[Hpn] been there

joe reynolds jos_reyn@yahoo.com
Fri, 18 Jul 2003 21:27:13 -0700 (PDT)


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I almost feel like I found another brother:Lessons learned by the road 
Ex-salesman writes of stint as panhandler 

Chip Johnson Monday, July 14, 2003 --> 
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On Christmas Day a decade ago, Bruce Moody left his home in Crockett to carry out his annual tradition of sharing a holiday dinner with someone in need. 
But things were different that year. It was Moody who was in dire need. 
The 60-year-old former salesman was staring homelessness in the face. Despite his best efforts, he'd been out of work for nearly a year and was down to one month's rent, $40 in cash and no job prospects. 
But a chance meeting with a roadside panhandler on a freeway off-ramp in Pinole turned out to be the greatest gift of all. 
The man declined the dinner, but listened to Moody's predicament and taught him the rules of the road because Moody seemed like he'd soon need to go by them. 
For the next four months, Moody planted himself and held a sign at the Appian Way exit off Interstate 80. And he experienced a transformation of the soul as his stereotypes about people were turned upside-down. 
Moody logged his experiences in 600 pages of notes that over the next 10 years were shaped into a book, "Will Work for Food or $," published in April. 
On New Year's Day, 1994, Moody hunkered down by the freeway. He told no one of his plan and kept friends at bay with the promise that he was looking for work and living off savings. 
How could a man who'd attended Yale University, had work published in magazines and once dined with Elizabeth Taylor be a panhandler? 
"I was somebody," Moody said. 
In the early going, Moody could spend no more than a half-hour at a time on the road. Racked by guilt and humiliation, he found it difficult to look at the passing motorists, even those who stopped to give. 
And despite his best efforts and training, he couldn't say "God bless you" as he'd been instructed. 
But things began to change over the days -- especially his views toward people. 
He arrived at the roadside believing that minorities, particularly African and Asian Americans, were not inclined to help him -- a white man -- but those myths were exploded almost immediately. 
He found that African Americans, particularly women, were among the most generous givers on the roadway, and more often brought homemade meals than money, which he took as a blessing. 
But for all the kindness, there were also shouts and catcalls, as well as one particularly nasty confrontation with a motorist who accused Moody of being an impostor when he saw him walking back to his car, a red 1964 Plymouth. 
Because Moody began panhandling before disaster struck, he was able to maintain his car and keep his one-bedroom apartment. 
But the motorist, who'd once given money to Moody, tracked him back to his car, parked on a cul-de-sac near the roadway. The motorist accused Moody of cheating the system and posing as a homeless man in desperate straits. He threatened to turn him over to the police department. 
"There are poorer people than I am, but how do you measure these things?" Moody replied. 
He stuck to the principles he'd been given, including a cardinal rule: Take all work offered to you and don't ask about the pay. He never spent more than four hours on the roadside, and had a rule about never staying a minute longer for that extra dollar. 
On his best day, bolstered by a $50 donation, Moody collected almost $180 from passing motorists. 
"I ran it like a business, parking my car out of sight so people wouldn't think I was a fraud," Moody said. "I propped up my sign against a 'Do Not Enter' sign and blessed everyone who passed by that they would find the work they wanted to do in life." 
Using that philosophy, Moody eked out a living and used his money wisely. He spent whatever was left over from his $750-a-month living expenses to place job ads in local newspapers. 
Not all the jobs worked out: An employer once tried to dodge paying him for four hours of hard work on a retaining wall. 
But Moody built up a small but steady list of clients who hired him to do garden work and odd jobs, soon providing enough money to ensure that Moody's days on the road were about over. 
Kate Piersanti regularly offered work to men gathered near highway exits, but Moody is the only one who ever took her up on her offer. 
"I've given my number out to several people for work before, but he's the only who ever called me," said Piersanti, who lives in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County. 
Moody found that he enjoyed working outside in the fresh air, and the gardening left him time to pursue his love of writing. He had been published many years earlier and always felt the yearning. 
"I had no intention of writing a book," Moody said. "I just wanted to keep a log of the people who had helped me out." 
That record is now being sold on Amazon and in bookstores across the Bay Area. Moody is scheduled to appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Walnut Creek. 
With a little help from his friends, that's quite a transformation. 
E-mail Chip Johnson at chjohnson@sfchronicle.com or write to him at 483 Ninth St., Suite 100, Oakland, CA 94607. 



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<DIV>I almost feel like I found another brother:
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<TD vAlign=top width=308><FONT face=Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif size=4><B>Lessons learned by the road <BR>Ex-salesman writes of stint as panhandler <BR></B></FONT><FONT face=Helvetica,Arial,Sans-serif size=3></FONT><BR><FONT face=geneva,arial,sans-serif size=1><A href="mailto:chjohnson@sfchronicle.com">Chip Johnson</A> </FONT></TD>
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<TD vAlign=top align=left width=150><NOBR><FONT face=geneva,arial,sans-serif color=#990000 size=1>Monday, July 14, 2003 </FONT></NOBR><!-- PAPER LOGO --><!--if expr="('' eq 'pm')" --><!--<A HREF="#sections"><IMG SRC="/templates/brands/chronicle/images/chroniclepm.gif" WIDTH=150 HEIGHT=36 BORDER=0></A>--><!--else --><A href="http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2003/07/14/BA305272.DTL#sections"><IMG height=36 src="http://sfgate.com/templates/brands/chronicle/images/chronicle.gif" width=150 border=0></A> <!--endif --></TD></TR>
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<H3></H3>
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<P>On Christmas Day a decade ago, Bruce Moody left his home in Crockett to carry out his annual tradition of sharing a holiday dinner with someone in need. 
<P>But things were different that year. It was Moody who was in dire need. 
<P>The 60-year-old former salesman was staring homelessness in the face. Despite his best efforts, he'd been out of work for nearly a year and was down to one month's rent, $40 in cash and no job prospects. 
<P>But a chance meeting with a roadside panhandler on a freeway off-ramp in Pinole turned out to be the greatest gift of all. 
<P>The man declined the dinner, but listened to Moody's predicament and taught him the rules of the road because Moody seemed like he'd soon need to go by them. 
<P>For the next four months, Moody planted himself and held a sign at the Appian Way exit off Interstate 80. And he experienced a transformation of the soul as his stereotypes about people were turned upside-down. 
<P>Moody logged his experiences in 600 pages of notes that over the next 10 years were shaped into a book, "Will Work for Food or $," published in April. 
<P>On New Year's Day, 1994, Moody hunkered down by the freeway. He told no one of his plan and kept friends at bay with the promise that he was looking for work and living off savings. 
<P>How could a man who'd attended Yale University, had work published in magazines and once dined with Elizabeth Taylor be a panhandler? 
<P>"I was somebody," Moody said. 
<P>In the early going, Moody could spend no more than a half-hour at a time on the road. Racked by guilt and humiliation, he found it difficult to look at the passing motorists, even those who stopped to give. 
<P>And despite his best efforts and training, he couldn't say "God bless you" as he'd been instructed. 
<P>But things began to change over the days -- especially his views toward people. 
<P>He arrived at the roadside believing that minorities, particularly African and Asian Americans, were not inclined to help him -- a white man -- but those myths were exploded almost immediately. 
<P>He found that African Americans, particularly women, were among the most generous givers on the roadway, and more often brought homemade meals than money, which he took as a blessing. 
<P>But for all the kindness, there were also shouts and catcalls, as well as one particularly nasty confrontation with a motorist who accused Moody of being an impostor when he saw him walking back to his car, a red 1964 Plymouth. 
<P>Because Moody began panhandling before disaster struck, he was able to maintain his car and keep his one-bedroom apartment. 
<P>But the motorist, who'd once given money to Moody, tracked him back to his car, parked on a cul-de-sac near the roadway. The motorist accused Moody of cheating the system and posing as a homeless man in desperate straits. He threatened to turn him over to the police department. 
<P>"There are poorer people than I am, but how do you measure these things?" Moody replied. 
<P>He stuck to the principles he'd been given, including a cardinal rule: Take all work offered to you and don't ask about the pay. He never spent more than four hours on the roadside, and had a rule about never staying a minute longer for that extra dollar. 
<P>On his best day, bolstered by a $50 donation, Moody collected almost $180 from passing motorists. 
<P>"I ran it like a business, parking my car out of sight so people wouldn't think I was a fraud," Moody said. "I propped up my sign against a 'Do Not Enter' sign and blessed everyone who passed by that they would find the work they wanted to do in life." 
<P>Using that philosophy, Moody eked out a living and used his money wisely. He spent whatever was left over from his $750-a-month living expenses to place job ads in local newspapers. 
<P>Not all the jobs worked out: An employer once tried to dodge paying him for four hours of hard work on a retaining wall. 
<P>But Moody built up a small but steady list of clients who hired him to do garden work and odd jobs, soon providing enough money to ensure that Moody's days on the road were about over. 
<P>Kate Piersanti regularly offered work to men gathered near highway exits, but Moody is the only one who ever took her up on her offer. 
<P>"I've given my number out to several people for work before, but he's the only who ever called me," said Piersanti, who lives in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County. 
<P>Moody found that he enjoyed working outside in the fresh air, and the gardening left him time to pursue his love of writing. He had been published many years earlier and always felt the yearning. 
<P>"I had no intention of writing a book," Moody said. "I just wanted to keep a log of the people who had helped me out." 
<P>That record is now being sold on Amazon and in bookstores across the Bay Area. Moody is scheduled to appear at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Barnes &amp; Noble bookstore in Walnut Creek. 
<P>With a little help from his friends, that's quite a transformation. 
<P><I>E-mail Chip Johnson at <A href="mailto:chjohnson@sfchronicle.com">chjohnson@sfchronicle.com</A> or write to him at 483 Ninth St., Suite 100, Oakland, CA 94607.</I> </FONT></P></TD></TR></TBODY></TABLE></DIV><p><hr SIZE=1>
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