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driving to work, i often have to stop at a red light just after the freeway off ramp. this is usually my last red light. the final pause before my arriving-at-work routine.
this intersection is always occupied by a gray-bearded man, taking his position on the corner sidewalk. and although i’ve seen him walking before, gray-bearded man sits in a wheelchair with a large american flag on a pole tied to one of the handles. rain or shine, he wears mirrored sunglasses and a tattered, army-green jacket. in one hand he carries a soft drink container with a straw. and in the other hand he holds up a cardboard-box sign with big, shaky letters that say: “please help. god bless.”
sometimes other people are on the corner with the gray-bearded man, leaning down and listening to him intently. a police officer. someone clutching a bible. other gray-bearded men. but he never looks bothered. in fact, he seems to have a lot to tell them.
i’ve never given gray-bearded man any money. and to my shame, i often don’t even look in his direction. even though i know he’s there, and i think he knows that i know he’s there, and in my periphery i can see him nodding and mumbling things to himself. he nods a lot.
but when i do look at him, i’m in a strange mood and i stare until the light turns green. i wonder how long he’s been doing this and how long he’s survived. i wonder what other things he’s survived. is there someone somewhere wondering what ever happened to him?
i wonder if my existence is acknowledged by him as his is acknowledged by me. does he ever think: “there’s sleepy-eyed girl again. probably on her way to work. she’s in one of her moods and decided to stare at me today.” or if i just blend in with the many sleepy-eyed girls who roll past him every morning.
gray-bearded man wasn’t at his corner today. in fact, he wasn’t there last week either. maybe the colder weather has him mumbling and nodding in a shelter. maybe.
but i imagine he’s rolling his wheelchair down south for the winter, in search of other lucrative red lights—cardboard-box sign in hand and american flag waving in the wind behind him.