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Berry Grove Park sees 'Whistling Man' on tricycle twice each day
Disabled Ceres man finds riding a good way to get exercise
Jose Mota on tricycle
Jose Mota makes it a twice daily practice to circle Berry Grove Park in Ceres on his hand tricycle, punctuated by his whistle which he uses as a greeting. Mota sustained severe spinal injuries in a 1984 car crash and hasn’t been the same since. He also leaves the neighborhood to go shopping and doctor’s appointments in Ceres. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Twice a day, 60-year-old Jose Mota manages to drop his body – which was severely injured in a car crash 38 years ago – into the seat of a hand tricycle and cranks away from his Lavon Avenue home for a cruise anywhere he wants around Ceres.

Since his son-in-law found the bike and gave it to him approximately four years ago, Jose has become a neighborhood fixture, happily peddling around Berry Grove Park with his periodic sharp whistle, a quirky habit that has elicited the finger from an irritated resident from time to time.

“I go out every day for exercise and to move,” said Mota, who came to the United States from Mexico around 1970. At times he wheels to doctor’s appointments in town or to shop on Hatch Road. Sometimes he takes the Hatch Road bike path over to Mitchell Road as far south as the Chevron station on Service Road. Occasionally as he attempts to roll into a store to pick up a half gallon of milk or juice, he’s headed off by a store employee who informs him that he can’t bring his not-so-common vehicle into the store. He explained to one lady clerk that it’s not his first time inside her store but he retreated when she remained adamant about him leaving it outside and left. Without a padlock, he’s unwilling to risk a theft of his expensive contraption.

“I go everywhere all over the neighborhood.”

While the accident has left him with permanent damage and very unsteady of his feet, Mota remains a light-hearted and cheerful personality. His arms are stronger than ever before but he had to push past the pain that results.

“No pain, no gain,” he said. “I tell my son sometimes, ‘what is better? Feeling or no feeling?’ It’s better feeling. No feeling, no good.”

Mota’s life changed permanently in November 1984 when he was driving from his home then in west Modesto to his job as a field worker. A drunk driver ran a stop sign near Keyes Road and hit his car. He survived a severe spinal fracture and spent three weeks in Memorial Medical Center and four months at St. Mary’s Hospital.

“My doctors told me, ‘You’ll never get out of the wheelchair.’ But I started to go to the YMCA to start swimming and I used my wheelchair for maybe a year and a half. I started standing up and getting up on my crutches. I don’t walk much. I don’t go too far. When I need to go far I take the scooter or the wheelchair. ”

Mota can walk with crutches but his greatest mobility is in his hand tricycle.

His shrill whistle – which he began practicing as a child in Mexico – has been known to irritate some.

“People ask, ‘Why are you whistling?’ and I say, ‘I’m doing whistling because it’s my hobby and I need the exercise in my lungs, to blow air out and come in.”

Mota adjusts his daily routes depending on the season, putting off his evening jaunts later on hot days.

He wears a helmet, a precaution he takes since the time he took a spill into the road during a turn he made in his first week using the vehicle.

While some curse his whistling, others enjoy the local character. One of them is Kellie Perez who enjoys spending time in the park with her kids.

“I always know when he’s out rowing because of the distinct whistle,” said Perez. “He always waves to everyone that drives by and always says hello with a smile to the kiddos as he rows on by. Such a nice man.”

Most of the folks around the park have become used to Mota as a friendly neighbor but there are times then there are those who make his life difficult. On one of his outings a car rolled up alongside him at the park’s eastern edge and occupants lobbed three eggs at him.

Another time he had made several rounds around the park when a young man parked with his girlfriend flipped him off. Jose went up to the car and asked, “Why did you flip your finger to me? I never see you here. I’m here every day. You don’t want to see me here? Don’t come to this park.”

The man had no response.

Jose told his wife about the encounter and in part concern and part jest, she told him that she didn’t want the Courier running a story one day about the man on the “bicycle” being killed.

“Maybe,” Mota said laughing. “Too many crazies. Now I don’t say nothing.”

Because he’s outside so much Jose jokes that he is the security guard for the neighborhood. One neighbor on Condit Court asked him recently to keep an eye on his house while he drove to Sacramento but it was in jest.

“Some people say I have three names. Some people know my name, Jose. Some people say ‘the Whistling Guy’ and some call me ‘Bicycle Guy.’ I say whatever, no problem.”