What? The Rally sponsored by Affinity Group. Where? Perry, Georgia. When? March 2001. My friend, Johnie Stark, traveled with me. The assigned location for my class about Workamping was in a seminar hall being set up for an overflow crowd to view a simulcast of that evening’s entertainment. I entered the hall with an armload of materials, but since a crew tweaked the wiring and sound, there was no lighting. People stumbled around, trying to find seating. I had no idea about the layout of the room. I had no microphone to guide folks or even to announce that they were indeed in the Workamping class. In the darkness, I sensed someone efficiently helping Johnie unpack issues of Workamper News and brochures to arrange on a table. In the darkness, the man said, “I’m Nick Aston, and I’ve read your features in Workamper News. You just taped an interview on Atlanta’s Channel 46 with my friend, Chris Simmons, who works in campground registration at Stone Mountain. When I found out you were speaking at The Rally, I just had to come and meet you!”
Grateful to have an extra pair of helping hands, I reached in my pocket, handed Nick a set of keys, and asked him to get a box from the back of my Jeep parked near the door he had just entered. Those are the kind of unexpected friendships I’ve made in the RVing world—spontaneous—and as the in case with Nick Aston, lasting.
At 10:30 a.m., my class began in the darkness. At 10:31, the tech crew turned on my microphone. I told my audience—which I still could not see—that the name of the game in Workamping is flexibility. We forged ahead. About 10 minutes into my presentation, the lights came on. For the first time, I saw a crowd of folks on tiered bleachers on three sides of the large room. I never knew how many attended that session, but I handed out 800 magazines, and some participants did not receive one.
After the class, Nick Aston stayed around to help us pack up and to further introduce himself. At the time, he worked as a Visual Information Specialist at the National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, he had taught graphic design and drawing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He also had a distinguished 20-year U.S. Air Force career, retiring as a Master Sergeant. He had done active duty in the late 1960s as a missile fuels specialist for Titan II, and later served in both the Arkansas and Georgia National Guards as a graphics specialist, photographer, and historian. His military honors include 17 ribbons and nine medals.
But Nick looked ahead to retirement and had read a paperback book titled Retirement on a Shoestring. He recalled that a thread running through the book gave him the idea of getting by on less while seeing our country—primarily by working on the road. As a test, he rented a Class C motorhome and took a trip to Illinois and back through Oklahoma and Arkansas as he returned to his job in Atlanta.
Nick recalls saying to himself on that trip: “This is what I want to do and the sooner, the better!” At a stop at an RV dealership in Arkansas, the owner handed him a back issue of Workamper News. “That’s when I learned about you and began reading your features in the magazine,” he told me on that first introduction.
Nick and I visited again the following day at The Rally and discovered a mutual interest in writing, as well as RVing. We kept in touch and the next year when I married Lee Smith, we made a stop at Stone Mountain on our honeymoon trip and had dinner with Nick and his friend. A year later, Nick pursued his dream of retirement and full-time RVing. He bought a Mountain Aire motorhome very similar to ours and parked it at a beach resort in Mexico Beach, Florida. While technically a full-time RVer during those years, Nick lived in his motorhome, but stayed in one spot. As he does in any location, he involved himself in the community, writing articles and letters to the editor at the Panama City News Herald and doing graphic work for posters of festivals in the area.
He left the beach in his motorhome in May of 2005, headed to Moscow, Idaho for the annual Life On Wheels RV Conference, and then on to Redmond, Oregon to attend a national RV rally.
Nick met Lee and me at the Life On Wheels RV Conference and we had two weeks of visiting and catching up on each other’s lives. After the Oregon rally, Nick toured the northwest during the summer. He made a three-month winter reservation in Black Rock, Arizona. Before traveling to his winter get-away, he headed back to Tulsa, Oklahoma to spend time with family. Comfortable and at home off the road in his childhood surroundings, he stayed longer than he had intended. A few weeks into his stay in Oklahoma, Nick suffered a heart attack. Naturally, that event canceled his plans for a winter in Arizona. Indeed, a sweet, black haired Mary, whom he met at an American Legion dance, also changed his dream of full-time RVing. He sold his motorhome, proposed to Mary, and settled down in Jenks, Oklahoma.
No longer traveling around the country, Nick’s heart recalls fond memories of RVing—and RVing friends. However, he is content and busy as he and Mary spend their time landscaping their yard and entertaining at retirement and nursing homes in a program they call “Songs from the Heart.” Nick sings and Mary plays prerecorded music. Nick keeps his finger on the world’s pulse with his writing. In the June/July 2012 issue of Reminisce Magazine, his full-page article about going to movies back in the 1950s in Bristow, Oklahoma, came out in the magazine’s special issue: “Summer at the Movies.”
During the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, Nick’s experiences as a volunteer with the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games was published in the online issue of Tulsa People Magazine. Most recently, Country Magazine published Nick’s article about his current hometown, Jenks, Oklahoma, in their “Small Town Spotlight.” His photograph of the Jenks Lighthouse, an icon that welcomes folks to the small town across the Arkansas River from Tulsa, illustrated the feature.
Most recently, Nick was inducted into the Broken Arrow (Oklahoma) High School (BAHS) Great Graduate Hall of Fame. He relates that each year a selection committee chooses five graduates from BAHS as inductees. Nick was nominated by a friend and classmate, the President of the Class of 1963. He and Mary rode in the school’s homecoming parade in a 1966 Mustang convertible. Although they practiced their “royal” waves, he says he did not use his during the parade.
Call it coincidence—serendipity—or simply a time when two lives crossed paths. But Nick Aston and I met and became lifelong friends—something that would not have happened if we both had not been RVers. I count his friendship one of the many blessings I’ve received because of my RVing lifestyle.
Traveling in their motorhome several months each year, Arline and her photographer husband, Lee Smith, make their permanent home in Heber Springs, Arkansas. She currently is a presenter for Workamper Rendezvous, sponsored by Workamper News. Arline has dozens of magazine articles published, as well as five books: “Road Work: The Ultimate RVing Adventure” (now available on Kindle); “Road Work II: The RVer’s Ultimate Income Resource Guide”; “Truly Zula; When Heads & Hearts Collide”; and “The Heart of Branson”, a history of the families who started the entertainment town and those who sustain it today. Visit Arline’s personal blog at ArlineChandler.Blogspot.com