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NEESES – Neeses Town Council member, mayor pro tem and former mayor Jimmy Hoffman, being part nomad and near saint, took a cross-country journey last year for an ailing friend of almost 50 years, Jim Minardi.

The trip's purpose was to transport a vehicle, furniture he helped load, and cases of California “Wine Country” wine from California to Florida after traveling from South Carolina to California with planned stops on the way.

It could be seen as the ultimate buddy move, like when a friend asks another to help him move but on a grand, country-wide scale and for charitable reasons because of a friend’s suffering.

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Hoffman has known Minardi and has stayed in touch with him for 48 years. Hoffman drove his recovering friend Minardi’s 2006 Toyota Highlander with a U-Haul full of furniture and with the back end of the Highlander full of cases of Alexander Valley, Napa Valley, and other wines from Sebastopal, California, in Sonoma County all the way to Venice, Florida, and that was just one part of a tremendous journey.

The major reason

“Before this trip took place, my friend (Minardi) had open-heart surgery. When he was arriving at his destination in California (after traveling there cross-country from Florida), he was not able to get out of the car,” Hoffman explained.

He said, “They had to have EMT come. He had a staph infection in his spine. It almost killed him.”

Hoffman explained that it took his friend six months to recuperate, and that Minardi had plans to go back to Florida with his wife Theresa, but he could not drive nor sit in a vehicle for any great length of time.

“Therefore, I offered to drive his vehicle and everything he needed from California back to Florida,” Hoffman said.

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Jim Minardi stated in an email message to Hoffman’s cousin, “Few people you can count on in life, but I can always count on Hoff’ (his nickname for Hoffman)." Minardi was not available for the interview itself.

“I said ditto to him,” Hoffman said.

Vietnam

Hoffman, a Vietnam era veteran who said he grew up on a church ranch from 1952 until 1983 except for his military service, quoted the Bible, “All things work for perfection for those who love and serve the Lord” and said that God made this trip work out.

Hoffman stated, regarding his service, “I refused my draft notice and enlisted for a three-year term and was able to work into military intelligence, which kept me off of the battlefield. I worked on ending the war.”

“I worked on radar and electronics and helped with a technology that was sometimes used on the ground there,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman flash-backed to the Vietnam era to the present and back again.

He explained, “My reason for doing this trip was for my dear friend (Minardi) who spent a good deal of time with me on the church ranch.”

Hoffman said, “The church ranch, Sunrise Ranch, started in 1945. The ranch is the headquarters for Emissaries of Divine Light.”

“It is a non-sectarian ministry dedicated to the art of practical living,” Hoffman said.

Minardi in a statement to Hoffman said, “We are not put on this earth to be ‘wholey’ people. We are put on earth to be whole.”

Hoffman emphasized that Sunshine Ranch is not a cult and not a place like Jim Jones or, many years later, David Karesh started. It predated the communes that hippies started by at least a couple of decades.

The E.D.L. is, according to its website, based partially in Loveland, Colorado. According to the websites “About” section, “All people have the opportunity to deepen their attunement with the universal wisdom and love within them. That connection allows us to know ourselves more fully, and to express who we are in the world.”

“The future of our planet depends on this for humanity as a whole. All that we do as Emissaries of Divine Light is designed to assist people to access this experience. The mission of Emissaries of Divine Light is the spiritual regeneration of humanity,” the About section of the E.D.L. website continues.

Hoffman said, “When I got my dog tag in the Army, I asked them to put my religion on there. They only had Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. I told them to put the abbreviation for Emissaries of Divine Light.”

He stated the abbreviation they used was as follows: “EMIS. OF DIV.LGT.”

He and his friend Jim grew to know each other in their 20s (both close to 70 now). When Hoffman got out of the Army, his friend came for the next class for the E.D.L.

Hoffman stated, “Right after I graduated the schooling, I was asked by the bishop to assist for a season in the graphic arts department. Jim (Minardi) saw me stuck in the office. He knew I liked the outdoors. He introduced me to things like mountain biking and elk hunting. He opened my eyes to all sorts of things that got me out of the office. I worked with people in the office who were in total agreement with letting me get out and go.”

“He (Minardi) was on the farming end of the ranch. He was responsible for the running of the tractors and the field work. He was an excellent back-hoe operator, a multitalented guy, and an asset to the ministry,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said this dear friend of his, before his health issue, in recent years drove from Florida to rewire Hoffman’s entire home for free and that after Hoffman offered to transport his vehicle in 2018 that he gave him gas money. “I covered other expenses,” Hoffman added.

Snafu begins journey

Hoffman discussed the beginning of his own journey, which was more like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”:

“I started this big, recent trip right here in S.C. It all sort of came to a head. I had a plane ticket from Columbia to fly to Denver, which took me up to Charlotte. I did not get that flight because they canceled everything Thursday afternoon just before Hurricane Florence came. They said they could book me the next week.”

Hoffman added that included in the travel plans was going to his youngest twin son Jeptha’s wedding in Moab, Utah, plans which had preceded helping his friend. Hoffman’s friend, Minardi, had been recuperating back in California at this point but still needed his things transported, albeit not urgently.

Hoffman explained that because of the hurricane, he got a refund, rented a car and drove to Colorado, a two-day drive. He drove from Columbia, S.C., to Columbia, Missouri, spent the night, and then went on to Colorado, where he spent a few days with his wife Bev in Sterling.

He stated, “Everything just worked out.”

Time for a wedding

Hoffman, while in Colorado, prepared his 2008 Toyota Solara convertible to drive to Moab, Utah, for his youngest twin son’s wedding.

“You have to go out of your way to get to Moab. It’s a majestic setting,” Hoffman said. He wistfully described Moab, Utah, as a desert area with beautiful buttes and little succulent plants here and there and cacti.

Online descriptions of Moab discuss mesas and red rock formations there in addition to Native American artifacts and finds of dinosaur bones and tracks. The wedding was held in this outdoor setting.

“Everybody had to have a boutonniere. It was a succulent like a little green rose. They cannot use ordinary flowers there in the desert heat. They wilt,” Hoffman said.

“We brought in a large white tent, which was very similar to the roof line of the Denver International Airport. I made comment to my son’s father-in-law about this.”

The wedding reception, which was also under a tent with a dance floor, had fine California wines, which figured later in his journey, an open bar and local catering that was typical wedding fare and very abundant, Hoffman said.

Hoffman then drove back to Sterling, Colorado, with his wife. He then flew to San Francisco by himself a week later. He had already had much time in an automobile, had experienced a canceled flight early in the journey and was now taking a flight. Hoffman took a shuttle from San. Francisco to Sebastopol, California, where Minardi’s wife lives and where he had been recovering.

'Sideways' journey

The next part of the journey involved the wine and was like a less chaotic and a lot more ethical version of the film and book “Sideways” in addition to being like “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Hoffman stated that before taking the long trip back, “I toured Napa Valley, Alexander Valley and Sonoma Valley, and other areas, and my friend (Minardi) did wine tasting, and I was the designated driver.”

The vineyards were ripe with fruit when they went there, and there were grapes all over the vineyard -- so abundant that anybody could just reach out and grab them, Hoffman said. “The beauty of the area was a little piece of heaven.”

He transported eight to 10 cases of wine, including Napa Valley, Alexander and Sonoma Valley wines, for Minardi. The bottles of wine were not used immediately and most all were transported by Hoffman to Florida for his friend and his friends’ family members to drink, Hoffman said.

“They were covered in the back end of the SUV with insulation to maintain a 45-degree temperature,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman soon took his friend’s SUV with the U-Haul, furniture and back end with cases of wine across Highway 80 from Sebastopol, California, to just east of Cheyenne, Wyoming. He stopped in Coalville, Utah, a small town that is also a county seat and a little hilly, late one night.

Last SUV to Coalville

Hoffman stated, “Coalville had one motel. It was from the 1940s-1950s. It had been kept up and was very clean. The motel had a hometown feel.” The next day, Hoffman started to go over the mountains into Wyoming, getting 15 miles a gallon the whole trip.

Hoffman said that while in Coalville, Utah, that an individual stopped and asked if he needed assistance. “I came very close to running out of gas."

Hoffman said he thinks the local person saw his license plate, a Florida one that was Minardi’s, and the individual escorted him to a somewhat distant gas station. The individual also offered a can of gas to him should Hoffman not make it.

Hoffman was asked if he saw any cowboys in the west, and he said during this trip in Wyoming that he did see them.

“None of them were riding on horseback, though. The cowboys were in pickup trucks and 18-wheelers,” he added.

He next drove from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Sterling, Colorado, and spent more time with his wife Bev. Hoffman himself stated he spent 25 years in Sterling and worked for Northeastern Junior College in the maintenance department.

“Jim Minardi, by the way, to show you just how long I continued to know him as a friend, was my immediate supervisor at the college for 11 years,” Hoffman said.

The rest of the trip

“I spent two days in Sterling, Colorado, during the big trip on the way back waiting for Hurricane Michael to blow through and get out of the way,” he explained. He then drove from Sterling to Columbia, Missouri, and then on to Atlanta, spending two nights along the way in motels. He did not stop to see any sites there.

Wine, however, figured into his journey yet again. “Every night I stopped and I had a glass of wine and a smoke,” Hoffman said. He said he drank some of that California wine when he stopped.

“Minardi’s sister and her husband had a feast for me when I arrived in Venice, Florida. Some brought pizza and others brought subs. It was quite the spread,” Hoffman said.

He said they also went out to the shore during his visit in Venice and had a fresh seafood platter in a restaurant among the boats.

Hoffman added, “I then took a bus from Venice to Tampa and then an Amtrak train to Columbia, S.C., where I was picked up by my Uncle Alton.” He said his uncle is 84 years old and drives/transports cars for a dealership.

Hoffman’s epic journey truly did involve a train in addition to planes and automobiles as he stated. Hoffman stated that for the past month and a half, his friend Jim Minardi has started driving his own car again and is still recuperating.

Hoffman said, “In all travel … like in Amtrak’s motto, ‘We’re all in this together.’ It’s the same thing when you’re traveling on the highway or flying. We’re all in this together in life.”

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Contact the writer: rbaxley37@gmail.com.

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