Photos copyright ©2011 Jeff Glucker / AOL
From the outside, the large Chevrolet
Bowtie in the center of the grille is familiar, but the rest of the sleek, silver Avenue lends our chariot an immediately upscale appearance. The roof is taller, the paintwork seems to have an extra layer of depth and the tinted windows give off an air of cooler-than-the-next-guy motoring. The dolled-up Express van
that Tom and I are staring at appears to be a suitable home on wheels from the outside. It may not have the iconic aluminum cigar look associated with Airstream's travel trailers, but the Avenue still manages to come off as stylish.
Grabbing our bags and heading inside, we're greeted by an interior that rivals Manhattan's finest broom-closet sized studios. The front driving space is standard Chevy Express, with the exception of a rear camera display mounted over the rear-view mirror, but the Avenue is packed with storage space and amenities just behind those front thrones. It's enough living space that I suspect I'll be charged first and last month's rent when returning the Avenue.
A second pair of captain's chairs sits behind the driver and front-passenger seats. They're easily accessible from the driving area or via a pair of wide-opening passenger-side doors. Moving backwards from that opening and turning left, we find a kitchen sink, dual-burner stove, refrigerator, combination toilet-shower and a three- to four-passenger couch (your results may vary) at the very rear of the Avenue. It's more than enough for two guys embarking on a weekend trek up the California coast.
Despite the opulent interior, the Airstream Avenue is still missing something. It doesn't have a navigation system, which is surprising considering it's a built-for-wandering machine that costs a heady $98,000. Despite that lack of satellite-guidance, Tom and I point the Bowtie emblem north and head out from our Huntington Beach starting point. Our final destination will be Pismo Beach, but we're currently separated by 212 miles, LA traffic and the tail-end of record levels of SoCal rainfall.
Scrambling down the 405, we're easing our way in between $150,000 Mercedes-Benz CL
coupes and $150 1975 Datsun pickups. Welcome to Los Angeles. Our crawl through the City of Angels is moving as expected and eventually we make our way north of the city, merging on to the 101. The pace quickens but so does the rain. Under the hood sits General Motors
' 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine, which makes 323 horsepower and 373 pound-feet of torque, and helps push the 8,075-pound apartment towards our coastal destination.
We've got a long way to go before that point, however, and I'm currently possessed of white-knuckle focus. The Avenue is tackling the rain-soaked 101 far better than I could have imagined. It wears new 245/75R16 Bridgestones and a set of fresh wipers. The Airstream is not the source of my Casper-colored knuckles; it's the action going on around me. When the first drops of water fall from the sky and reach the California landscape, our fellow drivers devolve into misguided motoring hell. Tom and I crest a patch of highway traveling in the left lane, only to see a BMW
decide to merge back onto the highway from the left shoulder. Did I mention it's pouring and I'm driving an unfamiliar 8,075-pound vehicle? My rain-slicked Puma lays hard into the brake pedal and waits for the familiar pulse of ABS, but it never arrives. Instead, the Avenue merely scrubs the speed in a shockingly smooth manner. Tom breathes a sigh of relief, and with my stomach occupying the same space as my heart, my middle finger has never shone quite so brightly.
The BMW now in our rearview monitor, we press on down the 101. Tom proposes stopping in Santa Barbara for dinner. I bring up the idea of sleeping in Santa Barbara and washing away my nerves. His silent nod of approval confirms our new plans – Pismo Beach can wait. Parking spaces are not turning up, however, as everyone has already decided they are in for the evening, so I put in a call to a good friend who went to college in the area. His friend owns a winery/tasting room and that facility has a parking lot... home, sweet temporary home.
After a burger and some beers, it's time to retreat to our retreat. Flipping his shotgun seat around to face the one behind him, Tom is able to sort out a makeshift bed. Being the captain of this trip, I turned my attention to a wall-mounted switch. Holding it down, the leather rear sofa seating area folds down into a comfortable leather sleeping area. Doors locked, Tom snoring and all the shades pulled, we settle in for the evening. Well... all the shades except the rear one that I forget to install, meaning the light from the parking lot wakes me up every hour.
It didn't matter, though, because we need to get moving the next day sooner rather than later. The light from the lamp in the parking lot slowly becomes less invasive, but only because the sun is getting ready for another lap across the sky. It's time to wake up, pop the six-speed automatic into 'D' and find our way to Pismo Beach. I trade my bed for the driver's seat and Tom turns his chair-bed into a real one.
The weather decides to play nice for the rest of the trip. The downpour we experienced a day earlier gives way to sunny skies and empty roads, and the journey to our KOA Campground cabin in Pismo Beach is over before Tom wakes up from a power nap. The cabin serves as the perfect headquarter accompaniment to our roving Airstream. Inside we find a full kitchen, two bedrooms and a full-size bathroom. The only thing missing is a grille, which means it's time to pile back into the Avenue and venture into town. Fifteen minutes and a freak dash of sleet later, we are leaving San Louis Obispo to return to our Pismo Beach base camp.
Once officially settled in, I dive headfirst into the refrigerator. Our other (previously unmentioned) traveling companions included eight 22-ounce beers from a variety of breweries, maple-bourbon steak tips, au gratin potatoes, soaking mushrooms and a $40 cowboy steak substantial enough to spar in the heavyweight class.
The Avenue provides suitable space for us to dine thanks to a post and table top that mounts centrally between the quartet of captain's chairs. We dine and drink while chatting about the things that weigh heavy on the minds of 30-year-old men. That gets old fast, so we decide to hook up my PlayStation 3 to the 19-inch flat-screen mounted above the two front seats (since we had parked under a tree, it wasn't receiving a signal from the roof-mounted satellite receiver anyway). Video games and craft beer consumption continue throughout the evening until Tom retires to our KOA cabin and I hit the bed button again.
Rear shade in place, I sleep undisturbed, and upon waking am well-rested enough for our return drive to Orange County. The earlier rain kept many people at home, which means California's highways are unusually empty. The Airstream Avenue hums down the sun-soaked highway while Tom and I sing along to the iPod plugged into the auxiliary input. Our weekend road trip is nearing a close.
It may have been a quick getaway, but the Airstream was the perfect traveling companion. We sipped an average of 12.2 miles per gallon out of the 31-gallon tank. The Avenue handled like one would expect from a top-heavy, 8,075-pound van, yet the engine and brakes were well suited to the application. Inside, the Avenue suffers from the squeaks and rattles found in any large recreational vehicle, yet the level of fit and finish is still top notch. Drawers and cabinets remained clamped, our precious cold cargo didn't slide around and the overall level of interior noise proved to be on par with any other well-built motorhome. Tom's bed may have been larger in the KOA cabin, but my bed was much nicer.
The 2011 Airstream Avenue is a well-equipped studio apartment on wheels. While it's not really suited for parties numbering greater than two, it's an excellent way for a pair of friends or a couple to get away for the weekend without leaving their home at home.