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Archive for February, 2008

Vegas view

las-vegas-view.jpgBusiness took me to The Strip yesterday. It seems to change every time I see it, no matter how often I am there. My last visit to The Strip was only two months ago, yet the pace of endless demolition and re-construction means that there are always changes. From the upper floors of The Venetian hotel the view was pretty good, even with a cloud of yellow haze on the horizon that obscured the mountains.

Las Vegas almost defies definition. It is a circle of suburbs surrounding a sprawling city, which in turns surrounds a strange little bizarro world called The Strip. When I try to explain it to people, I can’t grab a hold of it in any single sentence. Just the mammoth scale of the hotels is almost unbelievable. Most of the largest hotels in the world are here, with over 4000 rooms each. The billions of dollars being exchanged in the casinos are another incredible thing, and it is all characterized by the ostentatious decor, fabulous signs, and incredible excess in all things.

When I’m in town on business I try to put mental blinders on and focus on what I’m doing rather than the scenery of The Strip, lest it overwhelm me. But little things pricked my consciousness all day like tiny mosquitoes. For example, the parking garage at The Venetian is 13 stories tall. I’ve never parked my car on the 12th story of a building before.

It’s also virtually impossible to go in a straight line anywhere near The Strip. Each hotel has worked out ingenious barriers and alignments that direct you inevitably into the casino. A simple walk down Las Vegas Boulevard isn’t so simple now, and hasn’t been for two decades. I find it an intriguing challenge to work out the most direct routes between points A and B, but the quest to find those routes results in many blind alleys and missed turns. I got lost somewhere behind the new Wynn hotel, trying to find the Convention Center, and had to call Brian for directions.

You’ve got to love a street named for Frank Sinatra, or Debbie Reynolds, even if it is a rather grungy line of asphalt crowded with traffic. I think Las Vegas has hit on something there. Perhaps if we renamed a few of the less attractive streets in other cities after exalted stars from the entertainment world, we’d like them better. “Main Street”? It could be much more fun if called “Liberace Way.”

On Wednesday night we played the first poker home game. Brian and Leigh are teaching me the fundamentals of tournament-style poker. There will be more home games this weekend too. It is very interesting viewing poker through their eyes. They see it not as an emotional battle, as it is often portrayed in movies, but as a series of calculated decisions. The decision process is extremely complicated, involving card odds, format (cash or tournament), player experience, number of players, betting values and patterns, “tells,” and many other factors. Logic rules their play, and as a result they are very good.

I find the process interesting. It’s something like negotiation. You need to size up the opponent and the situation, then estimate your chance of winning in advance, and bet accordingly. If circumstances change, you need to respond quickly. For this reason, I am studying the skills and trying to see how they might fit into my business world. So it seems Las Vegas still has a few things to teach me.

Tucson to Las Vegas

I busted out yesterday, with a big roadtrip to Las Vegas. I need to meet some folks here and there, so I put together a trip which will keep me out and about through Monday.

No Airstream this time, and no family either. We debated the ideas but neither made sense for this trip. I’ll be moving fast and light for a few days, and there are things to be managed back at the homestead. So Eleanor and Emma are in Tucson — still in the Airstream — taking care of things while I’m zipping around in the Fit trying to get my stuff done as quickly as possible.


First stop was near Prescott AZ to see “Peewee” Schwamborn, the son of Helen Byam Schwamborn. He was called Peewee because he was only 12 years old when we came along on Wally Byam’s first caravan, to central America. He ended up being on almost every major caravan Wally ran through the 1950s, and he has a huge treasure trove of artifacts and papers about Wally and Airstream.

Peewee, now more properly called Dale, was also a scout (at the age of 21) on the famous Cape Town to Cairo Caravan in 1959-60. He had an amazing life thanks to Airstream and Wally Byam. The last time I visited him he and I were laughing about how Wally Byam bought an Isetta microcar in Italy and Dale was elected to drive it from the docks in New York City to Los Angeles, at 45 MPH all the way. He’s got a million stories like that, and his archives are amazing. Dale’s photos and scans have appeared in Airstream Life magazine many times.


Dale, his mother Helen Byam Schwamborn, and Wally Byam’s Isetta

The drive through Arizona from south to north is very long, but I never find it tedious. My route, from Tucson to Phoenix and then Prescott, up to I-40 and west to Kingman, then up to the Hoover Dam, was over seven hours. But in Arizona the landscape keeps changing. Down south it’s saguaro and creosote bush, then urban traffic in Phoenix, then fast-rising mountains up to 5,000 feet into green forests. In Prescott it’s dry and cool, but very pretty with pink-orange granite dells everywhere. Along I-40 you’re in the kind of country that inspired the landscapes and scenes in the movie “Cars”, and then there’s an open stretch from Kingman heading north before you arrive at the Hoover Dam.


I always love crossing the dam. I look up to the new bypass they’re building, which soars far above the Black Canyon, and think that it will be a shame when I can no longer wind down to the dam and cruise across it at a leisurely 15 MPH. The bypass will have an astonishing view down into the canyon but I expect that traffic will never have a chance to slow down enough to see it.


The water in Lake Mead is very low these days. Every time I see it, it is a bit lower. Some scientists say this is a normal cycle for the lake, and others are predicting that with global warming effect the lake will be unusable by 2021. Who knows? But if it does run dry, Las Vegas is in trouble. The city gets 90% of its water from the lake.

I’ll be reporting from Las Vegas and the surrounding area for the next few days.

Camping alone again

Our driveway campground is once again down to one Airstream.   Our friends the Welshes have departed for adventures west of here, and I doubt we will ever see them in our driveway again.   They plan to sell their Airstream when they complete their year of travel, because they’ll need to buy a new house, and it’s difficult to find a place to store an Airstream in their home area of northern Virginia.

I am saddened by this because I’d like to think they’ll return here someday, or that we could go camping together in the east next summer.   I’m hoping circumstances will change to allow them to have some Airstream, if not this one, in the future.

It’s just 26 days to our departure too, if various factors come into alignment before then.   The house is in a pretty good state, but not quite good enough to call “move-in ready”.   We’ve discovered that the shower faucets in the hallway bath are also leaking behind the wall, and so yet another project has joined the list. We have, slowly and haphazardly, had to replace every single faucet in the house due to leaks.   That includes all the outside garden hose spigots, the main house shutoff valve, the washing machine faucets, both toilets, both bathroom faucets, the kitchen faucet, and our hookup in the carport.   This house was a water-conservation disaster. I think it was probably using a few hundred gallons a week just sitting here empty before we bought it.

We’re still reviewing our plans for the next voyage. We expect to be out in the Airstream for about 6-7 months this time.   We’ve tentatively scratched Canada from the schedule, due to high fuel prices (even higher in Canada, and the weak US dollar doesn’t help), and the cost of the ferry to Newfoundland.   If we find a sudden windfall that could change, but it’s not likely.   However, we have been able to add in some interesting spots on the return trip west, including Arkansas and the four corners region (CO, UT, NM, AZ).

sp08-cover-small.jpgI am told by reliable sources that the Spring 2008 issue of Airstream Life has begun to arrive in the mailboxes of subscribers.   If you don’t have yours yet, don’t worry because delivery time varies quite a bit across the country.   Some people won’t see it until the end of the month.   If you like the cover art, you can buy it printed on canvas here.

Since the magazine is arriving, I can make an announcement of the first-ever “Vintage Trailer Jam” to be held July 11-14 in Saratoga Springs NY.   It’s co-sponsored by Airstream Life (me), Colin Hyde, and Vintage Trailer Supply (Steve Hingtgen).   We’ve been working on this for several months, and I think it will be a great event.   We’ve got educational seminars planned, slideshows, on-site demonstrations, a catered dinner, an Open House, and all kinds of other stuff.   We’ll be camped on the grounds of the Saratoga Automobile Museum, and everyone who attends will get free admission to the museum.

Colin is down in Florida right now spreading the word at the Florida State Rally and at last week’s Tin Can Tourists rally, so I expect the event will fill up fast. It’s not just for Airstreams — so if you have any kind of trailer or motorhome more than 25 years old, we really want to see you there!

In the meantime, we’ll dream of fun times to come while we sleep in our concrete carport campground.   It’s a little bit lonely without our friends next door, but soon we’ll be out there again, roaming around the country and meeting new folks.

Uke song of the day: “Kaze ni Naru” by Ayano Tsuji.   It was the ending theme song for the anime movie “The Cat Returns.”   (Chords here).

Media day

tucson-airstream-head.jpg The older girls from next door and the girls here in our “campground” have gotten together, and weird things are happening.   There are dance costumes all over the place, decorated cardboard boxes, and the odd head lying about.   We try not to ask questions.

Since Bobby & Danine gave us the night off by taking the girls, Eleanor and I had a chance to discuss our travel plans over dinner.   We are in danger of having to delay our departure because the countertops are likely to be late, and our couch may be too.   If the countertops don’t go in on schedule, the appliances can’t be installed, nor the sinks.   We worked out some contingency plans for every foreseeable circumstance — I hope.

One small step forward today: the cellular shades have been installed.   We now have viable privacy in the house, which means that we could start sleeping in here if we had mattresses.   I guess that’s the next item to be purchased, but since we’d still have to go the Airstream for cooking I think we’ll just keep sleeping in there too.   We’re perfectly comfortable in it.   In fact, I think the Airstream is more comfortable than the house, emotionally.   The Airstream has been home for over two years, whereas the house is just a place where we work and spend money.   Nobody is in a hurry to move out of our Airstream home just yet.

Today has been media day.   I’ve uploaded a lot of photos to our Flickr album.   You’ll find new photos of the Tucson Rodeo, the ASARCO copper mine, the Writer’s Roundup in Patagonia, and Sabino Canyon.   I’ve also made a short instructional video about how the “changeover” gas regulator on an Airstream works, which is posted on the Airstream Life Media Community.   I plan to shoot more such videos if people find them valuable.   Let me know if there’s an Airstream-related topic you’d like to see explained or demonstrated in a short video.

We have only about three weeks left in the schedule, and there is still much I want to do.   Bobby & Danine are heading to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument tomorrow and I’d like to tag along.   The Fabers want us to go to Sonora with them soon.   Our friend Brent from Tempe want to go camping for a weekend.   And I’d like to get out to San Diego to play uke with friends there.   But we can’t do everything, and when we arrived here we committed to getting the house done first and foremost.   That’s still the plan. With the small amount of time left in the schedule, it seems likely that we’ll need to stay put until the Big Departure.

Tucson Rodeo

tucson-rodeo-watching.jpgFor 83 years the Tucson Rodeo, “La Fiesta de los Vaqueros” has been held. It is such an important event here in Tucson that it’s a school holiday. So we knew we had to go. None of us (including Bobby & Danine) had ever seen a rodeo before, and having toured the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum last September, we were interested to try it out.

It’s a great event. All the classic stuff you’d expect goes on, including calf roping, bull riding, trick riding, and other events I’d never heard of, such as team roping and barrel riding (where they ride horses around barrels for fastest speed). The full show took all afternoon, and we were glued to every minute.

I took a lot of pictures but unfortunately the light was very harsh and the background was very busy, so they aren’t my best. I was envious of the invited photographers who were down on the ground. A low perspective is better for this sort of photography. The new VR (vibration reduction) 200mm zoom lens was terrific, however.   I’ve put 30 photos from the event on my Flickr site.


In the photo above you can see a hint of the magnificent power of the horses. Look closely: that horse has all four hooves off the ground. Those riders really take a beating, I can tell you. It’s amazing they can do the rodeo circuit for more than a few years.


Tami Semas smiles as she rides to 2nd place in the barrel riding competition

The kids participate too. We were amazed to see kids as young as 6 years old competing at riding, and 9 to 12 year olds roping calves. Emma started thinking perhaps a horse would be a good pet. I’m sure it would fit nicely in the Airstream.

The rodeo is a classic American event and I’m glad we saw it. If you get a chance to see one, go for it. It’s like going to a baseball game — just something fun and friendly that’s you can watch and enjoy even if you aren’t interested in sports or horses. I have a feeling attending the rodeo may become an annual thing for us.

Writer’s Roundup

Each year in Patagonia, Arizona, the local library organizes a “Writer’s Roundup”, during which local writers sign books, give short talks, and read from their works. For a tiny town such as Patagonia, which is known to the outside world primarily as a good bird-watching spot, this would at first seem to be a non-starter as an event. After all, how many good writers can there be in the area?

patagonia-writers-roundup.jpgAs it turns out, there are many, and a few well recognized names. Just down the street from the library lives Philip Caputo, author of “A Rumor of War,” which was a very important documentary of the Vietnam War from a soldier’s point of view. (He’s wearing a brown sweater in the photo, toward the back.)

At the table next to him was Tom Miller, author of “On The Border,” a significant book about the nature of the US-Mexican border. (Talking to Bobby and Danine in the photo.) I bought a signed copy of his book “Trading With The Enemy,” which is about his experiences in Cuba.

“It’s a strange event,” said Tom, speaking of the Writer’s Roundup. The authors are all in a single room with their books arrayed on tables, and they just hang around and chat with anyone who comes by, and sign copies on request. I doubt any of them make enough money from the sales to make it worth their time but nobody seems worried about that. (I believe it is a fundraiser for the library.) Being a small town and a small event, it’s a great opportunity for fans to meet authors without any pretense or barriers.

pgia-delphine-redshirt.jpgThe authors range from well-known to quite obscure, but being opinionated and bright they are all interesting to hear from. We dropped in on Delphine Redshirt’s talk and short reading, in which she explained how she worked to write in her mother’s voice for a book in which she documented some first-person Lakota stories. Delphine also offered some encouragement to would-be authors, which was good to hear since I keep thinking about writing a book someday.

(See more photos from the Writer’s Roundup on our Flickr site.)  

We came down to Patagonia at the behest of Dr. C, a good Airstream-owning friend and occasional contributor to Airstream Life magazine and a blog on this site. He and his wife are renting a tiny adobe house in town for the season. The Writer’s Roundup was only an excuse — we really wanted to catch up with the good Doctor and Lynn, who are always interesting and friendly.


It was a full day. Lynn is into quilting, and wanted to share some of her knowledge with Emma and Elise. I knew that they’d love doing a craft project with Lynn, and sure enough they were completely distracted all afternoon learning how to sew and make little colorful pillows. It was one of those days when the conversation flowed so freely that we didn’t know how to stop. We ended up being in the little adobe house until late evening, before taking the 65 mile drive back up to Tucson.

Bobby & Danine have decided to stay another day. The plan was to depart on Monday, but more interesting things await them in the Tucson area, and they need a bit more time. I thought that might happen, and it’s welcome news. The driveway campground won’t be the same after they leave.

Snow palms

Here in Tucson we have the very rare “snow palm” tree. See the photo for proof!


A storm spun in from the west last night, bringing us yet another incredible winter rain in the dark hours before dawn and continuing through the morning. Rain down here in Tucson means snow up in the Santa Catalinas and the Rincons, and we get a front-row seat. I am predicting some nice desert blooms in April as a result!

I think our guests were caught by surprise. We all knew the storm was coming but the steady moderate rain and cool temperatures inspired Bobby to say he felt like he was in the Pacific Northwest. It’s true — I don’t think we’ve seen a rain like that since we left the Hoh Rain Forest. But being Tucson, it couldn’t last long. By noon the rain was over, and in the afternoon a few sunny breaks appeared in the clouds.   For a final surprise, we got a little hail late in the day, about the size of fishtank gravel, as the storm exited toward New Mexico.

Tomorrow we’ll be back to full sun and temperatures in the 70s late this weekend.


We were planning to take the Welshes up to Mount Lemmon to play in the snow — a concession to the seven-year-olds who are feeling snow-deprived — but with this recent storm I’m sure the road has been closed temporarily. Occasionally four-wheel drive and chains are required.

Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t rain in the desert. Of course it does, it just rains less than most places. But because this town is so oriented to fine weather, there aren’t a lot of rainy day activities. People here don’t drop everything and grab their skis or sleds when a storm comes through. The rain seems to put everyone into a Sunday afternoon mood, so there’s a lot of puttering around going on here today. Bobby backed up his laptop with a new hard drive he bought last night. Eleanor and Danine both did laundry, and Eleanor worked on a beading project. Emma and Elise have bounced from activity to activity. I put a log in the fireplace and moved a few boxes out of our storage room into the kitchen for unpacking.

I’ve also been finalizing some travel plans. This weekend we’ll go to Patagonia and the Tucson rodeo. Next week I will be heading up to Las Vegas (with a stop along the way), and in just about four weeks we’ll be pulling out of town for the season, heading east.

Our approximate schedule looks like this:

mid-March: west Texas, including Big Bend National Park and Ft Davis

late March-early April: service stop in Weatherford TX (near Ft Worth), New Orleans, Florida panhandle

April: Florida (Tampa, Orlando, a few other spots)

May: up the east coast, with stops in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, VA, etc.

mid-June to mid-July: Vermont and upstate New York

summer: Canadian maritime provinces? Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland — this is pretty iffy but we’d like to do it

August: back to Vermont

late August: heading southwest again with stops in Arkansas, Colorado, Utah, and northern Arizona.

late October: arrival in southern AZ

But don’t hold us to any of this. We’ve learned over the last couple of years that we prefer to keep our firm commitments and reservations to a bare minimum. Anything might happen. You’ll just have to ride along and see!

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