There are characters, then there are characters

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was the oft-heard phrase in movies, television shows and the vernacular of those times: “The Man.”

“The Man,” often uttered by hippies, blacks and others who were hip (another oft-heard phrase in those days), referred to the “Establishment.” The “Establishment” was the dominant group that held the nation’s power. The “Establishment” was those 35 years or older, give or take a few years.

Being a hip, stone-groove teenager in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I knew all about “The Man.” While in high school, I grew a moustache to challenge “The Man” and his authority over me.

Well, before I knew about “The Man,” I knew of several other men who were “The Man” in their respective fields.

In the days before I became a rebellious mustache-grower, I knew “The Peanut Man.” He definitely was of the older generation. He was a prime example of the capitalistic, free-market system. He made his presence known on a daily basis, trying to make a buck in downtown Pensacola, Fla.

“The Peanut Man” exploited myself and other youngsters during our visits to the Florida Theater. I don’t know  if “The Peanut Man” believed in free love in those days, but it was quite evident he did not believe in free peanuts. He dared charge us for the boiled peanuts he sold to us and for his labor in preparing, packaging and peddling those parboiled peanuts.

There’s no doubt “The Peanut Man” did not live on a commune that grew the peanuts, or else he would have shared those peanuts with me because folks who lived on communes shared everything they had, including free love. Perhaps that explains why so many free clinics sprung up in those days.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by buying those peanuts, I was supporting the region’s economy. The Florida panhandle isn’t that far from the peanut-producing fields of south Georgia. It’s my guess “The Peanut Man” bought his raw peanuts from some distant (in more ways than one) family member with a peanut farm around Albany, Ga.

I also knew of č and once saw – “The Goat Man” of Georgia. His real name is Charles “Ches” McCartney. Like “The Peanut Man,” McCartney is no longer with us in body, but his spirit lives on. It was somewhere on U.S. Highway 41 (mentioned in the Allman Brothers’ band’s song “Ramblin’ Man”) near Macon, Ga., where I first encountered “The Goat Man.”

McCartney, who was born in Iowa, moved to New York and married a Spanish woman, and traveled the United States in his later years. For six decades, “The Goat Man” could be seen guiding a wagon pulled by a team of goats. In addition to McCartney, the wagon hauled pots, pans, vehicle license plates and other goods and items.

“The Goat Man” had a long, gray beard. His clothes were worn and tattered. Because he preached the Gospel and traveled so much, some folks described him as a “prophet.” Legend has McCartney traveling 100,000 miles, preaching the Gospel in 49 of the 50 states.

Not that he was one, but McCartney looked like a hippie before there were hippies. Before there was a “green” movement, McCartney was helping fight pollution by using a goat-pulled wagon instead of a gasoline-consuming vehicle. Of course, it could be argued that the goats pulling his wagon created another kind of pollution.

When I write columns, I put together strings of characters to create those columns.

“The Peanut Man” and “The Goat Man” were characters that no one, except themselves, could bring to life. They created –and lived – their characters, characters so memorable that I have vivid recollections of them nearly 50 years after first seeing them.

Those kinds of characters make life much more interesting than the kinds of characters that make up words, sentences and paragraphs.

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. He believes the best way for a story to be told about someone is to get that story straight from the horse’s mouth, or in the case of “The Goat Man,” straight from the goat’s mouth.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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