One of the things I enjoy is helping new owners learn about all the cool things you can do with an Airstream. It’s like being there when a kid first gets the hang of riding a bicycle and suddenly realizes how much bigger her world has become. It’s like watching someone taste gelato for the first time, when that wonderful explosion of flavor hits their brain and they see that there’s more to life than ice cream. You might think you know freedom, but when you hitch up that trailer and hit the road with destination unknown, you find an exhilaration that is unexplainable to those who haven’t tried it.
That’s a big part of the reason I wrote the Newbies Guide (copies of which were received at my office this week, and have been shipped to all the folks who pre-ordered them). Even though I can’t get the gratifying personal feedback of a face-to-face educational session, I’m still hoping the book will make it easier for people to get started.
Another joy of sharing knowledge about Airstreaming with newbies is the amusement factor of hearing their stories. Yes, I’m admitting it: I do laugh sometimes at the mistakes and stories people tell me. I’m just being honest here. Hey, I was a newbie once too, and I’ve had some pretty awful/humorous things happen to me, too. I can laugh about them … now ….
Once when camping in Oregon I ran into a couple who told me their water heater was broken. “The red light comes on, but the water isn’t hot,” they said. I explained that the red light was not an “ON” light, it was a “trouble” indicator, and the problem was that the heater wasn’t getting propane. “But we have propane!” they insisted. “We checked it last night.” So I explained to them how propane has a habit of getting used up during the night when the furnace is running. I also showed them how to switch over to the second propane tank, and then we reset the water heater by flipping the switch. Poof– the water heater lit.
The wife immediately ran the water. “See, it still isn’t hot — so the heater doesn’t work!” Very patiently (I think) I explained to them that the heater takes a bit of time to turn cold water into hot water.
Then I left them, with skeptical looks on their faces. I can’t blame them. After all, they had “proven” that everything I said was nonsense, and the final proof was that there was still no hot water. I’m sure they thought I was just a know-it-all until 30 minutes later when hot water finally began to flow.
Last week I helped get a newbie friend set up for his first-ever Airstreaming experience. He had several mishaps and points of confusion in his first few days, all of which were understandable, but my favorite was the gray tank problem. “Rich, I went to take a shower, and the water didn’t go down the drain,” he said with a distinct tone of confusion and suspicion. I could tell he was wondering just how small the RV gray tanks were, since his military-style shower probably required less than 2 gallons of water.
We went through the usual debugging questions (“Is the trailer level enough so that the water can reach the drain?” and “Did you dump the gray tank the day before?”) and there were no immediately obvious problems. I thought about it for a second, and then asked if he had left the gray dump valve open long enough to fully drain the tank.
“Uh … leave it open?” he replied. Hearing just that phrase, I knew we had found the problem. My dear friend, who I will leave safely anonymous out of my complete respect for him, had somehow gotten the impression that you dump the holding tanks by “pumping” the valve. I tried to stifle my snicker and then explained to him that the valve must be left open for a minute or two, until all of the waste water has rushed out.
[By the way, I’m going to do a seminar at Alumapalooza about being a newbie. It should be a lot of fun. I’m going to tell self-deprecating stories and try to encourage people ask the dumbest questions they can think of, just so we can all laugh and learn at the same time.]
As long as there are Airstreams there will be newbies, just as it is true that as long as there are colleges there will be freshmen. When you’re a “senior” you might easily begin to think that they are placed there for your amusement or condescension (and perhaps that’s partly true) but keep in mind that they are also a wonderful opportunity. Newbies are the people who allows us to pay back for the lessons our predecessors taught us. They remind us that nobody was born knowing everything, and they add value to the community by freshening it and broadening our perspective. I love ‘em.