Lawn Mower Man

Kenneth Page followed his peculiar dream from Texas to Florida.

A few years into his sentence, Page had a prison-yard epiphany. "I had two friends in there — or they was as close to being friends as you want people to be in prison — and I was sitting on a bench and a tear came down my eye. They asked me what was wrong and I told him I was done fighting. I was not gonna drink anymore when I got out. I was gonna fly right. I owned all my troubles there and then."

And since then he's pretty much stayed out of trouble. He's worked hard and never asks anybody for anything.

The people he met along the way on this trip were often taken with his drive and energy. "I could tell he didn't have much, but he was doing more than most people," says Ricky Collins, a mechanic at J&J Lawnmower Repair just east of Silsbee, Texas. "He's got a lawn mower and a weed eater and he will work. It's not like he's standing on the side of the ride beggin' for something. And he didn't ask me for a thing. I just kinda seen what he had. He asked for a muffler. He said he wanted a used one, and that there was no way he could pay for it, but that he would work it off. And 'course that's what I try to tell my kids — I got five of 'em, and I tell 'em, you can't help someone who don't help their self. So I didn't mind helping him."

Most of the time he spent on the road, Page spent worrying about his oil level, the contents of his gas tank and how the heck he would make the next town.
Jeff Balke
Most of the time he spent on the road, Page spent worrying about his oil level, the contents of his gas tank and how the heck he would make the next town.
Page carried this rumpled Google Maps printout more to show where he'd been rather than where he was headed. For most of the rest of the trip, he had no map at all.
Jeff Balke
Page carried this rumpled Google Maps printout more to show where he'd been rather than where he was headed. For most of the rest of the trip, he had no map at all.

Collins said one of his daughters had been to the pen three times because of drugs and his teenaged son seemed headed down the same route. They both wanted something for nothing. Page, whom Collins got to know well over a fried-chicken lunch, was willing and ready to pay for whatever help Collins could spare. "He's just trying to get by, I guess, just make enough to get him a pack of smokes, somethin' to eat and a gallon of gas," Collins says. "I never really understood why he was doin' what he was doin'. He never really made that clear. He just, I don't know...I kind of felt for him, I guess."

The idea of the trip resonated with Collins. "I've often wanted to just take off, but I didn't have the funds or the means or whatever and I never done it," he says. He didn't let his envy get in the way of his generosity, though. "When he fired that engine up, I saw it smokin' and rattlin' so I found an old used engine we had and I give him that, so if his fell apart he could piece together whatever out of the two motors," Collins remembers. Page said he would pay by handing out J&J business cards to the people he met. "I figured that would be good advertising, so I gave him quite a few cards," Collins says.

Collins also noticed that Page didn't really seem to know the whole way to Florida, or what exactly he would do when he got there. To Collins, that was pretty much irrelevant. In having even that ill-defined goal, Page was way ahead of most of us.

"That's more than I can say for half of America, you know what I mean? It's pitiful to say, but that's the truth."
_____________________
"Hey Mister Lomax, this is Kenneth Page. I made it through that town, what's its name? (Muffled voices in background.) Yeah. In other words, I made it over the Mississippi bridge, I made it through Baton Rouge and I'm fixin' to get back on 190 and make it on down the road. I had a little trouble with the po-lice...They kinda got upset that I crossed the Mississippi bridge on a lawn mower, but hey, you know, that's life. Three of 'em were real good about it and one of 'em was kinda crappy."

— Phone message from Kenneth Page

After photographer Jeff Balke and I tracked Page down in Eunice, Louisiana, he was very good about calling me with his progress reports. That was one of the best. He would later say that in a life of riding dirt bikes and motorcycles and hot rods, he had never known an adrenaline rush like the one he got roaring down the backside of that humpback Highway 190 Mississippi River bridge at what he estimates was 55 miles an hour.

A couple of days later, he reported that he was closing in on the Louisiana-Mississippi border. He said that he had gotten rained on near Ponchatoula and was slowed by the roads. "I'm ridin' on gravel, non-shoulder for about 40 miles now," he said from somewhere west of Madisonville, Louisiana.

The next day's call was from Lacombe, Louisiana, and an agitated Page was the bearer of plenty of bad news. He'd blown another engine and several tires. He'd almost fallen down a culvert off the side of a bridge. What's more, the last two towns had been exceedingly challenging.

"Never ever try to ride a lawn mower through Madisonville and, what's that town with the long bridge? Mandeville. Oh God. Blind curves, jumping curbs...I come through Sonic about 80, naw, 30 miles an hour, jumpin' over curbs, drivin' down the shoulder, freakin' everybody out in town. And then I was ridin' behind guardrails and on sidewalks. It was just bad. The Mississippi River bridge was much easier. It's all been exciting today. A camera crew would have flipped out. Ricky Bobby and the Dukes of Hazzard have got nothin' on me. Evel Knievel would have stopped and shook hands with me."

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