Hungry, sunburned, and determined to get to Texas from Moreno Valley within just a couple of weeks, “One-Armed Willy,” as he joked with acquaintances to call him, appeared at a food distribution event in Banning, anticipating that he would volunteer and hopefully get to earn a bag of food.
William Patrick King, 23, a laid off IT tech, meticulously planned a route and had just ridden his bike — steering it with his one hand — through the Badlands for a couple of days to get to Banning before expecting to continue his journey east.
“He was nervous, had poor vision and was probably suffering from heat stroke,” says Regina Lee Brady Redfeather, who was among the first to greet him when he rode up that fateful day on April 24 at the community center.
She and other greeters quickly had him sit down to enjoy a sandwich and a drink.
According to a phone interview that she and her husband Barry Clark recorded, King had planned to ration two weeks’-worth of food and water, thinking he would make it in timely fashion to meet his mother in Austin, Texas, who he claimed had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
He regaled his newfound friends with a story of struggle, overcoming abuse by others, bullying, and losing his job.
When he 7, his left arm was amputated.
He is colorblind, struggles with tunnel vision, and his eyes are light-sensitive.
“The plan was to ride my bike to Texas in two weeks. I had no idea how I was going to get food,” and planned “to sleep along the side of the freeway.”
He sounded articulate and appreciative in the recording.
He expected to apportion half of a water bottle’s-worth of fluid every five-and-a-half hours.
He had sold his computer to buy a box of Kind protein bars to sustain him during his travels.
Volunteers and Good Samaritans who were helping out at the food distribution event were so smitten by his story, they chipped in to pay for a plane ticket for a quicker, safer trip back to his mother.
He seemed to appreciate having a bunch of strangers “hear my not-so-inspiring story. This is a dream come true,” he said, noticeably suppressing emotion.
Redfeather and Clark had him spend the night in a spare room at their home on the Banning Bench, fed him, washed his clothes and fed him dinner before taking him to the airport a day later.
Concerned benefactors and volunteers Juanita Diaz, AJ Cabral, Sheila Alvarez, Robert Ybarra and a handful of anonymous donors pitched in to make sure he got home safely.
“Despite his being handicapped, he has amazing abilities, which is why so many people rallied around him,” Redfeather said. “He does not see his having one arm a disability, but he was concerned about his ability to see.
“It’s a story of hope: despite the hustle and bustle of it all, there are people in our community who are willing to help those who really seek it,” she said.
Redfeather and Clark received a couple more messages after he landed in Texas, informing them that he had made it, and that his mother, who seemed to be doing better, had picked up him.
The last message came a couple days later expressing excitement that he had landed an unspecified job in Tulsa, Okla.
Redfeather and Clark have been unable to contact him since.
In his recorded interview, he says “I can’t thank enough. My life’s story isn’t interesting — I’m used to people not caring about me. I’ve cried more times today than I have in my entire life.”
Understanding that he could not take his bike with him on the flight, he requested that Regina and Barry “pay it forward” and give it to someone who could use it.
Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (951) 849-4586 x114.