The curious case of Lorin’s fixation with travel trailers

by Lorin Michel Monday, June 4, 2018 10:46 PM

This weekend we were at it again. It was hot and dusty, and after a relatively pleasant May when we could still sleep with the windows open, June arrived in full Armageddon. For those of you unversed in the ways of the desert, June is the hottest month of the year. It is unrelenting. Every morning by 7, the temps are already in the 80s. By noon, it hovers between 95 and 100. Last year, up here on the hill, we had two days that hit 117º. It gets that hot because of where our weather station is positioned, against the hill behind us, without shade. But still, even with that caveat, it was ridiculously hot, and not all that uncommon lately. On June 19, 2016, the official temperature in Tucson hit 115º. On June 20, 2017, we officially recorded a temp of 116º. Brutal.

But then, come the beginning of July, the monsoon rains finally start and even though it can be hot during the day, when those storms roll up from the south, bringing thunder and lightning and wind, and when they unleash torrential rains, the temps can drop 30º in 20 minutes. It makes summer in the desert bearable. 

Where was I? Oh, yes. Being at it again this weekend. By “at it again,” I mean looking at travel trailers. Airstream has finally released its long awaited (at least by me) Nest fiberglass trailer, and I wanted to see it. Being a retirement destination, Tucson, like Phoenix and other parts of the desert southwest, has a number of RV dealerships. The Airstream dealer is called Lazy Days, and it’s down by the airport. We climbed down into the Z, put the top up and the A/C on, and took a ride.

I ended up being disappointed by the Nest for a number of the reasons. It was supposed to be light because of the fiberglass but it’s heavier than the smallest Bambi Sport. It was also supposed to be cheaper but it’s not, not really. Its tiny self clocks in at about $46,000. For a trailer. 

But while we were there and walking around on the blistering pavement under the unforgiving sun, we happened upon another interesting travel trailer that I decided I liked even better. It’s the Forest River R-Pod, a kind of teardrop shaped trailer that’s also made of fiberglass. It’s several pounds lighter than the Nest. It’s also less than $20,000. Used they’re around $15,000 or less. I was hooked. I got brochures. We came home and I promptly sat down at the computer to learn everything I could about the brand and specifically the RP 180 model. I started looking on to find used ones. I was ready to buy. 

Except that I really wasn’t. I knew somewhere deep in the corner of my brain that this whole fixation was and is a sham. I was never going to buy a travel trailer for a number of reasons. I work too many days and too many weeks to take enough time to travel the country by road. But the main reason is more simple: I don’t camp. I don’t like to camp. I don’t have any desire to camp. I don’t have some hidden desire to frequent KOA campgrounds. I am an avowed hotel snob. Something that’s four stars isn’t always good enough. 

“So then what’s the deal?” Kevin asked, unsurprised. He has lived with me for twenty-two years. He has heard me rant about subpar hotels. He has never once heard the words “let’s go camping” come out of my mouth. 

I thought about it. And here’s what occurred to me: I am fascinated by the idea of tiny houses, of being able to live in a space the size of my closet that contains a kitchen, a dinette, a bed, and a bathroom. And the idea of being able to travel and pull along my own small version of my big house, is intriguing; to know exactly what the place we’d be staying in after a road trip was going to be. Completely ours, decorated the way we like, with all of the stuff we use, albeit on a smaller basis. My version of “wherever you go, there you are.” And that, I finally decided, is why I thought I wanted a travel trailer. I’m a home body.

My fascination will continue. But my flirtation with actually buying something is officially over. To that I say, bring on the five-star hotel rooms.  

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live out loud


by Lorin Michel Thursday, April 28, 2016 8:40 PM

There are some fascinating things coming out of Oregon these days. [Not to mention the fascinating things going in – Diane and Gene moved there just last month and are in Oregonigal heaven.] 

Yesterday, while surfing I happened to come across something intriguing. I have no idea what I was looking for, or what I was looking at, but suddenly, there they were. Something new for me to focus relentless amounts of energy on all the while knowing that it’s not going to happen. I think it’s the researcher in me. Once I find something that is fascinating, at least to me, I start looking for more and more information. One bit of something will lead me to another bit of nothing but might give me a new keyword to search which ultimately leads me to who knows.

My little sojourn yesterday found something called Nest Caravans. Regular readers know of my ridiculous fascination with Airstream. One of these days, I’m going to get me one of them. But one of them is expensive. Even the smallest, the 16 foot Bambi, starts at $46,000. I don’t care how cute I think a camper is, I am not even going to consider spending that much money. I don’t camp enough. This fascination is more of just that: fascination. Much like how I’m fascinated with politics. I read, I discover. I have no desire to get into the field. I would rather pull my own fingernails out with a pair of plyers.

Nest Caravans are evidently part of the new generation of stylish camping trailers, ones designed for a more luxurious camping experience. This is one of the reasons I’ve been so fascinated with Airstream. I don’t like to camp, not really. But the idea of taking our own little four-star hotel room along with us when we go on a road trip is kind of cool. 

The Nest is sleek and made of fiberglass so it’s extremely lightweight. It’s a single piece, something they call a monocoque shell, on a small powder-coated steel tube frame on two wheels. It’s built for two (and maybe a dog) and it’s interior, which is small, includes a queen-size bed (even Airstream doesn’t have that) with a spring mattress, a stainless-steal cooktop, a fridge/freezer and a stainless steel sink. There is a very small bathroom, integrated solar panels for power, lots of electrical power, USB ports and dimmer switches on the interior cabin lighting, so important when one is camping. It also has an air conditioner, a smoke detector and a propane gas detector. All of this inside a cabin that’s about six and a half feet high.

The Nest is the brainchild of designer Robert Johans who started a trailer restoration business called The Egg Plant in 2006. His work on other trailers led him to design his own and the Nest Caravan was born. In Bend, Oregon. 

I was absolutely intrigued, especially when I found out that it could be completely customized, from exterior paint color to match your tow vehicle, to the interior. Sign me up. Let’s get one.

Only one problem. I couldn’t find any information past summer of 2015. I started thinking that maybe I’d found something that I absolutely, positively, no question HAD TO HAVE only to then discover that it was impossible because Nest didn’t seem to be available. Anywhere. 

Researcher that I am, I kept looking. And looking. One search term led me to another led me to another until I found this headline on The Small Trailer Enthusiast, April 2016: “Airstream Acquires NEST Caravans.” Because of course they did. I have loved Airstream, want one of their Bambi Sports, and now they’re going to manufacture these even smaller, lighter trailers.

Something to nest in and celebrate.

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live out loud

In the caboose

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 22, 2015 7:05 PM

My brother has always loved trains. When he was little, my mother did a silhouette train on a big darkly stained piece of wood that they suspended in his room via a black link chain. I suspect it was done with decoupage, the painstakingly slow craft of taking a photo or piece of paper, gluing it to wood and then covering it with coat after coat after coat of polyurethane, scouring with fine steel wool between each coat, in order to create a perfectly smooth surface. My mom was big into decoupage as well as a number of crafts. I seem to remember things with paper mâché and I know there was a lot with macramé. 

My brother still has the black silhouette train. I believe it hangs in his bedroom just as it did when he was a boy.

I think I remember a train set that spun around our Christmas tree. We had two Christmas trees for the longest time. One was my mother’s tree and it was in the formal living room. It was all gold and silver and white lights. There were no colored ornaments, none of the usual kid-made pieces or ones from Hallmark. The other tree was in the family room and it was on a wooden platform. Decorated with ornaments made in school and other brilliantly, tackily colored pieces, it was the kid’s tree. We could put anything on it we wanted to. There was a small track that ran around the wooden platform. I’m pretty sure it had a model train. Our Uncle Bert bought it for Scott when he was little. Knowing my brother, he still has that train, too. Either that or it’s safely tucked away in my mother’s attic.

I love being well outside of a city and seeing trains traveling through the country. I love that we used to be able to hear the downtown trains when we lived in our rental. We can’t hear them out here. I miss the whistle. 

There’s a romance about trains, the kind of feeling I don’t think has existed with other modes of transportation. Planes never engendered that kind of devotion. Perhaps the cruise ships of old, when it was the only way to cross the “pond.” Trains seem so accessible and yet unapproachable. 

Some great films have taken place on trains including the Thanksgiving favorite Planes, Trains and Automobiles. James Bond has been on a train more than once, including in the recent Spectre. Trading Places had a lot train time. Of course, the holiday book turned film The Polar Express also took place almost entirely on a train. 

Trains seem to somehow connect us with another time, another world, one less complex and tangled. One where we pretend. 

Yesterday, I came across the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana. It was built next to a rail yard in 1939 for railroad personnel who were exhausted after long days helping move freight and passenger trains over the rugged Marias Pass.  It was supposed to serve as an entrance to Glacier National Park, between the east and west glaciers but that never happened due to World War II. It cost some $40,000 to build and when it opened it had 29 rooms, 10 bathrooms, a big lobby, a dining room, a kitchen, drying room, store room and general store. The Inn, which continues to be popular, has been renovated to include bathrooms in every room. It also has embraced its railroad roots by taking old railcars and transforming them into guest house/cabins. 

There is the Green Caboose and the Blue Caboose, both for four people, each with two full size beds, a kitchenette and bathroom. The Orange Caboose is a restored 1895 honeymoon caboose with a wood interior, a gas fireplace, a full size bed, kitchen, bath and a deck with a grill. The newest is the Red Caboose with a queen size bed in the master bedroom, and two twins in the cupola. It has a full kitchen, and a bath. 

I’m fascinated with the tiny house phenomenon just as I’m fascinated with Airstream travel trailers. Small living spaces with big ideas and modern conveniences. These cabooses may exist in the 21st century but they harken back to that simpler time in the early part of the 20th century, when there was more innocence. More romance. More trains. It’s what I’m celebrating today.

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live out loud

I think this is why

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 29, 2015 8:51 PM

I’ve been thinking about the future a lot lately. I think it started when we moved two years ago, though it was probably actually when we bought the property in 2010. Something inside was looking forward to what is to be, to what can be. We love California, as clichéd as it is, we love LA, but we needed to make a change in order to move forward.

When I look out the windows in my glass house, I see what we’ve been able to do, that we have indeed moved forward. Yes, our careers remain the same, but we are preparing for what’s next.

I think the reason I think about retiring – something that never occurred to me 10 years ago – is because I want to simply enjoy my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it now. I do. I love my husband and my dog. I love my friends and family. I love what I do for a living. I know many people who can’t say that. But to be able to just go off on a trip, of any length, anytime, would be nice. To know that our income would hold steady, that we’d have enough money to live our lives the way we live our lives, would be lovely. To relax more would be heavenly. That’s not to say I wouldn’t work, or at least continue to write. As I said, I love what I do. But to perhaps be a little less consumed by it, a little less frantic. I think about that. Life in a slower lane. I think about that, too.

I think this is why we chose the desert. It’s just easier here. The city is small, the people are friendly. But it’s a slower pace in general. Maybe it’s the heat, but people move more gently. I think it’s why we also chose to live on the far north east side of the city, no longer even within the city limits. There’s a peace here that was missing before. When we were younger, we thrived on the constancy of Los Angeles. It’s a vibrant city, filled with people and lights. It’s a place to discover yourself but it eventually becomes a place where you lose yourself as well, swallowed up by the traffic and the anonymity of it. When you’re in the 20s and 30s, it’s enough that the sun shines and the ocean glistens, that you can hike to the Hollywood sign and enjoy music at the Hollywood Bowl; that Beverly Hills remains aloof and that the canyons carve a path from the city into the Valley, a city unto itself. It pulses. Then you become 40 and 50, watching life go by too quickly. It’s not enough any more.

I think this is why I wanted to slow it down a bit. Savor it.

I want to travel the country by car. I love road trips. I want to experience every state, just explore, while I’m still young enough to appreciate it all, and still young enough to actually do it. To climb in and out of a car, to hike, to breathe in all that there is from the west to the east, south to north and everywhere in between. Maybe I’ll even go to Texas, a state I have always avoided except for passing through DFW.

I think this is why I want an Airstream. I just want to go, to escape, to live free, live long, live strong. Live riveted to life. I think that’s it. Tonight, I think it’s worth celebrating.

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live out loud

My infatuation with Airstream continues or does it

by Lorin Michel Friday, August 28, 2015 11:00 PM

I wrote a week or so ago about my infatuation with the idea of getting an Airstream. A travel trailer. When I told Justin, he almost spit out his wine. “You don’t even like to camp,” he said, laughing. He’s right. I don’t like to camp. But taking a four-star room along with you could be kind of fun. I think it’s called glamping.

Since I wrote that original post, my infatuation has not abated. I honestly thought it might. After all, my desire to watch I am Cait has not returned. It was a brief infatuation, but the airstream thing seems to have legs. I even bought a book about restoring them. It arrived a week or so ago. I’ve looked at the photos a number of times. Kevin picked it up over the weekend and he was intrigued.

While he was looking through and reading me passages – “Listen to this.” – I was online, playing. I’ve taken to looking at Craig’s List and RVTrader to see if there are any new junkers for sale. We’re not ready for one, even if we were to decide to embark on this adventure. But it’s fun to look.

I found a blog that I’m now following, called The Small Small Trailer. This couple in Oregon bought an airstream Bambi, just like we’re thinking of. None of their friends or family could understand why, but they just had a desire. She’s been blogging about their weekend trips for several years and taking pictures – “Look at this.” – to document the sites where they’ve stopped for the night or for the weekend.

We’re going to look at one today, a small small trailer. Not to buy it but to see if it really is something we might eventually want to do. To see the size of it, the comfort of it; the bathroom of it.

The review begins in the next paragraph.

It’s now 8:30 p.m. and we’ve returned from our adventure. We’ve showered; we have wine poured. Kevin is cooking chicken wings, Riley is playing with Wubba and I’m blogging a review of what we found.

There’s a place here in Tucson called Lazy Days, down by the airport. It’s not in an especially great area of town. Anything near airports usually isn’t. It’s located on the corner of Irvington and Country Club. It’s absolutely crawling with RVs and travel trailers. But they’re the only Airstream dealer in Tucson. We pulled in around 5 knowing that they close at 6, and walked toward the front door.

One of the last scenes in Jerry Maguire has Jerry finally realizing how much he loves Dorothy. She stands and listens as he tells her that he misses his wife, and she finally shuts him down. “Stop. You had me at hello.” That’s how I felt when we walked in. It’s a beautiful show room, and there aren’t even any trailers or RVs inside. It was all tile and stone, with different rooms, ice cold lemon water to drink and a friendly receptionist who, when we told her we really just wanted to look and see if it was something we even like, simply motioned us toward the Airstreams in the lot and told us to browse through them as long as we’d like.

Right out the door was a Bambi Flying Cloud 19’ – “ooh, a Bambi.” – and we went inside. It was small but not as small as I expected. There was a stove and mini convection oven, a place to dine to the right as we stepped into the trailer, a short, narrow hallway to the back where the relatively small bed was. The bathroom was next to it. I opened the door and was pleasantly surprised to see a shower with a door rather than just a wet bath, which is what the Sport has. We found one of those on the second level down. Very cute, but very tiny. Almost too tiny. We went into a larger model, a 23’ and it was much nicer. The bed was a bit bigger (queen size I think) and not crammed into a corner. You could actually walk around it. The kitchen area was also bigger. The sink had a round cutting board over it for more counter space, easily removed when you need to use the sink.

These trailers are actually extraordinary. They’re built so well, so solidly. Even the tiny Sport, which we eventually found, is amazing. The rivets are all hand-done. The entire thing is built by hand in a factory in Ohio. To date, the factory has built over 100,000 since 1931 and 61% are still on the road today.

We talked to a salesman named Dave Montijo, a great, low-key guy who took us into the showroom in the back to see a 2015 model that’s on sale. He showed us how it all works, how the awning unfolds, how the extra sleeping works by folding down the table top and removing the back pillows. Kevin took it all in. At one point he whispered “Which one did McDreamy have?” A reference to Grey’s Anatomy. These contraptions are true works of art, geniusly conceived. They think of everything.

The place was amazing, the salesman easy going, and the trailers themselves were so cool. I was infatuated before; perhaps now even more so. I’m not sure about the small Sport anymore, though. It’s a little too small. But the next size up was ideal.

We’re thinking we might rent one first, take a small trip, see if we like the idea of camping, of glamping. If we do, then we’ll get serious about doing this. If we don’t, then we move on.

But my infatuation continues. I think it would be a great deal of fun. And for now, we both feel that way. We’re both ready to live it out loud on the road, hauling a trailer. Who wudda thunk?

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live out loud

Help me. I think I want an Airstream.

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 10, 2015 8:03 PM

In the early part of the 20th century, before the stock market crash of 1929, a man named Wallace Merle Byam, Wally to his friends, lived in a two-wheeled shepherd’s cart outfitted with a kerosene cook stove, a sleeping bag and wash pail. He liked his cart so much, he was inspired to draw up designs and plans so that others could build what he called a travel trailer. His first attempt, which he tried himself, needed some modifications. He made those modifications and then proceeded to tell everyone how they could build one themselves for under $100. He sold sets of plans for $5.

By 1929, he was building a tent contraption on a Ford Model T chassis but it wasn’t very good in the rain. Using masonite, he reconfigured his design, creating a teardrop shape. He added a stove and an ice chest, and he hooked it up to another Model T and started traveling the country. Other drivers on the road noticed. It moved through the air like a stream of light, was easy – and lightweight – to tow, and provided what Wally called “first-class” accommodations anywhere he went. When a camper company called Bowlus went bankrupt, Wally bought it, and in 1936, he introduced his first product, the Clipper, a reference to the Pan Am Clipper airplane. It was all-aluminum and monosoque-constructed, 19 feet long, single-axle, with two beds, an icebox, a two-burner range, windows that opened, a pot-bellied stove and venting chimney to heat, a closet, storage drawers, a small writing desk and a fold-down table.

The Airstream had arrived. It is my new obsession and yes, I probably should go into therapy.

I am not a camper. I have no desire to pitch a tent in the woods, attempt to build a campfire to roast marshmallows, and then pee in those same woods. I have no desire to stay anywhere that I can’t have a hot shower whenever I want one, or have a television if I want to watch a show, internet if I want to cruise. But for some reason, the idea of getting an old Airstream, restoring it ourselves to be exactly how we want it, has suddenly taken hold of my imagination. In much the same way I never know where story ideas come from, I have no idea where this manifested.  I just know that it’s there and I have to deal with it.

Another confession: When I am Cait debuted a week or so ago on E! I was briefly fascinated. I had an uncontrollable urge to watch it and I have never watched a reality show before in my life. Luckily the feeling passed before I acted upon it. Maybe the same will happen with the Airstream, but I doubt it.

Years ago, Kevin and I briefly entertained renting a tricked out RV and going on vacation. We didn’t do it. A client turned friend of mine took an old RV and renovated it. It has hardwood floors, a tiled shower, leather couches. His is an RV though. I don’t want an RV. I want a trailer. I think they’re called Travel Trailers now. I want a small one, called a Sport to pull behind my Range Rover Sport. I want to find one on ebay or Craig’s List, one that is rotted inside, but still solid enough on the outside to save the aluminum panels. I want to put it in the garage and together with my husband, rip it apart from the inside out. I want to tear off the horrible paneling inside, and pull out the insulation. I want to rip up the floorboards and tear out all of cabinets and appliances and the bathroom. I want to replace everything, from the inside out, including the windows and the door, then polish the aluminum so that it glints in the sun. I want to do all of this and then put a hitch on the Range Rover, pull it out of the garage and go on a trip, maybe to the Pacific Northwest. Maybe wine tasting in Washington.

The Airstream Sport I want is 16’ 4” long, 7’ 3.25” wide and 9’ 3” high (with the AC unit). It is not big at all. But we could make it big enough for the two of us and Riley. We could travel all over and take our little 4-star room along with us.

Now I just need to convince my husband. And find a beat up Airstream for not very much money. And retire so that we have time to travel all over. And then live it out loud in a very Sport-y fashion.

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