8,914 Miles

Last night we returned to Berkeley from our round-the-country road trip. We logged 8,914.3 miles on the trip odometer.

It is Sunday morning, August 25. After I post this I will put together the readings and class websites for two of the four (yikes!) courses that I will be teaching this fall at San Francisco State. This marks a major change of mode back to being an academic. Bearing-grease is still wedged in the callus-cracks on my hands; but within a few weeks the calluses will peel away from everywhere except my keyboard-tapping fingertips. Four months of intense manual labor are ended. The inflammation of my carpal tunnels has already begun to abate; I am no longer awoken at 5 AM by radiating pain along my fingers and arms. I love building, designing, and problem-solving; but I do not have the manual toughness required to make a living as a builder.

A conversation across America

At one level, I still feel like it was a foolish use of time to build the trailer rather than rent a camper. I have three journal articles I really want to finish and submit for publication. Quite obviously, that is what I need to do to advance my career. But there are two ways in which the trailer was time well spent. First of all, it feeds my design-craving. I love to prototype; and the trailer design that we needed did not exist. Felipe (named for Felipe Paris, R.I.P.) enabled the four of us to camp in all sorts of places, through four major storms. And it was light enough to be pulled by Glove–our 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder VW Golf. Felipe the Camper is 400 pounds, 9 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 4 feet high at its crown. It is a shockingly small and light camper for four people. Time permitting (hah!) I will go over the lessons we learned on the road about the design.

The second, and far more important benefit of the trailer was that it provoked conversations with the full spectrum of Americans we encountered from California to South Dakota to New Hampshire to Virginia to Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico. In a 15-second interchange with the toll-booth attendant at the Grand Isle Bridge near Niagara Falls, she told me about a magazine retrospective on teardrop trailers. In western Virginia, to fellows in a pickup asked for a look inside to understand the design. I know the stereotype–I think they were even wearing flannel–but from their polite sophistication I came up with a new term: HillWilliams, in contrast to the pejorative HillBilly. In Euclid, Ohio, a brief discussion of the trailer with a biker led into an extended discussion about racial politics, social policy, and the declining economy and population of metropolitan Cleveland. John is an African-American, social conservative, with a strong distaste for the way that public housing policy shaped his peers while growing up in Euclid.

So many conversations, so many stories. John Steinbeck got comments on his trailer when he traveled with his dog Charlie; but the amount of attention we got with Felipe was really extraordinary. The way it gave us friendly access to sooo many people was precious beyond any monetary cost; it even justified the twelve-week time cost to build it. Now, on to my class preparations.


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