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Orem's 'Road Drummer' brings joy to passerby after healing from dark past

If you think you hear a drum echoing up and down State Street in Orem, you’re not crazy, it’s probably just “The Road Drummer.”

Scott Schwarz can be often found with a smile on his face as he plays a single construction bucket while simultaneously riding his bicycle along the busy Orem street. He’s loosely known as “The Road Drummer,” but he’s generally recognized for entertaining passersby with his traveling jam sessions to popular songs and willingness to make good on the “Free Hugs” shirts he often wears.

“I don’t know what I really wanted from it, but it was therapeutic,” Schwarz said of his traveling drumming act.

However, Schwarz’s rhythmic rides came to be during a pivotal turning point in his life: while transitioning out of rehab for an alcohol addiction.

“If you did the math, it came out to about 24 beers a day,” said the 35-year-old, 6-foot-9 Orem resident. “Every single day, for 12 years.”

Schwarz was born in Lancaster, California, but spent his formative years growing up in Portland, Oregon. According to him, alcohol began to control his life in his mid-20s, and he attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting when he was 24.

“When I was there, people were talking about, ‘Oh, we’d lost our house, we’d lost our wives, we lost the car, we end up in jail,’ blah, blah,” Schwarz recalled. “I was like, ‘No, none of this has happened to me. I’m totally fine. I’m not as bad as these guys. Everything’s fine.’”

At least, that’s what he said he was convinced of at the time.

“And then sure enough, like four years later, I ended up sitting in those same chairs,” Schwarz said. “I lost the job, I lost the girl, I lost the house, and it all happened to me in one day.”

Even that day wasn’t enough to convince Schwarz to get clean.

“I continued to hit rock bottom. When you’re only familiar with digging, you just keep on digging. It’s incredibly, incredibly powerful,” Schwarz said of addiction. “It is all about short-term pleasure rather than long-term joy. People die to it, people completely lose themselves in it.”

Schwarz said he became homeless for about a month before moving in with a friend, and then moved to Washington state to live with his sister. This wasn’t his first bout of homelessness; Schwarz said he was also homeless at the age of 18 for about four months when he left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the religion in which his family raised him.

While living in his sister’s garage with chickens in Washington state, he tried to take his own life.

That, Schwarz said, was his wake-up call. He then checked into a rehab facility in Orem.

“When I checked in, I checked in,” he said. “A lot of people are forced in by the state, or they’re forced in by their families, or they’re forced in by all these other circumstances. I think one of the only reasons I’m a success is because I checked myself in.”

Today, Schwarz maintains a positive relationship with his family. He credits his checking into rehab as the first step to mending their relationships.

“Well, what it took was humility,” he said. “I tried a whole bunch of things on my own, and I really, really wanted to be able to solve it myself.” But, upon almost taking his own life, he recalls calling his father and saying that he couldn’t beat his addiction alone, and that he needed help.

While getting clean, Schwarz said he gave his best efforts to follow rehab instructions to a T, which involved three months of inpatient treatment and three months of outpatient treatment.

While living in a halfway house during outpatient treatment, Schwarz first tried bucket drumming about two years ago.

He recalled always having an appreciation for street performers in Portland that would drum on various objects, but said he never had the courage to try it himself. “If you want something that you’ve never had, you’re going to have to do something that you’ve never done,” Schwarz said.

So, he went to a hardware store, bought a construction bucket, acquired some drumsticks, strapped the bucket to his bike and tried biking and drumming at the same time.

It wasn’t an instant success.

“I would ride by and people were like, ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you?’ Like, I look like a fool,” Schwarz said. “One of the beautiful things about it is it taught me to be OK with failing in public with great regularity.”

Schwarz said that regularity made him unafraid of failing, and helped him to get outside of his comfort zone to achieve new things.

“I have taken that to all other aspects of my life,” Schwarz said. “That was just so huge for me, because I was such a perfectionist in my addiction. I would rather not complete a project, than have it not be perfect.”

Schwarz began a new method of performing recently when a close friend overdosed.

“She was one of those individuals who I thought was totally fine, one of those few that I thought was able to make it out,” Schwarz said. “She was clean for two years. And then she just tried it once and then it ended. I’ve got a collection of friends now that died to it,” he said of addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Schwarz said he wanted to meditate with drums, but his bike had a flat. So, he went to the intersection of Center and State Streets in Orem and performed. In time, he amassed a small audience.

“There was so much appreciation given to me,” Schwarz said, recalling some people dancing to his beat — a now favorite feat of his musicianship.

As Schwarz has become comfortable with his abilities, he’s been able to gain a greater reward from the music. “There comes this odd moment where you just transcend,” he said of times where he is totally enveloped in rhythm, and his mind simply melds with the music.

Now, Schwarz says he spends about equal amounts of time playing in place and on the road, but opts to stay mobile slightly more often. For riding, State Street in Orem is his favorite route, and downtown Provo after nightfall is a hot spot for his stationary shows.

“I get videotaped all the time on the streets, and people will scream and yell at me from their cars,” Schwarz said. “I’m a party. I bring so much joy to other people, and it was so worth that reoccurring public failure.”

More about Scott Schwarz’s jam sessions can be found on his Instagram or Facebook pages, both at @TheRoadDrummer.

Clock is ticking on NY deadline for student vaccinations

BUFFALO, N.Y. — When New York lawmakers revoked a religious exemption for mandatory school vaccinations, the change sent thousands of the state’s parents scrambling to get their kids shots — or get them out of the classroom entirely.

Lawmakers did away with the exemption in June amid the nation’s worst measles outbreak since 1992. More than 26,000 children in public and private schools and day care centers had previously gone unvaccinated for religious reasons, according to the state Health Department.

Now time is running short. Unvaccinated students have 14 days from the start of school to prove they received the first dose of each immunization, and they must make appointments for the next round within a month. Most schools reopen just after Labor Day.

Some parents opposed to vaccinations are choosing to pull their kids from school rather than comply.

“Those that are choosing to vaccinate, it’s not because their beliefs have changed,” said Jina Gentry, a Buffalo mother of four who will home-school her children rather than have them vaccinated. She said not everyone has the means or time to do the same.

At the private Aurora Waldorf School in suburban Buffalo, parents of 21 students said they would not be attending this fall, rather than rush to vaccinate, said administrator Anna Harp, who oversees about 175 students from preschool to eighth grade.

“Some families have told us that they plan to home-school, and a few said that they were moving out of New York,” Harp said. “Several families have told us that they plan to return once their children’s immunizations are up to date.”

New York became the fourth state, along with California, Mississippi and West Virginia, to eliminate religious and personal-belief exemptions for vaccines. Maine will remove them in 2021. All states allow medical exemptions.

More than 1,200 cases of measles have been confirmed in 30 states this year, more than three-quarters of them linked to outbreaks in New York and New York City, the Centers for Disease Control reported.

Many of the New York cases have been among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities. Resistance to vaccinations remains, despite scientific evidence that they are both safe and effective.

The state Health Department will audit schools to assure compliance with the new law and require unvaccinated students without a valid medical excuse to leave school, spokeswoman Jill Montag said. Schools already submit annual surveys about immunization coverage and are subject to spot checks to confirm their answers. Schools that violate the rules could face fines.

“We do not anticipate having any problems securing compliance,” Montag said in an email.

Before the statewide law change, the New York City Health Department closed 12 schools that could not prove students were vaccinated following an April emergency order.

Like many parents, Gentry’s view on vaccines does not stem from formal religious teachings but rather personal beliefs, including that God created people with natural immunity against diseases.

A literacy coach for Buffalo Public Schools, she said her full workday will now be followed by lessons with her kids before and after dinner.

“It’s a huge change and it’s definitely life altering,” she said. Among her biggest concerns, she said, is that her kids are now “segregated from people.”

Leslie Danesi said her 15-year-old daughter, who was captain of her school’s basketball team and was to be president of the student council, will be home-schooled this year and miss out on those opportunities.

“Those are big things for a 15-year-old,” said the mother of six who lives in the town of Greece, near Rochester. She said she views her children as gifts from God, and they should not be subject to forced injections.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that states have the right to enforce compulsory vaccination laws.

Opponents have filed at least two unsuccessful lawsuits. A hearing for one drew more than 1,000 people to the Albany County Courthouse.

Police say no explanation yet for Texas shooting frenzy

ODESSA, Texas — Authorities said Sunday they still could not explain why a man with an AR-style weapon opened fire during a routine traffic stop in West Texas to begin a terrifying, 10-mile rampage that killed seven people, injured 22 others and ended with officers gunning him down outside a movie theater.

Authorities identified the shooter as Seth Aaron Ator, 36, of Odessa. Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 for a misdemeanor offense that would not have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms in Texas, although authorities have not said where Ator got his weapon.

Ator acted alone and federal investigators believe the shooter had no ties to any domestic or international terrorism group, FBI special agent Christopher Combs said. Authorities said those killed were between the ages of 15 and 57 years old but did not immediately provide a list of names. The injured included three law enforcement officers, as well as a 17-month-old girl who sustained injuries to her face and chest.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke refused to say the name of the shooter during a televised news conference, saying he wouldn’t give him notoriety, but police later posted his name on Facebook. A similar approach has been taken in some other recent mass shootings.

Gerke said there were still no answers pointing to a motive for the chaotic rampage, which began Saturday afternoon when Texas state troopers tried pulling over a gold car on Interstate 20 for failing to signal a left turn.

Before the vehicle came to a complete stop, the driver “pointed a rifle toward the rear window of his car and fired several shots” toward the patrol car stopping him, according to Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger. The gunshots struck a trooper, Cesinger said, after which the gunman fled and continued shooting. He fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, two cities in the heart of Texas oil country more than 300 miles west of Dallas. At one point, he hijacked a mail carrier truck, killing the lone postal worker inside.

U.S. Postal Service officials identified her as Mary Granados, 29.

Police used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck outside the Cinergy Movie Theater in Odessa, disabling the vehicle. The gunman then fired at police, wounding two officers. Combs said the gunman might have entered the theater if police had not killed him.

“In the midst of a man driving down the highway shooting at people, local law enforcement and state troopers pursued him and stopped him from possibly going into a crowded movie theater and having another event of mass violence,” Combs said.

Police said Ator had no outstanding warrants. His arrest in 2001 was in the county where Waco is located, hundreds of miles east of Odessa. Online court records show he was charged then with misdemeanor criminal trespass and evading arrest. He entered guilty pleas in a deferred prosecution agreement where the charge was waived after he served 24 months of probation, according to records.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said a 17-month-old girl is recovering but faces surgery on Monday to remove shrapnel from her right chest. She also suffered injuries to her face. Abbott says the mother texted: “Her mouth is pretty bad, but will heal and can be fixed. Thankfully it doesn’t seem like her jaw was hit. Just lips, teeth and tongue ... We are thanking God for healing her and appreciate continued prayers.”

The shooting came at the end of an already violent month in Texas, where on Aug. 3 a gunman in the border city of El Paso killed 22 people at a Walmart. Sitting beside authorities in Odessa, Abbott ticked off a list of mass shootings that have now killed nearly 70 since 2016 in his state alone.

“I have been to too many of these events,” Abbott said. “Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable, and action is needed.”

But Abbott, a Republican, remains noncommittal about imposing any new gun laws in Texas at a time when Democrats and gun-control groups are demanding restrictions. And even as Abbott spoke, a number of looser gun laws that he signed this year took effect on the first day of September, including one that would arm more teachers in Texas schools.

Saturday’s shooting brings the number of mass killings in the U.S. so far this year to 25, matching the number in all of 2018, according to The AP/USATODAY/Northeastern University mass murder database. The number of people killed this year has already reached 142, surpassing the 140 people who were killed of all last year. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.

Witnesses described gunfire near shopping plazas and in busy intersections.

Dr. Nathaniel Ott was working at an Odessa emergency care center where he is the medical director when he heard gunshots. He rushed outside to find a woman in the driver’s seat of an SUV bleeding from a gunshot wound in the arm. Ott said that as he and a paramedic were working on the woman, the shooter drove back by.

“The shooter drove within 30 feet of us and drove up that road,” Ott said Sunday, pointing to one of the streets leading past the shopping center where his facility is located. “The shooter was driving. It was insane. He was just everywhere.”

Daniel Munoz, 28, of Odessa, was headed to a bar to meet a friend when he noticed the driver of an approaching car was holding what appeared to be a rifle.

“This is my street instincts: When a car is approaching you and you see a gun of any type, just get down,” said Munoz, who moved from San Diego about a year ago to work in oil country. “Luckily I got down. ... Sure enough, I hear the shots go off. He let off at least three shots on me.”

He said he was treated at a hospital and is physically OK, though bewildered by the experience.

“I’m just trying to turn the corner and I got shot — I’m getting shot at? What’s the world coming to? For real?”