Lawn Mower Man

Kenneth Page followed his peculiar dream from Texas to Florida.

We pushed on to Kinder, the famous Coushatta Indian casino town. At the intersection of Highway 165, we stopped at a grocery store to confirm that Page was not headed further north on the highway to Oberlin. I told the fry cook at the store's lunch counter that Page's wife had left him and that he had decided to ride his lawn mower from Waco to Florida. "Beats suicide," the cook said. "I guess. Naw, I haven't seen him." But across the street at a garage/body shop, they had seen him and told us to keep heading east.

By now, the road had changed names to Highway 190 and was informally known as the Acadiana Parkway. To the west, there had been a few scary, overloaded-looking logging trucks lumbering down the road, groaning under the weight of giant pine logs, but this was rice country. Aquatic tractors were churning through waterlogged fields, white herons and other wading birds following in their wake. Silos lined the train tracks in the small towns we passed through. Balke tuned in a Cajun station on the AM radio and we had a soundtrack of accordion waltzes and swamp pop boogies to round out the tableaux.

And so passed Elton, and then Basile, where instead of beer, ice and cigarettes, the town grocery prominently offered tasso, boudin, cracklins, gumbo and, well, beer, 'cause Cajuns like that, too. And by this time, we no longer needed to get out and ask if Page had passed this way, because we already knew, as the blacktop shoulders had given way to mixtures of red dirt, gravel and green grass. Balke and I could now clearly see the tracks of Page's Murray steadfastly heading east.

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.

Eunice is the first town of Walmart-supporting size along this highway for more than 100 miles, and pulling in was something of a sensory overload for Balke and me. I thought we had to be getting pretty close by then, so when we came upon a Popeyes with a few police cars in the parking lot, I asked Balke to stop. The Eunice cops might know where Page was.

I walked in and asked one — a shaven-headed behemoth with tattooed arms. He didn't bat an eye. "He's right down the road at the car-care center in front of the Walmart," he said. "He is right there, right now."

By the time Balke and I scrambled back down the road the quarter-mile or so it was, he had started heading west toward us. And there he was, looking just like he did in the picture from the Lufkin paper. My heart leaped as I saw him rumbling down the wrong shoulder, headed toward a gas station with a huge, truck-stop-sized parking lot. And that was where we ran him down, and first interviewed him, near the gas pumps. As the speakers piped in Cajun versions of "La Bamba" and classic rock hits, Page spun his turbocharged tale in person.

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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