Ray Duckler: A man, a honk, a wave and a smile
On a foggy morning, October 14, 2013, George Gregoire sits on the bench in front of his house on the corner of Old Turnpike and Airport roads waving at passing cars. Gregoire has done this every weekday morning since April. "Sometimes people roll down the window and tell me I made their day," he said. "They don't realize that they're making mine."
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
George Gregoire takes a break from waving at passing cars to kiss his wife Phyllis St. Laurent as she leaves for work on Monday morning, October 14, 2013. The ritual of wishing people a good day started as a way for Gregoire to stay out of his wife's way while she got ready for work and now has become something he looks forward to.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
On weekday mornings, George Gregoire sits outside his Concord home at the corner of Old Turnpike and Airport roads and sells something refreshing, like a kid running a lemonade stand.
But Gregoire’s product is free, and you don’t have to pull over to get it. He reaches out to you from his bench, alongside handwritten signs bearing cheery messages, offering a wave and a reminder that we’re all in this together.
“Everyone that goes by helps me feel in good spirits,” said Gregoire, 61. “It warms my heart to see everyone driving by with a smile on their faces.”
He’s the state’s newest tourist attraction, the Not-So-Old-Man of the Intersection, making an effort to counter the bad feelings we get from partisan politics, the government shutdown, the unemployment rate, crime, war, Iran, Syria, your mother- or father-in-law – whatever ails you.
Gregoire has been at it since April, when his wife, Phyllis St. Laurent, a receptionist at Riverbend Community Mental Health, told him to leave her alone while she prepared for work in the morning.
“I got in her way,” Gregoire said. “That’s the reason that I come out here.”
It’s his “job” now, after 20 years in the Navy, serving on a submarine. He worked as a security guard, took some photography courses in college and worked at a local photo shop. He was also a janitor at St. Paul’s School.
A pair of strokes within the past three years pushed him into retirement, so he walks with a wooden cane, saying, “It’s affected my balance. Without my cane, I’m all over the place.”
Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to just past 8 a.m., he sits on a bench on his front lawn, with a bird feeder hanging from a huge tree and an American flag secured on his porch.
He stakes signs into the ground, some especially tailored for the particular day. For example, his sign for Wednesday reads, “Hump Day, Hump Day, Yah!”
Below the wording, Gregoire drew – what else? – a camel.
He posted one the day school started, writing “Pray so kids and teachers will have a good year.” Another, honoring his sister and two nieces, all nurses, reads, “To kiss a nurse is to kiss an angel.”
Other messages say good morning in various languages: Spanish and Japanese, Filipino and Korean.
His efforts are noticed, with a wave, a shout, a honk.
The adults like it.
The kids love it.
Denise Boyd of Epsom drives her two grade-school aged kids, 10-year-old Mason and Reese, 7, to school each morning before heading to work at Concord Hospital.
“I had a smile on my face the whole way to work the first time I saw him,” said Boyd, a payroll analyst. “Such a nice gesture. . . . My daughter tells me to make sure to put the window down, and she looks back to see if he waves.”
Boyd and her children are just three of many fans who have grown accustomed to this morning ritual, done at a time when so many are grouchy.
Airport and Old Turnpike roads are packed during rush hour, a slow-moving train driven by people preoccupied with their day ahead.
Then they see Gregoire, and troubles slip away, at least for that moment.
Sometimes people shout to him, even by name.
That happened last week. “Hi George.”
“Some people I know,” Gregoire said. “I worked with them or worked with their friends.”
Whether motorists know his name or not, they know when he’s not at his post. Gregoire takes weekends and major holidays off. That’s it.
So where was he through most of last week?
Turns out Gregoire and Phyllis celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary at Niagara Falls. They got home Wednesday night, driving eight hours, and Gregoire was on his bench the next morning by 7.
“What a gorgeous place,” Gregoire said, referring to the falls. “The spectacle of the falls makes it worth going to.”
I decided to ask about the upcoming cold weather. When would Gregoire pack it in, until next spring?
“Maybe I’ll do it until the snow is so high that people can’t see me,” Gregoire said. “It can get pretty high.”
Here’s hoping this jolly man with a full gray beard and paunch waits until Dec. 25.
Ho, ho, ho.
“You know,” Gregoire said, “that wouldn’t be a bad idea.”