Delta Lake State Park, Rome NY

Every time we make this trip there’s a moment when we arrive in a heavily shaded forest of deciduous trees, replete with buzzing mosquitoes and the smell of green things growing, and I think, “Well, we’re really back now.”  All the time up to that moment I’ve been able to disregard the gradual encroachment of the little cues that we are entering the northern forests, but inevitably there’s a day when the Airstream is camped amidst the leaves and grass and suddenly it hits me.  Dorothy, we’re not in Arizona any more.

It’s not a bad thing.  It’s sort of a novelty after living in the desert for a while, so I like listening to the birds of the boreal forest and watching the dragonflies dance over the ponds.  But like the first snow, or the first crocus of spring, it’s a symbol of big change.

This moment happened today, when we pulled into Delta Lake State Park near Rome, in central New York.  Our campsite is in a wooded area next to a calm blue lake.  It’s so shady here that we needed to turn on lights in the trailer several hours before sunset.  (Reminds me a bit of those days camped in the redwoods back in 2006.)  We are on the edge of the large Adirondack Park that overlays most of northeast New York state, which means we are within a few hours drive of our destination.

We seem to be a long way from where we started today, in downtown Toronto, battling against commuter traffic.  We zipped past Niagara Falls, grabbed the Airstream from Darien Lake, and have trundled down the New York State Thruway to end up here.  We could have easily made Vermont this evening, but there was no rush and so we have taken the opportunity to have one last night on the road. We’ll take a few hours to pause here and there as we pass through the Adirondack Park tomorrow, and then the Airstream will be parked for the next three months.

But fear not:  parked the Airstream may be, but adventures await nonetheless.  I have to get back down south next week, and there are many interesting things on the agenda.  Among them is the task of recovering the Caravel from north Texas, a logistical challenge that has yet to be resolved since my tow vehicle will be in Vermont.  (And of course, long-time blog readers will remember Temporary Bachelor Man — he’s coming back shortly.  Things will likely get gritty.)  There are other travels planned, too.  The change that I feel today marks the transition to an interesting summer.

Post-Alumapalooza chill-out

The delay in posting these past few days has been the result of post-Alumapalooza recovery.  Not only am I a little behind in other work, but we have had a busy travel schedule. The Monday after the event we hitched up and headed to Lou & Larry’s home near Cleveland for a quick overnight.

Their friends of “Team Doxie” fame were there (winners of the Rivet Masters Competition a few days before), as well as sKY and slADE.  We took a short ride around the rural countryside in the “Team Doxie” 1948 Cadillac Fleetwood on that beautiful Ohio summer evening.

The next morning we got pelted by heavy thunderstorms and a little pea-sized hail, which is just a reminder that the weather in this area swings from one extreme to another pretty quickly.  I got a few hours of work done in the morning and then we hitched up and headed to the Buffalo NY area.

We’ve placed the Airstream in protective custody near Buffalo for a few days, while are up in Toronto, Ontario, to visit with John & Helena.  It’s only about a two hour drive from Buffalo, and there was really no place to put the Airstream while we were visiting, since they live in the center of the city.

Helena had previously arranged for the Airstream to stay in the Toronto Metro Police impound lot, where we could access it (but not sleep in it).  This seemed like a potentially interesting blog entry until I realized that we didn’t need to take the Airstream at all.  We’d be heading back to the Buffalo area immediately after the visit anyway.

I mentioned this to Helena and she responded by asking if I was concerned about leaving the Airstream and all of our possessions in police impound in a foreign country.  Well, when you put it that way … So we missed the opportunity for a good blog photo (at least) but saved some fuel money and hassle by leaving the trailer back in the USA.

On Wednesday afternoon Eleanor and I took a long walk down Toronto’s Yonge Street all the way to downtown, and with a few side streets we managed to get about four miles of street hiking in before 10 p.m.  We love doing that, with absolutely no schedule and tremendous urban possibilities in all directions.  Toronto is a very livable, walkable, and vibrant city.

After a couple of hours out, a huge thunderstorm loomed over us and seemed to be about to strike the downtown with a vengeance, so we ducked into a local sushi place (“Sushi Tower”).  We weren’t concerned about where to eat, so it seemed as good a choice as any, and it did in fact turn out to be great.  The thunderstorm never arrived.  An hour or so later we were back on the street, and walked the city streets until well past dark, making our last stop in a convenience store for a big pralines-and-cream ice cream cone.

John hauled me out on Thursday to show me a few of his cars (fantastic examples of design: Citroens and Czech-made Tatras), and we re-visited his 1935 Bowlus as well.  Eleanor made dinner for all four of us tonight, which we ate out on the patio by the pool in the cool evening.  It has all been really relaxing.  Our two days in Toronto have flown by.

I think at this point we are fully decompressed and ready to get to the next phase.  We’ll get up early on Friday to avoid the worst of Toronto traffic and head back to Buffalo, pick up the Airstream, and head east from here.  Most likely we’ll land in central NY state somewhere for a night, then Vermont on Saturday, and then we’ll be re-united with Emma.

Recipes from Alumapalooza

Lots of people have requested Eleanor’s recipes from her two cooking demonstrations at Alumapalooza.  We’ll be posting them over the next few days on the Alumapalooza website.  The first one is already up, for Bananas Foster.  See it here.

We’re leaving the Airstream factory this morning, for a stopover at Lou & Larry’s house near Cleveland tonight.  That’s about a 4 hour drive through a lot of pleasant Ohio countryside.  Time to go hitch ‘er up …

Last day of Alumapalooza

It’s a wrap!  Alumapalooza 2011 is all done except for a little cleanup.

We had such a fabulous week of weather that nobody could complain when a tiny 10-minute rainshower sprinkled us in the morning on Saturday during the Swap Meet.  We called it “dust control.”  Brett and I were out in the Gator (a little utility truck, kind of like a 6-wheel golf cart) moving around some stuff when the rain hit.  Unfortunately, the throttle cable on the Gator broke around the same time and we ended up having to make a field repair and nurse the thing back to home in the rain.  It didn’t matter much, because at that point the rain was actually kind of refreshing.

The Swap Meet was much larger than last year.  We probably had twenty tables going, with all kinds of stuff, so that was a big hit.  I’m hoping for even more next year.  I saw a few bargains pop up on everything from back issues of Airstream Life magazine to carnivorous plants.

That was all just warm-up for the first big event of the day: the Rivet Masters Competition.  We brought twenty teams of two over to the Service Center.  Dave, Dan, and Rick of Airstream demonstrated correct buck riveting technique and then we let each team take a shot at bucking as many rivets as they could in one minute.  This was hilarious.  One person runs the air-powered rivet gun and the other person holds the bucking bar.  It really does take two people who can coordinate to do this well.  I was initially concerned that we might get a pair of ringers in the competition (perhaps professional restorers) but it immediately became apparent that I needn’t have worried, so I spent my time with the microphone making jibes at the contestants and adding color commentary.

The photo shows sKY and slaDE (known as “The Flying Riveteenees” for the purpose of this contest) working on their rivets.  They managed to buck 10 rivets.  The rule was that improperly bucked rivets would be disqualified, so it really was a matter of quality over quantity.  Too short, too long, marred, or any other defect meant that those rivets didn’t count.  The ultimate winner, announced later at Happy Hour, was Team Doxie, with 11 rivets bucked, and a 100% success rate.  They won a pair of Zip-Dee chairs.

The second big event of the day was Eleanor’s cooking demo.  The one earlier this week was just a fill-in for a speaker who had to cancel.  This one was the biggie — a full “seduction meal” consisting of pork medallions in a port wine sauce, lemon-zested rice, roasted green beans, and a salad with homemade citrus dressing.

She made everything, including the salad dressing, on an actual Airstream galley on stage in about 45 minutes while the audience watched on a big screen where her work surface was shown by a video camera.

Eleanor was assisted by myself (again doing color commentary during the quiet moments) and Brett, who acted as Sous Chef and general kitchen assistant.  Alex Kensington took all of the pictures you see here, and he did a marvelous job.

We chose four people to come up to the table by the stage and eat Eleanor’s meal.  They were picked randomly — we turned our backs and threw tomatoes into the audience, like tossing a bridal bouquet at a wedding.  The tomatoes didn’t survive well, but the people who caught them were thrilled.  After dinner, they also got Eleanor’s latest dessert creation: lemon sorbet with mint syrup, blackberries, and chocolate pizzelles.  Eleanor discovered that they fly like frisbees so she spun a few out to the crowd at the end.  The extra pork medallions were cut up into samples, and plated with a little rice and salad, so that a dozen or more people in the audience could taste the meal too.

The final surprise was when she was done cooking.  She stripped off her chef whites and presented herself as ready to share the meal she’d made.  It was, in every way, a huge success and we are going to do it again next year with a completely new meal.

During the day we’d had Open House, and David Winick roamed the grounds to select a winner for “Best Open House Presentation.” He ultimately chose Hunter Hampton’s trailer, so she is now the (very) proud owner of an Airstream Life “Wally” award.  She told me:  “It doesn’t go with my decor at all, but I’m hanging it in the trailer anyway!”

Since Saturday was our final night, we planned the traditional blow-out evening.  First we had a fully catered dinner which was great, then Antsy McClain and the Trailer Park Troubadours took the stage.  Everything was going great for about half an hour …until at about 8:30 our good weather luck ran out and a line of nasty thunderstorms came through.  Things got a little dicey for a few minutes with strong wind and lots of lightning, so we suspended the show and sent everyone home to wait it out.

Problem was, the thunderstorms kept popping up.  We had given the band members a walkie-talkie so they could stay in touch (some of them were in their van, and some stayed in the tent).  They kept us entertained telling jokes and making odd comments on the radio for a while, until the crowd started to wander back despite the intermittent rain and lightning.  At that point the guys couldn’t stand it any more — they’d come all the way from Tennessee to play for us tonight, and so around 10:10 p.m. they took the stage again and the show kicked off.  They played until 12:15 a.m., and it was by all accounts a great time.  We want them back next year.

I guess it wouldn’t be Ohio in June without a little interesting weather.  The thunderstorms and the intense humidity today are a reminder of how changeable it is here.  But overall, this may be remembered as the best Alumapalooza (from a weather perspective) ever.  We had a great week.

And now it is Sunday, time to wrap up and go home.  We slept in until 7:30, and took our time getting ourselves ready to go, as the field cleared of Airstreams.  Around 8:30 friends began to arrive to say goodbye : Alison Turner, Kristiana Spaulding, David Winick, sKY and slaDE, Adam and Susan, Alice and Tim, Charon and Alex, “Laura The Lost” and others.  We took a few last minute photos and lingered for an hour, talking about past trips and future ones, because nobody really wanted to leave.  The end of an event like this is always bittersweet.

We are in the Terra Port now, plugged in to full hookups again and chilling out.  The morning was spent in cleaning up the field, running trash to the dumpster, packing up our storage trailer, and such.  Sweaty work on a day with such humidity and heat.  Now that it’s all done, we’re going out for dinner and writing the final checks to vendors.

But the treadmill never stops for us.  This week we opened online registration for next year and four trailers are already signed up.  We’re expecting a few dozen in the next month.  Time to design the t-shirts and logos …

Alumapalooza, day 5

It’s the last day and we are all so happy.  Not happy because it is the last day, but because it has been an amazingly great week.  Yesterday was just flawless in every respect.  It was another beautiful day of sunshine and dry air, and the place has just been mobbed with people going every direction with smiles on their faces.

(The panoramic photo here is by Nick Martines. There appears to be a corner in front of the tent but that’s just an artifact of the panoramic stitching process.)

Marty Shenkman was worried that nobody would want to come to his lecture on tax planning for RV’ers, but I wasn’t surprised to see that the main tent had close to 100 people in it at 9 a.m.  Lots of us are interested in running a business from our Airstreams, deducting expenses, avoiding audits, and learning how to properly document our business activities, and he held the crowd for over an hour.

After his talk I found a chance to walk over to the Service Center and Airstream Store.  The store was packed, with lines at the counters and about 40 people waiting for a factory tour at 10 a.m.  I met a few people and got tied up until 11 a.m. By the time I got back, Matt Hackney was already running his Dutch Oven cooking seminar and they were making pineapple upside-down cake.  I’d missed the bicycling talk by Bert G and Bert K, and with various other things going on I missed Laura Steinberger’s geocaching talk too.

But I did manage to catch Zip-Dee demonstrating awning maintenance, probably because they decided to demonstrate using our trailer.  They found that the main awning spring was wound a little too tight and that the arms needed cleaning with silicone spray.  Now the awning sets up like new, and as a bonus they installed a set of optional arms to make setting up the awning a little easier.

I was interrupted during this demo by a call on the radio that Bob Wheeler would lead a few photographers up to the roof of the assembly building for photos of the field.  Eleanor, Alison Turner, Nick Martines, and Kirk McKeller all joined Bob and me on the roof.  Nick is working on a very nice digital panorama, which I hope to see soon and possibly publish on the Alumapalooza site and/or the magazine.

One of the fun things about having so many trailers on the field is that you can just wander around and find someone doing something interesting, or who is happy to hold their door open and let you in.  I was wandering around about lunchtime and got waved into the 1935 Bowlus by Helena Mitchell for a little lunch with her, John Long, and Kristiana Spaulding (the silver trailer jewelry maven), which turned out to be hilarious.  I can’t even begin to do justice to the conversation, but anytime you put a few clever folks like Helena, John, and Kristiana together in a small vintage trailer it’s pretty terrific.

Andy Thomson’s talk on towing was as good as always, and he packed the roof with probably close to 200 people.  He brought a 34-foot Airstream Classic towed by a minivan, which you can see in the photo, and was letting people test-drive it.

There were other activities going on too, such as the Kids Program (today it was bowling), sKY demonstrating some healthy living tips, and at 5:30 we opened up the grill again with Airstream providing hot dogs and hamburgers for all.  Somewhere in there we also had Happy Hour with guest speakers Bob Wheeler and David Winick.

By the way, I haven’t mentioned that this year we are honored to be visited by several Airstream bloggers, including Rhonda C, Deke & Tiffani of Weaselmouth, and Kyle Bolstad.  Kyle posted a gorgeous picture of part of the field on his blog recently, and I’m hoping the others also talk about their time here (so you know it’s not just me claiming we’re having a good time …)

A few of the staff and I were talking and discovered that we were all adopting similar survival strategies this week.  In addition to drinking a lot of water, we’re all sneaking off for little breaks each day.  My break tends to come around dinner time, so I missed Open Grill, but got to take the Miata out for a top-down drive down to Sidney with Eleanor.  She needed to get some groceries for her cooking demo today, and we took the opportunity to talk in the car about our day, since we had hardly seen each other.  Actually, in the Miata at 65 MPH on the Interstate, it’s more of an opportunity to shout at each other than “talk,” but that’s only because of the wind noise!

When I got back I found that Brett was up to his ears in work on the stage, getting the new sound system dialed in for our evening performances.  Joe Diamond was here to do an hour of his “bizarre” magic and mentalism, and then Antsy McClain went on at 8 p.m. for 90 minute of absolutely fantastic solo guitar music and singing.  Antsy’s 14-year-old son joined him later (he’s a pretty hot guitarist himself), and tonight we’ll have both of them again plus the full Trailer Park Troubadours band.

As I said, today is the final hurrah of this event, but it’s in some ways the biggest day.  I’ve got to get going in a few minutes.  Brett is already out there working with some of the contractors.  At 8 a.m. we plan our traditional “reveille” (those of you who were here last year know what I’m talking about — this year we have 24,000 watts to play with), and then we’ve got a full program: Swap Meet, morning yoga, Open House, New Product Display, Rivet Masters competition (20 teams are signed up!), Kid’s movie, and Eleanor’s big cooking demo, plus the big Happy Hour, dinner for all, and the Troubs.  It’s going to be another great day.