inicio mail me! sindicaci;ón

Seamonster Essay 1, part 2

This is the second part in a multi-part series about how we got started as full-time Airstream travelers. The first part can be found here.

At this point Airstream Life magazine had produced just four issues and my credibility with Airstream was rising, but I am sure they did not feel responsible for my housing problems. Fortunately, Bob Wheeler, the new president of Airstream, and a few other members of senior management thought the Tour of America idea was worth a small investment. It was also fortuitous that they happened to have a trailer that would fit our needs (an Airstream Safari 30 “bunkhouse” that had been used as a demonstrator) and were willing to lend it to me on the conditions that I insure it, and either buy it or sell it to someone else in six months. I was to pick it up in October 2005.

I should pause here to mention that this is highly unusual. Being the icon of American road travel, Airstream receives literally dozens of requests for “loaners” each month, ranging from the impressive to the bizarre. With rare exceptions, these requests are turned down ““ Airstream does not have loaner trailers. In 2005, only a few trailers were made available, to high-profile TV productions (such as “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump, and “The Simple Life” with Paris Hilton) and to major promotional partners ““ and they probably had to pay for them.

Since then, I have been contacted by many wannabees who email me asking for “contact names at Airstream,” and “tips on how to get a free trailer.” Inevitably they justify this because they are going to roam the country doing something (taking photos, selling gizmos, interviewing people, visiting every flea market east of the Mississippi) and along the way they propose to “promote Airstream.” This usually doesn’t work, and in any case there are no free trailers to be had. Hey, I publish a magazine all about Airstream and still I had to promise to pay for the trailer if I couldn’t find a buyer for it. I used to try to gently dissuade people who were looking for aluminum handouts, but now I don’t respond. I hate to smash people’s dreams.

Three months before the scheduled pick-up date, our house sold. Suddenly our proposal to become “full-timers” moved from the academic to the asphalt. We moved into a 1977 Argosy trailer (the magazine’s restoration project) for the summer and stuffed our belongings into two large climate-controlled storage units. We traveled a few weeks that summer, but spent most of it parked near our former hometown, gathering steam for “the trip” we expected to begin in October.

We soon discovered that society is not geared to respect people without fixed addresses, especially people with children. We were called gypsies, nomads, wanderers, drop-outs ““ and those were the things our friends said. Others, thinking I was not overhearing their whispers, or posting comments on the Internet, were not as kind. There was a perception that by carting around our child we were unstable, denying her the right to “socialization,” denying her security, and the benefits of traditional communities: the Brownie troop, trick-or-treating, piano lessons.

I think the most cutting perception was that we had dropped out of society and were on some sort of permanent vacation, living on coconuts and love, working for gas money and sleeping in Wal-Marts to save money. For all the perceived enlightenment about telecommuting, virtual offices, and Internet-based businesses, this country has a lot of growing up to do when it comes to recognizing that most “knowledge workers” need not come into the office anymore.

When people said, “How can I reach you?” I replied with the same list of phone numbers and email addresses that I had used for two years prior. Inevitably this caused a double-take. The technology does not care if we move around, but many people still do. A full-time traveler has to come to terms with the fact that most people will not fully understand what they are up to. If you can get acceptance, that’s good enough.

Around this time I also realized that most people would never do what we were doing, even those who openly fantasized about it. When it comes to the tough choices, most people are unwilling to make the trades necessary to enable a traveling life. We traded the benefits of hearth and home for the freedom of travel, driven by a need to do something about the green hemorrhage of money caused by the business.

But I was also disenchanted by the house; it made me stay put on Saturday to mow the lawn, it needed painting, and the garden needed weeding. We might as well have justified the change on the basis of time instead of money. Money can be generated, but we all have the same amount of time in a day, and at the age of 40 I decided I wasn’t going to continue spending my time sitting on a riding lawnmower. Eleanor would have been happy to stay in the local area, but in the end it was her idea to move into the Argosy for the summer rather than rent an apartment. If we were going to live in an Airstream, she felt we should not be afraid to start right away. Without these multiple motivations, we might have thought twice about it.

It also helped that we engaged in a small self-deception: once the six month tour was over, we would return to home base and build a new house, a small one that we could easily leave behind for a few months each year without feeling undue pain of upkeep. The magazine, we surmised, would be throwing off more money by then, and we’d be comfortable taking out a new mortgage.

Anyone who has launched a small business can probably see how utterly unrealistic this was, and so can I, now. Most new magazines are gone in less than two years, victims of low advertising revenues. But at the time we were utterly inexperienced in the magazine business, perpetually optimistic about its prospects, and besides, what else could we do? The alternative was to get a real job and throw away the dream. It was more to our liking to run away with the circus and worry about the rest later. This is another aspect of the decision to travel full-time, a willingness to deny “reality” as you know it and take a leap of faith.

Without some faith in yourself, or least blindness to the many things that can go wrong, a life-changing experience will only happen by circumstance. Most such experiences have a large negative component: bankruptcy, health problems, death, corporate relocation, job loss. I’d much rather pick my own life changing experience and try to make it a good one. It takes some self-confidence, and it most definitely requires that you moderate in your mind the comments of nay-sayers. There is always a reason to not do something, and there are always plenty of people willing to explain those reasons to you. Being stubbornly unreasonable can be an asset.

… to be continued …

5 Responses to “Seamonster Essay 1, part 2”

  1. Randi Says:

    My favorite line so far: the green hemorrhage of money (as that could really apply to all of us at times).

    Staying tuned for part 3.

  2. Abe Linclon Says:

    Keep it up Rich!!

  3. sadira Says:

    Oh wonderful! It’s a great story so far, and you’re totally right about being employed by yourself. I tell you, it’s another huge leap that a lot of people think about doing but rarely take the risk (I did it when I was too young to even consider I would fail…thank goodness) I am looking forward to more installments or your story…

  4. Antonio Salieri Says:

    I think you have really hit on something here. Recognizing Theroux’s genius and applying it here is brilliant.

    I would think that the people who like to read your stuff have already been to many of the places you have. They are familiar with the same bricks and mortar, stones and surf. What I like most about your writing is that you take the time to tell us HOW you got there. The characters and situations you encounter along the way make for the most interesting read to me. Tell me more about the Victor Valdezes of the world singing by their homemade walking sticks; “Boots” Hinton and his Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum; and of course, Ayres T. Reem. :^)

    Station-to-station travel is what I and other weekend warriors have to do. It clearly doesn’t appeal to you anymore and the less it appeals to you, the better off your material becomes. Do you have any idea how many people live vicariously through your words?

  5. Barry Smiley Says:

    As an Airstream owner, and a subscriber to Airstream Life, I find your writing intriguing. I truly enjoy Vince Flynn’s books of fiction, and look forward to the next issue, as I’m beginning to do with your writing. While I don’t get to visit every day, I won’t tary long without checking out what is going on with you all.
    My wife and I are closing in on retirement, and are seriously considering full-timing in our Airstream. With older parents, it may not be possible for a while, but maybe someday….. Thanks for the stories. Keep up the good work!!