Rule Committee will warn the individual if he is judged at fault."
And if the
warning is not sufficient?
says Mrs. Frankie Waters, who is very much a we-go-by-the-Airstream-book kind
of leader, "a caravaner is charged with two infractions, he must leave the
caravan. And if," says Mrs. Waters with heavy emphasis and solemnity,
"he is once expelled, he may never, never join another Airstream Wally Byam
Despite the fact
that many of the Caravan committees involve considerable work, there is seldom
a shortage of volunteers. "The big problem," says Ralph Waters, "is
to make sure nobody gets his feelings hurt by being left off. For example, if
you have two retired postmen and both want to be Caravan Postmaster, you either
have to divide up the responsibility or try to place one of them on another
desirable committee. A good leader has to be a good diplomat."
Airstream Way of Life division, Robert Smith, a retired military officer, is
the Director of Caravans. Smith is at Laredo for a day or two to see that No.
71 gets off to a good start. He finds the eagerness of caravaners to serve on
committees unsurprising. "Our people are accustomed to responsibility, and
they know it takes cooperation to have a good time. They have worked hard to
get where they are, work is sort of a way of life with them. Idleness is not
something they respect. The chance to pitch in and help, to serve the group, is
one of the attractions of a caravan. It gives them a sense of
The first major
operational unit to get down to work at Laredo is the Deparking Committee, the
group that is responsible for scheduling the departure of the caravan each
morning. The Deparking Committee for No. 71 is composed of a production
supervisor, master mechanic, USAF logistics officer, owner of a general
merchandise store, a butcher, an insulating contractor and a farmer, all
retired. The chairman is a retired Penn Central conductor, E. H. Werling, who
has served as deparker on previous caravans. At the first of several staff
meetings, Werling gives his men a little pep talk. He tells them that they have
a tough, thankless job, but whether or not the caravan stays on schedule will
largely depend upon their efficiency and that he has confidence in them.
"Remember," he warns, "a lot of these people are used to giving
orders, not taking them. But when it comes to deparking, you are the boss. No
one moves out until you give them the old red flag. Keep them in place until
their unit is scheduled to move out. If you have any trouble, let me know. On
one caravan I saw some clown try to run over a deparker. The deparker had to
climb right up on the hood of the car to save himself. You can bet we had that
bird up in front of the Council."
Ignoring the fact
that the men are wearing printed sports shirts, gaudy slacks, blue berets, and
ignoring the substance of their deliberations, the meetings of the Deparking
Committee sound much like meetings where regional sales, zoning ordinances or
United Fund targets are considered. Phrases like "hot spots,"
"troubleshooting," "let's consider the alternatives,"
"close cooperation with the manhole people," "from a practical
standpoint," bubble to the surface of the discussion, which is always
serious and occasionally heated. There is general agreement that getting No. 71
out of Laredo is going to be tricky business. Many of the caravaners are
first-timers. Roads near the parking lot are torn up for repairs. Traffic
officials have asked that the trailers be released in groups of 15 or 20, with
a five-minute break between each group. "Maybe we can fudge a little on
those breaks," says Werling, "but any way you look at it, it's going to
be a long morning. We'll just have to play it by ear."
The trailing edge
of a northern storm is lapping at Laredo on the morning that No. 71 is
scheduled to depart. The dawn is overcast; the wind, chasing dust devils over
the parking lot, is chill. There is an occasional drop of rain. Nevertheless
the caravaners are up early, standing alone or in groups drinking coffee,
adjusting hearing aids and talking about Mexican customs officials whom they
will shortly be encountering. A good many are lined up by the public telephone
booths, the wind whipping bathrobes around thin white shanks, making
last-minute calls to brokers or grandchildren. At 7:30 the first ranks begin to
uncouple their water. (Water is distributed through a maze of garden hoses that
links each trailer to its neighbor, and eventually to the public tap. Once one
trailer disconnects, the umbilical cord is broken and there is no water for the
trailers behind.) A retired but newly married Air Force colonel sits in his car
with what has been gallantly referred to during caravan meetings as his
"beautiful new bride." The colonel has a loudspeaker system on his rig.
Impatient to move, gunning his motor, he sings into his mike, "Off we go
into the wild blue yonder. Crash, bang, slam." The pleasantry draws a few
laughs, a few frowns.
At 8 a.m. on the
nose the deparkers, all carrying red flags that they use as batons, give the
word and begin to hustle the first rigs out of the lot, sending them first to
the Manhole Committee, then turning them loose on the open road. At 12:30 p.m.
the last of the trailers, those of the deparkers, leave the encampment. The
last trailer, that of the Serviceman who had to stop and help a caravaner with
a bad universal—the rig was pulled back to Laredo for repairs—gets into the
Monterrey parking lot at 8 p.m.
after all the convoy had gathered and been parked in one of the concentric
rings of the wagon wheel, the caravaners, carrying their lawn chairs, began to
stroll toward the center. The weather had cleared and warmed somewhat. Above
the field wafted odors from baked TV dinners and the lights of the Carta Blanca
beer sign twinkled. Around the wagon train two squad cars—blue Volkswagens with
searchlights—from the Monterrey Police Department circled and would continue to
circle all night, guarding the bivouac. A hundred or so laughing, teasing
Mexican kids slipped in and out between the cops, the Airstreams and the lawn
chairs, begging for pennies and candy, and here and there appropriating a few
loose items, but generally just giggling at and hugely enjoying the gringos and
their exotic way of life.