Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Das Verkkampers

Traveling across America, taking a job here, a job there. Meeting new people and finding adventure in unexpected places. If it all sounds like the original network pitch for the TV series Route 66, it may come as a surprise that it’s the life many baby boomers are leading these days.

Boomers call it “workamping” and its popularity is growing among retirees. Instead of driving Corvettes, these workampers are piloting recreational vehicles and exchanging their labor for a place to park the beast.

My first exposure to workamping occurred many years ago in Death Valley. Hundreds of RVs dotted the outskirts of town and many of the owners worked in the gift shops, gas stations, motels and the National Park. In May, when the temperatures rose to unbearable heights, the RVs would roll out of town like a massive butterfly migration.

The fact is that many retirees cannot afford to take off for a six months or a year without supplemental income. Workamping allows them to travel around the country, see the places they’ve always wanted to visit, and find the temporary employment they need to finance their travel.

Summertime is the easiest season to find work. The Army Corp of Engineers hires temps, and there are loads of seasonal jobs at amusement parks, water parks, and the service industries that surround popular tourist destinations. The jobs pay minimum wage to $12 an hour, and sometimes workampers work in return for a campsite with water and electricity.

When Todd and Buzz drove the Vette around the country, issues such as health care, taxes, licensing and registrations never seemed to crop up. Workampers, on the other hand, have to figure out what state to claim as a domicile and how to get their mail forwarded to wherever they are taking up temporary residence. It can get sticky, but not insurmountable, and thousands of workampers manage just fine.

So, how many boomers are out on the roads in their RVs? No one really knows, but if you go online and look at the proliferation of websites devoted to full-time RV living, it looks like more and more boomers are joining the ranks of the workampers. There’s Cheap RV Living, RV Dreams, RV Life and Travel, Workamper News, and too many personal workamper blogs to mention.

The big question for those considering the workamper lifestyle is how long can you call the road “home?” Living in cramped quarters and taking some not so great minimum wage jobs can take its toll. Best advice to future workampers? Do the research, rent a camper and try out the lifestyle for a full season before you sell the ranch.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Rock Writers

If you’re thinking about writing your memoirs, reliving those boozy, drug fueled days, being on the road, crawling into bed with adoring groupies, and generally having a ball while you made a mess of your life.....get in line.

Think Keith Richards. Sammy Hagar. Steven Tyler. Patti Smith. Ozzie Osbourne. Pete Townsend. Grace Slick. Slash. Tommy Lee. Iggy Pop. Marilyn Manson. GreggAllman. Nikki Sixx. Boy George. And coming soon, Billy Idol. Think your story is any more exciting/thrilling/scary/depressing than theirs? I didn’t think so.

The glut of bios from boomer rock legends has really squeezed out any chance for amateurs like us to write our own stories. Sure, we survived the rock life style, but we were never famous to begin with, so who cares?

We have only ourselves to blame for this mess. Boomers are in a nostalgic mood, ready to slurp up all the incredible stories spouted by rock star legends who will have to be dragged off the stage (or die on it). We want to hear about Patti’s adventures with Robert Maplethorpe. Keith (or Keef as we like to call him) has some pretty spectacular stories about surviving years of touring with the Stones. Who doesn’t want to hear all about the machinations inside Bon Jovi?

There are some notable holdouts in this orgy of memoir writing. Paul McCartney, Elton John, David Bowie, and Bruce Springsteen have yet to ink memoir deals (that we know about). Either they’re waiting for the value of their potential book deal to go up or they’re resisting the siren call of multi-million dollar advances. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

But what’s an amateur memoirist to do in the meantime? Don’t hold your breath would be my first advice. Second, consider turning your tales of true life into fiction. That way you can shove in so much hyberbole that no one can challenge (“are you calling me a’s fiction, man!”). Arrested for possession of heroin in Canada, Keef? That’s nothing. You can say you were banned from Bali. Think about it. Some of these rockstar lives are so insanely over the top, the only way to top them is pure fiction.

Start typing.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

Who You Calling Old People, Pal?

Fast Company recently wrote about AARP’s launch of a music service describing it as Pandora for old people. Well, if that isn’t the most insulting description (to boomers and Pandora), I haven’t seen one worse.

The article talks about boomers as though we have yet to discover the phonograph. Plenty of boomers are already using iPods and other mps players or getting their music from Pandora. Does the author or AARP think we will drop all our digital music sources just because they have come out with their own channel? I don’t think so.

The article descripes the AARP music service (programmed by Concord Music Group) as being designed for those entering the twilight years. Does that sound like any baby boomer you know? It has a “dead simple UI” the article notes. First of all, don’t say dead when you’re talking to us twilight year people, and secondly, you think we don’t know that UI stands for user interface? It goes on to describe the playlist as “a rotation of songs more common of sock hops than online streaming players.” Sock hops? Really? Really? The oldest of boomers have only a vague recollection of sock hops and that can be attributed to having older siblings.

AARP hopes this will help music-loving “seniors” (their word) make the transition to the digital age. Again with the belittling language. Are you telling me that the organization that should be looking out for baby boomer interests really thinks that we are so in the dark ages (with our phonographs), that we know nothing about digital music? They quote an AARP official who says that “because of changes in format and whatnot, a lot of them have gotten lost in terms of how to find their music.”

Then they trot out statistics that while “baby boomers represent the world's largest generation, they consume very little digital music compared to younger generations....those 45 and older represented barely 11% of iPod use; teens, on the other hand, represented more than 65%.”

Did it occur to anyone that maybe boomers are smart enough not to make their hearing any worse by listening to music on an iPod. Those statistics do not mean that boomers are not digital music consumers --- it just means that they don’t listen to their digital music on an iPod. A lot of boomers are listening to music on their computers at home and at work. They’re using Pandora, iTunes, and Cloud players; listening to the Tiny Desk Concerts on NPR; and learning about new artists and genres everyday. They read music reviews and then go on Amazon to sample various tracks before buying songs or an entire MP3 album.

The final insult of the article is this direct quote. “AARP has a massive reach, and a good shot at capturing the baby boomer digital music market. At least the part of the market that's willing to move on from transistor radios and 8-tracks.”

You read that right -- the author has implied that boomers still use transistor radios and play 8-track tapes. Does that make you want to grab your pitchfork and light out for the AARP offices?

While we might remember when 45s had a big hole in the middle, boomers are a lot more sophisticated about digital music than AARP thinks, and that may not bode well for their new “oldies” channel.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

The Dating Game

With a lot of boomers splitting up late in the game, online dating sites geared to an older demographic are starting to burgeon.

If you’ve never used an online dating site (and it’s safe to say most boomers have not, right up until the demise of their marriages), it must come as a shock to realize that you’re putting yourself out there in a big way.

This isn’t just telling friends and family that you’re okay with date referrals (which sounds bad enough). It’s putting your life history, your likes and dislikes, your being out there for a whole online community to see.

Unlike younger daters who may be more concerned with looks and social compatibility, boomers want to know about potential health issues, whether you’re free to travel, where you would agree to live. And some boomers aren’t searching for a mate as much as a new social network., for example, arranges meet-ups for dinner, kayaking, camping, skydiving, hot air ballooning and more.

Whatever you’re looking for, you’re not alone. reports that people 50 and over are the fastest growing segment of their users. is seeing a similar spike in boomers, and 70% of that segment is recently divorced. Thirty percent of the users on say they are looking for a serious relationship. Those in the 50-64 segment were most likely seeking a long-term relationship, while those over 65 prefer companionship.

One trend that all the boomer skewed sites experience is that women in particular prefer the 50+ sites to the mainstream sites where they must compete with younger faces.

If you find yourself looking for love, you’ll have to come to terms with the idea that you need to put yourself out there, and these dating sites may give you the best chance to meet like-minded people. Move out of your comfort zone and rethink your definition of privacy, at least as it related to finding a match on a dating service. Other experts recommend checking out some of the profiles before you put out any money to join. Reply only to the matches that interest you and don’t hesitate to set up in-person meet-ups in a public place. It’s as safe as meeting someone at a pottery class or music recital, and why wait when you can start meeting people as soon as next weekend?

The other good news? Thanks to the size of our demographic, there are literally millions of boomers out there looking for love and companionship.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept and at BoomSpeak. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.