Hearts Sewn Together

Libby and Pat's Home
Libby and Pat’s Home

Libby and I met fifty years ago, when we were both children. I was a sophomore in college, dating her sister Alice. Libby was a sophomore in high school.  Since leaving Pennsylvania, I may have seen her three times: once in 1986, twelve years later in 1998; then another nineteen years brings us to last Friday.  Nineteen years ago, Libby told me about her husband Pat, who I had yearned to meet ever since.  Today I feel blessed to know them both.

Libby and Pat invited me into their home. They live in a modified A-Frame, in the woods, near the top of a mountain, surrounded by many other mountains in Western Maryland. Stock flowers, Impatiens, Lantana and vegetables grow in their gardens, which are  visited by deer, bears and turkeys. Inside, knotty pine walls adorned with pictures slant inward and upward to create a cozy living room, dining room and kitchen.

We began talking while sitting on the deck, and never stopped.  We continued sharing and listening as we gathered in the kitchen and Libby prepared supper.  Pat said grace because he claimed supper would get cold if he allowed Libby to pray.  After supper we retired to the living room, with two soft couches and fluffy pillows, to enjoy some strawberry shortcake.  Libby and Pat cuddled on the couch and we continued our conversations until all were sleepy-eyed. I slept soundly in a soft bed upstairs.

We talked of family, of common friends.  Old friends.  We talked about our lives, what we have been doing, our joys and tribulations. We talked about Martha, whom Libby has never met.  We talked about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit. Libby and Pat pray often, and hear God speaking to them.  They ask God for help and directions before making decisions.

Pat is a Pastor.  He started a nearby church many years ago.  Beginning with three people, it grew and flourished.  A few years ago, he left the church behind, and now Libby and Pat meet with small groups in peoples’ homes.  They call them Gatherings.  They say the Holy Spirit lives in our hearts.  I believe that too.

Friday night I told them the story of when I was saved.  I had never before shared that event with anyone.  I told them because Libby asked. It’s not a pretty story and it’s also an amazing story, that happened 36 years ago.  I didn’t deserve to get saved, but I asked and I received.

I remember going to Tonj with the Evangelicals in 1998. We fed starving people, treated the sick, and vaccinated children. At night we showed the Jesus film and Sunday morning pastors baptized people in the river. I remember how they counted the number of people who were saved.  They divided the world into two groups – the saved and un-saved.  I never wanted to tell anyone which group I was in.  However people judge me is their business.  I believe the relationship between each person and God is between the two of them, not for others to judge.  Matthew 7:1.

Libby asked because she cared – not to decide if I was one of the flock or one of the others. Still, I hesitated. Libby said I didn’t have to share.  A voice told me to speak.  I felt safe and I felt loved.  I knew if ever I was going to tell the story, it was then and it was to them.  I believe God brought me to their home to share my story and I feel blessed.

Pat, Libby, and Karl
Pat, Libby, and Karl

Although we seldom see each other, Libby says our hearts are stitched together by the Holy Spirit.  I believe that to be true.  Wow!


I have a new job, a contract job working for Earth Networks, actually working for my son Mike. (He’s a physicist.)   My current assignment is to create a contour map showing detector error from a stream of data. After writing javascript for five years, I now need to learn to write C#, use the .NET framework, create sql queries, and serve web pages.  Although my past experience allows me to learn quickly, I feel barely competent doing this work.  That got me to thinking about competence as it relates to my past jobs.

Edgenuity c. 2010 – 2015

Rating: Extremely competent –  Every day I was sure of two things: 1) I knew what I was doing and how to do it;  2) No one could do it better.  I loved this job.  Looked forward to working every new day.  I was sure the people with whom I worked valued my contributions.  Until they deleted me.

Teaching Jobs c. 1998 – 2015

Rating: Shitso, as in schizomaniac –  On any given day, I was as good I did that day; no, as good as I did with my last student of that day.  Some days I came home depressed, thinking I had no clue how to reach the kiddos.  Other days I came home at the top of the world, thinking I was great and powerful.

Microsoft c. 1981 – 1994

Rating: Shitso – . Most days I felt utterly unqualified.  Worse, I was terrified that others would realize I was a complete idiot.  Some days, not many, I thought I was a god.  Actually, I still remember the day one of my bosses told me he thought I was a god.  Steve Ballmer didn’t think I was a god, but he thought I was good enough that he gave me an award one year,  a 10K bonus another year, and two leaves of absence when I could do whatever I wanted and then come back.

Oh, also, I met an old friend at a reunion a couple years ago.  Good friend.  He said – he was so glad I was there, he wanted to tell me that everything he ever learned about management he learned from me.  That was 20 years ago.  Since then he became a vice president. I became a teacher.

Wang c. 1979 – 1981

Rating: Competent –  My first computer job, first day, my boss Geoff said nice things to me.  Maybe a half year later, I overheard him grumbling to some other dude that I was underdressed for some occasion.  About six months later, he thought I was, well not a god, but maybe a godsend.  I thought I was hot shit until I got to Microsoft and everyone else was smarter.



map-of-tonjTonj is a village in South Sudan, which separated from Sudan under a peace treaty in 2005.

Sudan was one of many African nations welded together after the end of Belgian, French and British colonial rule.  The north was mainly Islamist and Arabic, while the south maintained a strong Christian tradition once initiated by French missionaries.

During the 1990’s, civil war raged between the north and south.  The government forces of Khartoum bombed and burned villages in the south, and enslaved children as soldiers.  Famine ravished the south.

Our Mission
Arrival at Tonj airstrip
Arrival at Tonj airstrip

I went to Tonj in August, 1998 with a group of Evangelical Christian missionaries from Calvary Chapel, Rancho Santa Margarita.  We flew from Nairobi through Lokachokio on the Kenya – Sudanese border to a dirt airstrip 200 miles into southern Sudan.

The Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army, or SPLA, controlled southern Sudan.  We entered the country illegally. Our leaders warned that if we were caught we would likely be killed. During the August rainy season, northern transport vehicles could not use the roads to approach the village, but in the past they had raided on horseback.  Although our leaders provided rudimentary survival gear, no one really had a clue how to survive, let alone find our way home in the event that we evaded capture.

Someone gave us a talk about snakes we needed to avoid because there was no anti-venom: the cobra, black mamba and green mamba. If you got bit by a cobra, you would feel fine at first, then you would go sit under a tree, go to sleep and die. They referred to the black mamba as the two twitch snake because if you got bit you would twitch twice before falling over dead. The green mamba was the one twitch snake. They liked to hang out on tree branches and fall on their victims.

Another leader issued each of us a Taser, with instructions on how we might  treat cobra bites by shocking the wound.  (Years later, a biologist told me the truth.  Tasers can’t treat snake bites.)

Several missionary groups were rotating in and out of Tonj. The village had swollen to several thousand because starving people were walking from far away to find food. They would walk many days; the people did not use numbers to describe time or distance, so I won’t try either. No one wore shoes.

Outskirts of Tonj
Outskirts of Tonj

French missionaries had constructed most of the buildings in Tonj, including the Catholic church. The priest had recently died of starvation because he gave away all his food. Nuns ran church services. I remember hearing beautiful singing in church Sunday morning. We didn’t attend church because the evangelicals didn’t think the Catholics had been saved.

Village Housing
Village Housing
Missionary Compound
Missionary Compound

Most villagers lived in concrete and stone barracks. Many buildings had been bombed, burned and abandoned. We stayed in a walled compound that included a building that might have been an old warehouse. At night our compound was guarded by SPLA soldiers carrying AK-47’s. They may have been fifteen years old.

About a third of the people were malnourished or starving. Ribs of adults protruded through emaciated chests. Children suffered from aprotein deficiency called Kwashiorkor.

Boy with Kwashiorkor
Boy with Kwashiorkor
This man came to Tonj because we had food.
This man came to Tonj because we had food.

My personal challenges in Tonj were basic: sleeping, eating, shitting and peeing.

Sleeping:  I managed to sleep maybe an hour or two each night.

Eating: I hardly ate a thing while I was in Tonj. Our group had plenty of food, but I didn’t want to eat while people around me were starving. Each day I would eat a handful of peanuts and drink coffee and Gatorade.

Shitting: I was constipated the entire time I was there. I didn’t want to shit. The shitter was a hole in the concrete inside a pitch dark room.  You had to squat on top of the hole. Sometimes people missed the hole. Because the room was dark, I couldn’t see piles of poop left by the missionaries who missed. Beneath the room, under the hole was a bucket. Our group enlisted villagers to empty the bucket once a day. I really didn’t want to shit.

Peeing: The latrine was a wall near the edge of our compound. Several trees blocked the view and afforded some privacy. You had to walk under the trees to get to the latrine. Peeing during the day was no big deal.

At night I would take a flashlight. On the way to the latrine I would see boys standing guard with their AK-47’s. Before walking under the trees that shielded the latrine, I would carefully shine my flashlight on the branches looking for one twitch snakes.

Because I was not a doctor, just a doctor’s helper, some days I had little to do. Those days were the most difficult. I could deal with the misery and suffering if I felt a purpose for being there, if I was doing something to help, but when I was just hanging around watching, I suffered inside.

Each day one of the pastors gave a talk.  I vividly remember one of them.  He said, if we think we’re suffering, to stop whining.  We were not suffering, the Sudanese people were suffering.  I felt ashamed.

One day I remember watching a group of three men walking into the village. It was clear they had come from far away looking for food. They were emaciated. I could see every rib protruding through their thin chests. They walked right up to me. (I was the first white person they saw and white people had the food.) They started touching me, their fingers moving from the top to the bottom of my shirt. They were asking for food. We had been told by our leaders that under no circumstances were we to hand out food to individuals. It would create mass panic. I’m sure our leaders were right on this account. I wanted to scream. I felt horrible, utterly helpless. What was I doing here? I wanted to go home. Finally I turned and walked away, back to the safety of our compound.

River Blindness
River Blindness

Days I got to do stuff felt more satisfying. One day we handed out pills for river blindness. This disease is caused by a parasite that lives in the water. It eats the retina and the victim goes blind. The disease is easily treated by pills that kill the parasite. We gave pills to thousands of people.

Another day I loaded syringes and gave injections. Before going to Tonj, a nurse had taught me how to do this, also teaching me the careful protocol to avoid accidental HIV infection from dirty needles. The reality of Tonj was nothing like the lessons. We had three people working an assembly line and hundreds lined up waiting for injections. One person would fill syringes while two partners would give injections and discard dirty syringes. Hands and arms crossed and crisscrossed, handing up loaded syringes, dirty syringes flying into the bucket. I almost got stuck a couple of times.

Karl giving DPT Injection
Karl giving DPT Injection

Giving injections was different from the lessons too. We were supposed to give the injects IM – that means intra-muscular. Many of the injectees had no muscle. We would pinch as much as we could before giving the injection, but sometimes it was just skin. Sometimes I could feel the needle hit bone. The adults didn’t complain, but the children always screamed. We learned how to inject the thigh of many kids because their arms were so skinny.

Each night, we showed the Jesus film, alternating between two versions, one dubbed in Arabic, the other in Dinka, from The Greatest Story Ever Told, produced by George Stevens in 1965.  I remember several nights trying to carry the 16mm projector or gas generator down a dirt path to the field where we showed the film.  Children would surround me and insist they be allowed to do the carrying.

It seemed the entire village came to watch the movies every night.  I remember thinking while I watched, this must be the only film showing within a thousand of miles.

My beautiful picture
Maize and Sorghum

We brought three kinds of food.  Bags of maize and sorghum, and a thin cereal to feed the children.  The sorghum provided the greatest nourishment per pound. I think we needed to start malnourished adults on maize until their digestive systems were working.  Our leaders explained that feeding the children anything stronger than thin cereal would make them sick.


Children Waiting for Cereal with bowls made from gourds
Children Waiting for Cereal with bowls made from gourds
Baptism at the River
Baptism at the River

Michael Saki Baptising

The pastors in our group performed baptisms in the river.  Someone else kept count of the number of souls saved by these baptisms.  I cannot remember the final tally, but it was in the hundreds.







All God’s Children

I’m writing this post in January, 2017, using notes I wrote many years ago.  For years, as much as I longed to tell this story, I was stymied by thoughts of how shallow my puny effort could faithfully portray what was happening in Tonj.  Today I finally decided to try to honor the people, most especially the children with my recollection.  I can still remember, I still see now as I look into their eyes in these pictures, I see Jesus Christ.

My beautiful pictureMy beautiful pictureMan Who Lost One Eye

My beautiful picture

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My beautiful picture

My beautiful pictureMy beautiful picture

My beautiful picture


Dennis and I met in September, 1958.  We were in the same class in fifth grade. I recall going to his house to play in his basement, and hiking with him through a field near our house.  A few years later we were in the same Boy Scout troop and went to summer camp together. We were friends, but not close friends in high school.  He was much smarter and more studious than me.

We bonded as best friends during our first year together at Drexel.  The year was 1966. He was majoring in chemistry, I was majoring in electrical engineering. We spent much of our free time together, laughing, playing, drinking, often in deep discussion regarding matters of great importance. I used to tease him because my mom called him the perfect kid. He knew he wasn’t. Not until many years later did I learn how much that bothered him.

Although we were both good students, he was more disciplined.  I was the wild  one, often initiating crazy games or adventures.  One Friday night I convinced him to come with me and hop a freight train to South Carolina.  We spent all night walking the tracks, waiting for a train to pass.  Saturday morning found us somewhere in South Philadelphia.  We had breakfast at a small restaurant, then took the subway home.

We remained close throughout our first two years at college, until we encountered a bit of a problem over a girl named Alice. One of my favorite tear jerker movies is Pearl Harbor.  Every time I watch it I can feel what those two guys were going through because I had lived that experience.

Dennis on June 17, 1972
Dennis on June 17, 1972

A couple years later, Dennis and I had patched things together,  I attended his wedding and he was the best man when Martha and I were married.  Dennis and Alice, and Martha and I were all close friends.  After leaving Philadelphia, we never lived in the same town, and we made the effort to get together often. I recall several camping trips, a canoe trip, and many times they would come to our house to visit. I always looked forward to seeing my best friend.

Dennis passed away in 2013.

Auto Biography


When I was born, it was a happy thing for both me, and my mother. I was late coming into the world, so my mom was in a lot of pain. It was April tenth, the day I met the first 3 persons of all the persons I have meat. The first was my mom, her name was Martha Stock. She was nice, and looked relieved when she saw me. The next person was my sister, Kathleen. Kathleen was nice to me entail I was about 5, when she turned into a witch. The last was my dad, Karl. He’s the person that married a woman who ran into a cow. The first night, and 1/2 of the first day was spent in a big building called a hospital.

At about that time I was getting hungry, a person dressed in white came and gave me food. The food tasted of something come out of the junk yard. After that I went home. This was the first house I had ever been in, Chelmsford, Ma. in a small house. In the house were small and big soft things called stuffed animals. I took to them right away, but then when it turned dark, my mom put me in this thing that was off the ground called a crib. In the hospital, the doctors put me in on one of these, and I knew that once in, you never got out. I started to cry, but it was no use, and soon I was in the crib (prison).

On Friday, November 20th, 1981, me and my family got into a new car and left. I never saw that little house again, it was the saddest moment of the 3 1/2 months that I had lived. A couple of days later we stopped at another house. That night all the people there pigged out, all except me. I instead got stained peas, and couldn’t get any of it down, for it tasted like more stuff from the dump. Three days later we got to our destination, Kirkland, Wa, in another small house.

When I was able to crawl, I broke out of my crib (prison) and decided an expedition of the house.  I learned many lessons, all of which were important. Lesson 1 was that I could not open the doors without a chair. This stopped me the first, second and third day of expeditions. On the fourth day, I got through. I started crawling down the hall when I came to another problem called stairs. I decided to go the other way that day, and discovered the bathroom. Lesson 2 the water in the toilet tastes bad. In the bathroom there were lots of things that I had already discovered, like the bath tub, something I wish wasn’t there, and the red tooth brush that my mom stuck in my mouth. But thing called the toilet was not discovered yet. I had seen the cat jump on it and discovered a foul tasting water, and I couldn’t understand how the cats drank from it. Then my mom picked me up and put me back in the crib (prison). The next day when the opportunity produced itself I escaped again. The first thing to do was go down the stairs. Lesson 3 you could go down stairs, it just took some might, and gave some bruises. I started down them and found that they weren’t as hard as I thought. When I dropped my guard, I somehow slipped and started rolling down the stairs. But I was down them, so I started exploring. The first thing I saw was the couch. Lesson 4 the couch is a good place to sleep. I climbed up on the couch leg and fell asleep. I woke up in the crib (prison).

One year later we moved to Wellsboro. It was in this house that I trained my dog Murphy to pull me up the hill in my wagon. A year later we moved to Redmond. This was the place when I discovered something called Preschool. I liked preschool, all I did was play with other kids. It was at preschool that I discovered the slide. Preschool finally ended and Eliminatory started. Eliminatory wasn’t as fun as preschool, but I liked it. When I was 8, we moved again, to a place called Salish Springs. I didn’t discover anything important, except for bad words. Another 5 years later we moved to Westchester, where I now write this auto biography, called Mike.

The Ride Across

February 23, 1987

I remember when I was about ten, the day my dad decided to ride his bicycle across the country. He had been thinking about it long before. My mother and I never took it seriously.

He and his friend Tom were going to ride together from Ellensburg, Wash to somewhere in Wyoming. Then Tom would turn and my dad would go on. I didn’t approve of this at all. My dad was going across the country almost all by himself. What would happen if he crashed in the middle of nowhere? He might be lost forever. But my dad, of course, talked me into letting him go. My mother was just as easy.

“Come on Alice,” he said. “I’ve been planning on this for a long time. Tom and I have planned it all out. We’ve been over it a hundred times.”

“Now Dennis,” my mother said. She looked around the apartment. It was definitely a mess. No doubt, the doings of my brother. She closed her eyes tight. You could tell she was ready to give in. “You know what might happen. I’m not even going to think about it. What about the children? What about me?”

“Look,” Dad said. “I’ll wear reflectors, put a mirror on my bike. I’ll stop at every town to check my bike. I’ll write every day or so. You know you can’t stop me.”

“I know. Just go on you old fool.” And that was the end of the discussion.

We were leaving for Ellensburg in the morning. You could tell that my dad was really nervous. I mean, after all, it’s not everyone that rides across the U.S.A. I tell you, he did not stop shaking his knees til about 10:00 pm.

I was later informed that he was riding to his high school reunion. He planned on leaving June 17, 1986. When he got there, of all places in the world, he would go to Goodwill and get a semi-suit to wear to the reunion.

On July 11, he was to return hom. It was only to take him 21 days to ride across the country.

When we got to Ellensburg, we met Sue’s family. I was disappointed, they lived on a farm. The house had modern conveniences I didn’t think a farm would have. Things like a dishwasher, cable, stereo system. They even had a compact disc player. We hadn’t even gotten one of those yet. Sue was one of my dad’s biker friends. So she came out to Ellensburg with us.

We also found out that their cat just had kittens. I had my eye on one cute, striped one. They were all so fluffy and soft.

The next day my dad and Tom left. Tom’s wife, Cheryl, was coming home with us. Before we left for home, I asked my mom if I could have a kitten. She said, “No!” So I tried to sneak it home, but it meowed. Then, when were were about 5 minutes into the drive, I put on my fake tears. It worked. We turned around and got the kitten. She is now called Ginger.

Day 1

Dear Alice,

I have missed you much. We have had no difficulties yet. We are staying at the Appleton Hotel. It’s a pretty nice place, but we got it cause it’s cheap. We had to climb a really big hill today. Tom and I made a vow. We promised to race to every city limits sign. Whoever lost had to buy beer for the other one.

Well, say hello to Laura and Mike. Have got to go now. Bye!


Day 5

Dear Alice,

Tom got a flat yesterday, but it was fixed in no time. How are Laura and Mike? I hope they’re not getting into trouble. Probably are, right? Well, I must get my rest. Oh by the way, Tom turned back today. He’ll be all right. So long.


Day 12

Dear Alice,

Haven’t written lately, have I? Oh well. Got chased by a dog today. Fast little bugger he was. No problem though. All he made me do was go faster. Oh my gosh. I can’t believe I forgot to tell you in the last letter.

Well Tom and I were having one of our City Limits Sprints. We saw a sign saying “Coming up on Sawdustville, Idaho” so of course we sprinted.I was the first to the city limits sign, but there was no city. No house, no restaurant, no nothing. It was hilarious. Well, so long.


Day 14

Those darn semis nearly killed me today. I’m all right. Truck drivers have no appreciation for the American biker. Only 7 more days left. Got a flat out here, no problem. So long.


My dad wrote as often as he could. We really enjoyed his letters.

One day we were at the pool and Mike met a little boy. The boy introduced Mike to his dad and Mike said, “I haven’t got a daddy.” It was hysterical. Hey, but after all, he’s only 5.

Day 17

Everything is well. No dogs, no semis, no flats. Just scenery. Riding swiftly, I did 205 miles today. Byt that’s life. You must ride fast to get far.

Today I wrote to Karl. I’m going to stay at his place when I get there. Give my love to the kids.


Today my mom got into one of her fits on how she just knows he is going to crash. She goes on and on about it. Also Ginger decided to go on mom’s new rug. Boy, was mom mad.

Day 19

Hey, only 2 more days left. Today when I got into town, a bum tried to steal my bike and beat me up. I kicked him where it counts and he hobbled away. But that’s life. I knew it would happen sometime. Got to rest up. Big day tomorrow. Good bye.


Day 20

Ha ha! Only one more day. You just have to wait. But that’s life. Today I lost my wallet. Fortunately there was no money in it. People aren’t very nice in this Pennsylvanian town. They’re real snobs. Got to check on my bike. See you soon.


Although my father’s letters were short, they were enough. My father was not a talkative man. Save for when he was yelling at Mike or me.

You know, sometimes I think my dad’s favor line is “But that’s life.” He says it almost every day.

At home Michael kept getting into trouble. He loved to torment Ginger. But Murphey, our dog, loved her. It was funny to watch them play. Murphey would be sitting wagging his tail and Ginger would pounce on it. Murphey would turn around and Ginger would run away.

The next day we went to the pet store. We went there to get Mike the most indestructible pet we could think of. A turtle. We did this so Mike would not mess with Ginger any more. Michael was yippee I A all the way home.

Day 23

The reunion was very dul. Ho hum sort of deal. Not much to tell. After it, at Karl’s house, we played Trivial Pursuit all morning. Geff, Cooper and John were there. See you in a few days. Bye now.


“Mom I can’t wait till we pick him up,” I said. I was very impatient to get to the airport. We were going to go pick up my dad. Then we were going to got to a surprise party at Tom and Cheryl’s hous. “It’s been almost since I’ve seen him last.”

“Yeah,” said Mike. “ I hope he brought some presents. I really need a new toy car.”

I suppose that’s all Mike thinks of, toys.

“Oh Mike,” said mom. “You are such a pest. I don’t know how I put up with you.”

We finally got to the airport. When we got inside, Michael ran off. We couldn’t find him anywhere. We saw one of those guys in uniform that drives those little carts. Well anyway we saw him and asked him for help. He announced it over an intercom.

“May I have your attention pleas,” he said. “If you happen to see a little boy, 5 years of age, in blue choo choo train overalls and a red shirt with blonde hair, pleas return him to the lobby at once.”

Mike was soon returned. Mom had words with him in the ladies room while I went to find dad.

Everything turned out all right. Mike was grounded from T.V.

But that’s life.

The End.

First Bike Trip

May, 1970

After dropping out of school and working as a photo lab tech for six months, I decided to go back to school. Two weeks before the start of summer quarter called for a new adventure: a bike trip.

First I needed a bike. With $50 of savings, I selected a five speed model from a small shop on Lancaster Avenue. They mounted a carrier rack behind the saddle for an extra $5. It never crossed my mind to purchase a pump. In 1970, all bikes had Schrader valves and all gas stations had free air.

Fully Loaded 5 Speed
Fully Loaded 5 Speed

That afternoon, I discovered loading the bike with camping gear to be a surprising challenge. Using an assortment of bungee cords and nylon line, it required several attempts to strap onto the carrier rack an army surplus pup tent, sleeping bag, army surplus canteen, cook pot, matches, and assorted clothing. Next day I departed on a 400 mile adventure to visit my cousins in Williamsport, a small town in north central Pennsylvania.

The journey to Williamsport entailed four days. The first day involved navigating the city streets of North Philadelphia, followed by a maze of sprawling suburbs. About fifty miles from the start, I camped somewhere in a field north of Norristown, just as dusk was falling. Supper was canned Spam, cooked over an open fire, and hot chocolate. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and coffee.

Camping Near Hazelton
Camping Near Hazelton

The next day found me on quiet country roads winding through beautiful farmland. Just as dusk was falling, the overloaded carrier rack broke, all the gear collapsed onto my rear wheel, rendering the bike useless. I knocked on the door of a randomly selected house to find the owner happened to be a bike mechanic with a shop in his garage. The repair took about a half hour, no charge. That night, I camped in a thicket of trees near Hazelton. My tent leaked when it started raining.

Rain continued throughout the third day, leaving me drenched and cold entering Mahanoy City. Not wanting to spend another night in a leaky tent, I inquired at police station if I could sleep in jail that night. The officer said OK, and allowed me to select one of the four empty cells. He cautioned they would be required to lock my cell if they had to bring in a real prisoner.

Sun returned the next morning, and I recall being exhausted, hot and thirsty all day. I stopped every 10 miles or so at a gas station to buy a Pepsi for ten cents, resting in the shade while I guzzled it. I had to walk my bike up nearly every one of the endless rolling hills in northern Pennsylvania. On descents, the bike was unstable because of the weight of the gear on the rear rack. I arrived in Williamsport in the evening of the fourth day. After visiting, resting and recovering for several days, I retuned to Philadelphia by way of Harrisburg in two days, riding my first century.

Leaving Williamsport
Leaving Williamsport



Out of Gas

July 1967

The first time I remember running out of gas was on the Verazanno Narrows bridge that goes from New York City to Staten Island. I had driven my Volkswagon Beetle from Harrisburg to visit my friend Dennis. The car sputtered and rolled to a stop somewhere near the midspan of the bridge. After about five minutes a city service truck appeared with a can of gas. He charged me a couple bucks and we both drove off. It seemed that running out of gas was no big deal.

Summer 1975

I rode my Honda 360 from Summit to Albany every day to attend class. It was 110 miles round trip. My motorcycle could go 108 miles on a full tank of gas. Even if I had a full tank when I started for Albany, I would still have to get gas in Albany to make it back to Cobleskill.

I think I ran out of gas about once a week that summer. I would forget to stop at the last gas station in Albany, realize 10 miles down the road that I had forgotten, and press on thinking “This time I can make it.” Each time I would end up pushing my motorcycle up the last hill before coasting down into the gas station on the east end of town in Cobleskill.

April 1980

Kathleen got her first driving lesson when she was four years old. I was driving home with her in our Ford Pinto and ran out of gas about five blocks from home. I had her get behind the wheel and steer the car while I pushed. She was a very bad driver.

July 1983

We moved the family from Kirkland, WA to Wellsboro, PA so I could take a job teaching Computer Science at Mansfield University. We packed all our possessions into the box of a 24 foot U-Haul truck, hitched our 1981 Datsun to the back, threw cats in the Datsun, crammed two kids, one barfing dog, one wife and me into the cab and headed east on I-90.

It took four days driving at 55 mph for 15 hours a day to reach Wellsboro. The truck didn’t have a radio or an air conditioner. We could roll the windows down for cool air and to drown out the sound of kids crying or the dog barfing. Martha and I took turns driving. When it was her turn to drive, I would sleep in the Datsun. (I’m pretty sure that was illegal.) Most of our meals were fast food, eaten in the truck while on the road. At night we pulled over at a truck stop, threw our sleeping bags on the ground and slept soundly.

Passing through Chicago on the freeway, I got confused and took the wrong road – the one that was for cars only. Cars behind us were honking their horns. Then we ran out of gas. More cars honked their horns. A nice man with a wife and two kids stopped, picked me up, drove me to a gas station so I could get gas, then got back on the freeway and drove me back to the truck where Martha, Kathleen and Mike and the cats and barfing dog were waiting.

May 2000

I was telling Anne Marie the story about Martha walking around our house at 5:30 in the morning, naked except for a charcoal grill cover wrapped around her. Our bikes were on the roof rack of my Volvo and we were going to Monroe to ride when we ran out of gas. I got my bike off the roof rack, got a gas can out of the back of the car and rode a couple miles down the road, filled the can and returned with five gallons of gas. Anne Marie was laughing. She thought it was remarkable how my “Martha story” turned into another “Karl story.”

Stupid Road Wars

Lansdowne, PA 1971

I was riding my bicycle home after school when a station wagon blew its horn, passed me real close and cut me off. It had to stop for a traffic light, I caught up, passed the station wagon, ran through the red light and gave the driver the finger. Thirty seconds later I heard screeching wheels behind me. Oops. The station wagon was gaining fast. Fortunately, I found a one way street where I could turn left and make my escape.

Cooperstown, NY 1974

I was riding my Honda 360 motorcycle with Martha on the back. We were on our way to Cooperstown to visit Jim and Kathy. I was going about 60. An old car with two rednecks pulled out from the right and cut me off. I zipped by the car and gave them the finger. Ten seconds later I heard the engine roar behind us. The car quickly re-passed us and the passenger threw a can of beer at us. It barely missed my head. Martha was mad.

Boston, MA 1979

Martha and I had driven to the Boston area so I could interview for a job. We were driving our 1974 Ford Pinto that was missing a muffler and made a lot of noise. It was about 11PM and there was little traffic. We were stopped at a traffic light that seemed to be broken. There was a car beside us in the other lane. Finally, we decided the light was never going to change and proceeded through. There was no traffic.

The car that had been sitting beside us patched out, passed us, pulled in front, cut us off, then slowed down to about 20 mph. I pulled out to pass and the car sped up. We were going about 60. I slowed down, the other car pulled in front of us and slowed down to about 20. I tried to pass again, same thing. At one point we were doing 80. No way the Pinto had the power to pass the other car. At one point I slammed the brakes, did a U turn, accelerated as fast as I could. Didn’t work. The other car was behind us in an instant, passed us, pulled in front, and slowed down to 20. Martha was frantic.

I tried to pull onto a freeway. The other car pulled in front, then turned sideways on the entrance ramp and stopped to block us. The driver got out and walked back to our car. He was really big. He was raving like a lunatic, yelling something something incomprehensible. I rolled down the window to try to talk to him. He tried to pull me out of the car and Martha pulled on my other arm to keep me in the car. Finally the wacko punched me in the face, walked backed to his car and drove away.

I went to the job interview the next day with a black eye, but still managed to get the job offer. I turned it down.

Carnation, WA 1987

Martha and I were riding our tandem bicycle north through Carnation Saturday morning. A station wagon driven by a mom with two kids blew its horn, passed us real close and pulled in front. I gave them the finger. The car pulled over and the two kids jumped out – they were in their early teens – and started screaming and cursing me with words even I rarely used. Martha had not seen me give them the finger. She asked why they were so upset and I replied, “I dunno.”


Leaving Philadelphia

The first year after we were married, Martha and I lived in Lansdowne, right outside Philadelphia, where we worked.  The year was 1973.  Martha was teaching preschool at Blankenburg Elementary and I was working at the AV department at Drexel University. The director’s name was Beatrice. Martha and I were happy and at the same time I was restless.

When B. decided to leave, I was offered her position. It was a dream job opportunity, but I was not happy with the salary offer. Drexel offered to pay me $10K, a 25% increase over my current salary.  Because I knew B. was earning $17K for the same job that’s what I thought I should get. (Yes, at 23 I was a bit naive.)

I suggested an alternate plan for both Martha and me: tell Drexel to go to hell, quit our jobs, travel and explore the country. We had little money saved, about $2k; we were also in the middle of a recession and prospects of getting employment anywhere were uncertain at best.  We were clueless.


Amazingly, Martha acquiesced, and then I vacillated for several weeks between the sensible choice and the stupid choice.   Eventually of course, we made the stupid choice and embraced the dream: go west, discover for ourselves the Rocky Mountains.  We quit our jobs, packed up our belongings. left a network of close friends from college like we would never again have, and drove off in our red Dodge Dart to look for America.  Our lives were forever changed.


Nine months later we were settled in Cobleskill, NY, where Kathleen would eventually be born.  I had a job doing similar work to what I had been doing at Drexel, but at a lower salary.  Martha never again found a job like she had at Blankenburg.

We stayed in contact with friends from Philadelphia, but as years passed,  drifted apart.  For more than a year afterwards, I often regretted leaving Drexel, which built a brand new AV center, with many new toys and a budget to do many cool things.  I was working at a much smaller school with less money and fewer toys.  We never developed the network of friends in Cobleskill like we had in Philadelphia.

We were also living a dream shared by both of us – in the country, beautiful upstate New York, and we continued to dream of new adventures.