Maybe the best Palooza yet

This might have been the best Alumapalooza ever.

Going into it, I was thinking maybe it would be a little quiet because we had a smaller crowd this year (about 120 trailers on the field).  But we’d done a ton of work putting together a bigger and better event program than ever before, and that paid off.  We added off-site tours, more vendors, more new Airstreams on display, a kettle corn stand, and new seminars to the old favorites, and Mother Nature cooperated by bringing us nearly flawless weather all week.  I realized we had a winner when people started coming to me on the second day and saying, “We’re having a great time!  Thanks for putting this on.”  Usually it takes a couple of days before the compliments flow.

APZ5 crew

It was also less stressful than other events we’ve done, because we had an awesome crew of people. There has been some change every year, but most of them have been working Alumapalooza for years and they really know their jobs.  This year we added two new volunteers (Loren & Mike, on parking) and our jazz diva Laura was summarily promoted to “Trash Wench”.  (Her job was to collect the trash in the mornings. Before anyone objects, let me say that she picked her own title.)

Airstream Life flags

There was a nice breeze every day, so we flew the Airstream Life flag for the first time in several years.  It was nice to see lots of other flags flapping in the wind all week as well.  Felt festive.

The events of the week were so complex that I can’t really do justice to them here.  You can download the schedule from the Alumapalooza 5 website if you are interested. Basically we stayed busy from about 8:00 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. every day. Big hits included Open Mic night, the Aluminum Gong Show, Happy Hour, Josh Rogan, Eric Henning’s magic, and most of the seminars.

Killdeer chicks

Early in the week, someone spotted a killdeer nest just about ten feet from the vendor tent.  This was staked off immediately and dubbed the “Jackson Center Temporary Killdeer Preserve.”  Momma Killdeer sat on four eggs all week, and on Saturday they hatched—which got a big round of applause when we announced it at Happy Hour.  That was the first birth we’ve ever had at an event.

The photo above shows only about 1/3 of the field.  Since the field was dry, we could spread out and give everyone as much privacy as they wanted.  Most clustered close to the main tent.

Airstream always offers some cheap deals on parts during Alumapalooza, but this year they went nuts and filled a service bay with scratched and used items that were mostly taken off other trailers or returned under warranty.  The bargains were incredible. We scored a convection microwave, barely used, for $100 (retail about $500), which Eleanor will use to develop a convection microwave cooking seminar for future events, and an 18-foot curbside awning for $150 (retail about $900). Why so cheap?  The awning has one tiny hole in it, made by someone with a 5/16″ drill bit.  We’ll patch that easily.

I also got a water heater cover for the Caravel for $5, and a bunch of other $5 items.  Brett landed a nice pure-sine inverter, unbelievably cheap.  (Wish I’d seen that first!)   Super Terry filled his trailer with parts and still couldn’t fit everything he bought. The bargains alone would be worth the price of a trip to Jackson Center.

Jim Webb Zip Dee

Since I now had an 18-foot tube in my possession that I couldn’t fit in the car, I needed to get it installed right away.  Fortunately, Jim Webb, the president of Zip-Dee Awnings, and Greg Blue (a Z-D rep) were on site.  They were busy all week with service calls, so they didn’t get to my installation until about 8 p.m. on Friday.  The sun set while they were working, so they ended up finishing the job by flashlight with a crowd of onlookers. A few people couldn’t believe that the president of the company would be doing this … but that’s the kind of company Zip-Dee is, and the kind of guys Jim & Greg are.  They finally wrapped up at about 10:30 pm, just in time for Jim to drive five hours back to Chicago.

(By the way, guys — I love the new curbside awning.)

It was a long week, but also the time flew by.  It ended the way they always do, with lots of people smiling and wishing they didn’t have to go home, a big dinner, a concert, and a slightly sleep-deprived staff.  On Sunday morning we watched all the trailers depart, cleaned up the field, and put away our stuff.

Elder Theater Airstream Life seatThat afternoon E&E and I wandered down to the local one-screen cinema, The Elder Theater, to see Maleficent.  Airstream Life had made a donation to help the theater switch to digital projection, and this was my first chance to see the plaque the theater had mounted on a seat in thanks.  If you go, look for the Airstream Life seat in the center section, about 2/3 down, one seat in from the left aisle.  I was pleased to sit there and enjoy the digital picture, knowing that this old gem of a theater was still able to operate thanks to the financial donations of dozens of people.

Alone at Airstream

That night the Terra Port filled up with people who were waiting for service appointments in the following week, so we just stayed parked in the field alone that night.  Why move?  It was peaceful, and we still had power and water. So while Eleanor and Emma had one last visit with people in the Terra Port, I was able to chill out with a “guy movie” and a Klondike bar all by myself in the green grass, while the sun set beautifully in the west one more time.

And now we are in our usual decompression spot, the driveway of our friends Lou & Larry, near Cleveland.  We’ve got one day here, and then we’ll be trundling east on the final legs to Vermont, to start the next adventures. Coming up: motorcycling through Quebec and New Brunswick.

Pre-Palooza activities

The Airstream is happy.  It traveled about 2,000 miles from Tucson to Jackson Center OH without incident.  Being a bit rushed, the trip didn’t encompass a lot of great overnight spots, but we did manage to take in two state parks (Twin Bridges in OK, and Onondaga Cave in MO) … and two Cracker Barrels and a Wal-Mart.  So overall, it was successful.

We landed in Jackson Center a day earlier than planned, Friday, and most of the key staff also were in early, so pre-event work has been reasonably light.  Just the usual stuff: marking & flagging the field, pre-inspection of the water and electric, organizing, etc.  In between actual work, the Terra Port has been busy with maintenance and socializing.  Most people are socializing and enjoying the spectacularly nice weather.  People are trying out Jackson Center’s new restaurant (replacing the Verandah, which closed a while back), or buying baked goods from the Amish couple across the street.  E&E and I walked downtown for ice cream one night, and I see Matt & Beth scooting around on their folding bikes, Emma and Kathryn are zooming around doing young teenager things, there’s a lot of chit-chat under the awnings, etc.  But Brett and I have also been spending time ticking off items on our accumulated “bug lists,” with the assistance of Super Terry.

Our Airstream’s list included replacing the leaking toilet bowl seal, fixing a couple of latches, cleaning and adjusting the water heater, and inspecting the disc brakes.  Nothing too major, but the toilet bowl seal isn’t really an appetizing job and of course we had to work around loss of the bathroom and hot water while those things were being serviced.  As always, I learned a few things watching, er, “assisting” Super Terry on those jobs.  Doing the water heater in particular was useful because I afterward I was able to finally finalize that section of my Maintenance Guide with first-hand knowledge.

Upon inspection we found the disc brakes to be in perfect condition, and the Michelin LTX tires are also looking good.  The tires don’t show much wear compared to last year’s inspection about 10,500 miles ago, but they should probably be replaced later this year just on the basis of age.

Brett’s motorhome needed some new radiator hoses (and because they run all the way to the water heater in the back, there’s a LOT of hose), and a few other tweaks, so he was underneath it for the better part of a day, and then with Super Terry he replaced the main awning fabric too.

There are two things you can be sure of when Airstream maintenance is happening at a rally:  (1) There will be a lot of tool-swapping, as people borrow what they need from neighbors; (2) A crowd will gather for any interesting mechanical procedure.  At this point we are all used to it, so it’s completely expected and fine when people show up and make themselves at home on a chair to watch you work. At least six people got a good look at my toilet once it was out on the bench for the seal replacement.  (It’s amazing what we find interesting.) It’s actually very nice because at any point if you need a tool or supply, someone in the group will get it from their truck for you.  Saves trips to the hardware store.  But I did think that we are some sort of weird people who want to spend Memorial Day weekend working on our trailers in a parking lot.

Now it’s Monday, Memorial Day, and the pre-Alumapalooza vibe is gelling.  As this writing the Terra Port is full with event staff and Airstream service customers, and there are another seven Airstreams with attendees boondocking in the Service Center parking lot. Another 15-20 will show up later today, and we’re going to have a cookout (courtesy of Airstream) on the grass this evening. Tomorrow at 9 a.m., we’ll open the main field for parking, weather permitting.

Right now conditions are excellent.  We’ve had temperatures in the low 80s daily, nice light breezes, cool evenings, and hardly even a cloud much less rain.  This means the field is dry and ready to hold 100+ Airstreams on Tuesday, even if we do a get some rain during the day tomorrow.  This is a far cry from a couple of years ago when it rained for weeks prior to the event and the ground was so wet we had to park trailers on asphalt while we were waiting for the mud to settle, and for days afterward some spots were still flooded.

So our luck is holding.  All the signs are in place for a very successful Alumapalooza 5.  Check Twitter for @alumaevents or #APZ5 for updates and photos, and also the Alumapalooza Facebook page.  We should have regular postings all week there.

No drama

I know I keep harping on about Alumapalooza even though it is over for this year, but the event gives me a lot to think about.  Although we now run three events per year (and four are planned for 2014 so far), Alumapalooza has always been “the big one.”  I meet a lot of people there who give new perspectives on what Airstreaming is all about, and also a lot of people who say they read this blog.

This year, I was particularly thrilled to hear from a couple of people who separately told me that they went full-time in their Airstream partly as a result of inspiration from this blog, or the previous “Tour of America”.  Lots of others commented on Emma, saying that they’ve watched her grow from a little five-year-old tyke to a teenager.  These friendly folks are like an extended family to us, even though we often don’t know they’re watching until years later when we meet at an event!

I kept hearing from people that one of the best parts about Alumapalooza was that there was “no drama,” meaning that there were no internal battles, no public embarrassments, no arguments, and no politics.  Everyone just laid back and had a good time.  It might seem that this should be the norm for rallies, but too often events (not ours) have been marred in the past by such things, and a lot of people are frustrated by that.  The best rallies and events are the ones where everyone sets aside their politics and prejudices, and shares the good values that bring us together.  We work hard at making sure that happens, by thoughtful programming of the activities, and selecting the volunteer staff very carefully. So I was glad to get the feedback that we’d succeeded.

We are now in Vermont, with the Airstream parked in its usual summer resting place in the shadow of a row of cedar trees near Lake Champlain.  It won’t move again until late August or September, but despite that we have many travels ahead.  Eleanor and I are focused on getting out the door next week for a long-anticipated trip to Europe.  By Friday we expect to be attending a big (for Europe) Airstream rally in Weilburg, Germany.  This is going to be a major experience for us, since we’ve never camped in Europe and we haven’t yet had the chance to meet many of our correspondents in Europe.

Our Airstream during the rally will be a brand-new Airstream 684, which is the largest Euro-spec model available.  It is being provided courtesy of Airstream Germany.  (Because it is new and unsold, we can’t use the bathroom or the galley, so it will be sort of an “aluminum tent” for us, but that should not be a problem since the campground is in town—see upper edge of photo.)  Euro13-WeilburgCORRECTION:  It turns out this is a PR and rental trailer for Airstream Germany and we will be able to use all the facilities —bonus!

We’ll be parked in a lot with about fifty other Airstreams for three nights.  Quite a few of them will be caravanning down from the UK, as well as Belgium, The Netherlands, and other countries.

weilburgaltstadtOn Saturday night I’ll be giving a little talk at 9:00 pm, about Airstreaming in America’s National Parks.  (While researching this presentation I did a quick count and found we’ve visited over 100 of them so far, which is only about one quarter of the entire NPS system.)  Otherwise, there’s not much on the program other than a barbecue, so there should be plenty of time to explore the town of Weilburg and meet the European Airstreamers.  I expect no drama.

This weekend Eleanor and I will be busy prepping for this trip. With about 10 days to play with, we are likely to visit Switzerland and a little of northern Italy in addition to Germany.  I’m bringing only an iPad and an iPhone 5 (with a German SIM card) for technology, trying to keep it light.  Also in keeping with our usual travel style, we are going mostly reservation-free.  We don’t want the pressure of a fixed itinerary.  We’ll have a car and some maps, and see what looks interesting along the way.

The trip starts on Wednesday.  I’ll blog as much as I can.

Decompression session

With Alumapalooza behind us, we’re off on the next leg of our voyage.  This will be the fourth year we have spent the two days following Alumapalooza courtesy-parked at the home of Lou & Larry in the “premium spot” next to their house.  They provide a very comfortable place to decompress, with a full hookup and access to the house wifi, and they make no demands on us (quite the opposite in fact, since they feed us and help with minor trailer repairs), so it’s a wonderful first stop on the way east.Ohio courtesy parking

We had extra food from the catering on Saturday night that we couldn’t let go to waste.  On the four hour trip from Jackson Center to here (near Cleveland) a lot of aluminum trays of food rode in the shower.  When we arrived, Eleanor repacked it to fit in our refrigerator and freezer, but still there was so much that we were able to prepare a sizable gift for some neighbors here who need it, and give a bunch to our hosts as well.  Even giving away many pounds of food, we will have enough ribs, cornbread, and green beans to serve the whole gang of family & friends once we reach Vermont.

Being here for Monday has given me a chance to reflect on this year’s Alumapalooza. Overall it was highly successful, with few glitches and lots of positive feedback.  People have been writing in all day to say how much they liked it, and there were a lot of memorable moments.

APZ4-2Later this week I’ll have over 480 photos from our official photographers and will definitely post an album of them online. I think those pictures will tell the story better than I can.

The things that didn’t go well are also memorable, and I’m writing them up as notes for our team so we can find ways to improve them for Alumapalooza 5.  We’ve already got a lot of neat ideas for new activities, and I think some clever solutions to the few remaining problems.  All of this will be very helpful as we plan for the big Alumaflamingo event in Sarasota.

Airstream familyIn two days at our Ohio courtesy parking spot, a lot can get done.  I managed to get a good night’s sleep, get office work under control, have some time with our friends (including Lou, Larry, Dan, sKY, slaDE, Loren, Mike, Al & Shinim), and eat a lot of good stuff.  Eleanor took care of our shopping and did the laundry. I also noticed and replaced yet another bad propane pigtail (hopefully the last of the unreliable ones I bought last year).

So with all that done, it’s on to the next adventures.  I’m feeling ready for tomorrow’s drive.  It will likely be a long one across Ohio, Pennsylvania and much of New York, so we’ll be starting as early as possible.

The last day of Alumapalooza 4

Did I mention that this has been the best Alumapalooza I’ve ever had?  The attendees always seem to have a good time, but those of us in orange shirts tend to work long hours and run around solving problems ad hoc all day.  This year I have to give the credit to the absolutely awesome staff who have made everyone’s life so much easier.  We added two “orange shirts” this year and picked up about four others who have pitched in unofficially.  They’ve all been great.

APZ4 Kirk McKellarThis is making me much more optimistic about next year’s event in Sarasota FL, Alumaflamingo.  There was a lot of talk about that event. Many of our seasoned team are coming to that event, and also quite a lot of the people who are attending here.  Also, our new mascot, Sammy The Solar Squirrel will be attending.  He makes daily calls on the staff radio channel to remind everyone to put on their sunscreen and drink plenty of water.

Sammy has been a little disappointed lately.  We’ve had intermittent showers Friday and this morning, which look likely to continue all day.  Not much call for sunscreen.  Yesterday we got halfway through the Backup Derby (using a 29-foot Airstream Ambassador) and got rained out. We had some pretty major showers during the Charity Auction but since we were all under the main tent, nobody minded.  The Auction was a huge success. We auctioned off some Airstream art, a special edition “Alumapalooza 4″ Zip-Dee chair, two Airstream scale models, one of Kristiana’s silver trailer necklaces, and a Lodge Dutch Oven.  That raised $1,455 which will be donated to the Fish Pond, a local food bank.

We also announced that the proceeds from the Aluminum Gong Show reached $818, which Brett and I pledged to match dollar for dollar, so the total will be $1,636 to be donated to the Red Cross for help with tornado relief in the midwest.

APZ4 pano1

Today’s events are mostly under cover, so the rain won’t matter.  We already had yoga this morning, and Kid’s Yoga is starting soon.  The Swap Meet was huge (I sold a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff myself) and Rivet Masters was a big hit according to Alex, who emcee’d it.

In a few minutes we’ll start Eleanor’s “Aluminum Chef” demo and then if the weather holds we’ll resume Backup Derby at 2, then tonight we have some awesome door prizes, dinner, and The Trailer Park Troubadours.  Alumapalooza 4 is almost over, and I think a lot of people here are sorry to see it end.