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Sign man draws attention and makes people happy
BY JONAS BEALS
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Heat isn’t something most people worry about when they’re driving on State Route 3. Cars are refrigerated cocoons that insulate from scorching temperatures and potential interaction with other humans.
But one sweat-soaked man on the corner of Route 3 and Salem Church Road has a smile that cuts through sheet metal and the angry apathy of the daily commuter. His name is Robert Wigglesworth, and he makes people happy.
Since April, Wigglesworth has been a human billboard for a nearby Domino’s Pizza franchise.
Every weekday from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., he pushes in his earbuds, taps “Play” on his iPod (“Honestly, it’s Jennifer Lopez,” he said with a guilty laugh last week), hangs a Domino’s sign around his neck and proceeds to dance his head off. For hours.
It may sound like an elaborate punishment devised by a particularly cruel and unusual judge, but Wigglesworth does it willingly. In fact, he gets paid to do it—substantially, he said.
Still, a conversation revealed a bit of penance in his actions. He didn’t share details, but spoke vaguely about mistakes made and running with the wrong crowd.
Now he’s 29, with positive spirituality on his side and faith in a better future. So he stands on a sweltering street corner, moving his body as if his life depends on it.
“Everything I went through prior in my life,” he said, “that’s where my energy comes from.”
It’s not a defined dance, more of a continuous bounce peppered with wide-armed waves and knowing finger points. He’s tilting at anonymous windshields, but there’s an earnest conviction in his movements that suggests a lifelong friendship with the people in those vehicles.
It’s surprising how many people wave back. Or honk, or roll down their windows and shout. He greets each of those gestures with a chesty “Whoop!” and keeps on gyrating.
He thinks about his future when he’s sweating out there. He is taking online classes. He hopes to become a building inspector. He wants to buy his own double-wide.
He has a 10-year-old daughter named Makayla who lives in Caroline County. He lives in Partlow. He thinks about her a lot.
He thinks about what drivers see when they stop at the red light in front of him.
“It can be embarrassing at times,” he said, “but I just think about my daughter. Little things mean a lot to me.”
Besides, he thinks his upbeat attitude holds a lesson for those sullen drivers who refuse to crack a smile.
“If I can smile on that corner, and you might be having a bad day but you make more money than me, you should be above me,” he said. “You should be happier than me.”
Maybe that’s why he gets such a positive response. When traffic is moving, drivers and passengers have only a couple of seconds to spot Wigglesworth, get inspired by his dancing and tap the horn.
A reaction like that is almost instinctual. He is an instant reminder to people that there are things to be happy about, reasons to smile, music to dance to.
For some people, for the briefest moment, he is an inspiration. There is little time to react, but enough time to wonder what motivates someone to risk dehydration and exhaustion to wave at oncoming traffic. And why does he look so happy to be doing it?
“I’m dancing to the music, dancing to the emotions of my past, things that used to hurt me,” Wigglesworth said. “I can look back and smile.”
Watch Wigglesworth in action:
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036