Wheels

“My legs went one direction, my life another.” – Bob Wieland
Have you ever chugged beer out of a friend’s prosthetic leg? No? Well, I have and I can tell you it’s an experience like no other.
I recall that first day we saw our friend after he returned from Vietnam. He drove up in a brand-new Cadillac and parked in front of the Popcorn Bar, one of our favorite bars in college because of the owner, Fitzpatrick, known to us as Fitz. He provided free popcorn to his patrons which many evenings was our dinner. Fitzpatrick was a good-natured old Irishman who actually liked college students and we made him our honorary father. He would be part of our group of guys while we would sit at his bar drinking beer.
Our friend got out of his car with two canes, one attached to each forearm and he dragged his legs as he walked in the Popcorn to a raucous cheer and no one cheered louder than Fitz did, welcoming home one of his “boys.”
“Welcome home, Bob,” we all cheered. Bob Wieland, Wheels, was finally home.
Fitz had his bartender set a fresh bottle of Chivas Regal in front of Bob that was his for as long as he came in the bar. Fitz told Wheels, “As long as I’m alive, this bottle will never be empty,” and it never was.
To show his appreciation, Wheels removed one of his legs and had the bartender fill it with Old Style beer and he passed it around to all his friends to share. The beer was on Fitz that night too.
No one in our group of friends was free from friendly ridicule and it was no different for Bob upon his return. We called him Wheels because most of the time he would get around in a wheelchair, but today he’s called “Mr. Inspiration.” His real name is Bob Wieland. You can google him to find out more about this amazing man, www.bobwieland.net. He has accomplished more than most people ever will.
When I first knew him he was in high demand. He was a very good baseball player and the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team was interested in having him join their farm system but so was Uncle Sam and Uncle Sam won out, sending him to Vietnam where a member of his unit stepped on a mine. Wheels, a medic, rushed to give first aid but he too stepped on a buried mortar round, designed to destroy tanks. It severely damaged his legs; they had to be amputated above the knee.
Wheels is best known for his walk across America on his arms. In 1986, he completed a 3000-mile walk across America on his arms to pay tribute to his fallen comrade. That journey took him 3 years, 8 months and 6 days. He had wooden blocks with a strap going across the back to put on his hands and he wore leather pants. I forget how many blocks and leather pants he wore out on that journey, but it was a lot.
How he accomplished this feat in itself is quite a feat. He started with some friends in California who would jog along with him and drive his car. But eventually, they tired out and could no longer stay with him. By the time he reached Nevada, he was on his own.
He would drive his car to the point he wanted to get to by the end of a particular day. Here he would drop off his wheelchair. Then he would drive back to his starting point and begin his journey. When he arrived at where he had left his wheelchair, he would get in and roll it back to his car and then drive back to where he had stopped walking that day. Amazing.
Since that time, he has traveled across America using his arm-pedaled bicycle.
A few years ago, a mutual friend of ours who was also living in Atlanta at the time, told me “Wheels” was going to be in town. He was scheduled to give a motivational speech to local high school football teams at Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta Georgia. He wanted to know if I wanted to join him in surprising Wheels.
“Hell yeah,” I said.
Well, when Wheels came out to speak, his entrance was like none I had seen before, He came running into the auditorium from the back, on his hands and literally jumped on the stage.
His speech was pretty inspiring but he knew he had to do something special to really make an impression on a group of testosterone laden teenage boys.
He put a set of weights and a weight bench on the stage and put out a challenge to all the young men in the audience to come up and do as many bench presses as they could and when they finished he would match them and do one more rep than they did. You see, Wheels had just set a world record in the bench press but was disqualified because he didn’t keep his feet planted on the floor. It didn’t matter that his feet were lying in some rice paddy in Vietnam.
Bob did beat everyone who took his challenge and there were a lot of conversations going on by the audience as they left the auditorium that day.
We visited with Wheels for awhile after his speech, talking about Fitz and the guys, before he had to leave for another engagement in another city.
What an honor it is for me to be one of the few guys to know such a great American and get to drink out of his prosthetic leg so many years before.

The Magic Cannon

 

220px-chancellorsvillebattlefieldmodernThe  Cannon That Could Fly

We weren’t robbers, we were thieves. There is a difference. A thief is a trickster a robber takes something for its value and to have it. A thief doesn’t want to have it. Robbers go armed. A thief doesn’t have to. Thieves are always laughing. You don’t want to joke around with a robber; robbing is serious business.
Stealing is an art. A thief has to be able to carry whatever he takes. He’s got to be able to hide it.
Like magic! Diamonds are magic. That is why women wear them on their hands, as a sign of the magic of womanhood. Even though we aren’t women, we are magicians. Or, as the Navajo say, a character of disorder. We are coyotes, the mischief-makers, tricksters. As one story goes, the Spirit Chief sent the mischief-makers to go to the land of the dream visions.
“You will be known as the Trick-people,” Spirit Chief said. “Do good for the benefit of your people.”
And that is just what we did!
A good thief makes a person believe, for the moment, that even a cannon can fly.
Trick-people confuse people and confusion is a funny thing. It makes it harder for people to do anything.
At every home football game, two fraternities, Tau Kappa Epsilon(TKE) and Phi Sigma Epsilon(Phi Sig’s), set up, each in their separate corner behind the end zone, their respective noise maker that they set off in celebration of a touchdown. The TKE’s had a bell that they rang and the Phi Sig’s had a cannon they fired. Everything was fine until…
The bell went missing. Nobody had any idea what happened to it until the TKE’s received a note from the Phi Sig’s stating they had taken it and if the TKE’s wanted it back, they would have to find it. They continued to mock the TKE’s publicly for weeks on end and to make matters worse, the TKE’s couldn’t make noise in the end zone on the rare occasion our football team scored a touchdown.
Well, the tricksters weren’t too happy with another group trying to meddle with their province of the unexplained, so they decided to assist the TKE’s in their quest to have their bell returned.
It began one autumn evening. Darkness had fallen on our calm city, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, a small college town and home of Heilman Brewery and Trane Company, located on the Mississippi River in Northwestern Wisconsin. A town of forty-five thousand people, or was it forty-eight thousand? It was a cool, dry Saturday evening in mid-October. The leaves had already turned colors a few weeks earlier and now had fallen, leaving the trees that lined the streets surrounding the campus, dark and barren, appearing like ghostly apparitions with stick arms reaching into the inky evening sky.
They were a group of six tricksters dressed in dark clothing and sneakers with carbon black from charcoal briquettes, smeared across their faces, gathered around a table in the dining room of their house. A group of tricksters, that enjoyed confusing different groups on campus. They were going over the plan one more time. Everyone knew what they were going to do. The tension in the room was high. They were hoping for a night with no moon. They needed the darkness of the night to pull off their magic. They had been planning it for weeks and tonight was the big night. They all agreed, drinking and stealing don’t mix. Tonight there would be no alcohol.
A friend of two tricksters from their high school was an officer in the organization, the Phi Sig’s, the organization they were going to confuse. Unknowingly, this officer provided them with inside information. Information such as, where they stored their cannon!
The Phi Sig’s, as usual, were having a party with a sorority and the music and noise would provide the tricksters with the cover they needed to get away with this heist.
The object of their mission, the Phi Sigma Epsilon cannon, was stored in a shed just outside the frat house and this is where the heist would take place. The distance wasn’t that great between the shed and the house, so they would have to be careful and use caution when approaching the target.
The house was located on a cobblestone side street just off State Street, about a block from a girls dormitory on the edge of campus. The cobblestones were of some concern to the tricksters as the wheels on the cannon were metal and would make a loud noise that would echo on the cobblestones while they rolled it away.
The tricksters had discussed this problem over the past few weeks and decided the best remedy would be to wrap towels around each wheel. So, that night, each person held a handful of towels.
It was eerily quiet that fall evening. The nearby campus seemed to be deserted. Students most likely downtown celebrating another weekend.
The night sounds seemed to be magnified as the tricksters walked out of the back door of the house. The tricksters proceeded quietly down Seventeenth Street to the frat house they were planning on stealing the cannon from. Some tricksters excitedly spoke in hushed whispers, the level of which continued to rise as their excitement grew. A “shhh” sound came from their leader, quieting the group down one more time.
When they arrived at their destination they stopped to listen for a sign of anyone that might be around. The only sound was that of the partygoers in the house behind the shed. It sounded like they were having a lot of fun.
The group split up. Two split in different directions from the rest of the group and went to their observation points behind large trees in the backyard while the other four proceeded to the wooden shed that had once been a garage.
The two wooden doors were closed and held together by a metal clasp, but no lock. The tricksters knew there wasn’t a lock. They had been by the shed at least a half a dozen times during the past few weeks. This was a well-planned caper. The doors were difficult to open and scraped on the ground as they pulled them apart. The noise from the doors made the tricksters stop for a moment to make sure nobody was alerted to their presence. After confirming all was clear, they walked inside and there before them was the ominous dark shadow of the reason of their escapade. The Cannon!
“Quiet, someone’s coming,” one of the tricksters at the observation post whispered.
It wasn’t long before they heard a couple of voices approaching in the dark. They were laughing about something that they thought was funny. They stopped a few feet away from the shed by some bushes. They unzipped and took a leak.
When they finished they turned around and walked back to the party without noticing a thing.
The tricksters were safe. They were lucky those two didn’t take the time to look into the shed and check on their prized possession.
The tricksters proceeded to wrap the towels around the steel wheels. As they rolled The Cannon forward, the wheels squeaked. The noise seemed louder than it actually was and this added to their anxiety.
The tricksters had to roll this heavy piece of artillery over a half a mile through campus to their destination.
It was heavy, over 1000 pounds. Two tricksters were on each wheel and one at the breech of the cannon and another in front. They had to slow it down and stop it from rolling when they approached an intersection in case a car might be coming. It would be difficult to explain if they hit an oncoming car with a thousand pound cannon.
The slope into the basement of the trickster’s house from the road was steep and they had to make sure the cannon wouldn’t get away from them and smash into something in the house causing structural damage.
When the cannon was safely secured in the basement, the trickster’s laughed. It would be held for ransom and an elaborate ransom note would be sent, consisting of cut out letters from a copy of Life Magazine to the Phi Sigs. It would read, “Return the TKE bell or you will never see your Cannon again.”
All around campus, people were asking, “Who took The Cannon? Where was The Cannon being held hostage?” Nobody knew.
The campus was abuzz with speculation. “I bet the TKE’s took it as revenge for the Phi Sig’s stealing their bell,” some students thought.
The TKE’s denied having anything to do with it.
“I think the Phi Sig’s have it and are just trying to get publicity and pin the blame on the TKE’s saying the TKE’s are retaliating against them for stealing their bell,” others said.
The Phi Sig’s were blaming the TKE’s while publicly mocking them, “Not very imaginative of the TKE’s. You’d think they would be able to come up with something a little more original than that. Why copy us? I guess they just wish they were as cool as the Phi Sig’s and this is their way of getting attention.”
Everyone was wrong. Nobody but one person outside the tricksters had a clue who took The Cannon and even that person had no clue where The Cannon was being kept and that person was the insider, the unknown co-conspirator.
After a couple of weeks of threats and pleadings, the Phi Sig’s realized the TKE’s really didn’t have their cannon and it was not going to be returned until the TKE’s got their bell back, so the Phi Sig’s gave in and returned the bell.
It wasn’t long after that and The Cannon mysteriously appeared, like magic – ON the roof of the library, next to the main hall on the university campus. Now, how would the Phi Sig’s recover their cannon from the roof of the library? They had no clue!
One of the tricksters approached a group of students as they stood around the building looking up at the cannon.
“Who put it up there?” One young man asked no one in particular. “How in the world are they going to get it down?”
“How do you suppose it got up there?” The young girl, obviously a freshman, standing next to him asked.
“I don’t know. It surely didn’t fly up there,” he replied.
“Are you sure?” The trickster asked.
“Well, no; but have you ever heard of a cannon flying?”
“Not before today,” the trickster replied.
For over forty-five years the secret has never been revealed and if you think this trickster is going to reveal the secret now, you are mistaken. Tricksters never reveal the magic of their illusion.