On Friday night, some semblance of my flu-ridden self went over to the Platteville Public Library for its Loud @ the Library fundraiser.
The music sounded great, with something I had never seen before, an all-metal guitar. The food looked great. I didn’t have any due to my uncertain digestive system (an odd side-effect of the respiratory flu) and the fact I hadn’t paid the $20 to attend. My plan was to go, avoid potentially contagious interaction with people, get photos and leave.
(One night later, when I didn’t feel any better, I went to the UW–Platteville men’s basketball banquet, and on the way home tuned into Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Old Time Radio Drama,” which included a 1954 CBS Radio “War of the Worlds”-like adaptation of Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, in which — spoiler alert! — everyone except the narrator dies. If I’m not here next week, that may be why.)
A reader, however, pointed out a young man, quite tan, listening to Spare the Pig. She claimed that he had walked into Platteville from up North, and was walking across the U.S. The story sounded like Leon Logothetis, who wrote The Kindness Diaries and has spoken twice in this area. I didn’t have a notebook (the opposite of the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”), but I did have the recorder app on my cellphone, where my voice sounds as if I’m in the end stages of tuberculosis or The Scarlet Plague or something.
The man introduced himself as “just Jake, actually.” Jake said he walked from the Phillips/Prentice area, and said, “I’m actually going to travel as far south as I possibly can. Lately I’ve actually been snaking around Wisconsin.”
Unlike Logothetis, whose inspiration apparently was the Che Guevara movie “The Motorcycle Diaries,” Jake described himself as being someone at the end of his rope.
“I felt the need to leave,” he said. “I recently lost my job, I lost my fiancée; I lost my car because of my fiancée; she crashed it and totaled it out before she left me. I lost my child three years ago. And my life just wasn’t in a position where I knew exactly what to do. So I decided to just walk.
“I kind of feel as if God was speaking to me a little bit and said just get up and walk; I’ll take care of you.”
Apparently I am the first media person to encounter Jake and report about it, because I haven’t found a story about someone meeting Jake’s description online. I was going to call him over the weekend when I was more prepared for an interview, but he said he doesn’t have a cellphone.
Like Logothetis, Jake has been relying on the kindness of strangers while “touring the countryside and seeing everything that America has to offer,” without any money — “I’m just kind of living off of free love right now. I take a shower where I can,” including at Mound View Park on Friday, and he has stayed at churches. People have paid for him to get into museums. A Spare the Pig member paid for him to get into the fundraiser, where he was well fed.
Given my illness I didn’t ask him questions I should have, such as how far he walks in a day, strange things that have happened, and so on. I did think to ask him what he thought of Platteville.
“Platteville is an absolutely gorgeous town,” he said. “I absolutely love the sights. I’ve seen a lot your guys’ houses and the houses are absolutely gorgeous. Your guys’ college campus is absolutely amazing.”
Jake is planning on going to Florida, then California, then the East Coast, and maybe farther. “When I find a place that I really want to settle down at and live at, that’s when I’ll stop,” he said. “I’d like to kind of do this around the world.”
Then, even though I warned him of my disease that would surely result in his imminent demise if he got it, Jake shook my hand, which took real courage given how I sounded and looked.
A skeptical journalist would question whether he was making it up. (I had to eat editorial crow once after a story where the business person I wrote about, it turned out, had previous felony and business theft convictions, which in those pre-online court records days I discovered after the story was printed, of course.) Maybe Jake was making it up, although he had done a lot of work to create that story, and for what gain?
In my career I have come upon a few people making improbable-length trips by two wheels, including a motorcycle rider traveling the Americas and a college classmate of my wife’s who biked hundreds of miles. If Jake has no job and no responsibilities or relationships to come back to, what’s his hurry?
I was going to wrap this up by suggesting a helping hand for Jake if you encounter him, but if he’s telling the straight story, he’s already south of the state line by now.