakes:  (1) No entertainment; (2) No ice cream.  See, the house lacks a TV.  When we are here in the winter, we watch movies on the laptops (streaming them over the Internet via Netflix or on DVD).  We don’t have cable or satellite.  If we want a larger screen, I unhook the Airstream’s TV and haul it in to the living room.  But the DVDs and TV were still in the Airstream back in Vermont, and I had forgotten to remove the vacation hold on the house’s Internet.  Mindless video entertainment is a staple of bachelorhood, but for one night I was happy to make an exception and continue re-reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” on the Kindle.

The ice cream problem was more solvable. There are three large grocery stores within 3 miles of the house.  So I’m now set for the next hot quiet evening with Klondike bars and fruit pops, streaming Internet videos and, once the mail arrives, DVDs from Netflix.  Already the house feels more bachelor-like.  By the time Eleanor gets back here, I might have fully converted it …

Notes from the camera

Quite often as we go, I use the camera as a notepad, snapping shots of things we see so that later when I’m writing the blog I’ll remember the little things that happened during the day.  This works well except when I borrow Eleanor’s camera and then forget to download the photos that evening.  By the time I remember, the blog has been written and the photos are obsolete.

But sometimes they are just a little too interesting to toss away.  So today I present to you a little compendium of misplaced images from the past couple of weeks, as retrieved from Eleanor’s point-and-shoot digital camera today. These are the “little moments” that made up our days.

i-90-lsd-diesel.jpg Item #1.   You can still buy the wrong diesel fuel if you’re not careful.  It is commonly believed that all diesel fuel now sold is the newer “Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel,” (ULSD) which is required to protect the emissions systems of 2007 and later engines. In California that is true, but other parts of the country still have until this fall to switch over.

i-90-lsd-diesel-closeup.jpgPutting the wrong fuel, confusingly named “Low Sulphur Diesel,” (LSD) in a late-model diesel such as ours can be an expensive mistake.  We recently found the LSD stuff at a highway rest area along I-90 in New York. There’s always a label disclosing it, but you have to look closely.

Another tip-off:  LSD is about 5-10 cents cheaper than the going price for ULSD, so it looks like a great deal, double-check that it’s the right stuff.  This station didn’t sell ULSD, so we had to go elsewhere.  Diesel owners beware!

alumapalooza-flying-slade.jpgItem #2:  yogaFLIGHT can be good for your health.  We were stressed out, sweaty, hungry, and grumpy after Day 2 of Alumapalooza.  I had just spent most of the day parking trailers in the hot sun, between thunderstorms that threatened to send us all to the Land of Oz.  And then slaDE insisted we go do their yogaFLIGHT deal, which was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment.

But then it occurred to me:  what better test for yoga than to try it when you feel at your worst?  So I emptied my pockets, took off my shoes, and let slaDE do his thing.  Suddenly I was floating in the air, listening to his incredibly calming voice, feeling completely safe and wishing it wouldn’t end.  Stress gone.  I’ll be joining their yoga class next year when we do Alumapalooza again.

I am hoping we can cross paths later so that they can teach us their style of partner yoga in a private session.  Maybe in Tucson this winter.

the-spot-photo-setup.jpgItem #3: Three genuises are better than one.   This image demonstrates guys doing guy stuff.  In this case, meticulously setting up a camera for a group shot outside The Spot To Eat diner in downtown Sidney, Ohio.  slaDE offers useful advice, I scrutinize, and Sean does the positioning.  It took less than five minutes for our combined Dream Team to set up this shot atop a newspaper box, without benefit of a tripod.  Ladies, keep in mind how useful we are.

garmin-booboo.jpgItem #4: Your GPS doesn’t know everything.  I’ve mentioned in prior blogs how you can’t trust the GPS when towing — especially when you get close to state parks!  Follow the official brown signs instead.

This shot shows our Garmin advising us to get back to Route 8 in the Adirondacks.  According to it, we were wandering around in the forest somewhere.

Fortunately, we made it back to Route 8 quickly, as evidenced by our current speed.  Note that the GPS has us traveling at 554 miles per hour.   I don’t normally tow the Airstream that fast, but we were in a hurry.

rhubarb-bread-pudding.jpgItem #5:  Eleanor continues to cook.  No shocker here, but since she hasn’t done a video lately I thought you might want to know that we are still benefiting from Eleanor’s culinary treats.  The latest is a rhubarb-raspberry bread pudding, seen here.  Lou gave us a bunch of cut rhubarb from their patch last week.  We used to have a rhubarb patch of our own, and have missed it over the years.

Normally she makes a rhubarb crisp or pie, but there wasn’t quite enough so she came up with the idea of a bread pudding.  We happened to be in the Christmas Tree Shop over the weekend and Eleanor picked up a few things to make the pudding interesting.  The rhubarb sauce was the kicker: pour it over the pudding and … well, I shouldn’t say too much because it’s too late for you to try ours.  But trust me, it was a very successful experiment.

Paused in Vermont

Eleanor and I have completed our childless travels and arrived at summer home base in Vermont, and are once again reunited with Emma.

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On Thursday Eleanor and I drove the final leg from the Syracuse NY area east to the Adirondack State Park, and spent the day peacefully zigging and zagging along the quiet tree-lined roads through this mountainous area.  You can’t go terribly fast in the Adirondacks, but were happy to tow the Airstream at about 45-50 MPH and stop at some of the many pull-outs along the way.  With just the two of us in the trailer, we could even stop and have a light lunch and a nap, with a beautiful river flowing past our bedroom window, before proceeding along the way.

adk-river-view.jpgThe weather steadily declined — as it often seems to do when we approach Vermont (a coincidence, I’m sure).  By the time we arrived, there was a heavy downpour.  We ditched the Airstream halfway parked in the driveway and went inside my parents’ house to have dinner.  After dinner the rain abated enough for us to go out and establish our summer parking site.  As usual, a few of the large mature cedar trees lining the driveway needed to be trimmed back to allow the Airstream to fit. The Airstream will spend the next two months parked here.

On the other hand, I will be moving on shortly.  It’s difficult for me to get serious work done in this location, because of cell phone and Internet connectivity problems.  On Friday and for the next few days I have a borrowed office at another location to use, but this is only a temporary solution.  My visit to Vermont will be brief, just long enough to see everyone, especially Emma.  I’ll be flying back to Tucson later this week, and spending the next six weeks there.

Some of you may be wondering why I would exchange a cool and pleasant summer at the lake in Vermont for the scorching heat of Tucson.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  Alone at home in Tucson I’ll have the ideal environment for working: privacy, few distractions, high-speed Internet, reliable phone, no need to get dressed before noon, etc.  Much work has to be completed over the next few weeks, including preparation for Alumapalooza 2011, another top-secret event we hope to announce later this summer (you’ll be the first to know), two more book projects, the new magazine (due out in November), and of course the Fall issue of Airstream Life.  It’s time to get seriously glued to the desk for a few weeks.  I’ll crank up the 5-ton air conditioner and probably pay an enormous power bill this summer, but I’ll have the experience of the annual summer monsoon in Tucson, which I’ve never seen.  Some evening I may even get out for some lightning photography.  It will be an interesting change.

I won’t actually be alone the entire time. Eleanor will fly out to meet me for a few weeks, later in the summer, and I also expect Brett for a week.  There will be travel involved, perhaps quite a lot, but it will be in the Honda Fit with a tent in the back, and occasionally hotels.  So I’ll keep the blog going with The Continuing Adventures of TBM (Temporary Bachelor Man) right here.  One thing we will discover is whether the Honda’s tiny air conditioner can handle 100+ degree days.  The Mercedes can chill a fevered antelope on a 100 degree day with no problem, but I am less confident in the Honda’s ability as we cruise down I-10 in full sun in the low desert during July…

While I am gone, Eleanor and Emma have their own plans.  Emma is signed up for a pile of day camps, including topics such as digital camera photography and Photoshop (which means she’ll be looking for her own laptop soon).  She’s also got swimming lessons at the local pool and sailing lessons on the lake courtesy of Uncle Steve and other friends.  Eleanor has arranged several trips to see old friends.  Nobody will be bored this summer.

Airstream travel will resume in August sometime.  Until then, Eleanor and Emma have to get two months out of an 18-gallon black tank.  There is no way to dump sewage here, and Eleanor is not going to haul the Airstream to the nearest RV dump 15 miles away.  (That’s a complex process that involves a very tricky backing maneuver to get it into the driveway again.)  That means they will have to use the bathroom in the house almost exclusively, which is fine except when you’re feeling your way in the dark across the driveway and up the patio steps in the middle of the night.

They will also contend with no air conditioning on those frequent hot and humid days (the voltage is too low to run the air conditioner), and limited water (we can’t leave the hose connected across the driveway).  Eleanor’s phone will work only intermittently here.  I am not sure that I am getting the short end of the stick, at least regarding conveniences, by going to Tucson.  I only wish I had a spare tow vehicle out there, so I could take the Caravel out for a few days in Arizona’s White Mountains, but perhaps that problem will be solved at another time.

A stinky mystery

When you are on the road and just zooming along the highway, the little events sometimes become the big events.  That’s something to be grateful for.  It means that your wheels are still rolling, your engine is still running, and life is good.

Our trip from Ohio yesterday was completely ordinary.  Concrete highway beneath the wheels, broken up by the occasional toll booth on I-90, a few rest stops (they have Tim Horton’s along the tollway rest areas, so Eleanor bought some coffee), a slight pattering of rain on the windshield, and lots of farms and fields flying by.  By dinnertime we were settled in a parking lot, and by 10 p.m. we were video-streaming an episode of The Tonight Show on the laptop (via Hulu).

Around this time Eleanor noticed a smell like propane gas. We started sniffing around in the bedroom, but it was elusive; sometimes we could smell it, sometimes we couldn’t. To me, it was reminiscent of the odorant in propane, but not quite the same.  I tried to reassure Eleanor that whatever it was, it wasn’t dangerous, but she was nervous.

Now, I wasn’t concerned because I know a few things about propane.  First, all the propane lines in an Airstream run outside and beneath the trailer.  So there are no lines in the bedroom to leak.  Second, propane is heavier than air,  so a leak in any of the outside lines would settle to the ground or blow away, not float up inside the bedroom.  The only real concern would be the few points at which propane lines come into the trailer and those are all in the kitchen area (where our stove/oven, water heater, and refrigerator are located).

Since the mystery odor was in the bedroom only — very close to the bed — I was sure we didn’t have an explosive situation and was prepared to go to sleep, but sometimes logic is trumped by wifely concern.  Eventually I found myself standing outside the trailer in the light rain, wearing pajamas, and sniffing around the propane tanks to show her that we didn’t have a leak outside.  Nor was there any smell whatsoever on the breeze.

But that left us with a stinky mystery.  When I came back inside the trailer I could still get occasional whiffs of …. something … and so could Eleanor.  It was like propane, but it wasn’t.  We turned over pillows, slid the mattress to the side, checked each other’s clothing and even our own breath.  Nothing.  And yet, there it was again.

Suddenly Eleanor broke up laughing.  “I know what it is!” she exclaimed as she leapt from the bed.  She dug around in that heap of “overflow” groceries that she stores by her side of the bed during travel, and came up with two bags of garlic naan that she’d bought from Trader Joe’s the day before.

Well, let me tell you, even in a plastic bag, garlic naan can put out quite a stink. So that’s your Airstreaming tip for the day: don’t store the garlic naan in your bedroom.  You probably didn’t need that tip, but there it is anyway.

And knowing that the worst thing to happen to us all day was the Mystery Smell made me feel good, and we went to sleep.

Roaming east

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(Photo by Alison Turner, official Alumapalooza photographer)

Our final post-‘palooza tasks completed, we are at long last moving east again.  It was touch-and-go for a while there, since we kept thinking of things we needed to do before leaving the Airstream factory.  We don’t expect to be back there for a year, and I’m always careful to consider any possible trailer maintenance that needs doing, before I drive away from a competent repair facility.

We seemed to be ready to go, but as I was hitching up there was a snag with one of the two jacks associated with the Hensley hitch.  They had been getting progressively more difficult to turn over the past few weeks, so I had lubricated them with silicone spray when we moved to the Terra Port.  I noticed that a fair bit of rusty lube dripped out of the driver’s side jack as I ran it up and down, and it still seemed to be binding a little.

When I went to hitch up yesterday, the jack got about 3/4 tight, then slipped. It acts as if the internal gear is stripped at one point, and no longer can be tightened to full operating tension, which means that one of the two weight distribution bars couldn’t be adjusted properly for travel.  Another delay.  Airstream doesn’t stock Hensley parts, so I got on the phone with the company HQ in Michigan and ordered a new one.  Problem is, with ground shipping it won’t arrive for four days, so we had to come up with a work-around.

The work-around was to tighten the jack as much as it would allow, then move the connecting pin at the bottom down two holes (thus shortening the jack) to compensate for the rest of the distance it needed. Normally this isn’t recommended but I was assured it is OK for a temporary fix.  We towed uneventfully for three hours to our destination at Lou & Larry’s home near Cleveland.

Well, I shouldn’t say “uneventfully.”  Our new friends sKY and slaDE (I keep thinking of them as “Kentucky and Delaware”) were delayed for their own reasons, and wouldn’t be able to get to their destination 7 hours east in Pennsylvania, so I invited them to caravan with us for a night of hospitality with Lou and Larry.  They immediately accepted and so we had a fun drive across Ohio on Route 30, making jokes on the walkie-talkies.

lou-larry-driveway-camping.jpgSo now we are parked in the driveway, our rigs nose-to-tail, each with water and electric hookup, and just a few steps from the backyard with its little fire ring.  About a dozen Airstreamers were here last night for dinner on the lawn, most of them from the local area.   We’ve stayed here many times, and it always is a very relaxing experience.

Since the weather is fine and I have a huge backlog of work, we are going to spend another day parked in the driveway.  Eleanor went out this morning with Lou, sKY, and Loren to stock up at Trader Joe’s, while slaDE hung back and enjoyed some solitude in his trailer, and I tried to catch up on the 78 emails still unanswered in my Inbox.

Tomorrow we expect thunderstorms again, but we’ll spend most of the day driving so it won’t matter.  I prefer to work on the sunny days because I can open the windows and have sunshine filling the trailer, which is inspiring; I prefer to drive on the mucky days and enjoy the scenery, which is comforting. And since Eleanor and I will be alone in the car as we go, it will be a great opportunity to talk about anything that comes to mind.