We tore ourselves away from the redolence of Hill's smoker--he pronounces "ribs" as a two-syllable word, "ree-yibs"--and covered the remaining distance to Trailerpalooza, at the Mystic Springs Airstream Park, which squeezes in between some railroad tracks and the western bank of the Escambia River near McDavid, Florida. Well, all right, so it wasn't Trailerpalooza--instead, it was the Wally Byam Caravan Club International's Region Six computer rally. Airstreamers from as far away as Louisiana were camping out for the next few nights and gathering in the campground's pavilion by day to learn the fundamentals of Microsoft Windows.
Herb Spies, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, taught the course. He and his wife, Sidra (named for the Gulf of Sidra, off Libya's shore), retired in 2003. Herb worked at Eglin Air Force Base and was in on the ground floor of the Internet, and Sidra taught high school biology. "We've been on the road most of the time since," Sidra said. They prefer vintage cars and trailers, with two 1955 Chevys in their collection as well as a '63 Suburban daily driver. Their '63 Airstream Globe Trotter is nineteen feet long, weighs only 3300 pounds, looks smart inside with a Route 66 motif, and is so cozy that, according to Sidra, "A tea-kettle full of water heats the whole trailer."
In addition to teaching Windows, Herb also teaches trailer polishing, and the Globe Trotter's gloss is indeed high. "People use it for a mirror," said Sidra, who was eager to demonstrate what she called "the Airstream diet." She made us walk along the straight and flat side of the trailer looking at our reflection, and we saw a familiar bulging tummy. But as the aluminum bent around the rear corner, a funhouse effect was noted, and a buff fellow with a flat stomach and broad shoulders gazed back from the metal surface.
Wally Byam not only invented the Air-stream company--the sole surviving manufacturer from that first blush of 1930s trailering--but also practiced a sort of messianic activity that is still recognized by his followers. Leading his caravans, he used to hoist a bullhorn before his lips to reach his followers' ears. He left to a cousin his own worn-out boots as holy relics. There even remain a few living apostles, well into their eighties, who actually traveled with the man. We were informed by a camper that the majority of Airstreams produced remain in use. As a special distinction for the WBCCI Region Six, the oldest of all Air-streams is part of their Pensacola Unit. This 1935 teardrop model was built from a set of plans by Dr. Norman Holman, Sr., and is still owned by his son.
That night, serenaded by crickets, we bedded down under a half moon. Alice took the wider and deeper aft bed, Regis slumbered in the forward lounge, and poor Sam writhed on the floor. Yours truly reposed comfortably in his own tiny tent. Around three o'clock, Sam moved to the back seat of the Silverado's Crew Cab. About six trains passed during the night, originating with pinpoint sounds in the depths of unconsciousness and finishing with a whistle blare right up the medulla, but no one else would ever admit hearing them.
"Tow-wee-ah, tow-wee-ah, tow-wee!" blared four or five ounces of aggravating songbird at 5:30 a.m., as through Byam's bullhorn. We broke camp after the Airstreamers treated us to pancakes and sausage in the pavilion. They regaled us with stories of 12,000-mile round trips to Alaska and of trailering in the good old days, when a 1966 Pontiac Bonneville would be equipped with a transmission cooler and a five-blade fan to improve towing performance with a twenty-four-foot trailer.
Then we had to head north. Ann Arbor lay just over 1000 miles away. After emptying our black water, then our gray water, we sealed up and pulled out. We had to refuel the Silverado every 200 miles or so. Eventually reaching Jackson Center, we gratefully returned Schumann's "fine piece of aluminum" and continued home unfettered. After such a diverse experience in so short a time, synthesizing all these elements into something coherent would be tough, but for inspiration we cast our minds back toward Tupelo, whence Elvis had taken the barest essentials of country, blues, and gospel, shaken them up inside his overalls, and produced something as remarkable as rock and roll.