The first time I saw Ed was on South Virginia Street many years ago. It was a hot summer afternoon and the traffic was almost at a standstill because of never ending road construction. Everyone was blowing their horn and screaming at the flag man to wake up and let them pass through the maze of orange cones. And then along came Ed. He walked toward the oncoming traffic, wore a smile bigger than life and waved to everyone stuck in the construction zone. And most of us waved back.
His wave seemed to take the edge off the frustrations of being stuck in traffic. His broad smile was contagious. As frustrated as I was, I couldn’t help but smile waiting for traffic to move. He gradually made his way past the intersection and disappeared.
Last year, on another hot summer day, he sat beside me on a park bench by the river. And we had a brief conversation. He was tired and it was evident the aging process was catching up with him. He wasn’t his usual talkative self and his happy smile was hidden somewhere under the mask of discontent. He wasn’t the same waver I knew from a few years ago.
Ed has been walking and waving the streets for many years. In the early ‘70s he started walking between Reno and Carson City. He later had heart surgery which limited his walking to the streets of Reno. He always had one arm or the other busy waving at everyone in sight. His colorful clothes and long hair tucked under a ragged head band gave him the appearance of a middle-aged Haight-Ashbury love child. Over the years, he gradually became a Reno icon.
Ed, in his early 60s now, recently moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. That’s when the adversities of fate caught up with him. He was told his wife had terminal cancer. And if that’s not enough, they lost their home and personal possessions to the rains and floods in the Midwest. All they had left were the clothes on their backs. Three of Ed’s four daughters live in Cedar Rapids, which should make the situation a little easier.
Ed wrote a book about his walking experiences entitled “I Almost Walked to the Moon and Almost Everybody Waved.” He uses his 173-page narrative to talk about his path and philosophy of love and peace. He says, “My path has been to wave all these years.”
Ed figures over the last 23 years he has walked at least 200,000 miles. He’s hitchhiked cross-country several times. And on one trip he even blindfolded himself. He said he wanted “to see how the senses expanded without eyesight and to prove we could trust other people if we have no fear.”
These recent tragedies are not the first in Ed’s life. He started walking when his wife left him, taking their daughters with her. He said he fasted for three days in the mountains and heard an inner voice that changed his life. It said, “Start walking and share the love you feel, and no matter what people do to you, love them back.”
Now many people in Reno are giving something back to Ed. Ed said since the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote about his problems he has received 150 letters and about $10,000 in donations. He told a RGJ reporter “he was surprised so many people would take the time to express support.”
Carlson says he doesn’t know what he’s going to do in the future. He’s just going to take care of his wife and listen to the voice within.
Ed misses Reno and loves everyone here and hopes to return someday. I hope he does. The place is not the same without him.
If you would like to give something back to the waver, send a letter of encouragement or a donation to: Ed Carlson at 2114 Belmont Pkwy. NW, Cedar Rapids, IA 52405.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.