The homeless highway gentleman walks as if he’s on a mission. He walks alongside a busy stretch of highway in southern New Hampshire every day, roughly at the same time, wearing the exact same clothes.
You can tell he’s a gentleman because he wears a faded, outdated tan sports jacket. It’s seen better days, but so has the gentleman. He’s older, balding, and very much on his own. And yet, when you see him, you notice he has a sense of civilized purpose and dignity about him.
It’s how and where he walks that gets people’s attention. He doesn’t walk on the grassy berm next to the four-lane highway, he walks right in the gutter on the road, often in the right-hand most lane. If you were a distracted driver and were fiddling with your cell phone or radio, you could easily hit him.
That doesn’t seem to phase him or even enter into his decision about where he walks. Because he walks with a real sense of purpose, as if he’s got to be somewhere very important in a few minutes and if he just keeps on walking with determination and a swift stride, he’ll get there more quickly. The problem is, he walks for miles — miles upon miles upon miles. In a city, nobody would notice. In a car-congested suburb, such behavior draws attention.
It’s easy to draw conclusions about this man’s life, that he’s mentally ill (a significant portion of the homeless are mentally ill), that he has issues — to fill in all of the missing blanks that float around in my head. But something else strikes me, too. He’s a gentleman without a home, but a man who retains his dignity and determination… Or at the very least, the ability to put on a good face. In that way, he’s very much like many of us. He reminds me of my own humanity and frailty — that unbeknownst to us, we are just one or two steps away from this gentleman’s life.
I’m not sure what it is about him that draws people’s attention. Perhaps they just don’t want to run him over, but for as long as I’ve lived up here, I’ve seen him and he never seems the worse for wear.
Perhaps it’s because of where he walks and how he walks — like a man trying to outrun his demons — that makes me think of him some days like today… I think of him while I watch people walking by outside my office window, without much sense of purpose or care. The safe people — those of us with homes — we walk on the sidewalk. We don’t worry too much about the time, as I guess we know we’re going to get to where we’re going. And we don’t have to walk — we all have safe, warm cars to get us there.
The homeless highway gentleman doesn’t have those luxuries. He has no home he’s traveling to. He has no car to get him there. He’s getting from point A to point B the only way he can — depending solely upon himself. And since there are no sidewalks on the highway, he chooses to walk on the street instead of the uneven ground next to it.
More dangerous, perhaps. But also more civilized. Perhaps a reminder of the life he once led. And a reminder to us all — “Don’t hit me, I’m just as deserving as you to be sharing this road.” Of life.