Airship Isabella – the real life “Origins” of Cedric and Amelia Whittaker

The fall season is finally behind us, and I will admit to crawling in my little hobbit hole and taking a much needed break from the front lines. I’ve probably slept more in the past two weeks than I have since September! This fall was wonderful and busy and everything that I could have hoped it would be. That being said, it was also everything I expected it to be.

I wanted to take this short moment between awaking from post-road dogging stupor and moving on to the holidays and then without a breath, the slower, but still busy winter season to talk about what it’s like to be a full time member of Airship Isabella. It’s probably one of our most commonly asked questions, and it is often said with a glitter in the eyes and a look of longing. I don’t understand the look because I’m here, at headquarters, and know the full story. 🙂 With the upcoming release of our first installment of Airship Isabella – Origins. I thought I would also take a moment to give you the real life “Origins” story as well.

In the fall of 2008, my firefighter husband, Michael “Hawk” Ford came up with a “brilliant idea”. We were going to build a full scale 20′

Kitty in our backyard Summer 2009

X 50′ two story “airship” to be taken to Flipside the next May, and set up a dance camp. For those of you unfamiliar with Burning Flipside, it is a regional Burning Man festival in central Texas. We called her “the Airship Isabella”, and we did actually build it and take it to Flipside. We had a wonderful time building the ship, and we fell in love with steam punk in the process. We even came up with characters and back stories, and named ourselves Cedric and Amelia Whittaker. In June we moved into a beautiful home on Lake Travis, and rang in the summer playing in the lake and teaching our youngest how to swim. It was about as perfect as anything I had ever imagined. But out there in the economic world, the recession had be going on for almost a year, and we were about to become victims. It’s a long story that is just rotten all the way around, but suffice it to say that by the middle of July, Hawk was out of a job. That left me, a secretary, trying to take care of three children while living in a very nice house on the lake.

“Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.” Richard Bach

We had savings enough to get us through December, but after that we were going to be in real trouble. There were no jobs to be found, and cities, now loosing revenue, were not looking to hire. Hawk continued to play with his new found hobby in steam punk while looking for a job, and as finding a job anytime soon began to look less and less likely, an idea began to form. We had done so well throwing the party at Flipside maybe we could do it professionally. It was crazy. We were desperate. So, we banded together with some friends, and started mapping out what we wanted to do. We created a plan to build our reputation as event hosters and to use merchandise sales to fund our start up. We had a box of old leather in the closet from when Hawk was in the SCA, and a whole lot of bits and pieces from the Flipside project. So, we set out to build steam punk merchandise. It was slow at first, and we didn’t really do much to offset even our costs at first. We also had a hard time figuring out where to market ourselves. We did clubs and small events, but nothing big enough to even begin to be hopeful. We did manage to book a movie spot as extras, and were hired by the artistic designer for the scene we were in, J.R. Fleming. We let her use our boat house as a scene shop, and much to our benefit, she joined the team.

December came and went with the last of our savings, and January was looking incredibly bleak. On the day before New Year’s we got a call from Beth at Ikkicon, asking us if we could fill a single spot on Thursday night before the con. We jumped at the opportunity, and put together a show…complete with a band…that didn’t exist before that day…in under 24 hours. I’m just going to be honest. It was horrible. I cried and had a panic attack. I really didn’t think we were going to survive the backlash. Nonetheless, we showed up the next day to sit our table, and low and behold, people had liked it or they hadn’t seen it. It didn’t really matter either way. We made a ton of connections, and while we had shown up with some merchandise, we had had no experience in the con world. We didn’t realize the volume we were dealing with. By Sunday, we had sold all but two pieces of the gear WE HAD ON to the patrons of that Ikkicon. More importantly, we met there a large portion of the future members of the Isabella.

As the winter progressed, we started working on making inroads into the convention circuit, and trying to survive. We lost our only whole car, and had to pull the old Jeep out of the scrap bin just to keep going. It had two shattered windows and no heater, but it ran…sometimes…and we owned it. J.R. let us use her car when she could, and her mother even picked me up and took me to work a few times when the Jeep was acting up. We had some disagreements within the crew over the direction of the group, and we lost all but three of our original members who weren’t family. They thought the convention circuit was snobbish and a waste of time. They didn’t see how pursuing this venue would be beneficial to promoting a party company. Those who remained had begun to see things a little differently. Those who left were right and they were wrong. It was definitely snobbish, but we were convinced it wasn’t a waste of time. We were also convinced that we didn’t want to concentrate on parties. We could see a bigger picture beginning to emerge and an actual community beginning to develop that we wanted to be a part of. In that split, we lost all but one of our closest friends. And we kept going.

We went with my parents to the museum for Father's day after a really rough spring.

The spring brought another round of triumphs and perhaps the worst tragedies that we have seen to date. We actually started making inroads in the convention circuit, and met people who would become some of our closest allies. We lost a good friend to accidental suicide and had to file charges on a member of the crew that resulted in one of our children moving away…on the day of the funeral. The two weren’t actually related in anyway other than rotten timing. Even in the midst of turmoil, no one lost site of the mission, though the mission had changed. We no longer had any desire to be event managers/promoters or party planners. We had seen the magic in steam punk, and the potential that it had to actually inspire people to be creative and innovative. The mission became, in the summer of 2010, to make sure that that potential was achieved as much as this crew of rag tag misfits could.

I learned there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead, others come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready, you see. Now my troubles are going to have trouble with me. — Dr. Seuss

By July of 2010, we had reached a cross-roads. We were out of money, completely. The Jeep finally quit working altogether. We were facing me having to get two jobs, if I could even find another one. Or Hawk having to put down the steam punk venture, and take any job he could find just to survive. Even those were damn near impossible to locate. We had one other option. We could completely abandon trying to make things work in the “real world” to try to make Airship Isabella full time. We had realized quickly that the only way to make this work was to be able to travel. Without reliable transportation and being tied to an 8-5 job, I couldn’t go along. The second barrier was the children’s school. The third and final problem was start up costs. We made the only logical choice for us, terrifying as it was. I quit my job, cashed in my retirement, sold all of my household belongings, decided to home school the children, and set out on the road. They say the only way to really build wings is as you are falling, so we gave it a shot.

Last day at the Lake House August 2010, our moving/packing partners: Hawk, Remy, Nick, Korrin, Alex, Julissa, Whitney, Eevie and David

We set up a home base in a tiny house behind Cedric’s mom that had been severely damaged during Hurricane Ike, and was and is probably uninhabitable. Over the course of the Fall of 2010, Captain Delacru and Johnny No joined us, and several other members quit their jobs and school to do this full time though they did not move into the shop. To truly understand this, you must understand that this house is about 900 sq ft with two bedrooms and one bath that kind of works. We had to pull the seaweed out of the stove. In this house was our workspace for Cedric, Lazuli, Johnny No and me. As well as sleeping quarters for my two children and Cedric and me. Hawk’s mom kindly let the guys sleep inside her house. We used the start up cash to buy tools and supplies and a vehicle that lasted all of three weeks before blowing out the engine. And we started to work in earnest. We booked a few really great events, and by October were booking well into 2011. We booked and performed at Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, and then we really started to gain steam.

Dickens on the Strand 2010

So, the background being set up and knowing where we were coming from will hopefully make what will come next make more sense.

 “Here’s to the crazy ones; the misfits; the rebels; the trouble-makers; the round pegs in the square holes; the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” Jack Kerouac

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6 thoughts on “Airship Isabella – the real life “Origins” of Cedric and Amelia Whittaker

  1. I am sure that everyone is glad the ASI crew is around, though there have been tough times, to see a group of people basically go off the grid and make a life for theirselves outside of corporate confines is inspiration for people such as I, who choose not to be stuck in an office cubicle for the next 30-40 years..*tips hat* Till next we meet!

  2. I just saw ASI at AMA-Con and it looks like you all made the right choice to follow your dreams and do what you love. Hopefully we will get to see your crew again at Ama-con 2.

  3. Pingback: A look at the past | Airship Isabella

  4. Pingback: The Future Past That Never Was – Airship Isabella part 1 | The Airship Isabella

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