I’ve seen him off and on for the past three weeks, a Monday morning here and a Thursday afternoon there. From what I can tell, there is no set schedule. Maybe it only happens when the mood strikes—when the anger grows too hot or the despair sinks too deep. I’m not sure. But I’ll give him this: he’s dedicated, despite it all.
He was standing on the corner the first time I saw him. Technically speaking, it was still the gas company’s property, though the spot he’d chosen was on the outermost edge where two main roads converge. To be more visible, I thought. To make sure he was seen.
Older gentleman, dressed in pressed khakis and a brown button-up. Thin, white hair swept to the side in the front, trying but not managing to cover a bald spot. The breeze whipped it, giving the appearance of snow falling up. The sign he held was as large as himself. Scrawled on both sides was a long list of grievances against the gas company itself.
Racism, discrimination, and greed were the only three I could make out that first day. Since then, I’ve managed to catch sight of price gouging and lying as well. The rest are jumbled together and slanted along the big piece of cardboard, as though the charges came so quick and numerous that he feared space and memory would run out.
I passed him by that first day and have done the same all the days after. When the light is red and the radio station is fixed, I’ll look over. Check on him. He’ll see me and raise his sign a little higher, and then the light will turn green and I’ll move along. That seems to be what everyone else does, as well. They just pass him by. We’re all busy, you see. We’re all just trying to get through our days. One old man with a sign that may or may not offer a window into his fragile state isn’t enough to give us pause, at least not enough pause to stop and ask what exactly he’s trying to accomplish. Even the folks at the gas company don’t seem to care. They haven’t even given the man enough thought to ask him to leave.
He was back yesterday, but not at the edge of the road. A few weeks of protesting without raising either sympathy or scorn has convinced him to change his tactics. He was now standing on the sidewalk, directly at the front door.
From what I could tell, it hadn’t made a difference.
To be honest, it’s funny in a way. Also sad. I don’t know what has driven him there and I don’t know if I would agree with his reasons, but a part of me is proud of him. Right or wrong, he’s stood up. He’s making his voice known. Of all the freedoms we enjoy, I can’t think of many more important—more necessary—than that.
Maybe that’s why I feel so much pity for him as pride. Because no matter what it is, it takes courage to stand up and speak. I know this. And all that courage can melt in a moment when you utter those first words and find only silence and apathy in return.
He was there again today, fighting the power. Standing up to The Man. Still with that determined look on his face. The light turned yellow and then red. I fixed the radio station and looked. He met my eyes and raised his sign a little, wiggling it. I gave him a thumbs up. He returned the same. Just two guys giving one another the same encouragement: