Sunday, January 13, 2008

Travel Treasures

While traveling for my documentary project, HEAR US, I pulled up to a busy Phoenix intersection and stopped at the light. An obviously homeless man began crossing in front of our paused vehicles. I was first in line, preoccupied with the reality that I couldn't find my 1:00 appointment at the nearby (or so I thought) shelter. He turned toward me, pointing to the corners of his mouth, made a universally understood motion to indicate "SMILE" and stood and stared at me.

With a snicker of someone who had been caught being overly pensive, I flashed a smile, which he recognized as sufficient to trust I'd hold that thought, and he moved on to the vehicle next to me, repeating his motions. They needed a little help, so our Mr. Smiley pointed up to the sky, circling his finger in a "divine" gesture, then stretched out his arms to indicate a worldwide expectation, and then the smile routine again. Finally, just in time for the light to change, they got it. He scooted out of the way and we moved on, me with a smile on my face that lasted longer than the red light.

Because I was trying to find an obscure location, I ended up circling around, coming up to the same intersection, this time sitting a few vehicles behind the front. I watched the end of Mr. Smiley's performance on the intersecting street, and marveled as this relentless smile-inducer scrambled to get to his next customers, our line of traffic.

Meticulously he tended to the frowning drivers and passengers of each vehicle, not satisfied until they shook off their disdain for his grungy appearance and simply smiled. Although he has no apparent way of gauging the quality of happiness he imparts, he can at least quantify the outward response--the smile, his measure of success.

My friend never made a motion indicating he needed money, perhaps because he had what money couldn't buy, the best job in the world, making people happy. His mime motions communicated more than expensive therapists, mega-bucks ad campaigns, or a pile of self-help books ever could: smile, life is short, be happy, the world is watching!
For more information on the documentary project, see

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