"We can turn around and go to the state campground. It’s only a mile back,” I said to Ralph when we entered the compound at Lacey Washington. We expected to see dozens of RVs, flags flying, vendor booths, children running. Before us lay a deserted sea of blacktop, dotted with a few aged Airstreams, and ringed by single-level homes, each with a huge Airstream parked in a carport.
This was the “2007 Washington Unit National Potlatch and Salmon Rally” as advertised in the Blue Beret, the official publication of the Wally Byam Caravan Club which will mysteriously arrive in your mailbox shortly after you buy an Airstream from a dealer. We chose the Potlatch as our first expedition together in the brand new, never-slept-in DWR (our “shakedown cruise”, a term we were to learn later), hoping like-minded individuals would be there upon our arrival who could help us out if we got into any technical or towing trouble.
The sign outside an odd little building at the entrance said TERRAPORT OFFICE. The man behind the desk seemed confused and mildly upset to see us; we weren’t A) members (whatever that meant), B) towing a 36-foot home, or C) eighty. He made a furtive call while I waited. “Carol? There are some, uh, new members I guess here for the rally. I know!… I know. No. I don’t know.” He glanced at me then out the window. “Pretty small…uh huh. I doubt it. Okay.” He turned to me with a bright smile. “Make yourselves at home. Pull in anywhere! Carol and everyone is in the meeting hall but she’ll come to see you soon. All that’s left is the dinner…” he trailed off apologetically.
We soon figured out what was going on. The Land Yacht Harbor is a retirement community for senior Airstreamers. (Is there any other kind?) We were greeted by Sam, the retired guy in the space next to the one we chose, and received the lowdown. Tonight was the climax of a week long festival—the big smoked salmon dinner based upon the traditional festival custom practiced by Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest—to which we were regrettably not invited, having missed (and not paid for) the prior week of activities.
A steady stream of friendly folk paid us visit after visit that afternoon. We were invited to join in the happy hour (BYO drink and snack) at the picnic tables under the big tree, and presented with guest badges and eventually passes to the celebration dinner in the big community hall.
In the short time we were parked there we met dozens of enthusiastic, really nice and adventurous seniors who referred to us as “you young people” and gave us tips on towing and moisture management. (“This is like being in a really active senior center,” observed Ralph.) Betty, in her late 80’s, had towed her Airstream to the tip of Baja, across Alaska and explored Europe for a year. Others had been traveling across country on “caravans”, a sort of tailgating journey to interesting (and surprisingly exotic) locations in the U.S. and around the world, while others just enjoy calling the Land Yacht Harbor home. As the character who sat next to us at the dinner simply stated: “I’ve never been more contented in my whole life.” I looked over to Ralph, our eyes met, and I knew what we were both thinking: “This is our future, honey.” That actually doesn’t feel so bad.
Before we left we were, of course, presented with a packet of brochures and encouraged to join “Unit 10”, which we did. Our Wally Byam Caravan Club International, Inc. big red number (which we’re terrified to affix to the front of the DWR) is 3504.