"Well out here on the border
Ants drag bones across the hot dry ground
And over there at the trailer park
They got a million souls at the lost and found."
-- From "Interstate," by Roger Clyne
I'm no stranger to the trailer park.
Somewhere outside Boulder, Colo., was the typical square, wood-frame-with-siding, plain-jane trailer where I spent my early years. Not really mobile, it had the traditional airplane-like staircase going to the "front" door. Like most others, the "back door" did not have stairs -- you had to jump down about four feet when you exited there.
My aunt's trailer, in contrast, was all shiny and metal. It was a rocket ship. It was Clovis, N.M., and on this empty piece of desolation and beautiful sky I stood face to face with my first Rolls Royce of the trailer set.
"What kind of trailer is this?" I asked her.
"It's an Airstream," she said. "Great, isn't it?"
I thought someone had taken a jet and replaced the wings with some crazy mag wheels. This was art, I could see myself in that rig -- the expression of travel to places unknown. Anything was possible ... anything.
Long before I moved to Walla Walla and finally acted on my nostalgic passion to own an Airstream, I discovered an Airstream used to quarantine Apollo astronauts while during high school working at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. I could picture this sitting on the moon ... the first lunar trailer park along with the astro-turf lawn, awning and a few lawn chairs.
Other sightings were hit and miss until I reached "the Walla" in 2006, where I decided I was going to restore a vintage 1954 Aloha "canned ham" -- one of a half dozen restorations I've undertaken. Upon completion I began looking for a new project. It was then when I rediscovered Airstream among the retro-trailer websites. The little ones -- Bambi, WeeWind and Bubble -- are also more expensive than their larger cousins.
I found one at airforums.com. It was a 1964 Bambi II in California, quite rare and in amazing shape. It was owned by Rikki Rockett, from the rock band Poison.
Over the 2008 Labor Day weekend my Mary Price and I went after it. We hit the Cabbage Hill on the way to La Grande at 5 a.m. and arrived in Rockett's town in the desert north of Los Angeles. I walked into the little eatery there, the only one, and he was there playing along with another musician. At his home we saw what we came for.
We hooked the Bambi to our Toyota FJ and hit the road for home. We passed through Manzanar, site of a WWII Japanese-American internment camp, then on to Yosemite where we almost burned down the park with too many pine cones on the fire. I pictured my sorry self, black-faced and charred on the evening news, trying to explain how burning Yosemite down was an "accident" without looking too stupid.
The next day we reached the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, where the Burning Man Festival is held. An amazing place,with a incredible open gypsum-like playa, hot springs and a nearby geyser surrounded by mountains. It may as well be the moon. Simple beauty.
Out in the distance, a car leading a trail of dust approached. Two adventurous young women jumped out of a 4X4 Volkswagen Vanagon set up for expedition. They were wrapped up like bedouins with '70s-era mirrored sunglasses.
"It was like a beacon on the ocean, like a mirror!" one of them said. "We had to come see what it was. It's an Airstream!" They were traveling, as we all are in some manner. We would spend more time on the playa.
In Baker City, Ore., Mary and I almost froze to death -- winter remained present here. Incidentally this town along the old Oregon Trail is also the birthplace of Wally Byam, the creator of Airstream. We would later join the Wally Byam Caravan Club International ¬?-- yes, Airstream owners like hanging out with other owners.
La casita que viaje -- Spanish for little house that travels. Within it a soul of a trailer, a temporaryish living structure I could tow around. It was more than a trailer, it was an excuse to take grand adventures among the global trailer park. Our first venture after bringing the Airstream home to Walla Walla would be a solo run to Mexico. We were, not unlike Kerouac, going "on the road." It was to be a 4,000 mile round trip to the beach and back.
We traveled through Idaho, through Zion National Park and a beach on Lake Powell in Utah. From there, onto Tucson, Ariz., through the Tohono O'odham Indian Nation, Organ Pipe National Monument, a few U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints.
Then zap ... the buzz of tiredness and excitement as we looked at the stoplight to see if we would be searched. YES, as a flashing sign told us to pull over for inspection. OK, I thought, this should be interesting. The Mexican border guard had a good look at the Bambi, slowly walking around it, placing his hands and face to the windows to see inside. I offered to give him a tour inside. Striding around with his hands in his gunbelt, I could see him thinking ... what is this trailer? It was clearly something unusual, old yet futurist. A unearthed dusty lunar lander with wheels carrying us all to adventure.
Past the border was emptiness: the nothingness of sand and road devoid of anything all the way to the ocean. I pulled over at little shrine, a place I often frequent in my younger years during many trips down Mexico 8. The gravel crunches and sweat drips on this Sonoran road. That trumpet-strewn mariachi blaring from the radio, a bobble-head Jesus on the dash, roadside saints, memories. I walk into the shade of the shrine and light all the candles that have been extinguished, this being our tradition. It is in the hope of renewing hopes and needs of others who placed these votives among the adored Virgin of Guadalupe statue.
"Well out here on the border/
Ain't nobody asking questions/
No I don't need a miracle/
But I could use a push in the right direction."
We soon see the blue line of the Sea of Cortez, then onto the beach. I waded in the water. Here is home for me.
Here, reflecting that Mexican sky, this land with dry ground rich with lost and empty souls, our spaceship trailer has taken us to adventures unknown.
Life itself is a long road to a destination -- and often in the dark and heat and riddled with adventure. We may as well be on the moon. And these big adventures make our lives so much richer.
And on this empty piece of desolation and beautiful sky I stood face to face with my Airstream.
"It's an Airstream. Great, isn't it?"