The genesis of a 'trend piece'

It began with the ice-cream man, and a question, batted around over lunch, of how he occupies himself in the off-season.

Does he drive his boxy white van down I-95, lights blinking, with strains of "Turkey in the Straw" fading into the distance?

Or does he garage the thing, and maybe drive a snowplow until the weather warms?

That discussion broadened into one about seasonal jobs - beyond agriculture's migrant workers - and the middle-class men and women who perform them.

We let the idea simmer.

A few weeks later, a staff writer working on a story about teenagers and summer jobs called the manager of Adventureland, a theme park outside Des Moines, Iowa. Surprisingly, the park planned to hire more seniors than teens, favoring the stability that comes with a mature workforce.

Other employers agree. And that fact meshes nicely with the trend toward deferred retirement among older workers.

Sometimes seniors decide to keep working because they need the money. But often it's about a desire to stay productive and on the move.

A new mobile workforce?

Los Angeles-based workplace writer Sara Terry started plying the Web and found raw material for our lead story about a rising culture of senior "work campers" and their role in our service economy. She found the community's key websites, and it was "like Alice in Wonderland, falling down that rabbit hole. I discovered this whole world out there," Sara says, "a counterculture, which we normally associate with 20-somethings, not with senior citizens."

Sara's biggest hurdle: "getting them on the phone, because they're so mobile."

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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