First of all, ninjas did not kill Travis Wheeler's family. That was a joke. But the scruffy, tattooed, self-described "hippie" was seriously asking for money last Thursday afternoon in front of Brooks Pharmacy on Cherry Street.
Wheeler was with a group of music-loving merchants traveling through the area on a 50-foot bus, their home for the past four months. They stopped in B-town to attend the Dub show Thursday night, and planned to be on their way to the Harvest Festival in New York City and later to go out West - if they could only fill up their gas tank. On Thursday afternoon, they had just a quarter of a tank, in a vehicle that gets 10 miles a gallon.
Wheeler said it takes about $120 to gas up the bus. He typically scores the cash by selling his crystals and gemstones outside of shows and on the streets, but can't meet the cost of buying a license to peddle wares in Burlington. Hence the begging.
Why not explain that on his sign? Most people believe signs like his are just "blatant lies," he observed. "Why not make it a blatant lie that's funny?"
Because it doesn't encourage altruism? Even with throngs of people downtown enjoying the warm, fall weather, Wheeler had collected only 75 cents after an hour of panhandling. "This is just a dead area right now," he complained before a Burlington police officer chased him away. "Nobody has a sense of humor."