Store Owner Finds Sobriety Intoxicating

March 26, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

Bill Newton remembers the days when he drank to excess, defied his bosses and wound up in far-flung places without knowing how he had arrived.

"I was a pretty mean, nasty, crummy guy, and today I think I'm pretty nice," said the 42-year old recovering alcoholic.

Today he also pays homage to the Native Americans who rescued him from drinking with one of Baltimore County's most unusual shops.

Inside the Pony Soldier, a small shop set back from Main Street in downtown Reisterstown, are Native American wall hangings, blankets, flutes, books, artifacts, music, jewelry and novelties. He found the items through contacts with artists on the powwow circuit and other national connections.

Pony Soldier sells the crafts and gives the proceeds to the artists, who then can make donations to the store if they like. Mr. Newton said his store is the only one he knows of that does that.

He has operated the dimly lighted shop in a relaxed way for four years, staying open from "about lunchtime until about dinnertime," telling visitors to make themselves at home, offering customers a stick of incense.

Wearing Earth Shoes, jeans, a vest, a pouch necklace and a long beard, Mr. Newton sat on a stool in the store and recalled how members of the Lakota Sioux tribe helped rescue him nine years ago from alcoholism by showing him a God he could believe in.

He still was drinking when he worked at a Baltimore County car dealership, where his job was to "tell that old couple that just spent $14,000 on a new car the noise the engine makes was normal." His employers told him daily to come back with a haircut; he'd return with the same hairdo, sometimes drunk.

While on a 1986 vacation to Spearfish, S.D., he wound up on the Rosebud Reservation, 200 miles from where he was staying, "I would imagine, in a bit of daze," he said. He had drunk so much, he said, that he didn't know why he was there.

He was alone and wearing his motorcycle club colors on his jacket -- an act of aggression in the biker world. When he spied 20 Lakota motorcyclists nearby, he became frightened.

"They surrounded me. It was an embrace, but I didn't read it that way," he said.

Then he found out that he had stumbled on a nondrinking motorcycle club. He and the members talked, rode for a while and eventually arrived at the home of another biker.

Within 30 days, club and tribal members had shown him a version of a religion different from the one he had grown up with in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Native Americans introduced me to a God spirit -- that thing that is God," he said. "My God is not the kind of God you have to wind up on Sunday. I headed home with a newfound belief structure."

He is convinced that without the Lakota Sioux experience, he would be dead.

"I equate that time with the Native Americans giving me life. . . . I designed this shop to honor them," he said.

Besides running Pony Soldier, which brings in about $5,000 a year, Mr. Newton is a free-lance commercial artist, designing logos and T-shirts. His work ethic: "Pretty much do things my way, which is, 'I'll get it to you when I'm ready.' "

Sobriety has brought him a new routine. A lifelong bachelor, he lives with his mother in Worthington Valley but has become an activist in the Reisterstown area, using the drug- and alcohol-free motorcycle club he started as a platform for political and community work.

"When I need to become excessive, I throw myself into some community project," he said, describing himself as "real active, opinionated, mouthy, self-centered."

He and some of the 500 members of Freedom's Few Motorcycle Club of Maryland Inc., which he founded in July 1987, have lobbied for environmental causes and preservation of the landmark Phillip Reister House in Reisterstown, and against real estate development and drinking near schools. "I fight every time I hear someone wants to put up a parking lot, you know?" he said.

The group donates food and toys to the needy around the holidays as "Cycle Santas," adopts part of a highway where it cleans up litter and answers telephones during the Johns Hopkins Children's Center telethon.

Mr. Newton is "an absolute delight," said Marietta K. Nolley, director of special events at the center. "He couldn't be more generous and kind and giving."

Giving up drinking was the best decision he ever made, Mr. Newton said. "All this is pretty intoxicating," he said. "I can't see living any other way."

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