Special thanks to Wally Byam

That Interstate trip I took last July in California wasn’t just for fun.  At the time I mentioned that one goal was to write a guidebook for Interstate owners, much like the Newbies Guide To Airstreaming.  Well, I’ve finally done it. It took a few months of research to put everything together, and another couple of months for Jennifer to complete the illustrations and layout, but I think the result was worth the time.

Airstream Interstate motorhome coverThe Interstate motorhome is a tricky machine. Not only is it packed with a zillion features that all need explanation, but Airstream continually modifies it during production, so it’s very hard to make blanket statements about anything. So once I started driving it around, I realized I was going to need to tread very carefully in order to explain it properly. That’s why the book has over 40 illustrations just to cover the basics, plus six essential checklists, and many more hints and tips. (Yes, that was a sales pitch, but hey, I’ve got to make a living.)

Even with the learning curve, the Interstate is really very easy and fun to use. I borrowed one for 10 days to do some first-hand research, and I found that it only took a week to get comfortable with it.  With this book in hand, I probably would have been up-to-speed in a day or so—which of course, is why I write these things.

The book is now published on Amazon Kindle and Apple iTunes, so you can get it as an e-book from either of those sources. (I’m not yet sure if it will be available in print format, but hopefully that will happen early next year.)

Newbies Airstreaming cover croppedWhile Jennifer was working on the illustrations, I was making final updates to The Newbies Guide to Airstreaming, so the Second Edition will be coming out in a week or so on Kindle and iTunes, and we should have printed copies later in October.

Lots of little things have changed about Airstreams since I wrote the first version, but I was surprised (and pleased) to see that most of the essentials haven’t changed at all.  If you’ve read the Newbies Guide, you might have noticed that it’s almost as much about the philosophy of Airstreaming, as it is about the practicalities.  In other words, it’s just as important to understand the “why” or even the “zen” of Airstream travel, as it is to know which valve to pull when you are dumping the tanks.  That zen of Airstreaming has remained constant since Wally Byam’s days. In short, relax, and explore.

Wally expressed this as his “Four Freedoms.”

    1. Airstream travel keeps you free from reservations and inconveniences of modern travel because you can make your own schedule and travel in your own vehicle.
    2. You are free from many of the limitations of age, meaning that young children and elderly people alike (and of course all us Baby Boomers in between) can expand their horizons and live healthier lives.
    3. Airstreaming gives you what Wally called  “the freedom to know,” meaning that you can explore the world intimately, meeting real people and experiencing things in a way the average tourist never gets to do.

And finally, they all add up to “the freedom for fun.” If you adopt the principles of Airstream travel fully, you can’t help but have a good time.  You are freed from your worries and ailments and schedules, so that your mind opens to new possibilities and new opportunities.

I’m glad none of that has changed.  I put a lot of effort into writing guides that help remove your worries about the mechanics of Airstreaming (whether trailer or motorhome) so you can relax and get the real benefit of traveling this way. But Wally Byam did the real work when he invented the philosophy.

That intolerable silence

The blog has been quiet lately, and I’m sure a few people are wondering what hole I’ve managed to fall into.  A friend once accused me of being a compulsive blogger, needing some sort of intervention and a 12-step program, but none of my friends seemed to care to stop me.  So what has kept me quiet for so long lately?

It’s just life.  A couple of weeks ago I was wrestling with my motivation to solve a giant problem, one of those huge problems that can’t even be fully understood at the outset, like a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.  I’m talking about my very slow-progressing Airstream maintenance book, which I think is going into its third year of “work.”

I have to put “work” in quotes because I can’t honestly use that term to describe the herky-jerky progress I was making for the first two years, interspersed by long period of contemplation and (let’s be honest) distraction.  Like the massive jigsaw puzzle, I had found all the easy parts and put them together, leaving a giant framework with 4,900 pieces yet to go.  This was a motivation-killer.

I mention this because you might think motivation comes easy to me.  I don’t talk about my failures enough (people complain it’s depressing).  I wrestle with things like every human being does, and there was a long period in which it seemed this project might be just a bit more than I was equipped to complete.  Failure WAS an option, and always is an option even if you like to pretend it’s not, because sometimes in failure you can learn something that will help you succeed next time. Like, “don’t take on a 200 page book project if you really don’t have time for it.”

But it’s harder to abandon a project of one’s own design.  After all, who or what can you honestly blame for the failure?  It was a jail of my own making and I’d told too many people about it, so I kept plugging away, adding a figurative puzzle piece every week or two, and then suddenly a wonderful thing happened.  It was that magical moment known to all writers of long texts and jigsaw puzzle fanatics alike.  I could see for the first time the beautiful picture that my puzzle would eventually form.  Better yet, it was all so obvious now.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, and without any motivational struggle at all I found myself gleefully opening up the document and adding text at every opportunity.

Suddenly I was finding time to write after dinner, before breakfast, between phone calls.  The first day after the breakthrough I added three pages of text to a 30 page document.  The next day I added five pages.  The next, 10 pages.  By the end of the week the project that took over two years to grow to 30 pages had doubled in size to 60.  It was almost worth waiting two years to have that experience.  Breakthroughs like that feel great.

Alas, my next act was to get sick with a virus, which has cost me a week of productivity already and will probably take another week to clear up fully.  I stopped working on the book because it took all of my virus-limited brainpower to just keep the basic operations going (keep in mind, I’m still TBM so I’ve got to do things like grocery shopping and laundry in addition to moving the Winter issue of Airstream Life ahead).  Now, I’ve got to fly up to Oregon to help Brett run Alumafandango, so there’s another big hiatus in the book project ahead.

This has led to the intolerable silence of the blog.  I make no apologies, as we aren’t actively Airstreaming at the moment and TBM’s adventures have been sadly muted, but I thought you should know that I haven’t abandoned you.  No, quite the opposite, I’m plotting all kinds of things to talk about in the future.  I will be blogging from Alumafandango as much as time allows over the coming week, and upon returning I’ll have just about two weeks to get all my TBM-decadence done, so that should be fun.  I already had a bacon-wrapped Sonoran hotdog but that’s just a warm-up for the real goodies…

Not too serious

I am in receipt of a hand-written note from an Airstream Life subscriber, which is reproduced below:

No Tin Hut, No Renewal

People take Airstream Life quite seriously.

Tin Hut, in case you don’t know, has been a long-running humor series in the magazine.  Tin Hut and his wife Mrs. Hut engage in various quasi-redneck trailer adventures involving hick relatives, crazy RV parks, deranged squirrels, and Mr. Ed The Horse look-alike contests.  Every issue for the past several years I’ve been the fortunate recipient of a letter or two from the Huts detailing their latest misadventure, which I’ve been pleased to print in the magazine.

The only problem I’ve had with Tin Hut is that it is beloved by some and hated by just as many.  At Alumapalooza the past two years I’ve asked for a show of hands from people who love the series, and I always get a sheepish wave from about half the people in attendance.  Then I ask who despises the series, and the rest of the crowd hisses and boos.

Well, like the Vice President, I get to cast the deciding vote when the House is deadlocked, and so I’ve run the Tin Hut series steadily.  (Besides, my mother likes it and she gets two votes.)  I even collected 23 episodes into a book which you can buy in print or in Kindle ebook format.

But lately the man behind the series, Jim Snead, has confessed that the Huts are nearing the end.  Poor Mr. Hut has fallen out of trees, been electrocuted, set on fire, lost his hair, and has been locked in a Port-O-Let and shipped to a women’s prison.  He’s getting too old for that sort of thing.  Last issue (Winter 2012), for the first time since the series began, I did not get a letter from the Huts, and it looks like I won’t have one for the Spring 2013 either.  I am working with Jim to see if at least the Huts can have a final send-off.  It will be a shame to say goodbye to them, but I’ve learned that in the magazine world, nothing lasts forever. Tin Hut will join other beloved sections of the magazine, like “eBay Watch” that eventually reached their logical conclusion and sputtered to a halt.

I am always sad to see a good series go, but that’s life.  Something will come up to replace it.  We only have 64 pages in each issue (at least until the economy picks up a bit more) and so the departure of Tin Hut means that some other good idea will now have the opportunity to take a few pages in Airstream Life in the future. I’ll be looking.

Meanwhile, I’m having some fun with an article in the upcoming Spring 2013 issue.  Fred Coldwell, who has written “Old Aluminum” for about eight years, is still going strong with his series about vintage Airstreams.  He left off at 1960 in the last issue, and his article inspired a letter from avid reader Don Williams.  Don has a mystery California-built Airstream trailer dating from 1960, and offered us some clues and photos as to its true identity.  Is it a rare Comet, or an “18 Footer” or Traveler?

Fred wrote up a hilarious investigation in the persona of “Sherlock M Homes” (the “M” stands for mobile), and his trusty sidekick Dr. Walban (for the popular Airstream polish called Walbernize).  Methodically sorting through the clues remaining in the gutted old trailer, he eventually reveals a surprise conclusion as to the identity of “the body.”  It’s a unique way to make an entertaining story out of what might otherwise have been a dull forensic study, and we’ve been having fun tweaking it this week.

Fred’s timing is ideal, as coincidentally I bought the entire collected Sherlock Holmes works by Arthur Conan Doyle on Kindle last month and have been reading through all three huge volumes in my spare time.  So I’m currently deeply immersed in the stylings of A.C. Doyle and was able to give Fred some advice on Holmes’ (er, Homes) characteristic turns of phrase.  He and I have been shooting back and forth emails all day to suggest more bad Holmes jokes.  I doubt half of them will get printed, but who cares? This is the stuff that makes editing a magazine really fun.

I am glad I don’t have a boss looking over my shoulder, or an editorial review committee to take the goofiness out of these things.  Sure, it’s all hokey and silly, but it’s good for the heart too.  I’m sorry to the subscriber who sent me the note, and I’ll regret losing him as a subscriber, but let’s remember you shouldn’t take life too seriously.  Or Airstream Life.

Notes from the Airstream universe

Just like the real universe, the Airstream universe continues to expand indefinitely.  Little reminders of this cross my desk from time to time, and I forget to mention them here, so today I’m going to mention a few of the recent and most interesting developments.

Item:  Airstream now for sale in Australia, if you’ve got the bucks.  The Canberra Times reports that Airstreams are now being officially imported, compliant with Australian regulations.  We’ve featured at least one Australian Airstream makeover in Airstream Life magazine, a restaurant trailer that sells gourmet hamburgers, but there really hasn’t been a lot of action in that country.  Australia and New Zealand have been mostly motorhome territory.  I know a few folks who have done some great tours in rented Class C motorhomes, and we’ve talked about doing it ourselves, but I’ve been waiting for Airstreams to become available. Maybe now we can start talking about putting together a caravan?

Or maybe not.  Prices for the new Aussie ‘streams are running $115k-135k (Australian dollars).  That’s a hunk of money, right up there with the cost of European-spec Airstreams.  It may be quite a long time before an affordable used unit can be found.

Item:  A new Airstream book has come out.  We never get tired of Airstream-related books, do we?  John Brunkowski and Michael Closen, who previously wrote a book about RV Toys, have written another great photo-rich book entitled “Airstream Memories.”  It’s a collection of Airstream art and memorabilia, with an emphasis on postcards, that runs 127 pages long.  It’s really fun to flip through it.

Full disclosure:  I wrote the Foreword to the book, but I didn’t get to review the art until it was published.  When I got my copy this week, I was surprised to see some Airstream Life covers and photo spreads in there.

Item: Another Airstream book seeks funding. Rebecca Chastenet and Carlos Briscenos jointly run an Airstream-based restaurant in Santa Fe NM.  We featured that trailer with photos of Rebecca in the Spring 2012 issue of Airstream Life.  Rebecca has since become a contributor to the magazine, writing for our new “Airstream food” section that you will see beginning with the Winter 2012 issue.

Rebecca and Carlos have an idea for a book about Airstream “pop-up” businesses.  There are probably hundreds of them, all over the world.  We’ve covered dozens in the magazine over the past few years.  They’re all interesting, creative, and run by fascinating entrepreneurs.

They’re seeking funding to cover the costs of a tour to visit as many of these Airstream businesses as they can, which will then become material for the book.  You can read their full proposal on Kickstarter, and chip in if you think the cause is worthy.  I’m hoping this one takes off.  Rebecca is a solid writer and I’m sure the result will be wonderful.

Item: Child starts blog.  OK, this isn’t big news, and it’s not Airstream-related but I happen to know one of the two children who write this blog.  “Sylvia Phenora” is the nom de plume of someone close to me.  For a 12-year-old, she’s a pretty handy writer.  She’s also producing Pokemon stories on a regular basis.  I’m waiting for her first novel to come out.  Hopefully it will be a best-seller so I can retire early and do more Airstreaming!

Item:  We’re going to pitch in to help!  The “superstorm” Sandy has really walloped the northeast coast.  Brett & I decided that we are going to donate $10 for every campsite registration we get between today and Dec 31, 2012, to the American Red Cross to help with relief efforts.  So if you were thinking about going to Alumafiesta or Alumapalooza next year, sign up soon and $10 of your site fee will go to help others.  Thanks.

 

 

 

 

Attacking the giant blog beast

I’ve been talking about this for far too long.  It’s a monstrous, scary, bewildering job.  I’m talking about turning the three years of the Tour of America blog into a book.

Time and again I’ve said I wanted to encapsulate that epic into something portable and readable, but every time I looked at the task it was so intimidating that I found something else to do instead.  Once I actually wrote about 80 pages, and then abandoned it as a terrible effort.  At another point I published a series of three essays on the blog in the hopes that going “public” would embarrass me into completing the job.

But nothing has worked.  It has been three years since we stopped full-timing, and probably five or six abortive attempts at re-writing the story, and it continues to be a sort of literary Don Quixote-windmill that thwarts me.

I am taking another run at it now.  This time I’ve approached it by downloading the entire contents of the blog to use as notes.

This has already turned out to be tricky.  See, I was rather prolific in writing about our travels, to put it mildly.  This is normally a good practice for a writer, because the blog entries and 10,000+ photos comprise all the information I need to augment my memory.  But I wrote six days a week, averaging about 900 words per blog entry.  Multiply that by three years and the result is smothering:  over 800,000 words in total.  That’s the rough equivalent of a 1,600 page book.  It’s almost double the length of The Count of Monte Cristo.  At least Dumas had the excuse that his story spanned decades.

Don’t get me wrong—I think our story was mostly interesting, but the sheer size of it is impractical.  Not only is it too much information to sort through, to keep it unabridged I’d have to publish it as a three or four volume set —at least— and that’s without any pictures.  The cost of publishing would be prohibitive.  And it would be boring.  So it has to be trimmed down, and therein lies my first challenge.

Just getting the data down from the web was a hassle.  WordPress doesn’t have a handy plug-in (that I could find, anyway) to export blog posts to a Word processing format.  I finally used a web service that converted the entire blog into a PDF, including the photos.  The resulting PDF took about half an hour to generate and massed 155 megabytes.  I converted that to text and imported it to my word processor, and now I’m cleaning up the result (removing extraneous detail and spam comments, etc.)  So far I’m 600 pages into the document. It will take a couple of weeks to complete the first pass, if all goes well.

This is just the beginning.  Then I have to start writing, with a copy of the cleaned-up blog at my side.  It doesn’t work to merely publish the blog entries chronologically as a book.  In that context it just seems strange and disconnected.  So the actual book will have to be mostly new material—a re-telling of the blog story, in past tense.

Still, I think that I would like to retain it as a moderately long travel story.  There’s no plot to our travel story, no climax at the end, no whodunnit.  It’s just a series of lessons and experiences, the way life is.  So instead of trying to trim to 200 pages, which would be a comfortable length for publishing, I will probably let it run quite a lot longer.  I want to include lots of color photos, too.

For these reasons, the book will probably never be printed on paper.  I expect it to be something you can only read on a Kindle, iPad, or similar device, where there’s no financial repercussions from being long-winded. But I hope—if I ever get this beastie under control—lots of people will read it and be inspired to do things that change their lives for the better, too.