By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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By Sean Pendergast
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His mower was a rust-bucket factory model with a Frankenstein monster engine of salvaged scrap parts and usually at least two tires that were completely bald. He joked that he wanted to install a fake car alarm on it just so it could make that little chirp-chirp sound and people would think he was a big deal. Page slept wherever he could — inside a car wash one night, another night in a donated jail cell, but mostly under the stars near his mower, often parked in truck stops, Walmarts and rest areas, and instead of free restaurant fare, he ate lukewarm Ramen and SpaghettiOs straight out of the can.
"I didn't want this ride to be easy," he said, from a roadside in Waveland, Mississippi. "I was in it for the long haul. It ain't worth the ride if you don't go through pain and suffering, you know? I think people think it's interesting that I'm working my way down there and all the miseries that goes with that. And it's got its good points. You see the stars at night and meet some great people."
Rattling along on Mow Murray, the rattletrap engine's vibrations coursing through his arms and up through his haunches, he also had plenty of time to think. When he wasn't worrying about his oil level or the contents of his gas tank or the condition of his bald tires, sometimes music would pop in his head, especially Beatles songs. He says that the sight of a fresh roadkill started him humming "Rocky Raccoon"; at other times, a break in a rainstorm would have him whistling "Here Comes the Sun."
And at other times he would wax philosophical: "I ride past all these empty houses. You can tell people were living there not too long ago. Maybe there's a swing set in the yard or something, but you can tell nobody lives in 'em anymore, and that this economy has got 'em. Those poor people have got nothing now.
"At least I've got this."
From Waco, Page headed due east to Rusk, where he turned south toward Beaumont, where he made his big turn toward Florida. (Somewhere in East Texas, he picked up a truly epic case of poison oak, one that made his forearms look like Popeye's, if Popeye's forearms were made of welt-covered chicken skin.)
In Lufkin, he met Dr. Bryan Pool, a chiropractor who hired him to cut his grass. Page asked him for $20. Pool thought that was too low, so he wound up giving him $40, plus a $10 tip when he found about Page's mission. "He did a really, really good job," Pool said. Pool was so impressed with Page and his dream he called The Lufkin Daily News, which sent a reporter out. So far, that was the only substantial media attention Page's trip garnered, or at least that made the Internet.
Mow Murray was officially classed as a slow-moving vehicle, so Page could ride it on the shoulder of any highway so long as it sported an orange marker on the back. He had few hassles from the cops until Louisiana State Police intercepted him just before he attempted to ride his mower across the Atchafalaya Swamp Parkway. "Three of 'em were cool about it, but one of 'em said he was gonna confiscate my mower," a chastened Page said a day or so later. He wound up riding in a trailer for that leg of the journey. (Once on the other side, Page drove backwards and forwards to make up the lost distance. At the time, he still believed the world record was in reach.) In fact, Page learned to like the police a little on this trip: Some slipped him cash, while others allowed him to sleep in jail as a guest.
That was a first, but Page is no stranger to a jail cell. You could say that if Kenneth Page didn't have bad luck, he wouldn't have any luck at all. He's the first to admit he brought some of his bad mojo on himself, but the stories he has to tell just leave you shaking your head and chuckling ruefully to yourself.
There was that time back in the '90s when he got his third DWI, which by law is a felony. "My wife at that time came from a little money," he says. "She was a RN. She liked to go out and drink in bars. Me, I liked to just stay home and drink in front of the TV. So that was what I did. She went out and came home drunk and wanted to fight, so I had to leave just to get away from her. Well, what did I do but come up on the only stop sign in Waco that was covered by branches, and I rolled right through it and hit a car."
While out on bond for that charge, and after the hard-drinking RN had left him, Page says he got arrested for "burglary of a habitation that wasn't a habitation." He was initially apprehended by the property owner, an acquaintance of his. "He said, 'Kenneth, I knew if your wife ever left you, you'd screw up.'" Nevertheless, the man said that if Kenneth put back the stuff he had tried to steal, he would let him go. Unfortunately, a patrolling sheriff rolled up on the scene and was not so forgiving. Nor was the judge presiding over his felony DWI case. Page got ten years in prison.