Modest man shares remarkable outlook
For someone to find his niche in life and to be satisfied there is a rare thing. Such is the story that Nevada City’s William Wilhelm describes in his memoir, “Code Two ‘N a Half.”
Usually memoirs are penned by the famous, the notorious, the outrageous or the abused. This is a decidedly ordinary story of an extraordinary career. It is a simple chronicle of a man who loved his job, did his best at it and retired hoping he’d made a difference. If, for your summer reading you’re looking for a slick Hollywood-type cop story with a blood-and-guts ending and an emphasis on the seedy side of the human character, “Code Two ‘N a Half” is probably a book to avoid. This is no slick best-seller production. If what you want is a realistic glimpse into the day-to-day life of a motorcycle patrolman who loved his work, this is a book for you. In this understated memoir, William Wilhelm describes his 20-year career as a Los Angeles motorcycle patrolman. Some of the stories are touching, others humorous. Still others are likely to make readers wonder how police officers cope with the risk, the ridicule from the public and the loss of their comrades.
Two things make this understated memoir different from most. First, its very lack of dramatic story-telling makes readers feel as if the memoir is without embellishment. The events themselves are drama enough, and Wilhelm’s straight-forward, just-the-facts-ma’am delivery gives them a rare, low-key authenticity. The book is divided into dozens of little vignettes of events that occurred over the 20-plus years of Wilhelm’s career on the highways. Rather than a complex plot with a high-pitched crescendo, this reads more like a series of remembrances – a log of sorts. “Code Two ‘N a Half” might not be the most exciting of reads. Instead, it’s the plain telling of the not-so-plain life of those who take an oath to “protect and serve.”
The second thing that makes this story unusual is the era in which it occurred. Wilhelm joined the “motors,” as he calls it, in the 1950s after he returned from World War II. This was before the labyrinth of freeways that we now know to be Los Angeles was even built. Wilhelm tells of how outrageous it seemed when the department began to require motorcycle officers to wear helmets. Wilhelm’s 20-year career spanned from the 1950s and ’60s into the early ’70s. His everyday patrol was punctuated with the Watts riots, a major earthquake and the era of college protests. While these landmark events give Wilhelm’s story a place in time, they are no more important to his memoir than the individual stories of regular citizens making mistakes, families down on their luck or unlikely helpers he encountered on his route.
“Code Two ‘N a Half” is a memoir that seems like a grandfather telling his memories to the kids at his knee. Wilhelm’s almost modest voice is that of the generation that served in WW II. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this story is the fact that neither the war nor his career as a cop kept William Wilhelm from seeing people as predominantly decent and deserving of respect.
Betsy Graziani Fasbinder is a local writer and frequent contributor to The Union. She and her family came to Nevada County in 2005, pleased to find a new home that welcomes artists, celebrates community and revels in its beautiful surroundings.
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The Caldor Fire burned hottest in decimated communities, and the landscape has dramatically changed on the main highway leading to South Lake Tahoe