Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Zen of Airstream Repair

As previously mentioned, Rick and I became aware of gradually feeling less and less confident in our trailer. By last summer, we were convinced something was not quite right, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. After showing the rusted spots we found, we were told not to worry. Deep down, we knew this wasn’t quite right. Increasingly, we found it harder to rationalize when to take the trailer on the road. By Cherry Blossom Rally time, I was determined to get a better sense of what was up.

At the rally, I started spreading the word that we would appreciate it if the more technically oriented members could look at our trailer. The biggest question in my mind at that point was why I couldn’t seem to drop the belly pan. Word spread throughout the rally…

Sunday, apparently someone had the idea that it would be good to have a little workshop about some of the more common problems in older trailers. I recall aiming for the leftover breakfast goodies when someone like Rob Baker grabbed my elbow. I was steered to a place in the meeting tent where Colin Hyde was holding court with a bunch of the more technically minded Airstreamers.

Colin frequently entertains small children with trailer horror stories

Who is Colin Hyde? Tall, quiet and intense, Colin is the kind of guy who spends most of his time studying a situation before acting. Colin’s business is devoted to developing quality renovations to vehicles, particularly Airstreams. I see him now as kind of a Zen master of trailer knowledge. But like Zen student, my mind still had to change to accommodate a better perception of reality.

When I finished explaining my questions to him, I realized I probably said “um” as much as anything of substance. Honestly, when he started asking me questions about my trailer, I got scared! I realized suddenly that he was going to give me the straight story on what was up with our trailer… and that I might not like the answer!

Colin then mentioned that dropping the bellypan might not be such a great idea. Quickly I got lost in a discussion of “U” channels, banana wraps and skins. Sensing my confusion, he grabbed a paper bag and sketched out a slice away view of the trailer wall.

“So, have you jacked her up to check it?”

Slackjawed, I muted shook my head.

“Let me get my jack. I need to look at this.”

I ran to find Rick and get to the trailer. Suddenly all the rally was gathered at my trailer. Colin arrived.

“Oh, look here where you took the banana wrap off. It’s already detatched from the frame. I bet you have popped rivets inside, don’t you?”

“Uh huh.” I looked at Rick with dread.

Colin continued, “Ok, I’m going to crank the jack on the frame and you’ll see that part that’s bent at the frame intersection just lift right up. That’s where it’s come apart.”

At this point I was wondering if we could possibly ever drive this trailer for the 40 minutes ride back to our house without it splitting apart and littering Route 495.

“See, it’s rising here when we put pressure here. Now watch, let’s have some folks come inside and I bet you’ll see it bounce apart from the frame.”

Hidden under the banana wrap, the rising dent showed where the outer skin was bouncing away from the frame

As it jiggled up and down, I continued wondering what kind of fine the police would give me for spewing the wreckage of the trailer on the highway. What would happen to my insurance rating? Would it affect my credit rating as well?

I could only imagine it wrecked

“C’mon Mary, let’s give this trailer the screwdriver test.” Colin brandished a heavy duty screwdriver from his rear pocket like a weapon and started probing it into the flooring “Oh, it’s starting to go in here. Yep, it’s the start of floor rot, front end is in crisis. Mind if I check your back?”

Rick opened the compartment where we keep our hoses. Someone in the crowd laughed “Now Colin’s getting into the real poop!”

I started getting dizzy. Rich Luhr saw me weaving on my feet. “Whoops, Mary, sit down!” I sat. “Count yourself lucky. Colin found much more on my Caravel!”

Oh. I wasn’t sure if that was good news. Colin was still probing away.

Colin called back “Yes, your rear end is all rotted plywood!” I was feeling very numb and stupid. I didn’t get it all. My mouth was frozen open. I stared at the grass. Rick hung in with Colin and the crowd and sorted details. I started staring at a small bit of aluminum that had long ago been dented at the edge of the bellypan.

“Ooh, that might be an outrigger problem.”

I heard Rich Luhr behind me again. I think he feared that I might be developing suicidal tendencies.

I closed my eyes. Colin saw me “Mary, it isn’t as bad as it all seems. It’s hard, but it’s not as bad as it could be. Just wait, it won’t be as awful as you think.”

Colin laughed when I asked whether to worry about trailer home in one piece. “Of course you will! This problem has been here for years. I can look into fixing it, but my shop is a long ways away. You need to stop right now and think things through.”

Stuart Natoff came up and gave me a hug. “Don’t worry, it will work out.”

I was vaguely aware of one of the ladies (I think it might have been Katrina) from the rally putting a cold beer into my hands. “It will be ok; the guys in the unit will figure it all out.”

I started breathing. I drank a bit of the beer. Rick kissed my forehead. “Honey, why don’t get your mind off this and look at some of the other trailers?”

Wandering, I headed out. Patti Raimondo and Gayle McClelland started to climb up a ladder to the observation deck on top of Clayton Roger’s old mobile police command unit (one of the odder Airstreams at the rally). “C’mon up here, Mary, the view is amazing—and it will make you forget all your bad trailer news!”

I climbed up there with my beer and sat on the platform. Suddenly, the Zen of Airstream repair dawned on me. I suddenly recognized that I’d found some real friends in the WDCU. Yes, the trailer had problems. But more than that, I was loving that moment (so very Zen!), watching the sun reflect of the roofs of all of the trailers and seeing all my WDCU friends from that very high perch.

Everything was going to be okay.

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