Happy Year of the Ox, ya’ll. As a person who is eager to move on from the train wreck that was 2008, I also am glad to say good-riddance to The Year of the Rat. Like Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I simply can’t stand those No Good Dirty Rats.
Year of the Ox. No Bullshit. It started on Jan 26, 2009 and does not end until February 13, 2010. That means it is a long year, so it damn well better be a good one. Thus, it has “eyes” according to the Chinese, and as such is a year much influenced by the past and the future.
Ok, now think about that. I get it how we can all get caught up and influenced by the past- but how do you get influenced by the future? We-lll, maybe it just means you get to pick the tone of the future and set it to something you like. Like, say, Vintage trailers. Liberation from obligations you have outgrown. Adios to Bad Jobs. Move towards the light. Open the Door to Opportunity…
Doors. I have been thinking a lot about closed doors. I think we have all spent some time in our lives standing in front of a closed door, staring at it in shock, rage or pain. Maybe just stunned. What I am finding is that if you can close your eyes long enough to step back, you may find that a few windows are open, or other doors to wildly different opportunities you might have missed had you locked yourself in the first situation. It is crazy how much we cannot see the variety of sprawling paths this life offers when we are convinced the One True Path has been denied to us.
But… what if our map to that door is out of date, or maybe we just plain got lost?
Yes. This IS trailer related. Basically, the trailer, the road, lay in my subconscious for many years as totally impractical and lost to me, when in fact, I was lost in my “responsibilities”. I lost the connection to understanding that my “home” mentally, my sense of place and reality is something I can carry. I got landlocked and overwhelmed by my physical world. Lost in a high-paying, high-stress job. Letting fear intensify and deadening myself to the doubt and good common sense I was trying to drown out that kept trying to tell me, “Um, whoa, hold up: you just are not fun anymore, and that IS a problem”. In short, I climbed a mountain so hell-bent on reaching the top that I forgot the whole point of the adventure in the first place.
Somehow, the tiny kindle of a flame would whisper to me, every so often “Hey, you need a road trip to get some perspective” and “Hey, just keep driving, man. Don’t take the turn home.” And “Why are you so freakin’ trapped???. And, finally, the whole thing melted down and you know what? It still took getting hit by a hurricane, 3 months of laying around like a beetle on my back and a random prop airplane ride for me to realize: I am trapped because I walked through a door and then locked myself in. Now, was it always a prison? No. Was it all bad? Absolutely not. But the point at which I could not see how to get out was the point at which the bars clicked shut and I stayed, panicking, more and more convinced that if I just white knuckled it out it would not matter that I had used up all the oxygen in the air.
So, to myself, I am deeply sorry. We were oxygen bankrupt for a few years before I figured it out. Git it- OXygen? Year of the OX. The time, the open road, the air to breathe and to rebuild your life: take it. The trailer, real or symbolically speaking, is about taking it with you. Paring down. Simplifying. Connecting to a better past and a better future.
Happy Year of the Ox, man. I, for one, am breathing better already.
The uses for old aluminum trailers are pretty much limited by the imagination. Take the very inspiring and cool folks over at Side Street Projects. A great article on them ran in the L.A. Times this week, illustrating their genius and the possibilities for Old Aluminum. Side Street Projects are artists who run a non-profit mobile art classroom for hundreds of kids in the LA/ Pasadena, CA area. Their “classrooms” are old school buses. After having to move their headquarters several times, with much annoying disruption and bureaucracy, they decided that mobile was the way to go all around. They have a ‘53 Spartan that serves as their office and a ‘49 for storage/ library. Further making them visionaries, they installed solar panels and are 100% off the grid.
No shit. I mean, how freakin’ cool is that?! There was a time when all school age kids wanted to run away with the circus. I have to say, if a mobile classroom pulled up to my school and told a 10-year old me that their offices were in silver bullet trailers, well, let's just say I know who I would run away with. I also know what I would want to do when I grew up, and no, it would not be a doctor.
Cementing my adoration of these folks, and in case you are too lazy to click on the link, here are the best quotes in the article:
“The vintage Spartan trailers were picked for their coolness factor, according to Lapointe.”
“They were manufactured by a company owned by J. Paul Getty, which earns them an extra nod from those in the arts community, he said.”
Basically, these people are serving up Spartan-style trailer snobbism. Love that! I’m all tight with the Airstream Community, but, come on, ya gotta cheer for the home team. Read the gem of an article, which ran in the L.A. Times on Feb 17th, before I plagiarize the whole thing in my earnest zeal to convince you these people transcend mortal cool status quo.
You can also check out Side Street's web site.
And you could also give them some money.
Jus’ saying. The ARE very cool.
What is that shiny object? Is it my trailer? No, it is my conscious. I’m all good with the karma universe.
In the spirit of True Revelations, I am going to backtrack a little. The trailer has always been promised to my Canadian half- sister, Erika. I had previously talked to Daddy about the trailer and he claimed that Erika did not want it and it was plenty fine up-for-grabs. But I got to thinking about my Dad, and while he has many sterling qualities, communication/ emotional perception is not one of the higher ranking ones. There was nothing for it: I called up Erika and asked her if she was ok with my trailer takeover.
Now, with her blessing, I can officially say, Yup, I’m a trailer owner.
It’s funny… my Dad had three marriages and a total of 6 children spanning a 20+ year gap between the oldest and the youngest (c’est moi). The common denominator to all of our childhoods? The Spartan + The Open Road. I personally remember seeing Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon, The Rocky Mountains, The California Redwoods and Mount St. Helens- still spewing little puffs of ash, no less- while traveling in the trailer. Canada. New Orleans, LA. Yellow Springs, Ohio, McComb, Illinois. My Dad was a college professor so we took some looong summer road trips. Often with my three half-sisters- which was dazzling to my young self. I worshiped them. A big part of the amazing trailer summer lifestyle was that is was so wildly different from my placid, only-child, suburban childhood. It was chaotic. Baths were much less regular. Other than salad, no pesky vegetables. But loads of fresh fruit. Chedder cheese and tomato sandwiches with mayo. Salami. Cold Coca-Cola.
What is really bizarre is that I am just now noticing this. It was so much a part of my childhood, that it was almost invisible. Ya know how some Dads are all about the Garage? Or the Basement? Or the Bowling Alley? Well, my Dad was all about the trailer. It is his Baby. He spent hours tinkering in it, lavishing care on it and keeping it in working order. Thus, he is a little mystified about all my questions regarding the mechanical/ structural and road-worthiness of the Spartan. He insulated it and rebuilt all the wood interior using the old wood as templates in 1985. (Still light honey-colored birch) He gives it a polish/ good clean every few years. All the lights/ exterior and interior work. Propane stove and oil heater are original and still work. It has had many fridges, Thank God, and the current one is about 10 years old. He rebuilt the frame/ hitch early on so it would be stronger. He bought new stainless tanks from Airstream “a while back” but they don’t have the correct safety valves on them, so we may have a project replacing the valves. In short, she is a pretty much a Go. He even has the original owner’s manuals, because, of course, he is the Original Owner.
In case you are wondering, he paid $4099.70 for it in 1950. A diligent 60 second search on Google tells me that is equivalent to $35,300.66 contemporary dollars. To further put it in context, my Dad was an Associate Professor at the University of Oklahoma at the time and he made $8,000 a year. He bought it at the Spartan factory in Tulsa. Hummm… I wonder if that is what really happened to his first marriage? “Honey, I’m Home. BTW, check out the new trailer in the driveway. It cost half my annual salary.”
In light of the fact that I am spending half a year (or possibly more) not working, I think a “free trailer” is just the thing to compensate my family. After all, the memories are guaranteed for a lifetime.
Hooboy. I think I am in over my head. But come to think of it, that is true with or without a vintage trailer.
So, my new BFFs on the Airstream Forum are like, amazing. These are people who rebuild trailers from the dust of their aluminum skeletons. They resurrect the soul in hulking carcasses that have been Going Back to the Earth for decades. They are brave in the face of rusting chassis, rotten wood and nasty black mold. They use terms like “belly pan” and “steel core #17 tracks” fearlessly and seem to know what the hell they are talking about. And some of them do it places where there is snow on the ground. Gulp.
So, let me level with you: My tool box consists of a high heel shoe (they really do make excellent hammers), museum nails, duct tape, and thumbtacks. I am the Girliest of Girls. I run/ hit/ scream like a Girl. I am uncoordinated, un mechanical, and lack confidence in my ability to stay awake when reading DIY manuals. Now, lest you fear I have horrible self-esteem, I am also a lot of pretty cool things, but unrealistic is not one of them. I face the truth. I’m pretty much a weenie when it comes to fixin’ anything non-food related.
I’m a little stunned in the wake of my Big Reveal here.
I mean, even I should be talking myself out of this trailer insanity.
Too bad. Things I AM include strong, a visionary, and a person who Makes Things Happen.
But while we are having this chat, I should also take this moment to further clarify my stand on the “camping” thing. I like soft, warm beds. Bugs freak me out. I do NOT think it tastes better if you cook it over a camp stove. I do not like peeing outside, especially at night, you freaks. In short, I never, despite crossing the country in a trailer many times as a child, ever once thought of it as camping. That is why I have a trailer, ya’ll. Bed, kitchen, potty inside.
That is Mrs. Byam to you, you intimidating camper types out there, judging me. In fact, if you were not all so damn nice I would walk. But… since I am about as helpless as a baby kitten, I guess I better suck up and get over myself, huh? This is the part of the After School Special where I need to learn to accept help and camaraderie without fearing other’s judgment.
Sniff. Besides, I am a VERY good cook, loyal friend, and occasionally funny, so I will just have to find other ways to be a valuable member of the Trailer Geek Squad, umm, I mean, Community.
You know how they say, when it really comes down to it, you are all alone? Well BS. In fact no matter how out there you are, no matter how esoteric your hobby is, somewhere there is a group on the internet who will make you feel like an innocent amateur and complete novice. (Ferrets for Dummies, anyone?)
In the process of researching my trailer project, which seemed like a bit of an odd undertaking, if not unheard of, I have discovered that I am really just a small unpolished star, totally naked to the eye, in the galaxy of trailer fanatics.
I mean, seriously. If you are actually reading this and you don’t know me it will NOT be because you are interested in learning more about vintage trailers. It will be because you are trying to sell something to the demographic of people who are fanatics about trailers. I mean, it’s a whole army, ya’ll.
Like any other demographic, they have their ideological splits. Size may not matter, but brand does. There is a certain snobbism and last-big-man-standing posture about the Airstream crowd. You can not join the official Airstream Club, the WBCCI, or go to their parties, harrumph, unless you own the genuine article. No posers, man. On the other hand, they seem a far above decent lot, just well indoctrinated.
I do not have an Airstream. I have, as perhaps you do not need reminding, a Spartan. But, the trailer crowd will apparently pull their wagons around me even if I am burdened by that they call a SOB (Some Other Brand). From the toe I put in the water at airforum.com I learned that in addition to being a SOB, I am also almost an “original aluminum owner” which has some cache it seems. I was assured that people with “aluminum affliction” are friendly to what they call “vintage kin” which is the PC way of saying SOB. I spent 10 years in the software industry, so buzzwords and acronyms are not new to me. But even I am a little blown away by the volume of jargon around trailers. Toto, it ain’t Kansas.
In addition, I was sincerely, and very kindly reassured that Airstreamers are really just Campers at Heart. So we are all the same. Kum-bay-yah. Um… except I am not a camper at heart. I am not even a camper on a superficial level. Shit! I never said I was a camper howdidthishappen? Do I like Nature? Yes. Do I like roadtrips? Yes. But the allure of the trailer for me is that I like HOUSES. A trailer is a wonderful expression of a home that you carry with you. My greedy curiosity to see inside other trailers is the same drive that makes people take walks at twilight when they can see inside peoples homes before they pull their shades. (Don’t lie. You’ve done it.)
Maybe this can all work out. After all, the founder of Airstream, Wally Byam, came up with the travel trailer because his bride was not one to go without the comforts of home. Thank you Mrs. Byam.
So, I may be a lying SOB but at least I am having fun.
So, like all spiritual journeys, I began this one at the Church. For me, that is the Downtown Public Library. I needed Spartan history, how-to RV books, camp site info, landscape design, INSPIRATION. There, between Deceptively Delicious by Seinfeld’s wife and Ferrets for Dummies, I found it. The first documented proof that I am Not Insane. Apparently, I am just joining a well-established cult. The Vintage Trailer Lifestyle Cult. Check out Airstream Living by Bruce Littlefield if you don’t believe me. Unknown to me, the whole country- no, planet- is just a crawl with folks who can’t get enough of the Silver Travel Trailer. There are cabins in the mountains, surf trailers on the beach, hot dog emporiums, and love shacks made out of trailers.
There are also web sites galore: Vintagetrailer.com, tincantourists.com, spartantrailer.com. There are hip companies running green offices out of trailers and photographers who make a name for themselves being trailer connoisseurs. There is even a vintage-trailer-jewelry designer, who studios in a-- you-got-it: Vintage Trailer.
Rock stars do trailers, as do media corps. Film stars go for cache with vintage trailers. Considering that I read something about only an estimated 150,000 being made in the Great Travel Trailer Era, it seems everyone already has one. Better get one while you can, they are a HOT commodity.
In case you miss out on the Vintage ones, the Granddaddy King of Trailer Companies, Airstream, still churns out new ones. Design within Reach has joined up with Airstream and has a super tricked out model palatable to even the snobbiest of snobs. It’s a super cutie pie of a travel trailer- for $50 grand.
It is a sickness. And I am running a mighty fine fever.
When I think about the whole Trailer Project, you know what gives me pause? The responsibility? The money that will inevitably be spent? The daunting task of driving across the country with a 5,200 lb antique? My Dad’s wrath if I wreck the family treasure? No. Well, actually Yes to all of them. But the Real Scary Thought is that (God’s Voice) I will build it … and no one will come. Now, that would be an epic DISASTER.
So, I am opening up the Cause. I need help. I need talent. I need ya’ll to get invested in this so that you will actually show up and have Fun there when it is all done.
Consider this the all-hands-on-deck call. I need your contribution: time, ideas, talents, energy, support, whatever. If you are willing to give something of yourself to the Trailer Project, then you are Part of it.
Give as you are able. I need design help, builders, visionaries, dreamers, company on a 2,315 scary-and-fun -as-hell road trip. I need to locate the perfect piece of land in Central Texas- less than 2 hour drive from Downtown Houston. I need iPod playlists, folks. I need support and enthusiasm. I need people to keep me from going back to my responsible, practical ways. Keep me (dis) honest.
First step: I need brainstorm input on what would make a get-away a place you would want to go to. I need you to be part of the journey and the destination.
And it needs to be Fun.
So, the trailer dilemma. It’s cool. I mean Really Cool. It’s been in my family forever. 20 years longer than I have, to be exact.
In case you did not know me in the 90’s, you may not know that I am big time Vintage Girl. I worked at vintage store- and a silver jewelry shop- most of my trip through college. I am a leopard-skin kinda gal who has been trapped in corporate America for 10 years. I’ve been nice. I’ve been respectable. I’ve been upper middle class. I’m a mom. And now, it’s time to be just a little BAD. Irresponsible. Fun.
Ring. Ri-ng. Riiiinnng! “Daddy, I want the trailer!”
Ok. How am I gonna pull this off? Unlike my loner younger years when I shunned too much companionship and anything that looked like, heaven forbid, help, I am now much, much smarter.
I lived, alone for 10 years in a Victorian tear down. No Central AC. In Houston. What I learned was that I was tough. And cool. And LONELY as hell. So, belatedly I figured out how damn wrong Mazlow was about the pyramid of needs. Food? Shelter? 401K? Shit. What a person needs is decent freakin’ friends. They are the ultimate survival secret and if you don’t have them you ARE starving in a gutter even if you don’t realize it.
I have a little kid. She’s 3. I am all up-to-date on my classic bedtime stories. Well, do you remember The Little Red Hen? You know: She Found Some Wheat? “Who will help me plant/ reap/ grind the wheat?” Well, she had a bunch of lazy-ass friends who would not do jack squat to help her. “Not I!” they gleefully cried, which is the bedtime story equivalent of not answering cell phones or replying to text messages. In the end, LRH whips up some fabulous bread and wadda ya know. All the friends are ready to Party. And LRH has a clue by this point and shuns them with a big ole No Way.
Now. Is the point of the story that LRH showed them in the end? No. I think not. Pay attention! LRH was left eating bread alone, people. The point is that LRH had a bunch of loser friends who needed dumping sooner, not later. She should have found some peeps who thought helping her was part of the Party. Then she would not have eaten enough bread to make herself sick primarily to spite others. I mean, honestly, self-righteousness does not equal FUN.
This moral was not lost on me. I’ve spent 20 years cultivating the most bad-ass set of friends you’ve ever seen. I mean, my friends are the Justice League of America. They provide a quality of protection against Life’s Cruel Disappointments that is generally reserved for fiction. Only they are Real. Real and Really Talented. And probably slightly off-kilter, but hey, look who they hang out with.
Thus, I am taking my trailer project to my Little Black Belt Hens (LBBH?). We are sooo gonna make this one Secret Lair to write home about.
Perhaps you heard about my near- apocalyptic 2008? If not, skip it. It is behind us now.
So. 2009. Having lost all rational fear, resistance to risk and much of my sanity (see 2008) I decided I need to have FUN in 2009. It is clearly time to cash in on my inheritance.
Now, some people get bequeathed fancy jewelry, some people get choice real estate, others receive 50 years worth of National Geographic and Reader’s Digest.
I pity them.
I hit the Mother Load of Inheritance. Rather, I hit the Father Load, to be more accurate.
My Daddy, bless him, bought a 1950 Spartan Royal Mansion Travel Trailer w-a-y back in 1949 as a returning GI. The Cadillac of silver bullet trailers. Yessiree. And he is giving it to ME.
So…hooo. I got myself a 5,200-pound 33-foot behemoth of a trailer. Did I mention that said jewel is currently abiding in Salem, Oregon, while I happen to live Deep in the Heart of Texas? Might as well also come clean and drop in that I’ve never driven anything bigger than my 2000 Jetta.
No problem. Because I am having FUN in 2009. What could possibly be more fun than an insane, likely dangerous and highly dubious project concerning a subject you know little-to-nothing about coupled with a non-existent budget? That is a Westerners idea of Bliss, you Eastern Zen-types.
I mean, all I have to do is move the damn trailer 2,315 miles across the country (It’s only 33 feet plus the 17 foot 1980 Ford Econoline Van!) Find a temporary place to stash it (Um, I live downtown), restore the MF, buy some land, landscape the Hell out of it, and my iconic retro-modern get-a-way will be the Envy of Everyone. (Mwa-ahh -haa-haa evil-genius laugh obviously obligatory here.)
I feel I need to elaborate a teensy bit on the whole 2008- scared- me-to-near-death thing... Ya’ll: I now laugh in the face of small chartered planes, certified letters from the IRS, mammograms, and the health risks associated with movie theater popcorn. I’m corrupt, man. Nothing scares me anymore. This might not actually be a good thing (survival instincts blah, blah, blah, responsible role model, etc.)
But WTF. It is what it is. And I’m scared of NADA, people. Do your worst- or your best- either way. BOO. I won’t blink.
So, on the one hand, I got a trailer. On the other hand, I got nothing to lose. Let the FUN begin.