Life Lessons from the We Buy Gold Guy


I have a new hero.

The first time I drove past him, it was 11:00 on a brutal August morning in Georgia. The heat and humidity had already exceeded the Dangerous for Old People and Sensitive Writers level—it felt like walking around the inside of a dragon’s mouth, being steam-boiled alive. This time of year, in deliberate over-compensation, I crank the AC in my minivan so high that it’s like the North Pole on wheels.

As my children and I shivered in our van at a busy intersection, waiting for the light to change, I spotted him holding court on the sidewalk in front of a decaying strip mall. I don’t know his name, but I’ll always think of him as the We Buy Gold Guy. He was a stocky white kid, maybe in his early twenties; his baseball cap was cocked at a jaunty sideways tilt, and he held a gaudy gold sign in the shape of an arrow. Large black letters screamed, “We Buy Gold!”

Sign-holders like this guy have been, for me, one of the most memorable—well, signs—of the recent recession. I’ve seen dozens of people holding signs like this one during the past few years: Close-Out Sale! Debt Solutions! $5 Pizza! I always feel a jolt of sympathy for the poor sign-holders. How miserable they look, standing on the side of the road for hours, braving the heat, the cold, the rain—surely these people have fantastic talents, big dreams for their futures—and yet a miserable job market has forced them to spend hours of life waving signs at passing drivers, who are too busy yakking on cell phones to bother sparing them a glance. Some of the sign-holders stand there, enthusiastic as dead-eyed zombies; a few give their signs a weary wiggle every so often; all are clearly counting the minutes until their sentence is complete.

But the We Buy Gold Guy was different. The dude was dancing—not just pumping the sign up and down halfheartedly, like, “Hey, they’re paying me minimum wage to shake this sign and grow skin cancer out here”—but seriously jamming, like he was out to win “Dancing with the Stars.” We’re talking Michael Jackson smoothness, and awesome behind-the-back tricks, spinning and tossing his sign like a baton-twirler in a parade, all to the beat of the old-school boom box sitting at his feet. My jaw dropped open in awe, not just in envy of his rhythmic prowess, but in amazement at his pure enthusiasm, his unbridled joie de vivre. I couldn’t help but grin. (For more on my minivan socializing habits, see The Biker Wave.)

I smiled and chuckled the rest of the way home.

I drove by him again a few days later—the heat was even worse, and yet the We Buy Gold Guy was still out there, break dancing to his own music as the world drove past. Nobody clapped, nobody honked, nobody tossed coins in a hat at his feet. He danced for the sheer joy of it, because hey—if you have to hold a stupid sign on the side of the road, you might as well do it right.

I want to be like that guy. Really, I do. I don’t care what the world throws at me—minimum wage job, spine-melting heat, stinky exhaust fumes—I only get one life, only so many summers, falls, winters, springs, and I don’t want to waste a single minute. I want to live with abandon, dance my rhythm-less heart out no matter who’s watching, make my own party wherever I go. We only get one shot—we might as well dance.