“‘The age is running mad after innovation; all the business of the world is to be done in a new way; men are to be hanged in a new way; Tyburn itself is not safe from the fury of innovation.’ It having been argued that this was an improvement. ‘No, Sir, (he said eagerly,) it is not an improvement: they object that the old method drew together a number of spectators. Sir, executions are intended to draw spectators.’” — Samuel Johnson
It is no secret that the wheel has made great strides. Some might say it has seen many revolutions. Those mighty Mesopotamians had little idea where their invention would take them. I suppose, if they were alive today, they would be distraught that it has taken them so far. For the wheel is replacing the foot with each passing year. And I suppose they had rather their invention stopped with a wheel of cheese than progress to a rubber tire. I certainly couldn’t agree more. Indeed, if every wheel were of goat or gouda, if every tire brie or beer, there would be many a missing wheel or slashed tire in my neighborhood.* But this is the empire of enterprise, not of eating, and I must languish and live under its rule. That is, I must live with the unfortunate reality that the wheel often does no more than take one to work, when its highest use is to be eaten.
That the wheel does more than transport is obvious. Why, several times in a single day I hear the “clop-clop-clop” of a small child. He—or she—rides his—or her—scooter like a man bites into his stilton. That is, for fun. I fancy the child has a destination in mind. But on a deeper level, I fancy he’s more excited about riding than arriving. I fancy he’s traveled further than most grown-ups too. In any case, like I mentioned, the wheel is certainly replacing the foot, and it is only a matter of time until we are like the angels in Ezekiel, roaming the world with wheels on axes. But I can’t help but think of the foot nostalgically, in a sense, as if I’ve already lost mine.
The foot is truly unique. We are the only beasts that have one, really. My cat has something similar, but not really. Monkey’s, I suppose, have the next best thing. Or better. For their feet are more like hands, allowing them to grasp and dangle. It is the surest proof against the idea of evolution as mere progress. For if we progressed from monkeys, we’d certainly still have tails, and our feet wouldn’t be so clunky and absurd. Truly, the human foot is almost a disaster. It is good for two primary things: walking and kicking. It doesn’t scratch, stretch, grasp, glow, sprout, rotate, or swivel. It has now claws, wings, fins, webbings, or even fur for keeping warm. It doesn’t, at the very least, come to a point, which might help our kicking. We can’t even walk on the thing without help from sandals or shoes. Unlike the head, it doesn’t swivel, allowing us to turn directions on a whim. Take a look out your window at any walker, if you are so privileged to have one in view. Notice how clumsy they move about with their feet! How odd and unique. It is no wonder that most of our machines have wheels and none have feet. For the foot is wholly impractical and, in the age of utility, almost useless.
But the revolution against the foot is the revolution against what makes us unique. One could say it is against our very humanity. We are replacing something odd yet mystical, something powerful yet pointless, with something common and coarse. The wheel is expected. The foot is unexpected. The wheel is of man and earth. The foot is of God and heaven.
Las Vegas, Nevada might be the center of the world when the wheel revolution fully takes place. Why, not too long ago, I heard a story of a mad woman mowing down pedestrians with her wheels. This, thankfully, is rare here. But the drunkard hitting a walker with his wheels is not. And yet we always put the bottle in the dock and not the wheel. I agree that drunkenness is a sin. But so is driving like a maniac, or like a teenager. It is very common to hear of a drunken walker harming himself; it is also very common to hear of a sober driver harming everyone but himself. In any case, Las Vegas will be the very center of the revolution, for it has the perfect blend of wheels and walkers. Everywhere you look, men are walking. Everywhere you look, men are riding. The mere variety of wheels is most astounding—planes, helicopters, buses, cars, motorcycles, mopeds, rascals, bicycles, shopping carts, unicycles, skateboards, long-boards, scooters, hover boards, trikees. While the car is the worst of the lot, I will take a look at some other, purer, wheels I see around town.
The bike has so artfully been discussed by a friend of mine at Cambridge,** and not much more can be said about it by me. It is most practical here in Vegas for many who have nothing else. It’s flexibility is unparalleled. One man sees his bike as his toy, another as his home. One man sees it as transportation, another as exercise. Some even as their vehicle for spreading false teaching. Others, though, see the bike as too much and have instead chosen to ride its younger brother the unicycle. These men, unfortunately, are rare. The bike, apart from the foot, is the holiest means of transportation.
I suppose the next most popular set of wheels is the skateboard. The long-board, so it seems, is not in fashion here. But the skateboard has certainly made a comeback, or maintained its popularity. Not only is the skateboard used properly, as a device for flying into half-pipes and doing tricks, it is used improperly, as a mode of transportation to class. One is very likely to be run over by a skater in his four or so years at UNLV. I nearly was last semester, as I walked with head up looking this way and that but paying no heed. And why should a man pay heed while he walks with his two God-given feet? Those with feet have primal rights. Everyone else must bow in submission. It takes all I have not to walk right up to them with my two blessed-feet and give them a swift kick. But I practice tremendous self-control.
As I mentioned above, the scooter is very popular here. Children of all ages—from elementary to college—are using scooters. They are used by the little children most properly, as instruments of joy. But the college scooter-riders, like the college skaters, misuse them as they do most things these days. They use them only as instruments of torture. I am only less tempted to knock these tyrants off their wheels because the scooter has a handle, and their fall wouldn’t be half so graceful. I gather, with the scooters and skaters, fifteen to twenty percent of campus moves about on wheels. In ten years it will be fifty percent. And when I’m tenured, I will be the last man standing.
I now come to the lowest point in this little exposé on the wheel: the electronic skateboard, or, as some have erroneously called it, the hover board. It, of course, does no such thing, but it does not really matter what you call it—what’s in a name? The fact is that it is essentially just like every other new machine out there these days. The riders on these instruments “hover” or “glide” around, and they truly are a disgrace to humanity. Skateboards and scooters are a nuisance, no doubt, but one is still required to propel the thing with his mighty foot. He may still play with it as well. One can kick and twirl the scooter around until he lands back on it with his glorious feet; one can fly high in the air and flip his skateboard around, until it returns to his fantastic feet and he reenters the half-pipe; one can only stand on a hover board, doing nothing, like a man sits and watches television.
Recently, I was walking on my two feet with a friend who told me a sad story. At his housing complex lives a very fat man who decided to ride his hover board one day, I suppose to take out the trash or get the mail, something, I’m sure, that could have been done just as well with his feet. This man, though, had the unfortunate experience of coming to a speed bump. With a hover board, he could not get over the bump, no matter how hard he tried. He failed, and failed again. We must give him some credit, for he kept trying. He disdained his feet enough to continue moving in the wrong direction even though it defied common sense. This is the happy image of our future: as thousands of men wheel around town and ram into things, I will walk by on my feet, munching on a wheel, which is hopefully a good foot.
Written on my balcony,
On a nice winter afternoon,
Las Vegas, Nevada
January 21, 2015
Painting: “Interior of the Coach-Wheelright’s shop at 4 1/2 Marshall Street, Soho, London”
By Clare Atwood,
Oil on canvas, 1897
*Shamelessly stolen but openly confessed. See “Cheese” by Chesterton.