Still rollin': David "Cadillac" Wormley is homeless, but he says his new bicycle business could change that
People regularly tell David Wormley that he doesn't look homeless.
And it's hard to blame them: he's educated, motivated, articulate, physically fit, has no problems with drugs or alcohol, rides a bicycle worth $2,000, and even owns a cell phone.
But despite his bubbly attitude and good vocabulary, Mr. Wormley, known by friends as "Cadillac," but known by most residents as one of the guys who sits outside Draeger's in Menlo Park, has been homeless for 10 years.
A Palo Alto native, but a regular to Menlo Park, Mr. Wormley, 50, spends his days seeking spare change, and his nights curled up in his truck.
Mr. Wormley may be homeless, but he still has a plan to make a name for himself.
A self-proclaimed entrepreneur, he says he is on the brink of launching "Cadillac Bicycle Services," a mobile bicycle repair service out of the back of his truck.
"In the very near future, look for CBS — Cadillac Bicycle Services," says Mr. Wormley, examining his own bicycle outside Draeger's. "People call me Cadillac because I'm always rollin'; whether it's on my bike or in my truck, I'm always rollin', and soon my business will be up and rollin' around town."
He plans on providing tune-ups, repairs, custom bikes and road-side service to local bikers as soon as mid-January.
Mr. Wormley acknowledged getting his business going has been no easy feat, especially for someone who works landscaping and construction jobs when they pop up, and whose only consistent income is $12 to $25 a day worth of donations from Draeger's shoppers.
But bicycles are what he knows and loves, and the prospect of running his own business drives him to the point that he banks the money he can and stays homeless to make CBS a reality. He said several people a week ask him to tune-up or repair their bicycles.
"When you're homeless, you have to get up, look in the mirror — if you even have a mirror — and say to yourself, 'What are you going to do?'" he says. "Now, what you want to do — the goal you've set, the plan you've laid out — it may be hard to do, but you've got to be patient and keep reminding yourself, 'This is want I want to do, and I'm going to do it.'"
And mechanics are clearly Mr. Wormley's forte, as he can barely hold a conversation in the Draeger's parking lot without his eyes drifting to something on wheels — whether it's a passing child's bike or a parked Porsche — and talking about how it works.
Of course, no set of wheels sparks a longer conversation than his own bicycle — a Lemond model that he has customized and upgraded bit by bit for eight years.
Mr. Wormley calls it a Lemond "RT" — as in a Lemond "right there" — because he doesn't let it out of his sight. When he does leave it locked, he uses a thick metal chain better suited to restrain medieval prisoners than a bicycle.
"My bike has my name on it, and I want it to be the best it can be," he says. "I want to have the same pride and joy in my business."
He's educated and he's motivated, so why doesn't Mr. Wormley get a job?
Much easier said than done, he says.
"People walk by me, see my sign, and say 'Get a job,' 'Don't be lazy' or 'Go somewhere else' — I hear that all the time," he said. "But when you're homeless, there are stereotypes against you, and there aren't a lot of people who want to hire you or speak on your behalf.
Mr. Wormley says his last steady job was a five-year stint as a truck driver, driving 18-wheel trucks around the country from 1990 to 1995.
He quit and moved back to Palo Alto when his divorced mother and father both fell ill, and died, within six months of each other.
"Driving trucks required total concentration, and I was good at that," he says. "But when my parents died, I lost all of that concentration, and suddenly I didn't have a place to go."
Being homeless has taken its toll on Mr. Wormley. He has arthritis in his left knee, tendonitis in his right knee, and says that even if he puts on two shirts, two jackets and three pairs of pants, he still gets cold at night.
But he also says that some days, being homeless has a certain straightforwardness to it.
"I know what I want to do, it's just a matter of getting it done," he says. "Not having money is tough — it's real tough. But I've got all my limbs, and I know right from wrong, and that's worth more than money sometimes."
Not giving up
Mr. Wormley has a lot riding on his business venture, and he says that giving it up isn't an option.
"Some people look at us (homeless people) and figure we've given up, but that isn't always true. Yeah, I'm homeless, but I can still want something for myself. I know what I'm going to do."
The next goal on Mr. Wormley's list is getting his truck up and running. The truck is currently parked in what he calls "basically a junkyard" on property owned by his brother in East Palo Alto.
Without vehicle registration and insurance, he says he isn't willing to drive it beyond a nearby gas station to occasionally start the truck to keep him warm.
Waiting for his registration and still saving for insurance, Mr. Wormley continues to bicycle everywhere, including from East Palo Alto to Draeger's and back again everyday.
"I'm not happy with where I live right now, or the areas I bike through, but transportation and communication — that's all I need to make things work," he says, pointing to his cell phone and his bicycle simultaneously.
The cell phone does garner stares, he says, but noted that he uses it to keep in touch with family and people who regularly are looking for people to do construction and landscaping work. He says the bill is about $50 a month.
Mr. Wormley's dreams of getting his business off the ground keeps him motivated, but outside help gets him through the day.
"People are generous in Menlo Park," he says. "There are people here that are willing to give, and are willing to just sit down and talk."
He said some of his biggest supporters are members of the Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City. The church sponsors a free meal every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the Menlo Park train station, and songs and prayer for people who want to partake.
"This stuff helps a lot," said he says, slipping tortilla chips into his mouth outside the meal. "Without patience and faith, you'd go crazy being homeless, so any help we get means a lot."
Patience and faith have also come in handy for Mr. Wormley when listening to his favorite football team, the struggling Oakland Raiders, on his hand-crank radio.
"This is not [the Raiders'] year, but I'll be a Raider fan until there's six feet of dirt on me," he says with a dead serious face. "When that day comes, my casket will be silver and black," he adds with a smile.
David "Cadillac" Wormley and other local homeless people are often notified of work opportunities or receive donations through the Palo Alto-based Opportunity Center of the Midpeninsula, one of the beneficiaries of the Almanac's Holiday Fund.
To contact Mr. Wormley directly for bicycle services, call Gina Matthews at the Opportunity Center at 853-8672.