This story first appeared in the Spring-Summer 2010 issue of The MacGuffin print magazine.

Every day on the commute to and from work I’d see him by the side of the road waving at the passing cars always with a big smile on his face. I had no knowledge of whether he was there all day, but he was there around seven every morning and five in the evening. Rain or shine, snow, freezing cold, it didn’t matter, he was always there waving and smiling. He was of average height, maybe five eight to five ten, short close-cropped brown hair and brown eyes that got bigger with his smile. In summer he would sometimes be sitting on a lawn chair, iced drink in one hand and waving with the other. In winter, on especially cold days, he would be covered in a hooded coat so only his eyes nose and mouth showed, and be hopping from foot to foot trying to stay warm as he waved with his gloved hand.

It was a typical suburban road, some parts bordered wooded areas, others revealed a church or small apartment complex, but mostly it was populated by residential homes. Even the businesses that were spread throughout the road appeared to be in house-like structures and consisted of dental or medical offices. The road passed through an intersection with a much busier street, which contained a large shopping mall, along with various car dealerships, one of which employed me. So it was that I traveled that road every day and passed by the waver. At first I just ignored him, in fact tried not to look at him. But before long his infectious smile and persistence got to me and I found myself waving back to him and sometimes beeping my horn, which made him wave harder and widened his smile. I began to look forward to seeing him since he became something reliable in an otherwise unreliable world.

After I retired I seldom drove down that road anymore. About a year into my retirement, still searching for what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I began to think about him and wondered if he was still there waving, who he was, and why he did it. If he discovered waving to passing motorists was his purpose in life, perhaps he could help me discover what my purpose was now. Divorced, kids grown and no longer in the area, I became restless. I didn’t regret retiring, I had enough of the work I was doing, car sales is a tough business after all. But I found myself searching for something. Perhaps by talking to him I could learn about commitment and dedication and somehow apply that to my own life. Or maybe I was overestimating what I could learn from him. In any case, my curiosity got the best of me and one morning I took a ride to the area, parked a few blocks from where he patrolled, and walked down his street.

Sure enough, he was there, waving at the passing cars, smiling to the point of almost laughing. He was having a good old time. As I approached him I said “Hi there.”

“Hi,” he said, glancing at me as he forced himself to take his eyes off the passing cars. “Oh hi,” he said after a pause, “you’re the gray Honda.”

“That’s right,” I replied astonished he would remember, that he would have noticed that much detail. “How do you know that?”

“Oh, I remember things like that, you used to beep and wave back at me. I like that.”

“My name is Gene,” I said extending my hand.

He tore himself away from waving for a second and shook my hand saying “I’m Jerry. I haven’t seen you in awhile.”

“No, I retired about a year ago. I used to come this way to work and that’s when you’d see me.”

“Oh,” he said as if he understood, but I sensed he didn’t. He kept smiling and waving at the passing cars as we talked. “Will you be driving this way again now?”

“No,” I said, “I’m just taking a walk today, and I wanted to see if you were still here.”

“Oh, I’m here every day,” he said proudly.

“Do you do this all day?”

“Oh no,” he said, “in a little while I go to my program, but before that, and when I get home, I do this. It’s awesome.”

“Your program?”

“Yeah, we do all sorts of things there. Sometimes we bring food to older people, sometimes we stuff envelopes, sometimes we go to the mall, all kinds of things, and it’s great, I love it.”

“I see,” I said, getting a better sense of who Jerry was. “But you like standing here waving at cars?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, his smile widening, “I love it. You see all kinds of people, and they smile and wave back. Sometimes they beep their horns and shout my name. I really like that. I’ve made lots of friends doing this; I think people like to see me you know?”

“Yeah, I think they do too. Well it was great to see you again Jerry, mind if I come back some time?”

“Sure that would be awesome,” he said as a horn beeped drawing his attention back to the road. “Hey, green Volvo, how are you?” he shouted to the waving motorist.

I did visit him frequently over the next few weeks, always catching him at the same spot, smiling and waving to the passing cars. He’d greet me with his usual smile and enthusiasm, splitting his attention between our conversations and his waving duties. Everything to him was “awesome,” or “great,” and he loved everything he did. Every time a car beeped at him and the people in it waved or called his name, his smile would get bigger and he’d shout out the model of the car as he waved even harder. Sometimes I’d offer to take him to breakfast, but he’d always refuse to leave his post and say
“maybe some other time.”

When I’d question him about why he did it, he’d say things like, “because it’s awesome,” or “I just love it.” He never tired of our conversations, and he always had something to talk about. He’d tell me about what he did the day before, and how much he enjoyed whatever the activity was. He’d talk about his friends and counselors, and how great they were. He laughed easily at things I said, and treated my experiences as though they were the most interesting things he ever heard. He was a pleasure to talk to and to be around, but I persisted in trying to find out why he spent so many hours in all kinds of conditions standing there waving at cars.

One day while we were talking, a car beeped causing him, as always, to wave harder with that big smile, when the car’s passenger tossed a tomato that hit Jerry squarely on the chest bursting its mess all over his shirt. The laughter from the car was fading as I looked at Jerry and for the first time saw a frown on his face.

“Why would somebody do that?” he said, a sad pleading in his eyes as he looked at me.

“Well Jerry,” I began to say, “some people…” but I was interrupted by a beeping horn and a shout from a passing car.

“Hey Jerry, here you go,” the passenger said as he tossed him a towel. “We called the cops, they’ll get those guys, don’t worry.”

“Thanks blue Camry,” said Jerry as he caught the towel and began to wipe the squished tomato off his shirt. “Isn’t that awesome,” he said to me, “see, everybody likes me,” he said, ignoring the treatment he received from the car before, “they need me to be here.”

There it was, his reason for doing this. He was filling a need, perhaps really his own need, but by his perception the needs of others. Who was I to say he was wrong? Maybe these travelers needed to see him, needed that smiling face and friendly wave. Some learned his name when stuck in traffic, and engaged him in brief conversations. Perhaps they needed that to brighten their day, or end a rough day on a positive note. Maybe his being there encouraged them to be friendlier to others. Was there some need I could fill? Were there people who needed me, maybe people like Jerry? Something I’d have to think about.

It wasn’t long after that when I got some devastating news. My best friend passed away suddenly from a heart attack. Jim Stanley was someone I had worked with for over thirty years. We were more than friends he was a confidante. We’d tell each other anything and had helped each other through many trying times. When I visited Jerry that week, he knew immediately that something was wrong.

“What’s the matter Gene?” he said when he saw me approaching. “You don’t look so good.”

“I’m okay,” I said, “a good friend of mine died the other day, and so I guess I’m a little down.”

He stopped waving at the passing cars, and turned to face me directly. He put his hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and said “That must be hard for you, but you’ll be okay.”

The way his eyes locked on mine and the sincere expression on his face raised a lump in my throat. He could never be the same kind of friend Jim was, but in that instant, I felt close to him and the birth of a true friendship. Before I could respond a horn beeped and someone shouted his name. Jerry immediately turned toward the road, waving with that big smile of his and shouting, “Hi there silver Alero.”

He hadn’t forgotten me though, as he continued to wave at the passing cars, he gave me a sideward glance and said, “C’mon Gene, smile, you can do it.” Then he started singing, “Smile though your heart is aching. Smile even though it’s breaking…” his voice in perfect pitch, strong and clear, a surprisingly good voice. He continued to sing that corny, sad but sweet song to the very end, and I couldn’t help but smile at him as he did so. Some of the passing cars noticed too, as they beeped and shouted encouragement to him. His voice, his smile, the whole scene of his every day audience appreciating his presence and enthusiasm lifted my spirits, and my smile grew.

I turned and joined him in waving at the cars going by, and you know, it felt pretty good.

The End

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