“Who knows that is in store tomorrow?… If a plant or factory closes down, you’re not trapped with property you can’t sell. Suppose the husband has a job and is buying a house and there’s a layoff. The value goes out of his house. But if he has a mobile home he rents a trucking service and moves on and he hasn’t lost anything. He may never have to do it, but the fact that he can is a comfort to him.”
As modern-day RVers, many of my peers and I use the Internet to earn a living without ever leaving our rig. However some of my friends just use the Internet as means to an end, finding work in a variety of non-traditional jobs. Two couples who are doing just that are enjoying the benefits of a low-key, affordable mobile lifestyle that enables them to expand their creativity, enlarge their fan base and get completely immersed in environments that they’d never experience by staying a long time in one place.
Ann and Eldon Whitford have lots in common with their baby boomer RVing peers. After establishing satisfying careers, raising a family and nurturing musical talents they developed since their earliest days as a 1960s folk music duo, they decided to try their hand at snowbirding by escaping Michigan’s harsh winters. Their long careers in the public sector rewarded the couple with early retirement and with the kids out of the home, they hit the road in 2005. Their plan was to visit places they’d always wanted to explore, like Big Bend, Texas, while seeking venues to perform their expansive repertoire of hillbilly country western songs. “We talked about driving around and playing different places just for fun and to keep us from getting rusty,” remembers Eldon.
Ann and Eldon began their snowbirding lifestyle by approaching Sunbelt state campgrounds and offering to help out around the park and play for winter guests in exchange for rent. Because they were already seasoned performance artists with a track record in their hometown of Reed City, their reputation helped convince RV park managers to give them a try.
“RV parks often have music, so they’re pretty easy to get into. They’ll try it for at least one night,” said Eldon, to which Ann added, “It helped to have had some success at other places.” Once the couple discovered how affordable it was to travel south for the winter and cover their rent as visiting musicians, they were smitten with the lifestyle.
Their country western repertoire ranges from Hank Williams to Emmy Lou Harris. Eldon says, “Our music is simple; it’s very ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get.’” That down-home, vintage Americana music style attracted the attention of the Stillwell Store and RV Park in the Big Bend of Texas, a legendary location founded by one of Texas’ most famous ranching families, the Stillwells. Once the family heard Ann and Eldon play, they were invited to return and performed for eight consecutive winter seasons.
The couple attracted a dedicated following of repeat visitors, but last year an ownership change at Stillwell prompted the couple to set their sights on new audiences at Maverick RV Park, 75 miles west in the resort town of Lajitas. Changing locations was a major shift but the couple’s toe-tapping evening sing-alongs continue to attract new audiences as well as loyal fans.
Everyone who discovers their genuinely authentic approach to hillbilly classics is instantly taken by their performances. “It’s the right genre musically for the kind of people who are here in the winter,” says Eldon. Pleased with the way their performance and part-time Workamping arrangement worked out at Maverick RV Park last winter, the couple will return once again in January of 2015 and continue playing their ever-changing repertoire for next year’s winter Texans.
With a Needle and a Sword
Instead of searching the Help Wanted listings when she needs extra income, Charon Henning, 41, embraces her talents as a respected traveling tattoo artist, fireside storyteller and performance artist specializing in death-defying sword swallowing side shows. She’s a sword-wielding lady with a needle and she’s not afraid to use them as she roams the U.S. in a vintage Airstream trailer with her partner, Tori.
Charon and Tori hit the road in 2008. Today they know that becoming full-timers was the best decision they ever made. “We gave ourselves three years,” Charon says, “and at three years we checked in and said we can’t imagine not doing this!” She adds, “It’s a little scary at times because the income isn’t regular.” But, ironically the lifestyle has helped grow her career. “Traveling has made me want to expand and improve my work in ways that being stationary never did. It’s done more for me in that respect than college.”
Sword-swallowing theatrical performances are one of the most unusual ways to earn a living while full-timing, but they don’t exactly pay all the bills. Consequently, since 1993 Charon has worked hard to earn her national reputation as one of the country’s most talented tattoo artists. Today she is so highly regarded in the industry that she’s able to support herself by making guest appearances at tattoo shops along her itinerary. Her full-timing lifestyle enables her to stay on top of body modification trends by seeing what styles are emerging in different parts of the country and which ones to discard as better methods develop.
There’s no mistaking it: Charon wears the markings of an unusual life. She says she’s been tattooed for so long that she forgets about her colorful, decorated appearance but her illustrated full-length storyboard is often a conversation starter when she and Tori check into an RV park. “People generally are cautious until I open my mouth and they see that I’ve been talking in complete sentences,” she jokes.
This year Charon is working hard to add the title of “author” to her credits. She is writing a book called The Dinosaur Journeys, which will show readers how to improve their lives by tapping into extinct energies of dinosaurs and utilizing their different energies as tools for self-exploration and growth. “Tapping into dinosaur energies is the adult version of our childhood imaginary friend,” she explains. “It shows you how to know yourself better, connect more deeply to the world.”
Charon encourages aspiring full-timing dreamers to try the lifestyle. “You don’t have to be independently wealthy to do this,” she says. “Although your income won’t be as regular or as regimented as you would want it to be, that allows for more flexibility and freedom.
“It just gets better and better out there,” she adds. “My biggest regret is not doing this sooner.”
Catch up with the Whitfords performance schedule at thewhitfordsmusic.com and read more about Charon Henning online at oddangel.com.
Rene Agredano is a full-time RVer and Workamping road warrior. She documents her adventures at LiveWorkDream.com.
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