Category Archives: Road School

“God Bless America!”

In Jail

“God bless America,
land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
through the night with the light from above!”

The irony was as thick as the packed Minnesota snow outside our building. Those words filled the stark room and echoed off the concrete walls of the jail house as Danny and I sang out and some Native Americans from the Drunk Tank joined in.

A metal door unlatched across the hall from my cell and eerily squeaked open as a middle-aged woman, dressed in a jailer’s uniform, stepped inside and walked over to me.

“You boys responsible for this?” she asked as I stopped singing and sheepishly nodded my head.

She looked down the hallway and then back at me. I could hear the sadness in her voice as she gently shook her head and said, “What’s wrong with our country? You boys don’t belong here.”

Danny repeated another stanza as the jailer stood and listened.

“God bless America,
land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
through the night with the light from above!

From the mountains, to the prairies,
to the oceans, white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home.”

The jailer started to leave as the patriotic song appeared to end, but Danny sang the last line again and I joined in.

“God bless America, my home sweet home.” A loud clang rang out, almost like a cymbal, as the jailer shut the metal door and the song ended.

Maybe Danny just liked the acoustics of a jail cell, because he was always singing every time we got arrested. The first time he did it we were occupying the same cell and he stood up on the stainless steel commode and started belting out Frank Sinatra songs. I wanted to tell him to stop because I needed to take a nap. However, it looked like our fellow inmates were enjoying his singing and I did not want to get on their bad side.

VultureMine-121 by dagnyg, on Flickr
Example of a window at a cross-bar hotel.

Danny and I had been spending a lot of time enjoying the amenities of America’s “cross bar hotels” because we were out raising funds for our church and some people were not happy with that.

I really wish I would have paid more attention to where I was at the time, how I was treated and the range of accommodations while being housed and fed courtesy of America’s taxpayers. That way, I might have been able to publish some type of guide about our country’s police departments and the quality of their lodgings. You know, like a Michelin guide of America’s jail houses with ratings for how tight the handcuffs were, what the ride in the police car was like, quality of food, friendliness of the staff and customers and the ambience of the jail cell.

Admittedly, it appears that most jails might have been designed by the same person. For the most part, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. However, one thing that often separates a mediocre forced vacation from a great one is the quality of the staff. That said, my vote for my best jail-house experience goes to Ogden, Utah.

Ogden Through the Winshield by arbyreed, on Flickr
Welcome to Ogden.

Now please, please, do not travel to Ogden and get arrested just because of my recommendation. That was a long time ago, and things might have changed. I should also add that my arrest had nothing to do with my religious affiliation. In fact I had been warned by the police that if I continued to try and peddle my wares, especially on a Sunday in Utah, I would be arrested. I explained the situation to my team leader, but it was like talking to a brain-washed cultist, if you know what I mean, and he told me that as long as I kept the right attitude, the “spirit world” would protect me and everything would be just fine.

Well, I guess my attitude was pretty lousy, because after knocking on just a few doors, Ogden’s boys-in-blue were taking me for a ride.

“Why didn’t you stop selling when we told you to stop?” One of the officers questioned.

Although they were probably Mormons, I doubted they would sympathize with my “spirit world should’ve protected me” angle and I simply told them my team leader made me do it.

It was pretty obvious that one of the reasons Ogden was a good place for a forced vacation was because they didn’t have many customers to deal with and they could spend more time with their guests. When I was jailed, there were only two of us incarcerated: me, and a wayward teenager that got busted for stealing a car. The place was super clean, we got fed McDonald’s for dinner and breakfast, and the staff was quite friendly.

God bless America. My home sweet home.

I do believe that God has blessed America and I am grateful that it is “my home sweet home”, because although I was arrested more times than I can remember, I was always released the next day. For the most part, unless you’re a foreign national leading a new religious movement, it is still, as sung in another patriotic tune, “the land of the free, and home of the brave.”

Land of the Free Because of the Brave Pa by Lynn Friedman, on Flickr
Land of the Free

Cross Bar Hotel Window
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  dagnyg 

Ogden Arch
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  arbyreed 

Land of the Free
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Lynn Friedman 

Forgive Them

Imitation of Christ
My copy of “The Imitation of Christ”.

Reverend Moon’s teachings opened my heart to Jesus and I eventually decided to become a full-time member of the Unification Church. Now that I was a religious nut, I figured it was about time I learned more about Christ. So I started with the basics. I found a children’s Bible at one of our church centers and began reading it. I also kept a New Testament in my shirt pocket that I would often consult. Furthermore, I started studying “The Imitation of Christ” (a Christian devotional book composed by Thomas Kempis in the early 1400’s), and was especially moved by the chapter, “Few love the cross of Christ” where I read the following passage:

“Jesus always has many who love His Heavenly kingdom, but few who bear His cross…Many love Him as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless Him as long as they receive some comfort from Him.”

Suffering Jesus
Our Holy song book.

In addition, a song “Suffering Jesus” from the Unification Church’s Holy Song book touched me. I began to pray and ask Jesus to show me his heart,  something I almost regretted when I walked into a large night club in Northern Wisconsin with a case of brandy snifters filled with wax and made into candles. I asked some of the patrons if they would be interested in purchasing some of my fine product.

“It’s a Moonie! It’s a Moonie!” someone in the crowd of about thirty people yelled. Somebody tried to yank the box of candles from me and the box ripped and brandy glasses crashed to the floor. A couple of burly guys grabbed hold of me and started parading me around the night club as people spat and poured their beer on me. That’s when I remembered praying to know the heart of Jesus. “Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” I thought. I felt no animosity, no hatred toward those people. However, I told Jesus that was about all I could handle after I was thrown out the door and onto the ground while the owner of the night club kicked me and what was left of my candles.

Drop kick

After my beating was over I stood up and walked to the edge of a forest near the nightclub and hid while keeping an eye out for the van that would come to pick me up. While waiting alone on that crisp, star-studded, pine-scented night, I started humming a church song, “Grace of the Holy Garden”, and then began to softly sing the words of the chorus:

“Glorious the song ringing in my heart for my Father above; gratefully I give offering to Him, triumph and glorious love…”


“There’s a Moonie in Town”

drawing 001
“Betty, call the shopkeepers and townspeople. Warn them there’s a Moonie in town!”

Reprinted from:  (Sort of)

“Betty, call the shopkeepers and the townspeople. Warn them that there’s a Moonie in town.” Such was the response when I asked the hardware store owner, in a small northern Wisconsin town, if he would like to make a donation for a butterfly pin to help our church.

“Come here, young man. I’ve got something to show you,” the shopkeeper said as he walked into his office. “Look!”

On his office walls, instead of the usual hardware store office decor of stuffed deer heads, dead fish and calendars of scantily clad women hawking pipe wrenches and the like, were hundreds of sensational articles about my church, the Unification Church. I thought, man, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do?

“What do you think?” he asked.

I wanted to tell him, “I think you’re a religious bigot!” but thought better of it. I glanced at a few of the articles but knew I wouldn’t find anything new since I had already read most of them. My aunt from Duluth always kept my parents highly informed about how terrible my church was by clipping out derogatory articles and mailing them to California. I got to read them on my visits home.

Downtown Crandon, Wisconsin by jimmywayne, on Flickr
Small Town Wisconsin

I told the shopkeeper goodbye, wished him a good day and walked outside. I looked down the street and thought, today is going to be an interesting day. I then proceeded to go shop to shop, which of course was futile since every shopkeeper had been “warned” about me. Having finished the shops in record time (having someone yell “no” at you when you open the door doesn’t take very long), I started to go house to house. Although many of the residents had been alerted about me, I was still able to gain some success. However, it was soon to become more difficult.

One gentleman, perhaps a relative of the hardware store owner, believed it was his personal responsibility to make sure that no one in this town was going to give me any money. He went with me to every house to let the residents know why they shouldn’t give. Luckily I was able to outrun my persecutor,  an overweight middle-aged man, and was able to knock on a few doors without his presence. However, after he decided to drive around in his car, he was able to keep up with me again. So I decided to try another part of town.

Near downtown I was passing a small gas station when a frail elderly lady asked me to come inside. She asked me what all the commotion was about. (Meanwhile, I noticed that my antagonist was driving around trying to find me, but couldn’t see me inside the gas station.) I briefly explained what I was doing. She said, “People in this town are mean. You seem like a nice young man. I’ll buy some of your butterfly pins.” She gave me ten dollars.

My cherished I.D. Badge

I then left the station, ran to the other side of town, and started to go house to house unmolested… at least for a while, until I reached a newer subdivision. They’d been waiting for me! “Red alert! Red alert! Moonie on the block!” about six kids on their bicycles shouted as I started going around the neighborhood. Surprisingly, people still bought. Perhaps they felt sorry for me.

Around 7:00 p.m. a police officer pulled up and said the townspeople had had a special meeting to decide what they should do about me. The officer stated that he knew I had every right to raise funds for my church, but for my own safety, he suggested I stop.

Since I was almost done with the town, I agreed. “You know,” I said, “I get an idea how Jesus must have felt when he got kicked out of towns.”

Jesus before Pontius Pilate by Nick in exsilio, on Flickr
Jesus before Pontius Pilate

“Yeah, and I know what it must have been like for Pontius Pilate,” replied the officer. I walked over to the post office where I was to be picked up in about an hour, sat down, and started to reflect about the day. I thought about the elderly lady who had asked me into her gas station; I thought about the policeman; I thought about the various people who gave me a donation while someone was screaming at them not to. In particular, I thought about an elderly couple living in a small shack down a dirt road,  who were reading their Bibles when I knocked on their door. They offered me some lemonade, said they were glad I came by, and gave me $5.00.

Around 8:00pm the fundraising van picked me up. I counted up. I had made exactly 100 dollars, which was my goal for the day. Someone asked me about my day. “Well, when I walked into a hardware store……..”

MFT Mates
MFT Mates



Downtown Crandon, WI – Picture by Jimmy Emmerson

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  jimmywayne 

Jesus before Pontius Pilate – Photo by Nick Thompson

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Nick in exsilio 

Road School

Road school Hwy 70
Heading North on Hwy 70 leaving Marysville.

Vagabonds go on the road for different reasons: adventure, economic hardship, to search for truth or to heal a broken heart.

A journalist wrote a book about his experiences hopping freight trains throughout America. While interviewing some of the drifters he found on the trains and in hobo camps he would often see wounds that had been stitched or dressed professionally, and he would ask who had provided the medical care. “Oh, that was Doc,” he would often hear. Intrigued, he went looking for Doc, and found him.

Doc was a medical doctor who one day hopped a freight train as it pulled away from the train yard near his once-successful medical practice. His wife had left him, and he was fed up with the trappings of modern life. Doc, who had been drifting for several years, wasn’t sure when and if he’d ever go back to “civilized” life. For now he enjoyed wandering and serving those around him.

1980's Las Vegas
**1980s Las Vegas

I decided to become a wayfarer in the winter of 1977 as I sat upon a grassy knoll near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and stared at the casinos, those monuments to excess and greed, as they beckoned with their garish lights. A few months earlier, when I was about to leave Lake Tahoe and come to Vegas, some friends had invited me out to a cocktail lounge in Tahoe where a band was playing. A member of the band had just learned a new song which they played for us. As I recalled the words,

Las Vegas ain’t no place for a poor boy like me…

I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps it was an omen.

Leaving Vegas was no easy decision. I was doing well in my classes at the University and I had made a lot of effort to be there: studying while my roommates were skiing or partying; working and saving my money; even moving to Tahoe so I could gain Nevada State residency. But something was calling me. I could hear a still, small voice whispering to me, urging me to leave this place, “to seek and find”.

I decided to leave once the semester was over. I would head back to Linda for a few months, take a few classes at Yuba College to at least get my Associate’s Degree, sell my beloved old panel truck and other possessions, and prepare to hit the road.

And that’s pretty much what happened. I moved back into a  trailer that I had parked on my parents’ property in Linda while I finished attending Yuba College. Inside that trailer on a wall next to where I slept on a piece of plywood, I had taped a quotation by Henry David Thoreau:

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

I lived in an old trailer similar to this one.
*I lived in an old trailer similar to this one.

In preparation for my journey, after selling most of my possessions and purchasing a sleeping bag, backpack and other items, I made a replica of a hand with an over-sized thumb out of stiff cardboard and painted it fluorescent pink. I then attached that hand to a collapsible automotive antenna I had purchased at the wrecking yard, and attached the antenna to my backpack. I anticipated that passing motorists would see the big hand on my backpack as I walked down the road and would know I was hitching a ride. (During my travels many people did tell me it was the bright pink cardboard hand that inspired them to stop and pick me up.)

Road school 017
Free pink cardboard thumb available to adventurer. Please hurry. Wife’s worried I might take off.

As the spring of 1978 was coming to an end, I had someone give me a ride to Highway 70 near Marysville High School and drop me off. Leaning my backpack against a traffic sign, I allowed the cardboard hand to solicit rides for me while I sat down to read one of the several spiritually inclined books I had purchased. Before very long someone stopped to pick me up and once again, I was leaving Linda.

I eventually spent over eight years on the road, either on my own, or as a member of The Unification Church’s mobile fundraising team (MFT).

Road School is a collection of some of those stories of life on the road. Some may think that I shouldn’t have listened to that sound of a different drummer but personally, I’m glad I did.


* Old Trailer photo by Laura Gilmore. —–CC-BY-2.0

**Las Vegas Strip-1980 by Allen   —–CC-BY-2.0