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Airstream, Willie Nelson, and Cowboys: American Dreamers

Updated on January 25, 2010

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys -- Willie Nelson Classic

"This is the story of America. Everybody's doing what they think they're supposed to do." -Jack Kerouac, 1922-1969, American Writer

I lived in an Airstream trailer until I was five years old. No. My parents were not hippies. In the late 60s and early 70s, my father was a Line-man. He was in the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and traveled around the United States following the large projects. There was a large group of traveling men and their families following suit. At the time, electricity was still not available in remote areas of Mississippi, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, to name a few. My father climbed the ominous steel towers with ease. He was tall, lanky, strong, and fearless of heights. He managed crews that built power-lines over the Hudson River. He worked on-site at the Nevada test-site. My mother, brother and myself lived in the Airstream in temporary trailer-parks for Line-man's families throughout the United States.

My mother loved the traveling life. As an immigrant from Ireland, she wanted to travel the United States and meet the people. Always a socialite, she managed to dress herself and her children in style during our many travels. Our photo albums and home-movies document the American dream. Handsome and stylish parents. Adorable children. Images from old Las Vegas, deserts, crystal-clear motel pools, stainless-steel traveling home, and the aura of freedom. They loved the light-weight and stream-lined Airstream as much as they loved their red Volkswagon and white Ford Pick-Up. Quality, individuality, style...the uniquely American mythical icons of a generation. Gertrude Stein said that "[There] is something strictly American to conceive a space that is filled with moving. That is filled, always filled, with moving." My American story is not unique. Every American has a family story of mythical proportions.

The myth of the United States of America evokes images throughout the globe. Coca-Cola, John Wayne, Rt. 66, big cars, Willie Nelson, good teeth, blue-jeans, Elvis, pioneer wagon-trains, white crosses on the beaches of Normandy. Our list is endless. To our enemies, we are a spoiled child that needs to learn respect and obedience for our elders. Do they wonder why such great power is in the hands of a childish nation? Do they wish to crush the spirit of freedom that is inbred in our nature? We are in the midst of a Clash of Cultures globally. Once again, a gas crisis is upon us. Working Americans are being hit hard in the wallets at the grocery-stores. In the 70's, the work dried up for the Line-men. My father worked overseas in Zaire, Africa for three years as they electrified the country. He worked for ARAMCO in Saudi Arabia as they electrified the desert. He worked in Indonesia in the early 80s. At some point along the way, he was in contact with deadly asbestos. In 1991, he died from the asbestos-related lung cancer called Mesothelioma. He was 52.

Is there a legacy made from our parent's choices? Of course. Yogi Berra, the great 20th Century American Athlete said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." The mythic power of the choices that Americans make is unmistakable. Ask any child of an immigrant if they hold the key to America. Instinctively and unwittingly, they carry our country. Fearlessness is our shared legacy. Americans have been blessed and cursed with a naivety that borders on immaturity. We walk a fine-line throughout the globe. We are ridiculed for our childish natures, yet honored for our courage. Our independent natures often break down in childish tantrums. Why can't everyone play in the sand-box with us? We want to share our toys. We want to play together. Why doesn't anyone understand us? What do we do? We flash them a wide, welcoming grin. "Do you want to play with me? I'll share my toys. I'll even give you some." At some point, they may agree to play along. They may want to join in the courageous experiment that is the United States of America. Until then, we smile with hopeful and welcoming expectation. Let's not forget who we are today, and every day.

"Most people have that fantasy of catching the train that whistles in the night." Willie Nelson, American Singer


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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I think most of do whatever it takes to make a living, Cailin, and that takes us on a journey that directs our lives. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Americans are not much different from others around the world, but we have greater opportunities and make better use of our resources.

      Slán go foill

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      9 years ago from New England

      It was a shock when I first saw a tumbleweed. I didn't realize they were so gosh darned big! Haven't seen them in a while now that I'm in New England. You never really get the desert out of your system.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I have lived in the deserts and traveled widely there, so I know what you mean by the duststorms. Thought that tumbleweeds were something they made up for Westerns, until I saw one blow by during a severe storm.

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England

      JamaGenee: I believe that our giving nature comes from a generosity of spirit that is inbred in our culture. American citizens are the most generous in the world. However, the political machine is entirely different. We know that we give aid and support for our own gain and politically diplomatic reasons. Most of them backfire. For example, it doesn't matter how much protection we may give a country, if their people disapprove of our actions, then they will rebel against it. I don't believe that we should ever go back to the isolationist political landscape that allowed Hitler to walk all over Europe before we became involved. We have to be involved in order to be aware.

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England


      I've often wondered about the nature/nurture component of temperament here in the US. The cultural influence is incredibly powerful for all, including new immigrants. I was a teacher in a 2nd grade inner city classroom in 2001. Despite the ethnicity of the children, they all sang "God bless the USA" that year for their concert. Their parents were incredibly proud. I looked around at this shining faces and at the faces of their proud parents. I have never been so proud to be an American than I was at that moment. These parents came here to make a better life for themselves. They escaped poverty and persecution. The public school system teaches the elements of American culture that are necessary for success for these families. They must look at the teacher in the eye. They must work as a team. They must problem-solve, create, plan, investigate, dialogue, monologue, work together, and be accountable for their failures and successes. Our country's public school system gets a lot of negative press. Not all teachers create a learning environment that is rich. But, for every teacher that fails, two succeed.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      10 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Cailin, I think much of the "bite the hand that feeds" attitude from other countries has been due to the U.S.'s habit of buying "friendship". No wonder then they don't want to play in our sandbox like a true friend would.

    • profile image

      Jeanette M 

      10 years ago

      Cailin, it isn't hard to see why the US as a nation has a temperament that is rebellious, after all, many of the people who came to the Americans well rebelling from the lifestyle, government or religion of their prior homelands. Research on behavior also suggests that some personality characteristics are passed through family lines. Of course, there is no telling if that heritage is due to genetics, or a result of nurture. Certainly risk taking behavior, and it was a risk to leave everything familiar behind, can be seen in families all the time. Look at the Kinevils (Sp) for a prime example.

        On the upside, some of the characteristics that the US has as part of its national personality include the influences of champions of political and religious freedom, innovation and artistic expression. Hopefully, in the end the nation will realize its potential.

       Meanwhile, if I could tell the world one thing about the US, I would say that most of us want our children to grow up in a safe, clean world where all people are treated with compassion and respect too.Maybe one day we will all be governed by leaders that put as high of a price on human dignity as is placed on wealth and power now.

      Cailin, beautiful hub J

    • Cailin Gallagher profile imageAUTHOR

      Cailin Gallagher 

      10 years ago from New England

      Thank you for the great comments. I love your responses. Love for one's country is often blind to an extent. Like great true love, we relish the positive and ignore the negative. As the love matures, we see our partner in all their complexities and variables. If the love is true, it deepens with change. If not, it dies away from disapointment and discouragement.

      LilyMag: Yes, my childhood was challenging and wonderful. Thank you for your support.

      CJStone: The "Psychopathic Child" made me giggle. I often feel that we are seen as just that overseas. Sometimes we may even feel this ourselves. There is definitely a lawlessness in this country akin to the Wild West that we have never outgrown. In some respect, I hope that as we mature, we will be able to keep the independence while taming our borderline psychopathic natures.

      JamGenee: Great historical response to CJStone. We aren't alone with our weapons of mass destruction. These days, the threat would be terrorist in nature, either home-grown or foreign, to our homeland security. Our perceived untouchable power was reduced to rubble on September 11th. Now, diplomacy is our solution. Unfortunately, we aren't fighting reasonable nations. Strong-arm tactics may still be more respected in some countries. At some point, a wide grin has to have some power in order to be respected. I don't see this level of maturity existing in my lifetime. Maybe some-day when women make more decisions in international relations? *Shrug*

      Constant Walker: Thank you for your lovely words.

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Jama, I don't think we are the only nation with nukes. I don't know what the rules are for who can and who can't, but they're definitely out there.

      Cailin, you certainly do look the part of the "Irish lass." I wanted to tell you that this is one of the few "patriotic" pieces I've read (ever) that I truly enjoyed. It wasn't full of propaganda bullsh!#. It didn't need to be. The simple truth was a treasure. As CJ so very well put it; "Your evocation of the mythic America is truly stunning."

      Is there a higher rating than just a "Thumbs Up"?

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      10 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Yes, Chris, America does seem stuck in the "Our toys are bigger than your toys" mentality.

      But it wasn't so long ago that your country had the biggest toys and roamed the globe in search of new places to use them, or at least threaten to do so. Just dumb luck, I guess, that this was before nuclear weapons were invented.

      More recently, I'd venture your parents were thrilled that our toys were bigger than Hitler's, and that we had more of them. Pity tho that we didn't use them *before* he wreaked so much havoc across Europe and in London. Sorry.

      Hopefully, this doesn't sound defensive, because it isn't meant to be. You write from a country that has had a 1000+ years to evolve and mature as a nation, whereas America has only been at it for a bit over 200 years.

      And of course, we were a *little* busy here the first 100 years, what with fending off your Redcoats in 1812 who were trying to take back what they'd lost in 1776...and then the row with Mexico, who wanted Texas back...and then those darn Confederates trying to start a whole new country altogether. Sheesh!

      Keep in mind the U.S. didn't start either of the World Wars. Or make the Chinese invade Korea, or the French Viet Nam. It's only in the last 7 years that the world has become very, very scared of us, thanks to the psychopath in the Oval Office that we just can't seem to get rid of. (He's not gone yet, verrrry scared until 12:01 p.m. on Jan 20th.)

      I find it extremely hypocritical that we, with the biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons, get our knickers in such a knot over other countries *possibly* having them too. How arrogant that we can possess them, but no one else can.

      On a brighter note, after reading about some of the places you lived in "The Last of The Hippies", an Airstream would seem like a mansion. =) But yes, they are neat, and much roomier than they look from the outside.

    • CJStone profile image

      Christopher James Stone 

      10 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      Mind you, I'd like to live in one of them airstream trailers.

    • CJStone profile image

      Christopher James Stone 

      10 years ago from Whitstable, UK

      I think your evocation of the mythic America is truly stunning. I'm not sure the play pit analogy works as well though. It's that deadly arsenel you weild as a nation, and your government's willingness to use it, which makes the rest of the world very scared of you. Talking metaphorically now. If you are a child, you are a psychopathic one.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 

      10 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Wow! You've very neatly condensed the essence of Real America and how the world sees us! And what a wonderful childhood you had! Proof that living in a trailer does not make one "trailer trash".

    • Lilymag profile image


      10 years ago from Upstate New York

      Sounds like you had a very "flavorful" childhood! Good for you!


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