Saturday, April 14, 2012

Re: Wrong Way Wooten...

So, a post this morning on a local cycling forum I inhabit piqued my interest in this man, "Wrong Way" Wooten. There seems to be a lot of hear-say about Wooten, whose birth name seems to have been Tom (it has been suggested that he legally changed it to Wrong Way). A lot of people met him on his journeys, talked with him, and there are brief recounts spread across the internet. I am going to leave it up to you to search those accounts out, if you are so inclined. I was more concerned with published reports, interviews, etc, the links for three of which are shown below.

David L. Sloan photo

From what I have been able to gather, Wooten traversed the country, north and south, east to west, raising funds for various charities, including the March of Dimes, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, the Leukemia Society, and the American Heart Association. During one interview (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) the reporter notes that Wooten had been on the road for 45 months by that point, and covered 28,000 miles starting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, traveling west to Los Angeles, down to San Diego, up to Canada, back to Los Angeles, and finally across to Florida via Arkansas and New Orleans. And yes, those travels did indeed include a stop in our very own city of Claremont. Other references of cities he passed through, which I have found, include San Clemente, CA, Ft. Wayne, IN, San Jose, CA, Philadelphia, Santa Fe, NM, Phoenix, AZ, and at Stanford University.

As you may have gathered, Wrong Way did not pick up the name by being frequently lost; no, he gained the name by riding his customized bike backwards, sitting on the handlebars and using mirrors to see where he was going. According to the articles Wooten was an educated man with a degree in psychology, whose goal in life was to simply help his fellow man. Riding his bike backwards was the means to that end. If you check out any of the links you will see that Wooten became a bit of a celebrity (though I do not remember hearing about him), and even had an appearance on the 1980s television show Real People. I noticed some comments suggesting that Wrong Way passed away in 2004, though, in my research, I have not come across an obituary for him. Interesting man, who clearly lived an interesting life.

Once, when asked what he did when he got a flat, he is reported to have replied, "I set the bike on fire." With a straight face. I've known that feeling. Clearly, after so many miles, so many encounters, there must be some fascinating stories out there. Thanks to Erik for pointing me to this previously unknown (by me) story.

Three newspaper stories:

Fort Lauderdale, FL
Palm Beach, FL
Pittsburg, PA

unidentified photographer


  1. I meet wrong way wooten a few months after appearing on "real people." He was on Rt. 30 in Irwin Pa. heading west. It was and still is a very dangerous 4 lane highway even back in the 80's. Wish I would of had a camera to take a picture of us together.

  2. I met Wrong Way in NM in the early 80's. He was traveling through town and ended up staying with some friends of ours for a month or more here in Albuquerque. We were about 10 years old and rode all over the neighborhood with him. He was a very nice guy and the first "celebrity" that I had ever met. I learned to ride my bike backwards that month and to this day (@41yrs) I continue to amaze people, especially my elementary students, when I grab their bike and ride of "Wooten Style". -Matt Reynolds, Albuquerque N.M.

  3. Awesome. Two more stories of people who saw/met Wrong Way.

  4. Tom passed away in January 2003. An eerie note to this, he left me a message on my answering machine three days earlier. I had not talked to him in a while. On the message he said "This is a voice from the past, give me a call." Unfortunately three days later his brother saw my number on his cell phone and told me Tom had been found in bed and died of a heart attack suddenly(47 yrs. old). You should have seen him driving around town in his 1967 Citroen with his beloved parrot Topaz riding on the top. A truly unforgettable character who always meant well. He was also pretty nifty on a unicycle!

  5. I went to school with Tommy. He was a horrible bully. We rode on the same bus and he was always beating someone up. The teachers all the way through high school could not stand him being in class. He lived in Bryn Mawr, PA and went to Radnor High School. Sometime in his 30's I believe he was arrested for calling in a threat to President Reagan from a payphone at Dunkin Donuts in Bryn Mawr. Unbelievable how fast the secret service arrived.

    Although he appeared to have changed, I am not sure that much of a change can really be true.

  6. I rember when that happened. My friends and were about 13 and he was at burger king in havertown a few days before the call.

  7. I saw Wooten often riding his bike (backwards of course) down the middle of Lancsster Ave. in Ardmore and Bryn Mawr Pa. It was
    quite the show!
    S. Sacks Wynnewood, Pa.

  8. I was his cousin. He was s great person

  9. He was a thief and liar, those are true. He lived with us for while in the late 80's in Los Angeles, before his affair with my mother contributed to my folks getting a divorce. They he lived with and stole from my mother for a few years. Fuck him. Hope he died roaring.

  10. I met Wrong Way Wooten in person when I used to work at Albertsons in Stuart.It was in 1985.He was one of my customers.He had one or two birds with him.He was a nice person.

  11. I knew Tom back in day, from the late 60's to the 90's. He actually dated my sister for a little while, and was not the most kind person to her. Yes, he was a bully, a terrible bully who intimidated those around him. After High School, he continued to get into trouble, never, as far as I know, got away completely from being the edgy bad guy he was as a kid. Saw him PLENTY of times on Lancaster Avenue riding backwards, making a scene. It was always about Tom with him.

    Did get arrested for making a threat on the life of the POTUS. Not sure what the disposition of that case was. Called from a pay phone, never even got out of the booth before the police showed up and arrested him.

    In the 70-early 80's, he had a buddy who was a Radnor police officer. That probably saved his ass more than once.

    And yes, in his little Citroen with the parrot, again, making a scene.

    If he did, in fact, turn a corner and end up doing charitable works while doing his "wrong way" act, then good for him.

    I also recall his passing. Sad to die so young, but must admit, I didn't really shed a tear.

  12. I met Wrong Way in the late 1970's or very early 1980's when I was a Police Officer for the Columbia Police Department in Lancaster County, PA. Both the new US Route 30 and the old US 30 (now PA 462 or Lancaster Avenue AKA the Lincoln Hwy i.e. the first coast to coast highway in the US) pass through Columbia. I was working the night shift (2300-0700 or 2200-0600hrs) went I saw this guy riding a bicycle backwards as he rode the Lincoln Highway. And this was long after dark! Wooten flagged me down, introduced himself, and said that he was riding his bicycle coast to coast while sitting backwards! He had all kinds of gear and lighting on his bike, including a small TV set (this was decades before flat screen TVs). He wanted to know if we could put him up for the night in one of our cells! Other than visiting school children, this was the first time that anyone ever asked me to be put in one of the cells. So after showing me his bicycle he went to sleep in a cell and was on his way the following morning, riding west across the PA 462 Veterans Bridge towards Wrightsville.

    Kevin Maule

    1. Asking to sleep in a cell. I think I have seen that on tv, and now I find out it happens in real life. Very good, thanks of sharing.

  13. He came to Boynton Beach Oceanfront Park in Florida probably around 1985. He hung around awhile and juggled and rode his unicycle and seemed like a nice guy. I think I have a few photos of him somewhere.

  14. I knew Wrong Way when he drove the tow truck for Radnor Garage, late 80's to mid to late 90's. I delivered at a local pizza place in the area. He used to piss people off towing their cars if they parked at the pizza place but weren't eating there. Eccentric guy.RIP.

  15. He was also featured on the Channel 3 show in the late 70's called Evening Magazine.

  16. I met him in the early 80's coming thru Upper Sandusky, Ohio. He stopped at Harrison Smith Park and played basketball with us. I had him autograph a hat for me, but don't know where it could be now.


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