Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 111

Interesting Characters

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8% of Americans live in mobile homes. That means there are about 24 million unique stories to hear. We only have a few minutes of time, so I’m going to tell you about a handful of the extremely interesting people I’ve met in mobile home parks we own. You’re about to see that there’s a whole lot more going on out there than the media wants you to believe concerning who really lives in “trailer parks”.

Episode Transcript

So you think you know mobile home park residents, because you see them on TV. You watch them in a movie. You think your stereotype is pretty accurate. Well, I'm going to give you five vignettes of people that I know in mobile home parks, different properties that we own, that are, you would say, out of the norm, but in fact are pretty mainstream. This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series. We're going to be talking about interesting characters in mobile home parks, and you're going to find there's a very wide diversity of people who live in mobile home parks. It's not in any way what you think most people are like that live in mobile home parks simply from what you see in the U.S. media.

The first one is a manager that I had in a mobile home park, and her name was Shirley. Now Shirley, most people do not know, was in fact the Marlboro girl of the 1950s. Marlboro Cigarettes, as we all know, were a very big deal back pretty much during the war and post-World War II. As a result, it was one of America's top brands. Your top model of that era would be the person who represents the brand of Marlboro. Marlboro typically featured in its advertisements a model typically in some kind of Western apparel smoking the cigarette. In this case, that person was Shirley. Shirley, in fact, would have been one of the supermodels of the 1940s and '50s.

Now she resided in retirement in our mobile home part in Grapevine, never even discussed the fact. The only reason I know it is, I saw the painting in her living room of her back in that era as the Marlboro girl and asked if that was her. She said, "Yes, it was." So again, something you would not expect in a mobile home park to have one of the top models of America from the 1940s and '50s.

Another story. Very first mobile home park I bought. There was a fellow that lived in an L-shaped mobile home. He had taken a single wide, and then he had grafted it onto another single wide in an L-shape. In the middle, in the pocket of this L-formation, he had a very, very sophisticated and elaborate garden. Fountain in the middle, all kinds of things that he had grew. It looked just like an arboretum. He was an engineer by trade, and typically I would see him out in front of the home wearing a tweed jacket and smoking a pipe. Again, not what you expect in a mobile home park. In fact, why do we not expect that in a mobile home park? Well, I'll leave that up to you, but I think the media may have something to do with it.

He was basically had moved into the mobile home park at the time the park was new back in the '50s. When many of his friends moved on into suburbia, he had stayed there. He really liked it a lot. Talked to him many times on what he liked about the property. He loved the location. He loved the fact it was quiet. He also really just liked the fact that it was a little different. He was kind of eccentric, and he really enjoyed the fact that while his other friends and other engineers might live in stick-built homes in suburbia, he was living a different way, his own unique way, and he also just liked the history of it. He remembered back in the glory days of mobile homes and mobile home parks, and he really felt like he was still a part of that movement. He was a very, very nice guy.

Third person, a state senator that lived in a single wide in our mobile home park in Illinois. Now typically, when you think of someone in a political realm, you certainly don't think of them living in a mobile home park, but that's exactly what we had here. We had someone who was basically living in a mobile home park and then would decamp from the mobile home park to the capital when it was in session, and then return. He was an older guy. I assume, perhaps, he lived at one time in a stick-built home, but I don't know that to be the case whatsoever. But somehow over time, he ended up in our mobile home park in a single wide that looked just many others on the street, nothing unique. As I recall, I think he drove a Buick. But again, fairly nondescript, very well-educated guy, very nice guy, always nicely dressed. Again, when he was not in the mobile home park, he was out there working on the laws of the State of Illinois.

Just recently, I saw a guy that I thought was very interesting. He was in front of our mobile home park over in Decatur, Illinois, and he looked like something straight out of a cross between L.L. Bean and Brooks Brothers. This was perhaps one of the preppiest people I've ever seen in a mobile home park, khaki pants, blue blazer, button-down shirt, Sperry Top Siders.

Some people might say, "What the heck is he doing there?" Well, we're seeing more and more of that today. We're seeing younger people who are a little turned off by apartments, a little turned off by cookie cutter living. They're wanting something new, something different. They're also wanting to live a little greener, a little smaller. They're trying to forge their own path, and they're having fun with it. I could tell the guy was very, very happy. Car in the driveway, a Volvo.

Some people might say, "Is this a staged thing? Were you shooting a commercial? Surely somebody in this description would not be living in a mobile home park." And the question is, why would you think that? Why would you think that a preppy guy would not be living in a mobile home park in Illinois? I was as guilty as many people of thinking of that stereotype when I got in the industry, because I didn't know any better and because I relied on the U.S. media as telling the truth. But I now know, in fact, that all the stereotypes created in the movies and television were completely wrong. Will he stay in our mobile home park? Is he just there temporarily? I don't know, but I do know if he leaves, if he moves on to somewhere else, we'll find somebody else who probably will be still similar to that.

In fact, in this one mobile home park, it's striking how many younger people have moved in. These are not young people who are early job formations, living with the parents, starting up their lives. These are younger people who are really on a mission. They're on a mission to live differently, to live their own unique way. I really like the way that it looks in the mobile home park. I think the diversity of people who live in mobile home parks has always been a big attraction to the industry for many people. I think it's pretty cool that we're getting lots of young people, maybe even slightly more affluent people, who are finding the whole idea of living in a mobile home park kind of cutting edge, kind of offbeat, kind of fun, kind of neat.

I went out and viewed the mobile home park in Las Vegas a while back, the one that Tony Hsieh lives in. Tony Hsieh, if you don't know him, is the guy that sold Zappos.com to Amazon for, I think, $800 million. Not sure how much he cleared out of it, but quite a bit. He gave up his penthouse in Las Vegas to move into a mobile home park, because he was very lonely. Then he bought the mobile home park, and it's right there off the strip in Las Vegas. He's a very nice guy. If you call him or email him, he'll have someone in his office give you a tour. At least he did in my case.

It's basically people living in a new way that they've kind of invented, and he's very much part of the creative process. They have a lot of Airstreams in there, some tiny homes, a giant stage, and they try to have everyone kind of communally bond at night every night. So they'll have live theater, they'll have outdoor barbecues and things, they play ping pong, they had outdoor pool tables, all kind of things. But the goal is social interaction. So again, it's people you would not typically expect to be living in a mobile home park, that's for sure. Certainly not somebody who's got over $100 million of net worth. But nevertheless, it's kind of a trend. I think this preppy guy in our park in Decatur kind of represented the very cutting edge of that trend.

Finally, we had a resident in our mobile home park in Missouri. This guy, and I don't follow country western music, and so I'm no expert on it. But I could tell from the photos, he definitely was a part of the legend of country western music. He, in fact, was married to our manager there. All over the home were black and white photographs of him playing with many, many country western stars, Merle Haggard, all these different people that I don't personally know, because I'm not a big follower of country music, but he was playing with all of them, all of the big acts. Some of the photos were signed, some were not. That's what he did his entire life. He was a professional country western musician who traveled America with all the leading bands. I think he was a guitarist, and now in retirement, he has finally settled down into our mobile home park in Missouri. Very, very interesting guy. Very, very interesting couple. Had been all over America, many different sights and sounds. They've done it all. Yet they chose at the end to retire into a mobile home park in Missouri, because that's where they felt comfortable.

Now I think they also, once again, like the fact that it's kind of an unusual type of living. Many of their friends probably live in little stick-built homes. They instead have opted for something that's a little different, a little off the beaten path, and I think they kind of liked it. I think they like the creative outlet of doing something that's not entirely in line with what most Americans are doing.

In fact, you'll find that roughly 8% of all Americans live in mobile homes. That means there's 24 million or 25 million stories out there. Lots of people who you would not expect. Lot of stories that you would not expect. They're out in the mobile home parks every day. You've got billionaires in Montauk. You've got millionaires in Malibu. Then you've got just regular run-of-the-mill people who are enjoying their lifestyle in the mobile home park. They enjoy living in a way that most people don't normally think of when they think of typical housing.

But don't for one minute fall into the trap of stereotyping those residents. Don't watch a TV show or a movie and say, "Oh yeah, I really know mobile home park residents now. I know about all those people who live in trailer parks." Because the truth is, you don't. You don't have a clue. So don't fall into that trap. Keep your eyes open. There's nothing different, or in any way different, between residents in mobile home parks and residents in every other form of housing. There just isn't.

If you feel like you do have a handle on that stereotype, then educate yourself. Go into a mobile home park. Don't go into just the old shotgun-style one you may see on the edge of downtown or in the industrial area. Go to the bulk of them, the real ones, the ones that are residentially-based. They look more like high-density subdivisions. Drive through there and see if it does not change your opinion a little, because it definitely should.

This is Frank Rolfe, the Mobile Home Park Mastery Podcast series talking about interesting people in mobile home parks. We'll see you again next week.