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.

The Aluminum Gong Show

I’m sitting here thinking about everything that happened yesterday, and it’s all a jumble of images in my head.  Too much stuff is happening to keep track of it all!  Brett and I walk around with little notepads in our pockets so we can make notes about things that we need to address for future events, or announce at happy hour.  This year our notes are considerably less than the first couple of years, which I think indicates we are getting everything smoothed out.

Yesterday everything went as well as can be expected.  Our trailer numbers swelled to 128 parked on the field, plus several more in the Service Center and the Terra Port.  We should hit about 140 today.  I heard from a few people who had problems on the road, but they all eventually pulled in with big smiles and a sense of relief.

Andy Thomson was a little late getting here to do his famous Test Drives, but by 10:30 he was taking people out for a spin in a Ford Taurus SHO coupled to a 30-foot Airstream Serenity.  I took a ride in the back seat and was impressed, as always. Eleanor is going to drive it this afternoon.

Tim Maxwell and Dave Schumann of Airstream held two seminars and packed the room, talking about Airstream maintenance topics.  We also had seminars from Phil May of Techno RV and Colin Hyde.  Despite the threat of thunderstorms most of the day, Yoga, Kite Flying, and the Bike Ride around Jackson Center all were well attended.  But the afternoon Pool Party at the JC Municipal Pool was deterred by a quick cloudburst that hit almost exactly at 2 pm, when the party was due to start.  We’ve had no luck organizing Pool Parties at Alumapalooza—every year we either get rained out or it’s too cold that day.

The weather here is unpredictable, as I’ve often said.  All you can be sure of is that there will be rain, fog, cold, heat, humidity, calm wind and high wind, often all in the same day.  We’ve had two fantastic days but today it is a certainty that the thunderstorms are coming in soon.  It’s such a shame because right now (at 7 a.m.) it’s just beautiful: about 72 degrees, moderate humidity, calm wind, and beautiful clear skies.  By 9 we’ll be getting rain, alas.

Last night we saw clouds on the horizon around sunset, and after checking the radar and with our resident meteorologist Alex, we sent a text message (to everyone who registered to receive them from us, about 70 attendees) warning them to pull in awnings.  For a few people, the message arrived too late, due to the vagaries of the local cellular network, and they had awning damage. The storm was brief but severe, dumping 1/4 ” of rain in less than 10 minutes, and the main tent suffered some light damage which will be corrected today, plus a lot of stuff was blown around.

For situations like this we have emergency procedures in place, including assistance from the Fire Dept, several First Responders on the field, and access to the manufacturing building in case of tornadoes.  We’ve rehearsed these routines every year but never had to use them, fortunately.  It’s Ohio in the summer and the weather can be a little challenging at times.

APZ4 Santa BabyThe big fun yesterday turned out to be the Aluminum Gong Show.  We had more acts signed up than we could present in the time allotted, so we pared the list down to 10.  First we gave out a ton of great door prizes, and then kicked off the show with Eleanor and performing “Santa Baby.”  I played ukulele badly, and Eleanor sang.  Neither of us could hear ourselves, and we thought we might get gonged, but the crowd sat through our act and even tossed a few dollars in the Charity Jar.

After that, we had a good guitarist, and then Brett recited Dr Seuss’ “Sam I Am” in the voice of William Shatner (he got gonged), and then we had a Human Calendar Calculator, and after that the acts got better.  It was hilarious. Alex & Charon stole the show with their duet recitation of a Gertrude Stein Dada-ist poem.  Probably half of this will end up on YouTube or our Facebook page, so you can see it eventually.  We raised a ton of money for charity with this show, and we’ll announce the total tonight at Happy Hour.

Alumapalooza jam sessionLast night’s entertainment wrapped up with Laura F singing torch songs and then a great “Jam Session” that went for a couple of hours with Kirk McKellar, Curtis Remington, Art Martin, David Winick, and several others.  Bob Wheeler of Airstream and his family showed up on the field and are camping in the Terra Port this week, so we had a chance to visit with them after the lasagna dinner at the local Methodist Church (an annual tradition).

I’m pretty sure I’m missing about ten other things that happened today and were worthy of note, but as Ramona Creel (one of our presenters) would say, “There’s just too much stuff to keep in mind head!”  So I’m going to move on. It’s time to get dressed and join the rest of the staff for what promises to be another exciting day.

Life at Alumapalooza 4

Everyone here keeps asking me how things are going for us, since we are now entering our third day of Alumapalooza.  I have been replying that his has been the easiest and best year yet.  Many of the troublesome issues from years past have been worked out, and we have an absolutely awesome team of “orange shirts” who have just nailed every problem that crops up, even before I know about them.  As a result, we’re having a pretty good time.

This is good because we are already thinking hard about the challenges of next February’s Alumaflamingo, to be held in Sarasota FL.  We’re going to be have to be at the top of our game to make that event meet our standards the first year out, especially with (likely) 200-300 trailers on the field.  Normally it takes about 12-18 months to plan a new event, and at this point we have just nine months left, so it’s definitely on my mind, and Brett’s.

But we’ll talk about that later.  You want to read about Alumapalooza, right?  What can I say—it has been great.  The weather has been excellent since the early sprinkles ended mid-day Tuesday.  We’re expecting lots of sunshine and temps in 70s and 80s through Friday, then probably a few thunderstorms will roll through.  That’s typical.

The events have been well-received.  I’m not going to go through a list of everything we’ve held, because it’s all in the online schedule, but suffice to say the attendees have been kept completely occupied, from Yoga at 7:30 through the Roving Happy Hours in the evening.  Yesterday a lot of people missed half of Marty’s talk about “Running a Business On The Road” because they were trying to chow down a little lunch between activities.  We may have programmed the day a little too tight because we had so many things we wanted to present.

Well, that’s just a warm-up because today’s schedule has a lot more on it.  We’ve got seven seminars and activities for today, plus towing “test drives”, plus the Aluminum Gong Show (Eleanor and I will be doing an act in it), plus a Pool Party, two factory tours, door prizes, Open Grill, and this evening’s Jam Session.  Eleanor and I went through today’s schedule at 6:30 just to plan what we were going to do.  She and Emma are starting their day with Yoga at 7:30.

We are taking care to pace ourselves so that we aren’t burnt out by Saturday. I’m trying to get to sleep around 10 p.m. but it doesn’t always work out.  Regardless, I have to be up at 6:30 or so to get ahead of the day, take care of email, slather up on sunscreen, and check in with everyone.  (By the way, “Sammy The Solar Squirrel” gets on the staff radio channel every day to remind the staff to take care.  Today he is going to be joined by “Harry The Hydrated Hippo,” to remind them to drink the cold water we keep in a cooler by the main stage.  We have fun with our radios …)

The new Internet system is working very well.  Instead of the marginal and occasionally slow Internet I normally get while at Airstream, my system is flying along at good 4G speeds all the time.  I’m getting a consistent -73 dBm.  Brett has a similar system with a different antenna and he’s also getting awesome performance and a better dBm rating (-59 dBM) so I think his antenna is a better one. I may switch later.  Colin Hyde has one too, and he’s very happy.  Alex is next door to Colin and finding poor reception so I suspect he’s the next one to upgrade.

Gotta go — the day has already started!  For more about what’s coming, check the Alumapalooza Facebook page.