Pineapple season

Weather-wise this is one of the most pleasant times of year to be in southern Arizona.  It’s neither hot enough for air conditioning, nor cold enough for heat, and with abundant sunshine because this is one of our dry seasons.  We haven’t seen substantial rain in weeks.

Little wonder that this is when I find myself working the hardest on projects all over the house and both Airstreams.  The Caravel plumbing job is done, tested, and hopefully reliable.  Everything works perfectly.  My only job now is to take the trailer on a shakedown trip, perhaps across the county (potentially no small jaunt, since Pima County is 9,200 square miles) and camp in it for a night to thoroughly test all the work.  I am very confident in it but in this case I’m subscribing to Ronald Reagan’s philosophy: “Trust, but verify.”

(I’m also thinking of another less-famous Reagan turn of phrase: “I feel like I just crapped a pineapple.”  This wasn’t a fun job, but it feels great now that it’s done.)

The Safari, to its credit, is hanging in there just fine. Good for you, Safari.  I tweaked a few things after we got home in September, and while there are other projects in the wings, it needs nothing at the moment.  We are free to go camping.

And we might, if we had the inclination.  But when we were full-timing in the Airstream we found that in some ways this is the least interesting time of year.  The short days, even in the southernmost reaches of the continental US, meant that after about 5 p.m. we’d be back in the Airstream for a long dark night.  In the desert southwest, the temperature plummets after dark and so on those nights when we were in a national park with a ranger program to attend at 8 p.m., we’d have to bundle up like it was Alaska, in order to sit through an hour-long talk in the outdoor amphitheater on chilly metal benches.

So instead we tend to stay home in November and December, except for a break around New Year’s, and I try to get things done so that we can take off later in the season.  It’s also a good time to catch up personal maintenance, so this month I’ve had the full experience afforded the average 50-year-old American male, including a flu shot, a Tdap booster, (Tetanus, Diptheria & Whooping Cough), a examination here and there, dental cleaning, orthodontist, and the threat of having a colonoscope shoved up where the sun don’t shine.  Yee-ha.

(OK, having written that, I do have to wonder why I’m not hitching up the Airstream and driving as far away as I can … Then I remind myself that I’m trying to set a good example for my daughter.)

One use of the time has been to read several very interesting books.  One has been “The Great Brain Suck” by Eugene Halton. Don’t read it if you are thin-skinned (because he skewers a certain group of Airstreamers) or if you can’t stand wordiness.  Halton could have used a good editor to trim down his prose, but his observational skills are razor-sharp.  I would hate to have him review me.

Another one has been “Salt: A World History,” by Mark Kurlansky.  Admittedly, you have to be a history buff to really love this one.  It’s not a foodie book.  He takes the common thread of an ageless essential (salt) and shows how it permeates most of the major events of world history. Salt has caused and prevented wars, changed governments, nourished some societies while crushing others, and literally enabled society as we know it today.  I picked it up while visiting the Salinas Pueblos National Monument in New Mexico, where salt trading was a crucial element of survival for the Ancient Puebloans.

Mercedes 300Dx3

I’m sure I can blame the nice weather for this next item:  I have joined a gang.  We’re not particularly scary, but we do clatter around town in a cloud of diesel smoke.  Not exactly “rolling thunder” but at least “rolling well-oiled sewing machines.” Like Hell’s Angels Lite.

We are small but growing group of old Mercedes 300D owners in Tucson who share knowledge, parts, tools, and camaraderie periodically.  In the photo you can see the cars of the three founding members, blocking the street.  We call ourselves the Baja Arizona W123 Gang.  Perhaps someday we’ll have t-shirts and secret handshake.  Probably the handshake will involving wiping black oil off your hands first.

The rest of my time has been spent working the “day job.”  At this point I am glad to say that the preliminary event schedules for both Alumafiesta, and Alumaflamingo have been released to the public (and that was two more pineapples, believe me).  There’s still quite a lot of work to be done on both events, but at least now we have an understanding of the basics.  To put it another way, we’ve baked the cake, and now it’s time to make the frosting.  If you are interested in getting involved with either event as a volunteer, send an email to info at randbevents dot com.

The question now is whether I will tackle a major project on the Safari, or just lay back and take it easy for a few weeks.  The project would be to remove the stove/oven, re-secure the kitchen countertop (it has worked loose), and cut a hole to install a countertop NuTone Food Center.  On one hand, this isn’t an essential thing just yet, but on the other hand, I’ll be glad if it’s done before we start traveling extensively next February.  I only hesitate because it might turn into a bigger project than I bargained for.  You know how projects have a way of doing that.

Hmmm… pineapple, anyone?



This is a test … of Alumafiesta

Although this month is one of the really great ones for Airstreaming in the southwest, we’re mostly staying at home.  Since the Airstream is usually out from May through September, the mild weather of a southwest Fall season is the ideal opportunity to catch up on the rest of life.  Maintenance on both of the Airstreams is part of it, thanks to cooling temperatures and a near-total lack of rain, but far more interesting is the process of planning for the next round of events.

I have spent much of the past week trying to wrap up the event schedule for Alumafiesta.  After many hours of research and coordination, I am extremely glad to say that a Preliminary Event Program is ready for public release!  We posted it on the Alumafiesta website today.

The program is looking very ambitious and I think it’s going to be another hit.  We’ve got seven seminars, four evening presentations, musical entertainment, sword swallowing, five Happy Hours, four yoga sessions, a bike ride, a big hike and two walks, glass-making, six meals, five off-site tours, a cooking demo, cooking contest, three Open Grills … AND we’re working on a few surprises that aren’t on the Preliminary program yet.

One of the requests we got last year after Alumafiesta was to make sure it didn’t repeat exactly in 2014.  I get that.  If I were attending from another state, I’d be disinclined to drive back to Tucson and do the exact same things all over again.  So we tossed out most of the excursions we did last year and substituted five new ones, plus we brought in two new entertainers, and added more seminars. We will do the same again in 2015, because there’s a lot of stuff to do in this area!

There are still a dozen details to nail down, but we are close enough to done that I can relax a bit and do the fun research.  You see, somebody has to actually go to all of the places that we will visit during Alumafiesta and check out the details. This includes the tedious details like verifying that the driving maps are good, and that each parking lot has enough space, as well as the fun stuff like testing the menu at the various restaurants.  I always leave this part for last because I regard it as my reward for weeks of desk work.  I get to abandon my desk, get out for a few hours, and make sure that everything we’ve planned for the event meets a high standard.

For example, yesterday Emma and I loaded our bikes up on the roof of the trusty old Mercedes 300D to test a bike ride I’ll be leading during Alumafiesta.  The ride is only 16 level miles round-trip, entirely on paved trail, so it wasn’t terribly challenging and it was very fun to do with my teenager.  (It seems like this will be one of the last rides Emma does on her current bike—she’s managed to outgrow it yet again—so soon I’ll be shopping for a replacement.  Ah well, it’s worth it to be able to have days like that with her.)

Restaurant testing will be next.  I suspect I will have volunteers to help with that task, too.

I hope to see you in Tucson next February!

Someone to blog over me

Hmm.. another long absence from the blog.  I can only plead guilty.  Life has interfered with blogging in so many ways I can’t begin to count.  But here’s a synopsis of what’s been going on.

The virus I mentioned earlier dogged me right through the week when I was supposed to be getting ready for Alumafandango, and then into the event itself.  The Saturday prior to the event I dragged my pathetic self out of bed, drove to Phoenix, caught a plane to Portland, and then rode four hours with Brett down to Canyonville to do pre-event work.  Sadly, I was in no shape to do any of those things, and so upon arriving at the hotel I collapsed into bed and proceeded to be fairly useless all weekend.  Brett did the heavy lifting, demonstrating once again that we could only do this as a partnership.

It was looking like I might even miss a few days of Alumafandango, but then on Monday things began to improve and by Tuesday when our first guests appeared I was able to approximate a smile and help kick off the event.  From there it was a marvelous week.  I didn’t have time to blog at all from the event, but you can probably read more about it from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and various blogs (Casarodante, TinCanz, Notes From The Cabin) than I could ever say.  (If you Google it, be sure you’re looking at comments about Alumafandango Seven Feathers, not the 2012 Alumafandango in Denver.)

What I really need these days is someone to read my mind and blog for me.  That’s not likely, so I recommend following my Twitter feed (“airstreamlife”) as a way to keep abreast of events.  These days I’m much more likely to get a quick tweet and a photo out, than a full blog entry.  I am, however, in active talks with a few folks who each want to become Editor of Airstream Life, and I have high hopes that one of them will work out and thus free up some time.  And I doubt I will ever stop blogging entirely, as it is a very useful outlet for thoughts.  As fellow Airstream blogger Ramona Creel says, “There’s too much stuff to keep in my head!”

Where were we?  Ah yes, Alumafandango.  We had about 65 Airstreams on site, and people just raved about everything: the campground, the seminars, the activities, entertainment, meals … Even the wildfires in the area were blowing away from us, so we had virtually no smoke.  The weather was great except toward the end where we had some pretty exciting thunderstorms.  Three awnings were damaged in the first round of storms, which the Sutton guys fixed on the spot using parts scavenged from their new display Airstreams.  After that everyone knew to pull in the their awnings when they were away.

Brett and I ran a seminar in which we accepted written questions on any subject related to Airstreaming, which we called “Airstreaming for Newbies” but really got into some advanced topics.  Nobody stumped us, and I got a few good ideas of topics to cover in the upcoming Maintenance book, from the questions people asked. We will definitely do that one again sometime in the future.

The highlights of the week were many: Randy Grubb’s “Decopod,” Antsy McClain & Edgar Cruz performing on stage, the frankly awesome seminars by Thom the service manager at George M Sutton RV, the Saturday night banquet, the on-site wine tasting and off-site winery tour, several really fun Happy Hours, Indian drumming … I knew we had a hit when people kept smiling at us and saying things like, “Wow, it just keeps going!”  About 1/3 of our attendees told us they were already planning to come again in 2014, and we haven’t even announced where or when we’re doing it again!

Now I’m back in Tucson, picking up where I left off two weeks ago, and thinking about what’s coming up.  There’s a lot of work ahead.  Our event planning team (Brett, me, Alice) is already working on the programs for our February 2014 events: Alumafiesta in Tucson and Alumaflamingo in Sarasota.  We want to have the tentative programs released in October.  Alumaflamingo already has 100 trailers signed up, so it looks like it will be a big one and we want to respond to that vote of confidence with a truly amazing program of activities.  It’s pressure, but the good kind.

I’ve also got to get the Winter 2013 issue in some sort of shape for publication this month, even though it’s not due to layout until later.  It’s looking like a good issue but there’s about 20 hours of editing work ahead.  And lately I’ve been consulting to the organizers of Tucson’s new Modernism Week event (now in its second year) on how to put together a vintage trailer show this year.  They are trying to get about ten nice vintage rigs for their show in the first week of October this year.  I may do a presentation there on the history of vintage trailers as well, if they need it. It will be a great event to attend, in any case, with lots of architectural tours.

Back in Vermont, Eleanor has managed some repairs to the trusty Mercedes GL320.  It had some minor body damage from two separate incidents (one dating back a couple of years), and we finally took it to the body shop to get all of that cleaned up.  Little dings can add up: the insurance claim was over $3,000 thanks to a ridiculously expensive front bumper part.  It’s the sort of stuff that could be—and was—easily ignored but I hate to see it accumulate and make the car look junky before its time.  The GL has about 74,000 miles on it so far, mostly towing, and I certainly intend to keep it for a few more years, so it was time to bite the bullet and pay the deductible to keep the car looking good.

In two weeks I need to head back to Vermont and then set out with the Airstream (and once again, E&E) on our voyage west.  We don’t have the slightest plan yet what route we are taking.  All we know is that we need to be back in Tucson by Oct 1, which gives us about a month to travel roughly 2,500-3,000 miles (depending on route).  I’m looking for little things along the way to fill up our itinerary so we won’t go too fast.

This is a nice problem to have, after last year’s mad dash over the concrete Interstates. Slow travel is the best.  It won’t be a vacation, but at least it will be an opportunity to take in some fresh new scenery in the Airstream before we settle back into home base for the winter.  And there will be plenty to blog about!

A change of perspective

Holding an Airstream event is always fun for us even when the workload is heavy, which it usually is.  This one is going to be particularly fun because the workload is light.

When Brett and I first started producing Airstream events, we had no idea of what we were doing.  So we just made choices based on what we’d like if we were attending, much like the choices you’d make if you were holding a party.  In those first few events, we made a lot of choices that were based more on perception than reality, and one of them nearly killed us.

See, the first event was the Vintage Trailer Jam in 2008.  We were up in the Saratoga Spa State Park (Saratoga Springs, NY), camped on the grass across from the Saratoga Automobile Museum.  This location was selected by one of our partners (it was a four-way partnership at the time), because historically nobody had been allowed to camp inside the park before, and so it was an exotic spot to park 80 or 90 vintage trailers.  We all heartily agreed: scoring this location would make our event unique.

We did the Vintage Trailer Jam again in 2009, and then in 2010 Brett & I launched Alumapalooza at the Airstream factory in Ohio.  At this point we were believers: having unique locations that nobody else could camp in was our major differentiator.  I suppose we were in part rebelling against the many lookalike rallies we had attended at boring campgrounds and fairgrounds all over the country.  We believed in our “unique setting” doctrine so much that we began looking only for non-campground locations, and we’d even tell people that it was a critical element for any future event we might do.

People who liked our events started passing on tips of “great” spots where we might hold another, including a wildlife sanctuary in Arkansas, a field near Austin, and a barren patch of desert in the southwest.  We eventually settled on an amusement park in Colorado, but even as we were planning that event it began to seep in that perhaps our perception was dead wrong.

That was because we were getting feedback from past attendees that suggested what they really valued was the opportunity to meet other people in a fun setting.  The setting wasn’t fun because it was a patch of grass in a “different” spot, it was fun because we kept the participants entertained and gave them plenty of chances to meet other like-minded people.

In other words, we were selling ourselves short.  The effort that went into programming the event to make sure it was a good time was the real differentiator. People came to our events not because of where they were, but because of what we offered them to do.  The setting was secondary. It was a revelation, and actually a little bit of an embarrassment because for the previous three years we’d been spouting utter nonsense about why our events were good.  It is true that even successful ventures sometimes aren’t fully understood by the people who run them.

Not only had we been missing the point, but we were killing ourselves in the process.  Running a big Airstream event at a location which is not set up for camping means lots of advance work.  We’d hassle with various authorities for permits, scour the Internet for vendors to supply all the services, beg for volunteer help for months, build multiple contingency plans for the zillions of things that can go wrong, make multiple (expensive) site visits, and then worry for months that we might not get enough participants to cover costs.  During the event, we and our immediate family would spend days sweating out every minute, getting little sleep and occasionally (because of the stress) causing painful interpersonal rifts.  For all of this, Brett & I could easily end up earning less than minimum wage, while neglecting the day jobs that actually keep us fed.  It wasn’t much of a way to make a living, and I seriously contemplated the point at which it would have to end.

The final confirmation came at that amusement park.  Through a series of misadventures and unfortunate occurrences, we ended up parking 200 attendees on a patch of dirt (we had planned for grass), crammed in far too tightly, lacking reliable water or electricity, and occasionally gave them serious fear that their Airstreams might at any moment be electrically disabled by a power spike.

And yet, most people had a good time.

I really had to go think about that for a while.  Was it possible that the bar was just set so low for Airstream rallies that even an event that fell short of our expectations would still be a success?  Are Airstreamers just very forgiving people?  I’m sure there is some truth to both of those, but when we went back and talked to people it became clear that the real value was, and always has been, the opportunity to see, do and experience fun things with other Airstreamers.  Wally had it right all those years ago:  See More, Do More, Live More.  It didn’t matter where we did it, because for many people the journey was enough for them to see new places.  Our job was to give them a setting where they could share it all.

That was why we began to look at holding our Tucson event at a campground.  It was a complete reversal of our earlier stylings, with full hookups and swimming pools, and restaurants, but I wanted to test the idea that we could still bring people in even without a unique setting.  We eventually picked Lazydays and now, 12 months later, we are on the cusp of proving it.  About 80 Airstreams are due to arrive by Tuesday (many of them have already arrived), and nobody seems to be the least bit bothered that we are in a place anyone could book into.

I’ve been over the Lazydays every day since Thursday to arrange final details.  Our two trailers are now parked there (one for us, one for Brett & Lisa), and nearly everything is set for our Tuesday opening day.  I’m actually looking forward to the first day with no trepidation because the staff of Lazydays are doing all the heavy lifting.  Unlike those events held in grassy fields, we don’t have to direct all the trailers to parking.  We don’t have to string electrical wire or water lines.  We don’t have to set up a registration tent, or deal with a dozen vendors.  We’re concentrating on what we do best:  putting on a fun program.

It’s a real “DUH” moment for me.  I can’t believe I didn’t see the obvious value we’ve been adding all this time.  Instead, for years I’ve been hassling with pump-out trucks, hauling garbage bags, and worrying about a thousand details.  This is the end of the most encompassing case of tunnel vision that I can recall having. And all it took was a change of perspective, to realize that we were completely wrong about what we thought we needed.

Perhaps some of this applies to your own life or business too.  Even if you are succeeding at something, you could be unhappy because you’re trying too hard to be something you aren’t, or provide something that isn’t really needed.  I guess it pays to take a look at yourself, your business, or your profession once in a while and challenge the assumptions that you’ve held dear.  You never know how happy it might make you to ditch an old paradigm.


For a couple of weeks I’ve been anticipating Alumafiesta kicking off, and the key day in my schedule was yesterday.  Yesterday was the day Brett & Lisa were scheduled to fly in from Florida to help with the pre-event arrangements, and so Eleanor and I had to get the Airstream Caravel over to the campground in the morning to serve as their housing.

Eleanor has been working hard to get the Caravel set up for guests, since it’s not normally prepared that way.  She’s added some useful kitchen items that it really needed, bought new towels, cleaned, checked all the supplies, loaded in special items that Brett & Lisa will need, etc.  It took a surprising amount of time, probably because the Caravel hardly ever gets used and things were really not well thought out.  In a space that small (17 feet long), you need to think carefully about every item that goes in it, and every item that needs to get out of the way.

Lack of use has been bad for it, too.  All RVs and travel trailers need regular attention in order to stay in good shape.  The Caravel has been sitting for about nine months, visited only for repairs in the past few months when we discovered the water leak in the fresh water tank.  I’ve been apprehensive about putting it back into service, since the long hiatus probably allowed a few new problems to crop up unnoticed.  The large temperature swings of the desert in winter and the intense UV light are enough to break down almost anything over time.

For that reason I wasn’t surprised to discover that the propane regulator, which tested fine only two weeks ago, was now leaking gas.  I found this problem yesterday as I was hitching the Caravel up the GL320 in the morning.  It was too late to do anything about it, so our guests will have to keep the gas off except for when they need to make some hot water for showers, or cook on the stove.  I’ll install a replacement regulator later.

While setting the Caravel up at Lazydays, I heard a sinister hissing near the water pump.  It turned out that a hose clamp on the water line had worked loose somehow.  A single turn of a screwdriver fixed that, but now I was on Full Alert for other water leaks.  We’ve had a lot of trouble with the plumbing in this trailer in the past, and frankly I don’t trust any part of the plumbing system at all.

So we pressurized the water system and checked all around for other leaks. Found another one under the kitchen sink, which was resolved with a twist of wrench. This confirmed my paranoia (or whatever, since it’s not paranoia when you know the trailer is out to get you).  I left Brett a message to be observant for other signs of water leaks in the plumbing when he arrived.

And sure enough, they found another one the next morning, a pinhole leak in the line leading to the water heater.  This sprayed water inside the closet and forced them to de-pressurize the water lines between uses of water.  Not a great hotel room, as they go but hey, the price was right.

I have reached the end of my patience with the plumbing.  It was one of the few systems that wasn’t completely renovated with the rest of the trailer, and it’s a hodge-podge of hose clamps, different fittings, adapters, and three types of tubing.  The various leaks that have sprung up from fittings coming loose and pinholes have managed to put water stains on all the new birch furniture that we spent weeks fabricating.  It’s time for a major overhaul with all new materials, so you can expect to read about that sometime this year when I get a chance.

But I didn’t have time for that yesterday, because I needed to run around town all day doing errands for Alumafiesta.  My first and best job was to take Bert Gildart over to the Tucson Mountains and Saguaro National Park, both on the west side of town, and help him scout out sites for his upcoming Photo Safaris.  That took a few hours, but the results were very gratifying, and we had a nice time, followed by lunch downtown with other Airstream friends.

If only the rest of the day were so pleasant.  I ended up logging 110 miles of driving around the city yesterday, battling slightly-worse-than-usual traffic caused by an influx of snowbirds and gem show attendees, while trying to get a few errands done.  At the end I was wondering why I was anticipating Thursday so cheerfully.

I guess it was because Thursday meant that things were finally, truly, honestly, happening.  I have been working on this event for a full year.  Only elephants take longer to gestate.  It was immensely gratifying to drive through the Lazydays campground and see already half a dozen Airstreams parked and waiting for the festivities to start next week.  That sight, and the smiles on peoples’ faces when they start meeting each other, really makes it all worthwhile.  By Tuesday afternoon, we’ll have eighty Airstreams parked together.  As one participant wrote to me a few weeks ago:  “Can. Not. Wait.”

There are undoubtedly some epic tales to be told of the trips people are making right now, to get here.  I know that many of our attendees are coming down fro snowbelt states, possibly battling snowstorms and headwinds to get south or through some mountain pass before descending to the desert floor.  Even coming from as close as Flagstaff could mean a tough drive through snow at 7,000 feet. Other attendees are facing personal barriers.  I got an email this week from a friend whose mother died on Wednesday.  The funeral is Saturday, and he’s leaving Sunday from his home state up north to drive through winter weather over 1,500 miles and get here by Tuesday afternoon.

When people are making that kind of effort to come to our event, well, that’s a very positive kind of pressure.  We all want to make sure they feel the trip was worth it.  We’ve got to put on a great show.  And so help me Wally Byam, we will.  With that perspective, I guess I can live with the minor hassles that popped up yesterday.  There are worse things than water leaks and traffic.  It’s going to be a good week.