It’s not unusual to find a small gathering of truckers at the TravelCenters of America truckstop in Cartersville, Ga., being amazed by Michael Anthony Mooney’s impromptu magic shows.
Mooney isn’t a trucker himself, but he calls truckstops his “second home,” and truckers — whether he knows them personally or not — are his extended family.
“I love to sit down with truckers and listen to them talk” Mooney says. “I do a few magic tricks and drive some of them to Wal-Mart and other places if they need to pick up some supplies. It’s kind of my way of repaying them.”
Mooney is repaying them for the years truckers were his main source of transportation and often of food and money in order to survive. The 44-year-old Jackson, Tenn., native had a difficult childhood. After his parents divorced when he was 6, he was placed in foster care and bounced around in the system until he was 18. Then he found trouble.
Petty theft crimes landed him on a penal farm from which he escaped. At 19, he went to prison, where he stayed for nine years.
Mooney says when he left prison he had no parole or probation requirements, so he hit the open road, “hoboing” across the country for the next four years. Always keeping a neat, clean-cut appearance and a low profile, he found truckstops great places to hang out, sleep and seek rides from friendly truckers.
“I learned my first magic trick from a guy I met in prison,” Mooney says. “I started learning other tricks, and I would do my tricks for truckers. They would want to know how I did the trick, and sometimes I would show them for food or money.”
Truckers who encountered Mooney started calling him Magic Man. He says drivers sometimes took him to their homes to have a hot meal with their families. “One trucker even took me fishing,” Mooney says. He occasionally earned extra money by helping truckers who hauled household goods. “I lumped furniture with a couple of drivers,” he says. He even once attempted to become a truck driver but failed the DOT physical because he is legally blind in his left eye.
During his hitchhiking days, he met road crews for famous musicians and even ran into country superstar Randy Travis at a truckstop. “It was an exciting life for awhile — no bills, no responsibility. But I soon learned that no one really makes it on their own,” he says. “I realized that there is a higher power. We’re all the same. We all bleed red and have a craving to be loved.”
Mooney’s nomadic lifestyle changed one day after being dropped off near a church in Kennesaw, Ga. He says he met a man in the church who wrote on a napkin a plan for turning around his life and becoming successful.
Today, Mooney’s regular job is being a dietary aid at a hospital. But he also continues to pursue his love of magic as a Christian illusionist and stuntman. In addition to the time he spends at area truckstops, he appears regularly at churches, schools, birthday parties and charity functions. He also has opened for comedy acts such as Karen Mills of Comedy Central.
Mooney is a sentimental man who feels he has a great deal to repay those who have helped him. His website, www.mooneyentertainment.com, carries the “Napkin Ministries” header, alluding to the scribbled plan he says turned his life around. But to truckers he feels forever bound. “In 20 years, you’ll probably still find me hanging around with truckers at truckstops,” he says. “I’ve always had a special relationship with them. Thank God for truckers.”