Sunday, June 30, 2013

My Log 363: Still going strong: the Wally Byam caravan, huge gatherings of aluminum RVs, is still at it, year after year, roaming the continent, as I saw them 40 years ago.

Suddenly, this morning, watching TV in Dubrovnik, I came across this random story about the Wally Byam caravan. That really took me back.

In 1969 when I was covering the British Columbia provincial election I was heading north one morning through the interior of the province, driving a hire car, fresh from covering an election meeting by the Premier W.A.C. (Wacky) Bennett in Salmon Arm the night before,  at the end of which we reporters had chased him through the corridors of a school to get a quote from  him about the local Social Credit candidate who had just been convicted of beating his wife, when I seemed to notice that I was having to pass a unusual number of caravans on the road north from Kamloops towards Prnce George. 

(Wacky Bennett, incidentally, was the only man I met in British Columbia who believed he would win more seats than before, and it turned out he was right, even the wife-beater of Salmon  Arm sweeping to a triumph at the polls. The most surprised man in B.C was Tom Berger, leader of the left-leaning NDP, who was convinced he was going to be swept into power by the electorate. I described Berger ironically, in a dispatch to my newspaper, as “the man British Colombians have found who will save them from socialism,” but even I have to admit that although he would have made a great premier, in defeat he became an even greater ornament to Canadian democracy as a Supreme Court judge, a fighter in the courts for the rights of indigenous people, and the initiator of a sensible delay in development of the Canadian north to give aboriginals time to get ready to absorb the shocks.)
These caravans, of course were somewhat annoying, because to pass a caravan being hauled behind a car on a fairly busy country road that was far from straight, was rather tediously delaying. I did notice with some surprise, that all of the caravans I passed were similar in construction, being odd-looking aluminum models, all of which bore the trade mark, Airstream. After putting five or six behind me, and still finding more looming up ahead, I began to count them, and before I had reached Williams Lake, some 300 kilometres along the way, I had counted something like 87 of them.  When Williams Lake came within radio distance I picked up their local station and heard an announcer saying, “Welcome to the Wally Byam caravan, headed north towards our town, where everything is ready to receive them at the local campground. These folks  are making their way north, and will be spending the night in our town, where we want to assure them of the warmest possible welcome.”
I could hardly believe either my eyes or my ears: this immense trail of caravans, or RVs (recreation vehicles), as they call them in the United States, had collected somewhere in the southern U.S., and had taken off all together --- more than 400 of them in all --- on a trip to Alaska, stopping along the way every few hundred kilometres to polish their vehicles, refresh themselves, eat, drink and be merry before rising early the next morning and continuing their journey --- together,

This was a holiday?  I could hardly credit that so many people could foregather with the intention of travelling together for week after week, in a line, staying overnight crammed like sardines in small-town campgrounds, exemplifying a Wally Byam maxim that it is not the destination that counts, but the journey to it. 
The small towns welcomed them for the money they left behind as they shopped for provisions in the local stores. By the time I wearily counted off my  87th, Williams Lake finally came in sight, and the line of caravans ceased just as suddenly, having turned off apparently, into their camping place for the night. I picked up my speed  and made good time over the following 100 kilometres to Quesnel, which, presumably, had lost out in the competition for the favours of the Wally Byam caravans.
To hear this morning that the Wally Byam caravan still exists,  now, as then, supported by a huge 6,000 member club of enthusiasts (a club it is tough to get into you: have to own an Airstream to be admitted), proves that this wanderlust, this nervous, tense scratching at the ground by impatient Americans anxious to get going, has not diminished in the  44 years since I first shared the road with them.
Truly, they are a strange people, the Americans, as the revelations of Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Thomas Drake keep reminding us day by day.
Only yesterday did I hear their leader Barack Obama, addressing a youth gathering in South Africa, warn these youngsters that they must not indulge in violence in search of their political and social objectives. What unmitigated gall! Is this not the man who commands the biggest instrument of violence in the world today, in the service of the U.S. state, and has he not shown an unexampled readiness to use it in pursuit of his objectives?
Strange, these Americans.

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