Column: Road construction worker spreads joy, one wave at a time
Just past noon Monday on another hot, sunny afternoon, Anthony Brown was already six hours into his shift. He wore a neon shirt meant to draw attention of the passing motorists around the construction zone on Route 48 in Southold. And he wore a white hard hat and safety goggles.
A walkie-talkie hung from his blue jeans with a cord attached to a microphone clipped to the pocket on the front of his shirt.
As he directed traffic, the walkie-talkie buzzed. On the other end of the construction site, a co-worker alerted Mr. Brown to begin moving westbound traffic. Mr. Brown turned to the first car idling in a long line near Bayberry Lane.
“Let’s go, right now,” he said, waving the traffic through the section of road that was down to one lane. “Go ahead my man, have a good day, OK.”
Over the course of a typical day, hundreds of cars will pass through this small slice of Route 48 as National Grid crew members dig a trench for a gas main. It’s the kind of scene that’s mostly unremarkable for passing drivers aside the from the annoyance of the brief delay.
Work began about two weeks ago and, by now, it would seem sensible for most residents to try side-stepping the delay with alternate routes. But to travel a different path would be to bypass the smiling Mr. Brown, who each day continues to use a brief moment in time to spread whatever joy he can.
As each car passes, the affable 53-year-old waves his hand and yells out a friendly greeting. He’s become a fixture for commuters on their way to work, a bright spot to start each morning and a reminder that no matter what is in store that day, there’s a reason to smile.
“My work is lovely every day,” Mr. Brown said.
He’s been at the job for about a year, working for a subcontractor of National Grid.
“I love everybody at my job,” he said.
When the work began, Mr. Brown said people must have been wondering, ‘Who is this guy?’
“’He just kept waving, kept waving,’” he said. “They said, ‘OK, this is a good guy. I don’t know who he is, but we love him.’ ”
Mr. Brown approaches each day with a simple motto. If he can put a smile on people’s faces, his day is good.
On Monday, he said, a woman who stopped en route to Eastern Long Island Hospital to see her father broke down and cried. Mr. Brown tried to comfort her.
“I told her, ma’am, whatever the case may be, I’m feeling your pain,” he said. “I’m here with you. You’re going through what you’re going through, I still have your pain in my heart.”
Mr. Brown’s notoriety has grown as his picture spreads on social media. He said he hears from drivers now who say they recognize him from Facebook. ‘He’s the guy!’
He tells them, ‘No, that’s my twin!’
“I just break it down to them and let them know, ‘Yeah, that’s me,’” he said with a laugh.
Mr. Brown lives in Bellport. His mother worked at Bellport High School as a security guard.
He’s single with no kids and commutes each day with a co-worker. “My boy George,” he said.
When he’s not working, Mr. Brown enjoys fishing for striped bass or “anything that hits my pole.”
His fan club continues to grow. People stop to give him high-fives. Some have offered him snacks and drinks. One woman gave him a gift card to 7-Eleven.
“I appreciate them, too,” he said. “They make my day.”
His co-workers sometimes question his enthusiasm.
“I said, what’s the sense of working in the road, and you’re just holding the sign?” he said. “Stop. Slow. Stop. Slow.”
He hopes people wake up each morning looking forward to seeing him as they share a brief encounter.
And if people are still a bit groggy on the early-morning commute, that’s OK.
“I’ll wake them up,” he said. “I wake them up.”
The author is editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].