When I was a toddler, I remember taking my sister’s purple and white big wheel as my own when she grew too old for it. I remember not caring about the colors and simply getting a kick out of the speedy machine that was essentially my first mode of transportation beyond my own two feet. But soon, with the excitement of my new toy, I rode the big wheel into dust. Holes came peeping through in the front wheel until eventually, one day, the wheel collapsed on itself.
This was a huge disappointment to me, but I thought the big wheel would simply adopt new colors when it was replaced with a newer and cooler big wheel. But when my parents went shopping to abolish the tears that resulted from the destroyed tricycle, they couldn’t find a replacement. The company that produced them had gone out of business and the only big wheels for sale were outgrown ones at yard sales. Soon enough I was on to bigger and faster two wheeled racing machines.
But, as if it were a Freudian stage of development, I never quite got past my fascination for the plastic trike.
So finally, when I was off on my own, making decisions for myself, I made a purchase that had much more influence on my college life than I ever would have imagined. As my ex-girlfriend and I walked through the Target register with a boxed big wheel, I have no doubt the cashier thought we were too young to have a child. But I wasn’t buying the toy for a kid. The big wheel was for me.
We raced back to Blacksburg, built the big wheel, and for the first time since I was a small kid, I enjoyed the phase of tricycle riding that I had never quite passed. As I rode and she walked from the parking lot, we came closer and closer to campus. I expected harsh comments of criticism and hatred, but what I had forgotten is, this is Virginia Tech. This is a school with more pride and embracement of cooky things than any other place on this planet. There is nearly no insecurity, only respect for the diversity of goofiness on this campus.
The first group of people we went by was a group of guys. I remember my heart racing at the anxiety of facing the same torment I faced in middle school for being an individual. But instead, one of the guys reached out his hand for a high five. “Nice ride dude!” he exclaimed. My anxiety quickly turned to excitement and I pedaled myself all the way up to the entrance of the dining hall. At the entrance I realized I was without a mechanism to guard my big wheel. So there remained only one option, bring it inside with me. The buffet style dining hall prohibited nearly anything foreign being brought in but after a quick explanation to the cashier, she giggled and let me in.
A couple days later I bought a lock from the general store on campus to guard my awesome ride. The lock cost more than the big wheel. The big wheel became my mode of transportation around campus. I’d ride across campus. People questioned its efficiency until I’d blow by them on the way to class and get there minutes before them. The big wheel was fun, and in reality, was a legitimate way to get across campus fast.
But that didn’t matter to people. They saw me as a goofy guy having fun. And I cannot lie, that is mostly what this whole thing is about. Strangers would stick out their hands for high fives, would ask me to stop to get a picture with me. Some would stalk me to attempt to find out who I was. Others would simply ask me my name. I met probably 100 people this way. The one thing that nearly everyone on campus was sure of is that this stranger, “the big wheel kid” lived in West Ambler Johnston.
Later in the spring, my resident adviser who literally lived five feet away from me the entire year knocked on my door and exclaimed “You’re the big wheel kid! Man I’m actually kind of disappointed that I now know who it was. It was more exciting when it was a mystery!”
At one point I locked the big wheel up at a building a rarely visit and had forgotten where it was. After walking to class for a couple weeks, I was lost without the plastic array of red, blue, and yellow beneath me. As I was walking I realized the general knowledge of the big wheel on campus and simply asked a stranger, “Hey have you seen the big wheel in the last couple days?”
“Yeah it’s over at Squires. Why?”
“No reason. Thanks!” I said and kept walking.
It was amazing to me what I had started. But most of all, it was amazing to me how many people I had made laugh or giggle from a silly nonsensical silly action. At the end of spring semester, I was requested for an interview by the Virginia Tech radio station and the newspaper, The Collegiate Times. Also, to get a picture taken with me was one of the items on a campus wide scavenger hunt.
But with heading onto the Appalachian Trail the following year, and my big wheel nearing the end of its life by having a 130 pound rider and weight capacity of 70 pounds, I abandoned my trike. For the entirety of the year, the big wheel kid became a mystery. Questions were asked, rumors spread, and when I came back in 2010, I realized the impact I had made was much greater than I had imagined. For the fifteen months I was away, the big wheel was not forgotten, but rather spread and became more of a campus wide legend that the upperclassmen would tell to freshman and sophomores.
Without the possession beneath me on my trips to class, I was mostly unnoticed. Many of my friends would ask where I would go from here but it seemed like a fun fling as a freshman. I was too old for that now. I remember talking to my mom about it and her telling me it was fun for a year but now it would just be a silly waste of money. I agreed.
After an Outdoor Club hiking trip, the group of us stopped for milkshakes at a hole in the wall coffee shop. As we sat around sipping and talking about how beautiful of a trip it was, somehow the big wheel kid was brought up. I leaned back in my chair and listened to the rumors that had been running wild for over a year now. I listened to a story of how he ran for class president and other equally silly lies. Eventually, I jumped into the conversation and said, “No he didn’t.”
He expected that his knowledge of the big wheel kid was much more profound than my own and that I was just a contradicting jerk. “Umm. Yeah he did,” he responded.
“No he didn’t,” I said again, with my smile stretching from ear to ear. At this point they were starting to question my credibility but they would never have guessed that all this discussion was about a guy who was sitting right there. The big wheel kid must be long gone. He must have been a senior that year because he was missing for an entire year. “I’m the big wheel kid. That was my big wheel you all are talking about,” I informed them, revealing my secret identity.
In the middle of winter that year, I found myself in the same situation as freshman year, checking out at the cash register at Target, the cashier thinking this girl and I are way too young to have a child. But this time, when the big wheel was constructed, I took it to campus with confidence. The responses were the same excitement I received freshman year. The only difference is that some people were shocked to see the big wheel kid had returned. For the most part, however, the big wheel went mostly unnoticed. My class schedule was impractical for riding it to class and it remained locked up at the same rack or in my garage at home shielded for most of the year.
However, in its third year, the big wheel that would float around campus from rack to rack, received more attention than ever. As I ride it from one building to another, I hear whispers saying “there he is!” or shouts screaming “Slow down, I’ve got to get your picture!”. I had no idea, however, what was about to come.
A couple weeks ago, my big wheel was locked outside of the iconic Virginia Tech building, Burruss Hall. An assistant professor was walking by and in their excitement took a picture of the big wheel and sent it to Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech sported the big wheel with pride, making it the “daily image” on their facebook page. Within the day the image had received a ridiculous number of views from students and alumni. The comments on the photo were hilarious with some people cracking jokes about Stewie Griffin and Doogie Howser having enrolled at Tech. Some people made promises that they’d get a picture of me riding it if was the last thing they’d do before they graduate. Others would say how they know me when I have no idea who they are. Others spread rumors saying how they have heard it is locked up on racks where Virginia Tech police are monitoring for bike theft. But mostly the comments were of praise and excitement for Virginia Tech as an open and fun University.
I knew this fame would be short-lived so I continued as usual on my commutes. I found a reddit forum stream with a bunch of people trying to investigate my identity. There was even a picture of me from behind riding to class. Sure enough, the excitement died down to its usual fun.
But then yesterday the picture popped up on the internet once again. But this time, the picture was on a much more widespread forum, FAILblog, a website featuring fails and wins from around the world, under the title of Anti-Theft WIN. FAILblog reports getting over 1.5 million views each month. Now my big wheel has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Success. I don’t know if I can go so far as to say I have made people’s days but I definitely have made some people, if not a hundred thousand people, smile. And that seems worth it all to me.
The big wheel began as a fun and goofy return to my childhood and has become way bigger than I ever imagined. The total contradiction to the criticism and hatred I feared showed how pessimistic I was really being. Humanity is much more loving and open than I had ever given it credit. This is hugely reinforcing of how loving the human world is and for that, I think the investment of buying a big wheel, as silly as it seemed initially, has become one of the best and enlightening investments I have ever made.