Another eBay Treasure

by Tom Bentley
Copyright 2004, Tom Bentley


Can we outlaw eBay before it’s too late? Sadly enough, it’s already too late for me. I’d glibly mentioned to my sweetheart Alice that you can shop for pretty much anything—from trinkets to thrones—on eBay, thinking she might like to check out antique eggbeaters or strappy sandals from Uruguay or signed posters of Free Willy. Little did I know that she’d recently read an article on how some enterprising trout-head had converted an old Airstream into a poolside cabana. Alice heard the melody of Airstream allure meld with the harmonics of eBay objects, and a mental chord was struck—eBay, Airstreams, click, click, click.

So when I was first informed on the auction’s final day that she was the lead bidder for a ’66 Globetrotter, I expressed my hysteria, er, interest with a simple, “What! You’re bidding on an Airstream on eBay! What? No way!” I’d immediately remembered all my eBay buys where I’d paid the shipping costs, and I sadly pondered that now we’d never be able to gold-plate the hallway like I’d always wanted. And then she won the auction.

I immediately went into Internet overdrive, trying to absorb new terms like inverters, black-water tanks and monocoque shells—and went into backyard underdrive, since the durn thing wasn’t going to fit anywhere. We arranged for the Winnemucca, Nevada-based trailer owners—for a chunk of change—to tow our new prize to our home in Central California. It was heart-torquing adventure enough just negotiating its passage—with one-inch clearance—under the pergola spanning our driveway, but the real thrills began upon entering the trailer for the first time.

You know how when you’re excited or enthused about something, you’re on the edge of legal blindness, somewhat akin to how three witnesses at a car crash might describe the circumstance in three wholly different ways? At this point, I was an advocate for the Airstream, having recovered from my first impulse to commit my girlfriend to an institution after hearing of her eBay escapade. I wanted to believe.

But even excitatory blindness couldn’t obscure the fact that our gleaming Stream had no sink. Or a refrigerator. Or that the floor panels were lifting like playing cards. At least the orange-on-black-on-tan plaid upholstery did live up to the auction photos.

As it turns out, the intrepid former owner had fudged a bit on the details of the deal, having said that all of the systems were in perfect working order. A small exaggeration, in that without the sink being in, I couldn’t test the water system. And with the refrigerator’s propane line leading to nowhere, I couldn’t test the propane system. I did test the lights, which brought the illumination up enough to see the water staining on most of the floor moldings, telling even a left-handed handyman like myself that there had been a whole lotta leaking going on in our new prize. I knew then that the poolside cabana was still a ways into the distance, but since we had no pool either, we had time on our side.

Over the next few months, I summoned all of my craftsman’s talents and set to work. (The summoning actually took less than two minutes.) Alice and I took out the old flooring and scraped and sanded the floor. (Note: best to discover FIRST that old flooring is made of asbestos before ripping it up with a claw hammer.) I worked hard to enjoy the word-play behind the leveling compound we installed between the wood floor and the vinyl. Word-play because my leveling compound was anything but level: after I’d finished with my troweling, the floor looked like a layer cake that had been driven over by rats piloting tiny snowmobiles. It took Alice (she’s got a better back, honest) a mere eight hours of belt-sanding to flatten it a bit.

That flooring endeavor was more quickly dispatched than the effort trying to figure out where the water system was leaking. Every time I patched one place, another one would take up the seep challenge, setting up a new mystery drip line. It looked for a while that we might make the Airstream itself into the pool (or at least a very wet bar).

Perhaps I should have noted at the beginning that we didn’t have immediate plans to make the Globetrotter do much trotting. Alice’s ‘76 2002 BMW wasn’t a real horse in the towing department, and it probably had a better shot than my ’72 P1800 Volvo. Our ‘Trotter had now been in our driveway for several months, and picturesque as it was, it was a picture that didn’t fit the frame. Much as I wanted to fill it with helium and float it above our house as an advertising dirigible, that wasn’t practical. Not much less practical than getting it onto the space behind our garage, which seemed the only suitable spot.

Suitable, that is, after completely removing a peach tree, viciously cutting back the guava and the apricot tree, and moving the retaining wall ten feet over. It was a long, loud sweaty process. But how can one put a price on its new, gracious stature in the yard? (I could: the $3,000 Airstream had become a $12,000 Airstream. But that’s another story.)

Of course, when the winter rains came, I found out that internal leaks were only part of the moisture problem. We put new seals on all of the windows and the door. I took a cue from my father, who never met a problem he couldn’t duct-tape: I used enough Vulkem on the vents and roof to glue Seabiscuit to the starting gate.

Our Airstream’s still evolving. It’s been an occasional office, guestroom, wet bar, hangout corner to do the Sunday NYT crossword, and a jolly spot to stretch out and smoke a good cigar. I would like to turn it into a casino, but those old-fashioned one-armed-bandit slot machines are pricy, and there’s no way I’d put those electronic ones in and spoil the 60s ambience. There’s still time to see what our Globetrotter becomes.

But there’s no way I’m going to tell Alice that right now you can actually buy an F/A-18A Hornet jet fighter on eBay.