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The Herald November 11, 1988
Never far from home
Fear of the unknown begins with a poor perception of one's surrounding environment, and since the advent of television, the electronic media has planed its part in promoting mass paranoia.
We can instantly see something ghastly that has happened in Kentucky or Oregon or China, and it can stick in the mind as though we were there ourselves. I think every newscast should end with a statement like"...but aside from all of that, it was another beautiful day in America, where millions of people laughed and loved and generally enjoyed living."
To stay home because something bad might happen is, well, against my philosophy.
When I announced my intention earlier this year to take some time off from work and spend it riding my bicycle, nobody was surprised. When everybody found out that I meant to stay on the road for something like 20 days, alone, folks got downright concerned. More than once I was told, "take a gun." To this advice, I would roll my eyeballs, do my best Ronald Reagan impersonation, and say, "Now, there you go again. You've been watching too much TV."
All alone, I rode my bicycle from Rock Hill to the Gulf of Mexico and back, and I never once needed a gun.
What I did need, however, was a working knowledge of the current events at PTL. I had absolutely no idea of how big a story Jim and Tammy were until I was 600 miles from home, and people were still asking about the latest gossip.
It all started down in coastal Georgia, far enough away so the name Rock Hill didn't mean anything when the locals asked, "Where'd you start from?"
People were forced to ask when they saw my bike loaded down, and I would first try, "way up in South Carolina." Sometimes that would work. Sometimes it wouldn't. "Well, whereabouts in South Carolina?" Uh-oh. "Rock Hill. It's near Charlotte, North Carolina."
A pause. "Hey! Ain't that where the PTL Club is?" Rats. Not again. I had this exact same conversation with eight or ten people throughout Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. I heard folks talk about PTL until I was quite honestly sick of it.
I was lounging beside a motel swimming pool in Forsyth, GA., when I overheard a man talking with his wife at the next table. They were speaking with the most glamorous accent I had ever heard, and I felt compelled to go over and greet them. I was betting myself that they were from Australia, but it turned out they were from London, here on a working vacation. The man was a Christian programmer with the BBC in London, and right away he brought up the fact that the biggest story they had going on over there was the PTL affair. Tremendous story. Headline news. Can't find out enough.
I was awestruck. I wasn't going to escape the PTL. Not even if I rode my bicycle across the ocean.
It never failed that when folks found out I lived 10 miles from the Grand Entrance, they would not only badger me for inside details, but they would insist upon hearing my own private opinion of the Jim and Tammy soap opera.
It was as though I was uniquely qualified by living so close to the situation. I developed a pat answer to sidestep the question. I would tell them that I'd rather not say what I thought, and certainly didn't want to be the judge, simply because I might be wrong. I'd hate to repeatedly lambaste the Bakkers in front of complete strangers, only to find myself later at the Pearly Gates with Brother Jim there taking names. You never know. ...
When all the smoke cleared, I had ridden my bicycle 1.357 miles and learned a major lesson about the power of television. We live in the very shadow of something that millions of people are quite concerned about. Garfield would say, "Big, fat, hairy deal," and go back to sleep.
On my way back, I was glad to see South Carolina coming. A man in Union asked me where I was from, and I said, simply, "Rock Hill."
"How 'bout that," he smiled. "You're almost home." No doubt I was home, because nobody else was going to ask me about the water slide at the river.
My next big project will be to someday ride across America. Before I leave, I'm going to have a jersey made up that says "P-WHAT?" on the front, and "I NEVER WATCH TV" on the back. Maybe then the natives will leave me alone about it.
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