Meet Gary Mathes: Jesus' one-man motorcycle brigade

-by Beth Walton via phone

As I sat down to lunch Wednesday, up came a burly, frazzle-haired Alaskan. Gary Mathes, featured in this morning's

Star Tribune

, drinks an MGD and smokes Marlboro Light 100's. He wears two enormous silver crosses around his neck--one is at least a foot long, a tattered denim jacket covered with patches, and stained workman's pants. He looks homeless and he doesn't want me to eat alone. So, he sits down. Out of the thousands of people visiting St. Paul this week pushing one idea or another, Mathes says he is the only one with a clear, simple message: Vote for Jesus.

The wait staff brings him a beer before he evens orders, Mathes has been here before. Storing his sign safely inside he explains how he considered donning a sandwich board that said, "The end is near," but later decided that was too doom-and-gloom. "I thought I'd spread the light," he laughed, blue eyes sparkling in the sun.

Mathes, 60, a member of the Holy Warrior Motorcycle Ministry, loves his country but doesn't vote. "I would, but I can't find a candidate that is not proud," he says, reciting scripture. This is his third proselytizing trip this year. He came to St. Paul from Anchorage, where he works as a contractor pouring cement.

Mathes grins and puts down his longneck when a Nader supporter comes up to our table."Were you in Denver too?" the man asks.

"Yes sir," Mathes chuckles.

"Good. Just wanted to make sure you were a bipartisan Jesus supporter."

"Jesus loves everybody," Mathes says, putting out his cigarette.

Mathes can't get enough of St. Paul. Local bars have let him store his sign inside as he drinks the afternoon away. People have offered him a place to stay and food, even the cops have welcomed him, he says, showing Secret Service and St. Paul Police pins he garnered this week."Denver was work, but St. Paul has been a vacation."

Looking up, he pauses to yell at a man entering the bar. "God loves you, man," he shouts, pumping his cross in the air.

Looking back at me, Mathes explains that he didn't need a place to stay. He found a hotel in Woodville, Wisconsin, for $44 a night and has rented his own car. Each evening he cruises back reflecting on day, smoking cigarettes, and listening to his Satilite Radio.

He says he left his Harley Davidson Electric Ride and black leather jacket imprinted with the words "Holy Ghost" back in Anchorage.

Sarah Palin, with the $1,200 energy package she provided to Alaska residents, paid for his trip. Mathes says. That doesn't mean he's a fan, though. "She's as smart as a rock," he laughs. "She was a basketball star and a second-runner-up in the Miss Alaska pageant, and the governor's race in Alaska is a popularity contest. She's not as experienced as she needs to be, but look at the ones who are experienced. They aren't doing a lot for us."

Nonetheless, Mathes is excited about the possibility of having an Alaskan in the executive branch. "Maybe if the old man dies of natural causes, we'll have an Alaskan president," he chuckled. "She's not ready though, but she's a good girl."

"The cool thing about this election is that either way, we'll have a black president or a female vice president. We can't lose."

Mathes loves his county and says he'll support whoever is elected. He can't stand the big protests and tends to stay away from the crowds, often sitting locals watering holes, spreading the joy of Christ.

"I love my red, white, and blue," he says to a man next to us, holding his beer bottle up in salute." "Hey, when I have too many of these, my eyes turn red, white, and blue."

Pointing toward a man with a "9/11 was an inside job" sign, Mathes says, "They're worried about all that stuff. I say, 'Get over it.' We're not going to change it. They just want to blame somebody for something. It doesn't work. I can take my message anywhere man, and everybody loves me."

True to form, when the pink protesters came marching down Seventh Street, Mathes disappeared, grabbing his sign and moving in the opposite direction. "They are all a bunch of screwballs," he laughs on his way out. "They probably think I'm a screwball too. Welcome to the screwball world."

"But hey, I love you and Jesus loves you too."

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