The following is part of a 20 day challenge to get into a better habit of blogging. Each day presents a new prompt. Today’s prompt was “A Character-Building Experience.” write about the most interesting person you’ve met in 2014.” This particular entry’s main mission is to create as vivid description of a person as possible.
He has become a daily part of my life, this tall, gaunt man with his handmade signs. He stands on this small, raised piece of concrete, an island dividing two lanes of traffic, one going across and the other turning right onto Reading Road. Some mornings we great each other with a nod as I turn right, inches from him.
I would say he is 6-feet-four-inches tall. He looks to be in his mid-50s, pepper colored hair cut short, stubble on his face. Sometimes he wears a baseball cap. Sometimes not. The cap is a solid color, usually blue, no team logo. Completely nondescript. When it is warmer out he wears dirty khaki shorts, otherwise he is in the same pair of blue jeans with no holes or visible tears, maybe a T-shirt with a random imprint or perhaps a plaid button-down. All look to be typical Goodwill fair.
His shoes are always the same, a worn pair of tan workman boots.
The possessions at his feet are meager — a bottle of water, his insulated coat in the winter if it has warmed up enough after sunrise, and perhaps a bag of chips. He’s never seen holding a change can. Any money he may get is deposited into a cupped hand placed inches away from a driver side window and then slipped into a pocket as he nods and mouths a thank you.
He has this odd Jimmy Stewart in “It’s A Wonderful Life” quality to him. George Bailey without the intervention of his angel Clarence. This impression is most pronounced when there is a light rain or snow. With ball cap tightly placed on his head, cap lip tilted downward so the water drips off, perhaps wearing a poncho or too big coat, he stands there, looking miserable, but still nodding his head, meeting the glances of those who look or give change and giving a brief smile that reveals a missing tooth, a thank you for validating his existence whether you roll down your window and give money or not.
The more I pass the man, the more I feel I get to know him without ever actually talking to him. I don’t know what his voice sounds like. More subtleties appear.
For example, time and weather affect the message on his cardboard. During nice weather his message usually reads “Smile! It’s a beautiful day and God loves you!” scrawled in thick letters with different colored Sharpies. Then there are the shorter messages, such as “God Bless!” and “Have a Good Day!” written in fat letters that get colored in. These are signs with a sort of innocence to them. On more somber days, there is the sign that reads “Help. I have cancer.” He looks as if he might.
It’s that sign that always makes me wonder the most about the man. What is his story? What drew him to this very small corner of the world, intersecting his life with the life of so many others. Has anyone else cataloged the intricacies of his appearance, the subtleties of what he does, working for a bit of small change, perhaps the $.50 someone has left over after they buy a $5 cup of coffee? Is there a story filled with tragedy hidden underneath that ball cap and behind that sign. Or is he a grifter, a man with a record or a habit, an actor playing a part, that small elevated piece of concrete his stage?
I wonder silly things, like does he gets his supplies from the nearby big office supply store? Does he actually have a home to go to? Perhaps a wife and children?
Or does he, and more than likely he does, live in one of the small encampments under the busy overpasses and interstate exit ramps I come across during runs after work? There is a pattern to where the camps move with their host of people who inhabit this invisible world.
Well, mostly invisible, except for this man standing on his corner, greeting me on the way to work each morning with his hand crafted signs and Jimmy Stewart smile.