EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (KMOX) – “A friendly wave and a friendly smile don’t hurt nobody.”
That philosophy has driven 61-year-old Samuel Taylor Thomas Jr. every day since he first sat on his front porch 20 years ago, waving to passing cars as he recovered from a serious illness.
It’s also why he’s become known far and wide as “Sam the Waving Man.”
Now, he feels compelled to keep it up.
He sits outside his home near Missouri Avenue and 25th Street every morning and evening, greeting passing drivers regardless of whether they wave back, honk, or completely ignore him.
There is another option for at least one driver, but woe to he who decides to follow the example of that young man.
“He flipped the bird at me, every day he rode by here!,” Sam recalled. “I just laughed.”
An then one day after his usual vulgar routine, the mean-spirited driver’s truck stopped dead right in front of Sam’s home.
“Now he’s sitting in the middle of the street, looking crazy,” Sam recalled, taking this as some kind of divine retribution for the man’s anti-social behavior.
Sam approached his nemesis that day and let the young man use his phone, and soon the driver’s father was on the scene.
When he learned what his son had been doing in response to Sam’s wave, the man slapped his son on the back of the young man’s head and demanded he apologize to Sam.
Now the reformed motorist returns Sam’s greeting every time he drives past.
Others have wondered about Sam’s state of mind.
“One girl told me ‘I thought you was kind of mental,'” he admitted. “I said ‘No baby, you don’t know nothing. So I’m glad you stopped to talk to me so now you know what’s going on with me. There’s nothing wrong with me, this is something I like to do.'”
Sam says he feels it’s his duty now to keep it up, sort of like an unpaid job that he nevertheless turns up for day in and day out, rain or shine.
“I’m like the mailman. I’m gonna deliver,” he laughed. “I’m gonna be here, that’s right, rain, sleet, snow, hail…it don’t make no difference. I’m out here.”
Some have called him the goodwill ambassador of East St. Louis.
“I tell ’em ‘Naw, I’m not the ambassador, but I’m the king!,'” Sam said, bursting into a broad, contagious laugh. “I do it because it’s a ministry and it makes peoples’ day. I just like to see people smile.”