Sunday, 28 February 2010

For a sneak preview...

We are REALLY behind on the blog, sorry about that. We've been socializing again.
With our new best friends, Dan and Marlene, who have not only an Airstream but two daughters: 3-year old Ava and 5-month old Mila.

They are much better at keeping up with their blog, so have a look if you want to see some of what we've been up to since Tucson:
It's a cute blog, and they've got lots of great photos.

We'll be back online in a couple of days - we are on the islands south of Corpus Christi, Texas now, heading up to Galveston, from where we'll be sending our beloved Airstream across the Atlantic to Southampton so that we can continue our adventures in the UK.

From there, we'll be racing back to New York in the car, hopefully arriving by March 6, my sister Annie's birthday. Not sure what the weather will be like, but we hope to avoid any of the snowstorms currently affecting the Eastern seaboard (hard to imagine here on the Gulf of Mexico). But we should have a constant stream of internet, so we'll let you know.

Stay tuned for updates on where we've been, plus accounts of life adjusting from our shiny home to mid-range motels and contemplating the Return to Real Life.

Wish us luck.

Claire, Daniel and the girls

Friday, 19 February 2010


The main reason for visiting Tucson was to see my great-aunt Hazel, a lady I’ve always admired. At 90, she gives even Barbara a run for her money.

She is the family matriarch, and as such holds lots of history in her head. We heard lots of good family stories.

Hazel and her now deceased husband Julius, who lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio, bought a house in Tucson 29 years ago, when they first decided to winter there and be closer to their son Robert. Eventually, they went full-time.

Tucson has grown a lot since then, with a lot of the empty desert having filled up with housing and developments.

But it retains a gentle character: lots of local businesses, good food and plenty of nature nearby. Plus, it’s nowhere near as hot or built-up as Phoenix.

We had a wonderful long weekend visiting with Hazel, Robert, his kids Michael and Alyssa, and another of Hazel’s sons, Philip, and his wife Nancy, who live in Ouvray, Colorado. It was fun catching up.

Our top attractions in Tucson were
• the excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a zoo, botanical garden and museum all in one. We particularly enjoyed exhibits on hummingbirds, bees and bobcats.

• San Xavier del Bac Mission. Daniel and Barbara went early one morning, after dropping Hazel off at the airport, and enjoyed the sunrise over the sparkling white built-in-1770 Spanish mission with nary a fellow tourist. Daniel, the girls and I went back early Sunday afternoon, when there is an Indian market. We all ate what seemed to be the specialty: fried bread with fillings like beans, cheese, chili con carne and chiles.

• The Gem Show, an international convention held each February in Tucson. Robert took Barbara and Daniel on a whirlwind tour of the exhibition, and everyone ended up taking advantage of wholesale prices to buy some jewelry. I was the one who really lucked out here, Daniel came back with a bonanza I totally don’t deserve.

• El Corral Restaurant, a real southwestern eating place. We took Hazel here on our last night in town, and the food (and margaritas) was excellent. Especially recommended are the steaks, grilled salmon and tamale pie. Yum!

The other highlight of Tucson was meeting up with two other Airstream families and fellow bloggers at Fort Lowell Park playground:

- The Luhrs – Rich, Eleanor and Emma – we had met at the beginning of our trip in the Badlands. They traveled full-time in their 29.5-foot trailer for three years, before settling down under a real roof in Tucson. Whether or not he’s on the road, Rich works on his magazine, Airstream Life.

- The Lins – Dan, Marlene, Ava and Mila – we met online having seen a link to their blog on Rich’s own website. In a 25-foot International, they are on the road with 3-year old Ava and five-month old Mila. Very exciting to meet new friends on the road!

Wickenburg: where everyone looks like a historic character

Wickenburg, Arizona, a former gold mining town north of Phoenix, was a contrast to Chloride. A lovingly conserved town, its citizens are without exception welcoming, with many of them going further and dressing all Wild West to support tourism (or maybe that’s just their look).

There’s a self-guided tour around town, allowing visitors to visit notable buildings around town and life-size Old West figures – with these, you press a button and the character tells its own story. There’s a vaquero (cowboy), gold prospector, prostitute, African-American female entrepreneur…plus a rattlesnake and tarantula thrown in to give people a scare.

Walking around town, we almost pressed buttons on characters that turned out to be people fully bedecked in cowboy hats, turquoise-and-silver jewelry and handlebar mustaches.

I succumbed to Western Fever, happily going along with Daniel’s suggestion that I get myself some pretty rockin’ cowgirl boots. Must start selling ads on the blog! Sophia didn’t like them, until we showed her that there was some pink embroidery.

As we walked out of the shop – a really cool place specializing in hand sewed saddles – a passing cowboy said, “Wow, those are some sexy boots.”


Wickenburg also a great little museum, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum – many of these Western towns have very thoughtfully curated museums chock full of local memorabilia and history.

It’s nice to see towns that have outlasted mining booms and busts, and great when residents take such pride in where they live.

Too bad we missed its Gold Rush Days, where visitors can pan for gold, by just a few days.

Altercation in Arizona

Without exception, every American we’ve met on our trip has been friendly and helpful. That is a lot of Americans. And we’re talking right wing, left wing, old, young, friends and strangers.

Until we got to Chloride, Arizona, a skeleton of a silver mining town just over the Nevada border.

There, we visited the visitor center cum gift shop to get a map of the town for a self-guided tour. And Barbara, whose love of gift shops ranks just below margaritas and museums, bought a couple of things.

I went in to take Sophia to the bathroom – asked where it was, the owner mumbled something about something or other not working so I said we could go somewhere else. He said that would be much better.

So we went to our trailer, climbed over all our in-transit packing, and used our own bathroom. And washed our hands.

RVs tend to have two tanks: one for black water, or human waste, and another for sink water. Our grey water tank is detachable, and stored in the trailer when we travel. So we didn’t put it on for one handwashing. Which is probably not the right way to do things.

Definitely do not ever do this in Chloride.

The visitor center man, whose shaggy beard and flannel shirt tucked into overalls made him look like a ghost town extra, ran outside, gesturing indignantly at a tiny puddle on the gravel parking lot.

“I’m going to report you!” he yelled at Daniel, who tried in vain to explain that the water was not dirty.

When I said that our four-year old had to use the bathroom, he spat “I don’t care if your kid has to take a leak!”

Unable to stay quiet, I added, “But we asked to use your bathroom and you said it didn’t work”.

“That’s a lie,” he grunted, so close to me that I could feel his breath and imagine his whiskers. I really thought he was going to push me over.

Chloride has no police station, did it rely on vigilante justice instead, like some of the other out-of-the-way places we’ve visited on this trip?

He stomped across the empty street, and then stomped back, his face echoing the oncoming storm brewing overhead.

“Do we need to wait for someone, the people you’ve reported us to?” we asked.

He looked at us like we were the crazy ones, and said, “no, they know all about you.”

“Who are they?”

“The EPA,” he retorted, infuriated.

“The Environmental Protection Agency?”

“Look it up in the phone book, or on your fancy computer,” he replied, stomping back into the shop.

So off we went, fairly quickly, in case anyone with guns showed up.

We wanted to sneak a photo of him, but were afraid. Plus, his wife was on the veranda of the shop, notebook and pen in hand. So we took a photo of the visitor center, through a closed window.

As we left, we caught glimpse of a giant billboard reading 'GUNS', advertising an upcoming gun show nearby.

Daniel’s new look

In LA, Daniel bought his first-ever pair of chinos. In fact, he bought a set of two, from Zara.
Is he becoming Americanized?
He says he had always wanted a pair, but never found one that fit. That said, he credits Will, a member our adoptive LA family, for inspiring this double-purchase.
Will has forsaken three-piece suits for a more dressed-down shirt and chinos, sometimes adding a vest. His parents are pleased that he now unbuttons the top button, saying this took years to accomplish.
Here’s a great photo of Will, showing off his ‘Mad Men’ look.

Hoover Dam

Just outside of Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, which straddling Nevada and Arizona controls the Colorado River and ensures water gets to much of the desert Southwest. As a secondary benefit, the rush of water generates a lot of electricity.

Visitors to this massive manmade wonder – which was constructed at the height of the Great Depression to provide thousands of jobs - can walk over the Dam’s bridge and use the glorious, golden doored art deco bathrooms. Taking the tour gets you lots of facts and figures, plus a gratuitous use of the word “dam”, ie. “dam tour”, “dam nice”, etc.

Having driven through the sprawl of Las Vegas’ new developments – many of which look empty – we had wondered how such an arid climate could support so many people.

But it’s not just Las Vegas that has the Hoover Dam to thank – Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix are just some of the other places benefiting from this structure.

What they don’t really tell is the other side of the story – who lost out by the building of the dam? The Colorado River was notorious for flooding, but there’s always something that suffers when man intervenes in nature.
Also, there is much trumpeting about how the Southwest became habitable…but is it a good idea to ask the desert to support large populations of humans?

The guide, an official of the federal government, did point out what a vital resource water is, speculating that the next wars would be fought over water. He added that the Hoover Dam is the number 3 terrorist target in the US, behind New York and LA.

As such, there is a lot of security at the dam – checkpoints for cars, x-ray machines for people and their bags, and the officials get very upset if anyone strays. A new road is being built a bit further from the dam, so that non-tourist traffic doesn’t have to go over the main bridge.


Apparently, Airstream enthusiasts seeking both the vintage experience and comfort like to have two trailers: a cute, old one and a new, spacious one. This is called having a “Spare-stream”.

In Las Vegas, we got to do just that.

The city’s KOA offers two 25-foot 2009 Airstream Flying Clouds for rent, starting at $99 per night. They provide linens and full hook-up, and give a short intro to trailers for guests. So, it’s just like a hotel, on The Strip’s only campground. Part of the Circus Circus complex, it does offer a pool, slot machines and as much drinking in public as you like.

Desperate to know what life in a modern Airstream was like, we booked one.

Stepping in, Daniel exclaimed “We’ve just traveled four decades into the future!”

Jaws to the floor, we admired the trailer’s two flat screen TVs, microwave, built-in water filter, huge fridge/freezer, touch-of-a-button air con/heating system, separate shower and toilet rooms, spot lighting and copious storage.

And the space - that was the best part! A full foot wider than our little Caravel, this baby also had a separate bedroom with Queen-sized bed, with an accordion door. Luxury.

We celebrated Space with cocktails (margaritas for the adults, apple juice for Sophia and water for Lulu). Instead of speaking to each other, we all settled down to our own entertainment: news on the living room TV for Barbara, ‘Cats and Dogs’ DVD on the bedroom TV for Sophia (Daniel went back and forth), internet for me at the dinette and loads of crawl space for Lulu up and down the super-wide corridor.

Pizza for dinner, bedtime for the girls – who we were able to put in the bedroom until we went to bed – and then PBS (‘Antique Roadshow America’, for the adults.


We ended up staying four nights.

Spare-streaming: we can’t recommend it enough.

Viva Las Vegas (with kids)

Las Vegas is exactly as you would expect. It looks just like all the photos, and all the types of people you imagine being there are there.

We know this because the first night, we drove up and down Las Vegas Boulevard, or The Strip, as it’s usually called. Each casino, or resort, is crazier than the last. There’s the one that looks like New York, another that’s Paris, one or two with rollercoasters, an Egyptian pyramid, a castle (Sophia’s favorite), etc.

The next morning, as we went about our extremely slow morning routine, Barbara went to Circus Circus, the casino next to our KOA campground. She came back fairly traumatized.

Once we got there, it became apparent that our end of The Strip was the less classy. It had yucky carpeting, a haze of smoke and really tacky souvenir stands. It was through there that we had to walk to get to Slots-A-Fun, the departure point for Las Vegas’ hop on-hop off bus, The Deuce.

As the bus inched up the street through pouring rain and Superbowl Weekend crowds (we heard on the news that the city’s hotel rooms were at 85% capacity), we wondered what the Bellagio – the home of a fine arts gallery – could hold.

There, we had planned to meet up with my high school friend, Danielle, and her husband Chris. They were taking advantage of her air miles to enjoy their first ever baby-free weekend since their daughter Mia was born last May.

We ended up having ice cream instead of fine art, which Barbara went alone to see. Danielle and Chris told us about their weekend of debauchery – wine at lunch, spa treatment, Danielle’s $1000 jackpot on the slot machines, etc. We could only fantasize. But, catching ourselves, we remembered that nine months off to travel the US wasn’t so bad either.

Once Danielle and Chris had said goodbye, fleeing our chaotic piles of baby gear and strollers, it was time to gamble.

Weaving our way past row upon row of game machines operated by zombies, cigarette and drink in hand, we set up camp a game with pictures of huge, gaudy gems (Sophia’s choice). Having put in a $5 bill, we realized we had no idea how to play it. So, off I went with Lulu in the baby carrier to the client services desk. No kids below 18 are allowed within ten feet of gambling, so I had to stand back and shout my question.

A lady sporting de rigueur Las Vegas pop-out cartoon boobs came back with us to the machine in question, then said Sophia had to move away from the games. So the girls and I found a tiny space on the floor that was a couple of feet away from games in all directions. Why, asked Sophia, couldn’t she play these fun, colorful games? These are games for adults, I answered, you can lose lots of money. How boring.

Needless to say, we didn’t win anything.

The best thing about the Bellagio – and one of our favorite attractions overall – was the hotel’s incredible fountain display, which featured dancing water that shot 100 feet in the air to the tune of piped in music, once an hour.

See video below.

A short walk down the strip in the rain later, we were back on The Deuce, headed towards Stratosphere, which is marked by a needle tower.

There, we went to Roxy’s Diner, a Happy Days style place with singing waiters and waitresses. As we waited for a table, four ladies on a fun weekend away danced energetically around a handsome waiter singing ‘My Girl’. Awesome!

Our meal, which was surprisingly good (burgers, mashed potatoes, catfish, washed down with beer), was accompanied by renditions of songs by Motown, Elvis and Patsy Cline…by waiters in slicked back hair and waitresses in poodle skirts.

Exhausted, we piled back into The Deuce.

The next day, Barbara attempted to see the Grand Canyon (bad weather prevented her jeep tour from reaching the scenic South Rim, and bad visibility stopped her from seeing anything from the West Rim).

We had a morning of admin, followed by an afternoon on The Strip.

First up was the Fashion Show Mall, where we got a new Apple charger and then enjoyed a fashion show (we had no idea!), featuring the clothing of one of the mall’s shops. Black-clad bouncers with earpieces hung around the catwalk, where a clock counted down the minutes until the show. Then, once the booming music started, an elevator rose out of the mall floor, filled with models. So much fun.

Sophia spent the rest of the day strutting around Las Vegas, workin’ it.

Before we could leave the mall, she marched me into Zara, where she had spotted some round-toed, round-heeled fuchsia vertiginous heels. I picked out a pair of black skinny jeans, and Daniel chose a checked shirt with fancy buttons. Thus, a new outfit was purchased. I was the lucky winner, for no good reason at all.

Once Sophia had picked out a bag – purple plastic with big, gaudy gems, we were off to The Venetian. Having picked a plum spot on a bench alongside the Grand Canal in the Piazza San Marco – where it’s always daytime - we enjoyed fantastic performances by a mime artist, court jester, opera singers, a man on stilts and troubadours. So we didn’t feel too bad about our (delicious) $24.30 gelatti.

The Venetian is very classy, populated by luxury shops and lots of Italians, who seem to feel very at home there.

Lulu was delighted at the opportunity to crawl all around the black-and-white tiled floor, and every last member of a Japanese tour group was delighted at the opportunity to take photos and videos of her doing this.

“So cute!”, they said.

On our way out of the hotel, the New Orleans Saints clinched their Superbowl victory over the Indianapolis Colts, sending white-hatted jocks running out of the bars, yelling and headbutting. Now that’s Americana.

On our final Deuce ride, we got talking to a man wearing sunglasses with hologram skulls – had to buy ‘em, he said, they were just $3. Instead of being scared, the girls seemed totally at home with him as he told stories of Dodge City, his hometown.

“The steaks and burgers you eat all come from there, we slaughter 15,000-17,000 head of cattle a day”, he said. Well. You learn something new every day.

There is no point analyzing or critiquing Las Vegas, it is just…Las Vegas: completely mental but also fun if you just take it at face value.

What’s definitely good about the place is that it provides employment for so many creative people – artists, musicians, interior designers, architects, florists, etc.

At The Venetian, I met a girl in the bathroom who asked what Vegas is like with kids (on her first weekend away ever, she missed hers terribly). “Two kids, what about grandma,” I said, adding “It’s got something for everyone”. And that’s the truth.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Back in the day, our Caravel fit SIX people!

People think that a family of four living full-time in a 17-foot trailer is nuts, those that know we've added another person (Barbara, my mother-in-law) are incredulous. But in 1968, Airstream advertised its cute little Caravel as luxuriously sleeping SIX people.

See attached brochure as evidence.

Thanks to Airstream Life magazine publisher Rich Luhr for passing this on. His Caravel, a painstakingly restored one from 1968, is to be exhibited at this month's Modernism Week in Palm Springs, California.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Can you spot the Airstream?

More Death Valley photos

In these photos:

1. Artists' Palette

2-3. Zabriskie Point

4. View into the Valley

Death Valley, and Looney Tunes

We spent three nights in Death Valley, sleeping at the national park’s no hook-up Furnace Creek campground. At an elevation of -196 feet, it was blissfully warm, and also very cheap ($18 a night).

So we got excited, and by the time the third night rolled around, we had used up all our stored electricity. Which led to a stumble into the firepit (unlit, fortunately), a barbeque in the dark and a very no-fuss bedtime.

We enjoyed our campsite, which was dominated by an amazing honey mesquite tree and across from a fellow 1960s Airstream.

Apart from Badwater Basin, we enjoyed Golden Canyon, Artists’ Drive and Palette and most of all, Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley is a bit of a misnomer, as it does contain a fair bit of life. In our experience, it was very Loony Toons. By night, we heard the screams, howls and barks of coyotes, out on the hunt. And by day, a friendly roadrunner spent hours at our site, presumably waiting (very patiently, it must be said) for a scrap of food.
In vain, though, as you’re not allowed to feed the animals at national parks.

Under the sea

Badwater Basin, at Death Valley National Park, is the lowest point below sea level (-282 feet) in the Western Hemisphere. The mountain you can see in the background towers 11,000 feet above it.
It's also a pretty inhospitable salt flat, stretching off into the distance.

Lulu, nine months old

Lulu at nine months
Our little baby is now nine months old, meaning she’s been out as long as she was in.
And for most of those nine months, she has been on the road. ‘Una vida sobre ruedas’, like in the Pedro Almodovar movie ‘Carne Tremula’ when the protagonist – born on a city bus to a prostitute – wins a lifetime of free public transit in Madrid.

We hope she isn’t mad at us later for going on this big trip too early for her to have any memories – “But you’ve already been to Disneyland, Lulu”, we might say. Will she be a gypsy or a homebody?

Up until now, she’s been pretty patient.

But now this girl is on the move, and carseats are nothing but a hindrance.

So we do the best we can, finding ways to set her free in campgrounds, our tiny Airstream, The Venetian in Las Vegas (where every single person in a Japanese tour group took photos and videos of her crawling around), and the front seat of the car – while it is parked, of course – the steering wheel is a great way to practice standing.

Lulu lets us know when she’s mad, or teething (usually, these days), or just wants to make sure we know she’s there. Whereas Sophia’s scream was comparable to a fax machine, Lulu’s has been confused with the whistle of a boiling kettle. It’s amusing, unless it hits your eardrum at a certain angle.

There had been some concern that with Sophia as a sister, Lulu might appear in comparison to be a bit of a wallflower. Not so. She is ready for life and demands to participate in it, ASAP.

The girls are interacting more and more, really becoming friends and fellow extroverts. They are extra sweet to watch in the morning, when they are bright-eyed and entertaining each other…with the rest of us having to caffeinate to gear up for the day.

The girl can eat. Everything in sight, all the time. We are being a bit naughty, letting her taste things like ice cream, but it seems so unfair to let her watch the rest of us enjoy nice things.

Unfortunately for me, she has no idea what to do with a bottle, or a sippy cup. But normal cups and mugs work fine, so we’ll have to work with that.

Lulu is Not Blonde, but has hair that is light brown and slightly wavy with olive-y skin. She will be more like Daniel.

Despite that, though, Lulu is very much a mama’s girl. I think it will be a shock for us both when I go back to work.

She has spent her entire life with her entire nuclear family. We hope that compensates for her slightly strange upbringing so far.

I certainly can’t complain, it’s been so nice to be a stay-at-home mom, even if our home has been on wheels.