From Tablet paper boy to FBI agent to travel writer, Kenneth Strange has had a winding journey through life.
In July, Strange published a book about one particular journey — the 500-mile walk he and his wife, Aurora, made in Spain last year, when they completed the “Camino de Santiago,” which is known in English as the “Way of St. James.” It is a route that pilgrims traverse as a spiritual exercise. It ends at the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, a church in Galicia, Spain. That church is believed to be the burial place of the apostle St. James.
Strange recently talked to The Tablet about his pilgrimage in Spain and about his days as a Tablet paper boy in the 1960s. The Spain trip first.
“Every day was an inspiration, was an adventure, that certainly deepened my faith in people,” Strange said. “Because really our Camino was the people. It was the pilgrims along the way.”
During the 31-day trip, Strange and his wife walked 17 to 18 miles a day. They spent time walking alongside a blind couple.
“There was a field of flowers, and there was a stream. And Russell was his name, and he turns to me and he said, ‘Ken, what do you see?’” Strange recalled of the man he met. “And I thought, ‘My God, I’ve taken my sight for granted.’ And so, you ruminate on that in the evenings and say, ‘God, thank you for this wonderful lesson you’ve taught me on these incredible people that you continue to introduce me to along the way,’” he said.
“I really saw Jesus in the other pilgrims. God calls us to stop, listen, pay attention, empathize, help.
“Some people were on the Camino, and they were down, they were looking for something in their lives, and in many cases, they just needed someone to listen and to talk to. And so, I just felt Jesus in all those moments.”
Strange was first inspired to make the trip by Martin Sheen, the star of “The Way,” a 2012 film based on the Camino. Around that time, Strange and his wife were on their way to Mexico to do volunteer work when they got stuck at the border with a group that included Sheen. Strange and Sheen got to talking, and the movie actor encouraged Strange to make the pilgrimage.
Strange noted that many pilgrims stop before they finish the Camino, but he and Aurora persisted. It was a determination forged on the streets of Canarsie, where Strange grew up.
He attended Good Shepherd Catholic Academy in Marine Park, and Nazareth H.S. in Flatbush. Strange said he’s grateful for his Catholic upbringing. “You’d have this work ethic instilled in you to find a job and make money,” he said.
After seeing older boys with their own jobs, he picked up the paper route in 1967 when he was 11 years old. At the time, Strange collected stacks of the newspapers at Good Shepherd Church and delivered them to customers in the neighborhood. His commission: 3 cents per copy, plus tips. He had the route for two years.
“It was a time when people were friendly … It was a wonderful life as a child growing up there,” Strange said. “You were tied to the elementary school, which was the church, which was the Tablet paper route. All of those things were my life.”
As a paper boy, he faced his share of challenges. “You would suck it up whether it was hot or cold or rainy, and you just went out there and you made sure those papers where they were going,” he said.
Strange went on to a career in law enforcement, working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General. He is now a private investigator and lives in Los Angeles.
When he went on his pilgrimage, he kept a log that he turned into a manuscript for his book, “It’s Your Camino.” The book is available on Amazon.