Random Bike Ride Down The Strand & Brief Encounter With Bill Pettis

Shortly before Christmas, I was in Los Angeles. I love visiting LA! It’s such an interesting city. LA is one of the only cities in the world were one can go skiing in the mountains, ride motorcycles in the desert and go surfing in the ocean all in one day.

I especially enjoy visiting the Beach Cities area. Which I consider the following; Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marina del Ray, Venice Beach and Santa Monica Beach. There’s almost nothing better than riding a bike up the strand from Redondo Beach all the way up to Santa Monica Beach. The ride is a very good workout and always very interesting. It’s also a lot of fun to ditch the bike for a while at each one of the main beaches & pier areas and walk around for a little bit. You never know what you might run into and see. Everything about the Beach Cities area sizzles; from miles and miles of white sandy beaches, hundreds of funky & crazy shops, restaurants, pubs and bars. The whole area has a vibe like no other. Year around, the Beach Cities area is a blast to visit.

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One of the most interesting Beach Cities areas and still a throw back in time is Venice Beach. Venice is a cornucopia of social uniqueness with still a touch of the sixties. The area can be a sensory overload with the smell of incense and the ocean in the air to the sounds of the sixties group, the Doors to the up and coming Rap musicians of the future. The area would completely blindside many conventional places in the world with its outrageousness.

Venice Beach is a wonderful, beautiful, embracing, seedy, chaotic, peaceful and relaxing area with everyone being in some form of harmony with one another.  The area attracts visitors locally and from around the world. On any given day, the area attracts sun bathers, surfers, artists, tourists, locals, movie stars, homeless, tattoo artists, ragamuffin street vendors, bodybuilders, skateboarders, stragglers, clowns, street acts, musicians, gang members, film crews, Hare Krishna chanters, and folks scampering around promoting their medical marijuana dispensaries.

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Many aspects of Venice haven’t changed since the early sixties. If they have, it’s only been a gradually upgraded over the years. One area within the Venice community that has seen some improvements and upgrades over the decades is Muscle Beach. The area has been the mecca of bodybuilding for generations.

While walking down the boardwalk in front of the gift shops, bike & surf board rentals, medical marijuana dispensaries, food joints and right before Muscle Beach…. I spotted an older gentleman, in posing trunks off to the side with a small ghetto blaster all by himself. My first reaction was saying to myself, look at this character and snapped a few pictures of him.

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As I started walking toward the gentleman, he started to approach me. As he neared me, I said hello, extended my fist and he gave me a fist bump. He mumbled something to me with a smile; unfortunately I couldn’t understand him. The gentleman was missing most of his front teeth; except for an upper left hand snaggletooth that seemed to get in the way of his tongue and lips. I asked the gentleman a few questions and could only understand every third or fourth word of his reply. He seemed to be very friendly and wanted to chat. He also wanted to show me something. He led me over to a park bench on the side of the weight lifting facility. On the bench were a bible, messenger’s satchel and a bag of clothes. The gentleman was trying to tell me something. After the fourth or fifth time of repeating himself, I realized what he was saying. He was saying that he wanted to give me a gift. After I understood what he was saying, I said ok…. and he pulled a picture from his satchel and handed it to me. It was a picture of himself and Arnold Schwarzenegger in front of the Muscle Beach workout facility. With a huge grin, I said wow! The gentleman got very excited and starting gabbing. I could only make out every forth of fifth word. I was listening intently, nodding my head and asking a lot of questions. He pulled out a new Sharpe from his satchel and started to write some things on the back of the pic. It sounded like he wanted me to email the pictures that I took of him and that he was going to provide me his email addresses. I could make out the mumblings of the words Google and Hotmail.

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After scribbling a few things on the back of the picture, he wanted to show me something about 25 feet away that was pinned up on a bulletin board with a glass cover over it. I walked over with him and he started pointing to a black & white picture of a young black man with huge arms and a very defined upper body. Next to the young black man was another individual that looked like a coach or trainer. Underneath the photo it said something about the 1984 Olympics … I asked the gentleman if that was him….and with a huge smile, he nodded his head and said yes several times. I asked him several questions … He continued to chat away. Unfortunately I had a very difficult time understanding him.

We walked back to his bench and chatted a little bit longer. He asked for the picture that I was holding of him & Arnold and wanted to write something additional on the back of the picture again. He wrote his name and scribbled a few other things and handed the picture back to me. It was very apparent he didn’t have a whole lot and was down on this luck. I thanked him and gave him a few dollars. He smiled and said God bless you.

Later on during the day, as I rode my bike north of Santa Monica, I thought that I should have bought him a nice meal. He seemed to be very nice, gentle soul and genuine individual.

On my flight home the next afternoon, I started thinking about the gentleman that I met on Venice Beach. I pulled out the picture that he gave me and tried to make sense of what he wrote on the backside. I just wondered who this person was and wished that I knew a little bit more about him.

After returning home that night, I started to do a little research on the gentleman and figure out his name (Bill Pettis). I did a few Google searches on Bill and found some interesting information on him.

Bill at one time was to have the world’s largest muscular arms … 23 1/4 inches around! He held the record from 1978 – 1984.

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Bill has been a fixture at Muscle Beach for decades. Today, he’s homeless, has been living on the streets and has been down on his luck for many years. I have been told on any typical day, one can find him at Muscle Beach camped out on a bench during the day.

Over the last several years, Bill has worked many odd jobs; from watching over parking lots, recycling cans & bottles, and doing odd & end maintenance jobs. The word is, no matter how much money Bill has, he never minds sharing it with the stray neighborhood cats. He always had a bowl of food and water out for them.

Some of the greatest bodybuilders in the world have passed through Muscle Beach. They say no one has ever passed through as muscular as Bill once was. Bill use to cause a huge commotion on the Venice strip with his gigantic arms and his ability to bench press 525 lbs. & squat 650 lbs.

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Bill was born and raised in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and grew up poor and resourceful. Bill got into weight training to build his strength for baseball and football. Bill was a star high school athlete. Bill started working out by getting a bar and making bells out of 25 pound cinder blocks. The hard work paid off. In baseball, Bill was a pitcher and could strike out players like no tomorrow. On the football team, Bill was a guard and was an all city & league player.

Bill attended a small college for a period of time. Financially, he had to drop out of school to help support his family.

Some say that Bill could have become a great professional baseball pitcher because of his massive arms. He had the speed and control to stand up on the mound and face any batter. Bill also could of become an all time great professional football player because of his extreme strength and quickness. Word has it, that Bill could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds.

As a young men, Bill didn’t have the guidance, any type of support system and wasn’t aware of all the opportunities that were potentially possible to him. Bill kept to himself and focused his efforts on power lifting and then bodybuilding. At times Bill would spend an intense hour or two or sometimes all day working on his arms. Bill had immense bicep muscles …the real bulk came from his massive triceps. To complement the biceps and triceps, Bill also had enormous forearms.

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During his hay day, Bill developed and promoted a program for the development of building huge arms. One bit of advice that Bill really preached for total arm development was to always work the triceps to the fullest and at least twice as much as the biceps. Bill also showed and helped Arnold with the development of his arms. At Arnold’s peak, his arm measured 19 inches. It was stated that all the Bodybuilders looked up to Bill. Everyone would watch and ask Bill for advice on his techniques. Bill was the best of the best at one time!

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After meeting Bill and reading about him ….. I wondered – What happen? Why didn’t Bill ever make it big? Why is he homeless and unemployed? Is he able to work? Is he on drugs? What’s his mental state? Could he get and hold a job? Did he ever have any type of full time job other that working out? What kind training or skills does he have? Can he really speak for himself? Is he receiving any type of local government, private support or social security? Does he have any type of criminal record?

The only constant in life is change. One needs to constantly change with the times. One needs to constantly improve themself by reading, learning new skills and adapting to change.

It has been a tough economy over the last several years and many people have been lay off. The unemployment rate around the world is at record levels. When the economy does start to grow, many of the jobs will not becoming back. Many of the unemployed will stay unemployed if they don’t reinvent themselves. The world is constantly changing through improvement in technology and the demands of consumers. Each individual person constantly needs to be working for themselves by improving and acquiring new skills and knowledge.

The number of homeless in the US and around the world is at record levels. If the unemployed of today, don’t seek out new skills …… they will become the next generation of homeless.

The past doesn’t predict the future. It’s up to an individual to set goals for themselves and work at achieving them. In the ever fast changing world of technology… to be successful, one needs to figure out how to add value. In order to figure this out, one needs to ask themselves quality questions. The quality of the questions that an individual asks himself or herself, will determine the quality of their life.

As I rode my bike up the strand through the Beach Cities, I saw and passed many homeless people. I didn’t think much of them… Until, I met one of them.

The next time I’m in LA, I will once again rent a bike and ride it up the strand. While I’m riding through Venice Beach, I’ll be looking for Bill. I hope that I will be able to meet with him again. I would like to learn a little bit more from and about him.

God Bless Bill Pettis!