An East Side preacher stood outside a convenience store a recent evening and was telling some guys about his vision for his new church, a place for simple lives and animals from the Bible.
The preacher, Shane Coburn, was really getting into it, talking up this vision of a menagerie, when one of the men says, “There’s a goat.”
Sure enough. There stood a goat.
Now, that’s timing. Back in April, Erick Brown packed up an old van, and his goat, in Florida, and the two took off to have a talk with America. Spreading love and peace. They’d wandered through the East and Appalachia, made their way to Kansas City and walked up to that QuikTrip on Winner Road just as the preacher was talking about biblical animals.
The preacher said it had to have been divine serendipity. Brown, who dresses a little like Jesus, said he needed gas.
Anyway, that’s how Coburn, pastor of Beaumont Baptist Church, came to meet Erick Brown and Deer the goat. Coburn invited the travelers back to the church up on the hill.
“Jesus was a transient man of meager means, too,” Coburn said.
Brown said he’s not particularly religious. For a week or so, he and Deer slept in the church parking lot — Brown in his 1994 Ford Econoline van, Deer in his trailer that looks to be the tail end of an old pickup.
He helped with bread ministry and birdhouse painting in the basement of the church, which serves mostly street people. Then he and Deer moved on.
“Maybe they’ll come back again sometime,” Coburn said. “He was an interesting fellow, and I liked his goat.”
Deer’s an icebreaker, Brown said. He can’t tell you how many times in the past four months he’s been asked by strangers in strange towns what he’s doing walking around with a goat.
So, what’s one more — What are you doing walking around with a goat?
“Goats make people happy,” Brown said.
Well there you go.
Brown, 28, split time between Colorado and Florida growing up. He suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was young. He has problems reading and writing — gets a monthly disability check — but functions well enough to have traveled the country alone for pretty much his whole adult life.
He goes to different cities and seeks out his people, the ones on the streets, the ones who count out change. He and his goat walk up, and he starts talking about dreams for better times.
“Everyone needs friends,” he said. “We all have dreams, and we all look at the same sky.”
And in Seattle, his older sister worries.
“Sure, every day,” Karen Brown said. “But he’s doing what he wants to do. People talk to him. Maybe it’s the way he looks; maybe it’s the goat.
“Growing up, Erick was told he would only have so much money and that there were only so many things he could do. And he said, ‘No.’ He didn’t want to live like that.
“We just hope he finds nice people out there.”
It’s not easy on the road for a man and his goat. They’ve run out of gas and broken down. A transmission went out in West Virginia.
Ever try to hitchhike with a goat?
Karen Brown hopes the duo arrives in Seattle by fall. Meanwhile, she and other family and friends keep up with Erick and his Rock Club on Facebook.
Right, the Rock Club.
When Erick was in high school, he got in trouble for taking his guitar to school. He pointed out to the principal that band members had musical instruments.
“They’re in a school activity,” the principal told him.
So Brown started the Rock Club for kids who didn’t seem to fit anywhere else. It stuck. He even goes by Erick Rock Club. Today, he uses donations to the club that come through a GoFundMe account to stage events such as Earth Day gatherings, free swap meets and canned food drives on Halloween.
By now, Brown and Deer are probably out of town and headed west. There are a lot of towns between Kansas City and Seattle. A lot of people on late-night corners.
And he and Deer will meet some of them.
A man told him once that meeting Deer was one of the coolest things to ever happen to him. Brown told him that he was collecting donations for his journey.
The man dug around and came up with 50 cents.
Erick Rock Club shook his head and chuckled.
“One of the coolest things in his life, and it’s only worth 50 cents.”
But he knows those are his people, the ones who count the change.