Articles

OHIO MAGAZINE 2000


If I were President

by Joe Schriner



Appeared in the April,2001 edition. Part are excerpts from Schriner's book Back Road to the White House.

 

Joe Schriner is average height (5'10") and average weight (155). He went to an average college (Bowling Green State University in Ohio) where he got average grades. He has an average size family (two kids) and lived in an average Midwestern town (Ripley, Ohio). The last couple of years, however, he did a not-so-average thing. He ran for President. And, true to his profile, he ran as an "average Joe."

 

I could have been Ohio's ninth Favorite Son.

 

I grew up in Cleveland watching Gary Collins run post patterns for the Browns, swam in a non-EPA-approved Lake Erie, and read weekly Dick Feagler columns in the old Cleveland Press. Admittedly, either of the latter two could have jumbled a few brain waves; but for the most part, I'm not nuts - despite my assertion in the first line.

 

I graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1978 with a degree in journalism and worked for the Sandusky Register newspaper. I went to Put-in-Bay on the weekends. I eventually stopped going to Put-in-Bay on the weekends and changed professions, becoming a drug and alcohol counselor, first in Lorain then in Cleveland.

 

In 1990 I left Cleveland (and the Indians, the promise of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the polish sausage stand at Euclid and Ninth, and everything else I held dear), and for the next eight years I traveled America's back roads, using my journalism skills to interview, for the most part, "average Joe" citizens who were going the extra mile to help their community's kids, their poor, their natural environment. I felt kind of like Charles Kuralt without a following. As I traveled, I filled a lot of notebooks with these interviews.

 

And I thought, wouldn't it be nice to have some of these rather regular, common-sense type people leading the country and inspiring similar projects in similar towns everywhere? And what better way to bring all this about than by being president?

 

Why not, huh? It's America.

 

On the road in Alaska, I met my wife, Liz, who is from New Zealand. Long story. We have two children, Sarah and Joseph. We thought about Sarah and Joseph inheriting a world of acid rain, ozone holes and global warming. We thought about them, say, someday doing OK in English class; but we just couldn't seem to get out of our minds the possibility of them perhaps someday being shot to death in English class.

 

After eight years of traveling, we stopped in Ripley, Ohio (pop. 2,000), about an hour east of Cincinnati on the Ohio River.

 

For the next year, we wrote a column for two local newspapers. Each week we'd take a slice of life from Ripley, whether it was a pollution issue with the river or helping some low-income people in Brown County - or whatever - and suggest how one of the projects we researched could help solve the problem.

 

After a year of seeing whether the projects could actually work in Ripley (they could), it was time to run for president. Of the United States.

 

During Campaign 2000, our family, traveling in a 1974 Dodge Xplorer conversion van, did a 19-month, 20,000 mile campaign tour of the country. Our story appeared in 200 newspapers, on 85 regional network TV news shows, a lot of radio shows - and the guy who owns the General Store in West Chester, Ohio, told pretty much the whole town (all 700 residents) about us.

 

Twice during the campaign we did extended tours through Ohio, first on the Old National Road, and later during a 2,000 mile "Back-to-Basics Bicycle Tour" of the Midwest (no gel seats, and a two-year-old who was toilet training riding on the back of my bike). Both times we met down-to-earth people who were making differences in their communities.

 

The following are, for the most part, Ohio journal entries from our book (in progress), [The Back Road to the White House (Average Joe & the Making of an American President, in Progress].

 

APRIL 15, 1999
I hadn't told anybody in Ripley yet I was going to run for president. I wanted it to be a surprise. (And I wanted to be able to walk down the street without being laughed at.) I mentioned it in the Main St. Cafe earlier this week. You don't even have to put an item in the local paper here for everyone to know it. You just have to say something in the Main St. Cafe.

 

First-term Ripley City Council member Rick Hughes stopped by today. He said he'd heard what I was doing and had some advice. He said part of his campaign was knocking on every door in the town between August and November.

 

"In your case, you should have started in 1960," he said.

 

MAY 2, 1999 
All you have to do to run for president is stand up in public somewhere and say you're running for president. I did that yesterday at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. Joseph, 18 months, was in a pack on my back. Sarah, 3, was holding her mom's hand.

 

I said I was running as a "concerned parent." The Columbine shootings had happened just a few days before. I said it's important for America to realize these types of shootings don't happen in a vacuum. I said the answer to Littleton, and all over the country actually, is not merely to increase school security; but look to increasing, and improving, parenting techniques, youth social skills (conflict resolution, for one), neighborhood and school solidity.

 

I said this all to one person. No press.

 

But Elizabeth Moberly, a friend from the nearby suburb of Upper Darby, said it was the best declaration speech she had ever heard. It was a start.

 

MAY 7, 1999
A couple of weeks later, I gave a campaign speech at Rodney Square in downtown Wilmington, Del. I set up near the street and gave not so much a "prosperity message," as I did a common sense one. I said a story in Wilmington's The News Journal the day before noted that there has never been a society with more prosperity than the U.S.

 

Yeah, we've got a lot of stuff, I said, but we're spending so much time these days working to get stuff, then using the stuff, then 'polishing' the stuff. Consequently, we've got less and less time for the spouse, the kids, our neighbors. I urged people to consider the "Voluntary Simplicity" movement, an emerging trend aimed at cutting back on material stuff, creating more time for

family, for community.

 

I talked to 15, maybe 20 times more people that day than were at the declaration. That is, I talked to them until their bus showed up.

 

We got our first press coverage here, too. Just before the event, a local radio news reporter looked at my rather well-worn flannel shirt, then at the'74 van. His first question: "So, what's an average Joe like you doing running for president?" [The "average Joe" would stick.]

 

After an Original 13 Colonies Tour over the summer, we headed down the Old National Road (U.S. Rte. 40), which was the first road west for the settlers. This would be the second of nine tour legs that took us to all 48 states in the continental U.S. And this second leg would also intersect us with Ohio for the first time in the campaign.

 

SEPTEMBER 22, 1999
Off U.S. Rte. 40 in southeastern Ohio we stopped at Franciscan University in Steubenville where I gave a talk and was interviewed for the campus radio station. Most of the students here seemed to be majoring in God, minoring in other stuff. Subjects (math, science, psychology, everything) are taught in conjunction with how "God's Natural Order" ties in.

 

As with any school, there's competition at Franciscan U., says Steubenville resident Jim Hostetler, who attends daily Mass on campus. But, it's a good-natured competition - to be the "holiest."

Student Tobias Nathe wrote a column for the campus newspaper asking Franciscan's girls to dress with his holiness in mind, no tank tops or stretch skirts, please.

 

"Believe me when I say that a man doesn't picture little children on a porch when he sees an immodestly dressed woman," Nathe wrote.

 

At a park in Steubenville we met a woman whose mother just adopted an 8-year-old boy with heart problems. She's 65 and had already raised a big family. She did it because, well, there was a need and she figured God would want her to help.

 

OCTOBER 1, 1999
We caught up with Scott Savage and his family in Barnesville. Scott met his wife, Mary Anne, at Kent State University in the '80s, they graduated, married, and drove off to take their rightful, or at least expected, place in suburbia, Savage told us.

 

One problem: they didn't feel they fit, it was too crowded, and they were surrounded with, well, too much stuff. They simplified, became Quakers and moved to Barnesville where they ditched the TV, got a buggy and started the Center for Plain Living. And they had some children, five at last count.

 

Sarah and Joseph helped (sort of) the Savage children milk goats. They then took turns on a wooden rocking horse and wooden swing. That was about it for toys. Toys are few in general for the Quaker and Amish children: balls, swings, a doll and a wagon. What there seems to be no lack of: playmates, pets and space. These children learn the simple life early.

 

To cap his transition to buggying, Scott wrote in his book A Plain Life that he walked 100 miles from Barnesville to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Columbus to turn in his driver's license.

 

OCTOBER 5, 1999
In Columbus, our story was featured on the CBS six o'clock news. The anchor reported: "His platform is simple. Get back to the basics. Get rid of the excess. And help those in need."

 

OCTOBER 8, 1999
Back in our hometown of Ripley, we stayed with Steve and Darci Newman for a couple days. Steve is known as the Worldwalker. About 16 years ago, he became the first person to walk solo around the world: five continents, 21 nations, four years (to the day) and some very sore bunions.

In his book, Worldwalk, Steve writes about being interrogated as a spy in Turkey near the Iranian border (he had a camera); contending with searing, 120-degree temperatures on a 2,000-mile trek through Australia's outback; and being presented with a trophy for courage by a street gang in The Bronx, N.Y. - after he gave them an impromptu talk in a back alley. It was a bowling trophy. They'd stolen it. But the thought was there, Steve said.

 

After the Old National Road, which ends in Vandalia, Ill., we followed the Lewis and Clark Trail, then did the West Coast, got some "kicks" coming back east on U.S. Rte. 66, went into the Deep South, headed up the Appalachians, then found ourselves back in Ohio - staring straight down the handlebars of two Cannondale bicycles.

 

JUNE 27, 2000
In Barnesville, we gave a talk to a couple hundred people at the 2nd Annual Luddite Congress, sponsored by the Center for Plain Living. They had come from all over the country: Quakers, Amish and a bunch of other more mainstream folks trying to slow their lives down. A number of Luddite Congress attendees don't own cars or are trying to cut down on the use of their cars. They use bicycles, horse-drawn buggies or they walk. They say cars waste fossil fuel and pollute too much. I picked up a copy of the Center's Plain Magazine. There was a piece about a guy who was moving from an automobile to a bicycle as his main mode of transportation. He said a bicycle lets you be more in touch with nature, with people. If there was ever a time to kick off our eighth campaign leg, a bicycle tour, it would be now.

 

JUNE 28, 2000 
We left nearby Belmont on bicycles, with me pulling a 250-pound trailer (Liz packed). We were embarking on a 2,000-mile Back-to-Basics Tour of the Midwest to get in touch with more people. (Nature would be another thing.) Liz had worked in a bicycle shop in New Zealand for a short time just out of college and said she knew most of the basics of bicycle stuff. (It usually takes me at least a day to get a bicycle chain back on.)

 

Zero hour was approaching. We attached the trailer, donned our helmets, strapped the kids in the bike seats. There would be no support vehicles, no set check points, and while we did have a route, we didn't have much in the way of an itinerary. Just 2,000 miles of open road through the Midwest with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old.

 

"Ready?" I asked Liz.

 

"Ready." She smiled back.

 

And off we headed up St. Rte. 149 thinking, 'What are we, nuts?' At least that's what I was thinking. Liz was still smiling - and apparently in denial.

 

We got to the small town of Flushing about 7:30 p.m. I was, oh, a bit winded (read: exhausted) from pulling the trailer. We stopped at a local grocery store to get some food for dinner. Just as we were leaving, we met Grace Jones, who was out for her nightly walk. She asked where we were going.

 

"Hopefully, D.C.," I said no. Did we have a place to stay tonight, she asked? I said no. Why don't we stay with her and her husband, she offered.


We stayed up late talking to Grace and her husband, David. David has been an auctioneer for the past 37 years and does a lot of bankruptcies. He said bankruptcies are up, way up, in recent years.

 

Why, I asked ?

 

"Like anything else these days, there's little responsibility anymore," David said.

 

JUNE 29, 2000
We cycled into West Chester by early evening. Downtown West Chester is a general store and a bed-and-breakfast in the same building. That's it. While in the general store getting some food, the owner, Bill Johnson, recommended we stay in a room upstairs. I asked him how much? He said $35. I said it was a low-budget campaign. He said then stay for free.

 

Later that night, Bill said what the country needed was a "common working man" as president. And if we did get to D.C., he was going to hang a plaque saying I'd slept there. I smiled. Liz laughed.

 

JUNE 30, 2000 
Bill Johnson's wife, Carol, made us a huge country breakfast of eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy at the West Chester Bed & Breakfast as a send-off. And I needed every calorie of it.

 

Later today we were about 15 miles into a tremendously hilly ride. It was 90 degrees, humid, the trailer felt like it was about 800 pounds, and I was going up an extremely steep hill. I was about three- fourths of the way up, straining immensely, going maybe 2 mph tops, when my wife called out from behind: "Honey, do you think maybe you should put it in a higher gear?" No sooner had she gotten that out, Joseph piped up:

 

"Dad, how long 'til we get there?"

 

At the day's end, my legs were screaming, my lungs were screaming, everything was screaming. I sat slumped on a park bench. Liz, seeing I was tired (it wouldn't take Einstein), offered some words of encouragement. She said Winston Churchill once addressed a graduating class with what could well be the shortest speech in history. He stepped up to the podium, looked out at the students and said: "Never, never, never, never, never, never, never give up!" Then he sat down.

 

JULY 2, 2000
We cycled into Coshocton, where we heard about a local organization that has taken 'practicing random acts of kindness'as its credo. For the past two years, Women of Witness, a group of Christian women, has rather quietly gone about town finding needs then meeting them. A bag of groceries here, a rent check there, transportation for seniors, babysitting, providing clothes.

 

Women of Witness's Irene Krall said that the group's belief is: if you see a need, fill it. You don't have to go to an agency, you don't have to be on a committee. These people help because it simply seems like the right thing to do.

 

I'm writing this by the fire at a campground in Coshocton. The park rangers, hearing about our story (it ran on the front page of Coshocton's paper today), have let us set up a tent on their personal campsite for free. Sarah and Joseph are roasting (or rather burning) marshmallows and having an absolutely wonderful time.

 

JULY 4, 2000 
A piece about us ran in the Harrison News Herald yesterday. (We'd done the interview earlier in the week.) Reporter Jeremiah Am noted I was the first presidential candidate to stop in Harrison County this season. In fact, he wrote that I was the first presidential candidate on record to come there since Sen. Bob Taft did in 1950.

 

When we say we've decided to go where other candidates aren't going, we mean it. And others have picked up on that. Am reported: "They are definitely different than the major candidates," a local resident remarked Thursday. (We didn't necessarily know if this was meant in a good way).

The story went on: Instead of more money being funneled to huge businesses that monopolize, maybe being moderately competitive is about having an adequate lifestyle and allowing other business to succeed, too, Schriner says.

 

JULY 5, 2000 
We cycled into Crestline today where we met Mark Schneider. For the past 10 years he's participated in the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure each June. Cyclists from around the state meet for a week-long ride through different parts of Ohio. Schneider said this year 3,000 people participated. Seeing our bicycles, and feeling somewhat of a kindred spirit, he invited us to stay at his home. What's more, he offered perhaps one of the most useful, if not the most useful, campaign donation we've gotten: bicycle shorts with padding.

 

In the course of the conversation tonight, Schneider said when he was in early elementary school the teacher asked the class to draw a depiction of what each wanted to do work-wise when they grew up. Young Mark drew a picture of a dead guy in a casket. The teacher became concerned with what she perceived as a macabre rendition and called his parents. Mark assured them there was really nothing to worry about. Today he owns a funeral home in Crestline.

 

JULY 7, 2000
We met a nun at the Sisters of St. Francis Convent in Tiffin today who spent time doing missionary work in South America in the late 1980s. She said the United States was secretly supplying revolutionaries, etc., so we could have more of a hand in controlling different governments there. She said she was appalled at what she saw (coercion, torture tactics, abductions of the innocent), and she was that much more appalled by what she perceived to be the 'spin' she'd see about all this in American media once she got back.

 

JULY 8, 2000
A front page story in Tiffin's Advertiser Tribune today said: "In an effort to help control urban sprawl, the Schriners hope to encourage people to return to the cities by living inside one themselves. They hope to operate official presidential business out of an old brown stone-style building in downtown Washington, D.C., where they will begin the process of installing all their policies."

 

We were cycling into Fostoria late this afternoon. We had just entered the city limits and we were looking for a church that might have a Saturday evening Mass. At a stop light, we asked a guy in a car next to us. He said. "Hey, didn't I see you in the paper this morning?"

 

I said yeah.

 

He excitedly introduced us to his children in the car and said to follow him to the church. We followed his 1993 (or so), dinged-up, rusty Dodge Spirit into town going about 10 mph. I smiled at Liz. Our first motorcade. And an"average Joe" motorcade at that.

 

JULY 12, 2000
Just before crossing the border into Michigan today, we had breakfast at a cafe in Metamora. It's a somewhat rural area. When we went to pay, we were told it was on the restaurant. The owner, whom we hadn't even talked to and who knew nothing about what we were doing, had arranged it. When I questioned a waitress, she said: "Oh, she does that sometimes to help people."

 

After leaving Ohio this second time, we remained on the road until November. Our last whistle-stop event was in Cheyenne, Wyo. On November 7, we lost. The best we can figure is we apparently didn't campaign enough in Florida.

 

Now, many have been conciliatory: "Well, at least you got your message out." And we did, to some. And we will continue to try to get it out to more.

 

But I ran for president for another reason as well: to win.

 

What's more, I still firmly believe that with, for instance, Barnesville Quaker Scott Savage as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, in time, there would be a whole lot less pollution. And if Worldwalker Steve Newman was an ambassador to a foreign country, look at the taxpayer money we'd save getting him there.

 

And no, it wouldn't just be an Ohio administration. We actually did meet a few others who could round out the posts.

 

But we didn't win, and those people aren't in D.C. But that doesn't mean we can't use some of their ideas in our own communities now.


 

 

 

These photos appeared with the article.