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Archive for November, 2007

LAX-ity

We bid adieu to our courtesy parking hosts, Don and Gail, and hauled the Airstream 100 miles northwest to its storage spot in the hills. On the drive, I reflected on our uncommon success at finding courtesy parking this month in California. One night in Chico, two nights in Amador City, three nights in Visalia, two nights in Los Olivos, two nights in Ventura, and three nights in Riverside. That’s 13 nights in the past month.

Not only did we meet a bunch of really cool new friends (and solidified our relationship with others), but we saved about $300-500 on campgrounds. Courtesy parking is great! Some of the folks who hosted us will visit us in Arizona later, and we’ll cross paths with the others again somewhere on the road.

airstream-storage.jpgThe Airstream is now tucked away in “an undisclosed location” as the Feds would say, with the furnace set at 45 F in the unlikely case of an extended cold snap and several precautions taken to make it very hard to steal. We left the refrigerator running because it is still full of food. The solar panels will keep the battery topped off so there’s no concern about coming back to a dead battery, but there is some small concern about coming back to a dead vegetable, so Eleanor stripped the fridge of virtually everything that could rot and brought it with us.

From there we drove another 70 miles down to an airport hotel in El Segundo, along the southern edge of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Being a former advertising copywriter, I can’t help but notice the opportunities for billboards and slogans offered by the airport’s designator. Here we are, re-LAXing in the spacious comfort of the Embassy Suites (the room offers more than twice the space of our Airstream). It LAXs for nothing; we have a microwave, refrigerator, couch, easy chair, dining room table, two huge flat-panel TVs, and a fine view of two runways at the airport.

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This transition from Airstream to hotel marks the official beginning of our vacation.   We haven’t been in a hotel since …. hmmm… I think almost two years ago (January 2006), when we took a night in San Francisco at Fisherman’s Wharf.   It’s a neat thing to do once in a while, but I wouldn’t want to make a habit of it.   It took Eleanor about six hours to pack for herself and Emma, and the entire Airstream was turned inside-out until late last night.   I’ve said it before, but I’ll say again: What a pain it is, packing for a family vacation.   I’m glad we don’t have to unpack and repack every time we go somewhere in the Airstream.

Tonight we are feasting on fridge leftovers: a massive salad made of lettuce, mushrooms, tomatoes, artichokes, sesame seeds, cucumber, croutons … Eleanor forgot the shredded cheese, and thankfully left the other items on the side: croissants, grapes, cookies, etc. This is what happened the last time they flew somewhere, except now I’ve got help eating the fridge leftovers. Good thing, because it’s a lot of roughage. Could have a LAXative effect. (Sorry, but I had to write that. It was just too tempting.)

Thanksgiving in Riverside

 We are very busy now, trying to get ready for our vacation next week, so it’s a good thing we got an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner.   Eleanor contributed only gravy, and otherwise we left the cooking to our friends (and found ourselves in very good hands, indeed!)

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We are busy because we have a plane to catch on Saturday morning, and before then we need to get the Airstream ready for storage, get ahead on work as much as possible, pack, relocate the Airstream to storage (about 100 miles away), and then get ourselves to LAX.

We’ve done this dance before, so we know the steps.   A little networking found us a safe place to store the Airstream, and the process of putting it to bed for a week or two isn’t difficult.   The fridge will remain running on propane, and the solar panels will keep the batteries topped up.   All the really valuable stuff will be with us (mostly the laptops and cameras), and the trailer will be well cleaned so that critters will not be encouraged to sublet the place.   It will be ready to go when we return from our trip.

As always on Thanksgiving, I try to give a few minutes to count blessings, and this year we have many.   I’m thankful to still be in business doing something I enjoy and which gives us this interesting lifestyle.   We’re all in good health, our future is bright (if not totally assured), and the people we care about are all doing well.   There are many things to be concerned about but today is not the day for that.   Today is the “glass half full” day.

riverside-gas-pump1.jpgOn the way back from dinner tonight we stopped for gas, and I was treated to an increasingly-common phenomenon: an annoying television blasting loud commercials at me about skin cream and bogus ways to make money buying distressed real estate.   I’ve encountered this before, but this was the first time I’ve seen one without a “mute” button.   (Robert Heinlein foresaw this; I can’t remember if it was in “Podkayne of Mars” or one of his Lazarus Long stories. In the story it was in a taxi cab, and a bribe to the cabbie made the screaming ads go away.)

riverside-gas-pump2.jpgI should have used the adjacent gas pump, where the ad system had crashed.   That’s increasingly common too, since these systems are often based on Microsoft Windows.   (If you find this amusing, check out Miguel Carrasco’s site.)   So here’s the glass-half-full portion: This proves there is a good reason for Windows to exist after all.   It gives us a good chance of avoiding obnoxious ads!

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Freeway traffic

The overriding factor that seems to govern the lives of people in all of the Los Angeles area, including far-flung portions like Riverside and San Bernardino, is traffic. On the freeway, timing is everything. If you hit it right you zoom along at 65 MPH or better, and if you venture onto the freeway at the wrong time, heaven help you because you may be like Charlie on the MTA (Cue the Kingston Trio: “He never returned, no, he never returned, and his fate will never be learned …”)With this in mind we have traveled cautiously these past 24 hours. Friends of ours were staying at the downtown Marriott and we tip-toed through the traffic this morning to meet them for a really great brunch. So far, so good.

Then my task was to drive 15 miles down “the 91″ (as they say around here) to Corona, to meet up with Andy Rogozinski, the proprietor of Inland RV. He’s the guy who virtually invented the Airstream vintage parts business. He’s been in the Airstream community for over 40 years, starting off as a dealer service tech, moving up to Caravanner Insurance in 1970, and now selling vintage Airstream parts out of his facility in Corona. Almost everyone who has ever done a vintage Airstream restoration has dealt with Andy at some point.

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Traffic will be particularly of interest to us on Friday. We’ll have to tow the Airstream back 100 miles to storage, then drive about 30 miles to LAX. I’m crossing my fingers that Friday is a light traffic day all over Los Angeles.

The Santa Ana winds are forecast to being to blow soon. This will have two effects: It will clear the smoggy air and give us a decent view, and it will fan any flames if a new set of wildfires break out. After seeing what happened a few weeks ago, everyone here has gained respect for the power of fire and wind. And of course, it can’t possibly be good for traffic.

Karma says: To the inland empire you go!

As always, things changed. Last night we were going to try for an oceanside county park, but then we got to thinking differently (always a dangerous thing) and suddenly we were going to Riverside, 120 miles distant.

It happened like this: I called a friend in Riverside who we were going to look up, to tell him that we couldn’t make it over for a visit before Thanksgiving. The friend promptly invited us to Thanksgiving dinner. That was unexpected, since we thought he was going out of town.

Riverside is not an easy place to camp. There is a county park called Rancho Jalupa, and a few commercial campgrounds 30 to 60 minutes drive away. That’s about it. Rancho Jalupa was (predictably) completely booked, and the commercial campgrounds were $45 per night and up, if they had space. After considering it for a while, I remembered Don & Gail, Airstream Life subscribers who have emailed me in the past. They have a house in Riverside, so I emailed them at about 10 p.m. to see if they had suggestions.

They did. Right in front of their house in a very nice neighborhood in Riverside. It’s nice to have so many friends in the Airstream community who are willing to help out.

Then I called my old college buddy Alex, who live in Silicon Valley. I’d been feeling badly about skipping the entire Bay Area and a bunch of good friends. I remembered that Alex’s mother-in-law lived in Riverside, and theorized he and his family might be coming down for Thanksgiving. They were — another lucky break.

All the signs were now clear. We were destined to go to the great Inland Empire of California. So in the morning we packed up and bailed out of the noisy campground (while a news helicopter was slowly circling overhead and a freight train was passing by). Five minutes after we hit the road, our last courtesy parking host David called to say that he’d driven past all the county campgrounds we were considering earlier, and every one was completely full. That was yet another confirmation we’d made the right decision to head east.

Driving across the Los Angeles metroplex can be a harrowing experience, but even more so with a big trailer strapped to your butt. The 120-mile trip from Ventura to Riverside can take two hours, fifteen minutes, or it can take four hours with traffic. We went mid-day in the hopes of avoiding the worst of the traffic, and were amazingly successful.

la-lunch-stop.jpgAbout 3/4 of the way through we made a wrong turn and ended up in a quasi-industrial / Hispanic neighborhood for a few minutes, so we took it as an opportunity to grab some lunch at an authentic taco shop. We’re in southern California so it’s safe to eat Mexican again (no risk of eastern “Mex” food made with spaghetti sauce, or de-spiced for wimpy palates).

When you eat at this sort of place the tacos are always soft, not crunchy, and the fillings don’t resemble anything you get at Taco Bell. They had four types on the menu: asada, langua, cabeza, and pastor, and since we didn’t know what those meant and the girl at the counter couldn’t explain it in English, we just ordered them all. $1.25 each plus an awesome burrito for $3.99. Add in some horchata, a pineapple soda for Emma, and jamaica for Eleanor, and we’ve got lunch.

It turns out that the difference between the four types was considerable, although they all looked similar. The pastor was spicy, the asada was a tasty steak, the langua tasted of fresh green spices, and the cabeza was a bit dull.

If you want to know where to get the best tacos in the Los Angeles area, check out this guy’s taco blog.

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We are now parked on the street in front of Don & Gail’s house in Riverside. It is a huge relief from the Ventura campground and the price is right too. We are parked in a “knuckle”, a wide spot on the corner where we will be out of the way for the next couple of nights. Don and Gail will toss us an electric cord later tonight, but otherwise we are going to try to stay out of their way. They just got back last week from a multi-month Airstream trip, and so they are still settling back into their house. I think that’s the hardest part of any trip.

Ventura highway, in the sunshine …

Finding camping in and around Los Angeles is always trickier than other places. Finding camping over Thanksgiving week — at the last minute — is nearly impossible. This is one of those exceptional times when our “no reservations” policy has made life more difficult. We’ve looked around the past couple of days and found that our choices have dwindled to virtually none.

Normally we’d bail out of the metro area and head a hundred miles into the desert where other people don’t go, but this week we have special considerations. We need to be back to LAX on Saturday, and we have friends to meet in the area, and I want to get some work done before we fly out. Plus, Eleanor wants to do some cooking even if we aren’t going to have a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner in the trailer this week.

That means we need the impossible: a camp site that is inexpensive, close to Los Angeles, and offering full hookups. In reality we can get any two of those three things this week.

The reason is that area campgrounds are charging “holiday rates” for sites. Here that means $55 per night for a site that should cost about $30 normally. The more reasonably priced state parks are booked solid. We have a potential strategy to try to get into a county park that doesn’t take reservations, but it is boondocking only (no water, electric, or dump station). So we decided to spend one night in an overpriced full-service campground so we could dump, refill, do laundry, and stay closer to our Ventura friends. Fully restocked with water and with empty holding tanks, we’ll be ready to hit the county park on Tuesday, assuming we can get an opening.

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The place we have ended up is actually very well-kept and would be a decent place if it were not located directly adjacent to Highway 101. Pick any major interstate highway and imagine yourself camped in the breakdown lane, and you won’t be too far from what it is like to be here. By day the noise is tremendous, a constant four-lane roar layered with thundering tractor-trailers, the whine of tires on concrete, and the occasional unmuffled motorcycle.

There is no chance of sitting peacefully under your awning in the afternoon, unless you are stone deaf. This is not what Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell had in mind when they wrote their lyrics.

“There are a lot of transients in this area,” warned the nice lady at the check-in counter. They asked me to destroy the secret code to the bathrooms and the pool somewhere off-site, so a dumpster-diver can’t find it. Propane refills are $4.50 per gallon, and you have to leave your driver’s license while the tank is being refilled.

And yet the place is sold out for Thanksgiving, at $55 bucks a night. When I see situations like this, I wonder “Who in their right mind would choose to stay here and pay that rate to park in the noise? Can’t they think of a better place to be on a holiday?” For us, this is like torture. I’d rather be at a Wal-Mart. The noise makes me feel like we are staying at the Flying J truck stop, only with grass.

I’ve never understood why people will voluntarily park for more than a night in a noisy RV park. But even in the rattiest hell-holes of RV parks I have met people who think they are in paradise, so clearly there is something I’m not seeing. It is probably that, like us, they have a particular reason to be here (relatives?) and are simply taking what is available. It certainly is true that along this stretch of coastal California there are hardly any places to camp away from Hwy 101, so perhaps they figure that at least in the RV park they get hookups with their dose of noise.

In other parts of the country we have bypassed such places and found a lovely county or state park just a few miles away. I know most of these folks have a copy of Woodall’s guide or the Trailer Life directory, so they must know that other options exist. For some reason, they won’t take them.

Well, perhaps tomorrow we will. Up the highway the county parks we have our eyes on probably won’t be a lot quieter because they’ll be near Hwy 101 too. There won’t be any hookups at all and we’ll have to conserve water and electricity as we have done so many times before. But for those considerations (plus $20 a night) we will be just a hundred feet from the pounding Pacific surf, and we’ll have a million-dollar view. I’ll take that deal — if I can get it. If not, we’ll have to figure out Plan B.

7 things

Some time ago I was “tagged” by my friend Rich C, who writes a blog of his own about his life in Prescott AZ. I think that being tagged means I am supposed to write seven things about myself that are not commonly known (and then tag a few other bloggers to do the same).

My first feeling about the “7 things” tagging game was that it was silly, a sort of blog chain letter, far outside of the purpose of this blog. Then it occurred to me that since I have been blogging our daily life on the Internet for over two years, there remains very little left to tell other than things I have deliberately avoided discussing. Thus, perversely, the challenge of coming up with seven more things to say might be interesting, or at least a mild break from the musings of daily events that usually comprise the blog.

So here they are, seven things you didn’t know about me and probably don’t care to:

  1. I never wear a watch but I own two watches, an ultra-thin black Swatch and a vintage Hamilton Electric Ventura.
  2. My Airstream’s essential equipment includes a torque wrench, a laptop, and a collection of James Bond movies on DVD.
  3. All of my three pairs of glasses have scratched upper left corners from using my camera. This makes me consider Lasik or contact lenses.
  4. My favorite animal is a Maine Coon tabby cat, the bigger, the better.
  5. If I had my life to live over again, I would have cycled across the USA the first time somebody suggested it to me.
  6. I once lost my sense of smell for two months. (Steak tastes like cardboard if you can’t smell it.)
  7. The most common comment on my school report cards was that I’d do much better if I just applied myself. I always wished I could turn the tables by issuing a report card on my teachers.

Well, I feel better having gotten all that off my chest. And now, back to our regularly scheduled program …

The Airstream is parked on a sloping road in front of David and Ariadna’s house. It is so sloped in fact that even unhitching the trailer and dropping the front down to the ground, we still have a noticeable elevation gain when walking from back to front. I put both Rotochoks into the wheels and hoped they would hold. So far the Airstream hasn’t traveled as a result of gravitational attraction.

Either the city of Ventura or the county of Ventura would like our courtesy parking hosts to report that we are parked here on the street, if we are to stay more than two nights. Rather than force them to do that, we are moving on to a campground tomorrow, where we will stay through Thanksgiving if possible. We wanted to go to Point Mugu State Park’s beachfront camping area, but it has been foggy and cold lately along the coast. Not only would this make the beach much less fun, but we wouldn’t be able to make power with our solar panels, and the campground offers no electrical hookups.

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So we are leaving, but Emma and her new friend 7-year-old William have been so happy together (yet another score on the kid front) that we may stay fairly local and come back for a few more play dates. They certainly managed to keep each other entertained today while we roamed around town. David took us to the secret location where he stores his highly polished 1964 Airstream Globe Trotter, and his slick vintage truck, and then we all went down the Pacific Coast Highway past Point Mugu to Neptune’s Net for seafood.

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Neptune’s Net is a great spot for seafood, but in my opinion the best aspect is the people-watching. You can sit at big picnic tables with your fried seafood basket and see the most classic California personalities, from sun-bleached surfers to hawg riders to Sunday-best-suited churchgoers. There’s a dress code, though. A sign says clearly that if you are dripping wet (the beach is just across the highway), “No soup for you!”

Now, let me offer a version of the “7 things” challenge to you. If you can, write up 7 great places that we should visit in southern California or the American southwest that we might otherwise overlook, and post them to the blog as a comment. If you can’t come up with seven, just write as many as you can. Other blog readers will appreciate them, and I’ll see how many we can add to our itinerary.

Airstream life

Note that this post is entitled “Airstream life” with a small “l”. It’s not about my magazine, Airstream Life, but rather the fun and occasionally odd coincidences, opportunities, and friendships that pop up simply as a result of being part of this lifestyle.

For the past two days we have been feted by our hosts Cynthia and Dennis as if we were celebrities, which has been simultaneously flattering and humbling. Flattering, because of the attention we received and the thrill our hosts affected from our visit. Humbling, because at the end of our visit, Cynthia noted that in the final analysis we were “just regular people” who happen to be living a different sort of life. After two nights in their driveway our celebrity status was stripped away and we were revealed as Rich & Eleanor & Emma, three people who breathe the same air as everyone else, and who still have to swipe the credit card at the pump twice when the total exceeds $75.

Perhaps in the future we should bail out before our courtesy parking hosts realize they’ve been had by a family of nomadic carpetbaggers who sleep in driveways for free. (Although I did give Dennis an Airstream Life hat and some free advice to “pay” for our visit.)

I’m just joking of course … We became fast friends with Dennis and Cindy, and Emma has a good friend in Madison, and we hope to see them all again soon. That’s how it goes, and we love it. We’ve made a lot of good friends in the past few weeks and there is little doubt they will pop up in our lives again, possible in an completely unexpected place and time, as happened today with Rickie and Yank Sefton.

We were standing in the driveway admiring the two lovely Airstreams when an unknown truck pulled in to the driveway. A man in the driver’s seat called out, “Is this Mark’s place?” I said “No!” and then noticed that the driver was our friend Yank, and sitting next to him was his wife Rickie. We hadn’t seen Yank and Rickie since last June in Oregon. It turned out they were in Los Olivos looking for the park where they had first kissed, and they were attending a rally of the El Camino Real Unit of the WBCCI just a few miles away.

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So we went to the rally, of course, and found many other Airstream friends there, including Tommy & Kathy Green, Herb Richter, and Marilyn & Roger Taylor. Tommy pulled out his collection of ukeleles and dobros and inspired me to get back on practicing. I’m hoping he will join us at Anza-Borrego in December so he can tutor me a little — his playing is really great and he’s only been at it a couple of years.

Meanwhile, Cindy & Dennis got so pumped by the friendly people at the rally that they went home and got their trailer. They’re going to camp at the rally site for a few nights and commute to work from there instead of from home for a while.

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Before all this happened, Emma joined Madison for her Saturday morning karate class. I’ve been wanting Emma to try karate since I’ve hypothesized for a while that she’d like it, and I was right. When we get back to Tucson and are working on the house I’ll try to get her in for some lessons. Karate is great for kids, helping them develop physical skills and mental discipline. The instructor in Los Olivos was really excellent. I can only hope we can find someone as good as him later.

los-olivos-silver-streak.jpgDriving around town after karate, we spotted this little gem sitting in a driveway. It’s a 1947 Silver Streak, very much like the late 1940s Airstreams. I talked to the owner, who was only too happy to give me a tour of the project. It’s still gutted inside but in a year he plans to be touring the country in it. It’s very hard to find 1940’s-era aluminum trailers in any condition these days, so he’s got something quite special on his hands.

With all the action today, I was beginning to feel the need for some down time, and we were due to head to Ventura to courtesy park at Dave & Ariadna’s house. The 70 mile drive down Rt 101 was just the answer, since the traffic was light and the scenery along the Pacific Coast always inspires me. We made a quick stop at Carpinteria State Beach to use the dump station ($8) and found ourselves parked on the street in front of Dave & Ariadna’s by 5 p.m., just in time for sunset.

Once again we are blessed with a 7-year-old to engage with Emma. She and William immediately began doing kid things to the living room (stacking pillows to make a fort, playing raucously with the dog, yelling, and pointing Nerf guns at each other), and left us free to get to know our current courtesy parking hosts.

ventura-mexican-dinner.jpgAriadna is from Mexico, and for this occasion she went all out and made us an authentic homestyle Mexican dinner. I ate far too many tortillas, but I couldn’t resist her cooking. She has completely charmed Eleanor, and it wasn’t long before David and I began kicking around ideas for a Sonoran Airstream tour, perhaps in late February or early March — assuming we can get the house under control by then. Not only would Ariadna be a huge asset by speaking Spanish, but it looks like we would all enjoy doing the same sorts of things once we get to Mexico, and the kids would have a blast together.

But that’s far off. Right now we need to figure out this week. Thanksgiving is looming and we have no place to stay. Tomorrow we are going to check out some interesting potential spots in Malibu, Santa Paula, and other close areas. On Saturday, one week from today, we will fly out of LAX for a vacation, and between now and then we have a ton of things to do.

Now, I know what you’re thinking … “Vacation? How can they tell the difference?” Well, a vacation by my definition is a period in which I do no work. Normally I work every day of the week, weekends included. Once in a while I declare a holiday and leave work behind. This time, it happens that the place we all want to be while I am on vacation is a place we can’t reach conveniently with the Airstream, thus we are flying from LAX. I’ll talk more about that later.

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