Three states, 10 formal presentations, book sales, chapter dinners, visits with supporters, all mixed in with two blizzards, a deluge of rain and the first electoral event of the presidential season – it doesn’t get much better than this.
I was on the road in Florida, Iowa and California for two weeks in late January and early February. The whirlwind journey was set to begin the very day the big East Coast blizzard was to start. My wife said, “If you have to get to Florida, you must leave Thursday night, not Saturday morning, or you’ll never make it.”
My response was, “I made this commitment six months ago, but if I keep it you will need to deal with the snow.” She said that was not a problem and even agreed to merely take “under advisement” my suggestion to employ a professional snow remover I had used last year.
By Sunday, there were Facebook posts of the neighborhood with happy people (including my spouse) digging each other’s cars and driveways out of 24 inches of white precipitation. A large portion of guilt left my brain.
We have a wonderful chapter organizer in Sarasota, Fla., named Arlene Pearlman, and she had scored a lot of publicity for the event, including a popular NPR show and newspaper ads. The Sunday events at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota garnered about 500 people, and the next morning’s Temple Sinai lecture had a healthy turnout as well. After the book sales there, I began my drive from Sarasota to Miami.
As I was picking up my rental car, I remembered that Floridians have a fondness for national right-wing talk radio and some local stuff that, if possible, is even worse, so I added a satellite radio to my package. This gave me a chance to listen to the whole three hours of a show on Sirius hosted by religion-literate comedian and pop culture maven John Fuegelsang.
John and I used to appear together frequently on the since-cancelled MSNBC television show hosted by Ed Schultz, and I try to do his program every time I get to New York City. The three hours included talk about “Star Wars” and Joseph Campbell, presidential politics and Big Apple comedy clubs. As an added bonus, the callers were really bright. John had to do the show from Los Angeles because he was stuck there due to the aforementioned blizzard. His cohost, Frank Conniff, one of the stars of the very funny show “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” was in New York; I certainly recall what a difficult task it is to try to co-host long distance, something I had to do occasionally during my own checkered radio career.
Miami was the site of some member visits and concluded with an apocalyptic rainstorm on the way to the airport to catch a flight to Des Moines. In Iowa I would do a lecture at Iowa State University, teach a media class and serve for two days as a “Theologian-In-Residence” at the Ames United Church of Christ. This program has been around for several decades, and this year I offered presentations on interpretations of the Constitution, the nexus between religion and politics and the future of religious liberty.
On Sunday I gave a sermon and did a panel on church-state issues with several professors and Chuck Hurley, vice president and chief counsel at The Family Leader, a statewide Religious Right group. That afternoon I did a public lecture at Iowa State, which had a reasonable attendance given that presidential contender U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was speaking in the next room an hour later.
As a brief aside, I frequently use the word “trifecta” when coming up with three ridiculous examples of something. I sometimes joke that my use of this horse racing term could lead some to believe I am an inveterate gambler, but in fact I only know the term because I read a lot of Dick Francis mystery novels. After one presentation in Iowa, a fellow came up after the event and showed me a list of every Francis novel that he had read. (Cosmic coincidence?)
I will admit that I was tempted to stay one more day and watch some of the caucuses. I even briefly considered figuring out the arcane rules and actually trying to get a few votes for myself. Any faint possibility of that happening was disrupted by a forecast calling for an intense blizzard the night of the balloting. I was off to California before the first snowflake fell.
California is always delightful this time of year. I had the chance to see a few members and meet with a foundation on whose board I serve. Because I’m a hopeless film buff, I couldn’t go there without visiting the famous Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. I saw a 3-D version of “The Finest Hours,” about a daring 1952 Coast Guard sea rescue. At a nearby shop I picked up a cheap t-shirt with a likenesses of Marilyn Monroe being shadowed by a skeleton from Mexican culture.
There you have it, a trifecta journey to the South, Midwest and West.
Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.