If you happen to live or work on the west side of Houston, at Westheimer Road and Shadowbriar, you have probably seen the infamous Shadowbriar Shadowboxer. My commute from work takes me through this intersection everyday and I have driven this stretch of road for the last four years. Almost without exception, the Shadowbriar Shadowboxer defends this corner each day between 2pm and 5pm.
The first time I saw him, shuffling his feet and jabbing at the air, I thought maybe he was a local boxer out doing a little road work and waiting for the light to change so he could continue his run. Each time I came to this intersection, my light was green and I continued to assume this was the case. Until one day, the traffic was heavier than normal and it took several cycles to get through.
I watched with amusement as he ducked and dived, bobbed and weaved, and slipped imaginary jabs. He threw rights, lefts, a couple of hooks, and even did that move Muhammad Ali was known for by moving out of the way at the last second before a punch could reach his chin. He continued to work in a circular pattern as though he was trying to work the ring. Shuffling his feet, moving in an out, fading, slipping another jab, and counter-punching. He didn’t seem to want to cross the street as I had previously thought.
As he continued to battle, I got a closer look. He appeared to be in his fifties, though he could have been older. He seemed to be in very good shape, but was too old to be a competitive boxer in training. Some of my co-workers said he was homeless, like the baton twirler a few blocks further down the road. Others said he worked for a kickboxing school nearby and he was simply advertising.
His clothing looked too new and his physical appearance didn’t seem to lend itself to a boxer with no abode. Also, he didn’t possess a sign nor did his clothing didn’t advertise the local kickboxing club. Was he mentally ill? There was no way to tell without talking to him. You rarely saw anyone near him, much less talking to him.
A few weeks ago, though, I noticed he was not at his usual spot. Several days went by and the intersection went unprotected. What happened to our defender, the Don Quixote of West Houston? Where had he gone? I couldn’t help but feel concerned about him. Like many things in life, I drew comfort from the fact that he was always there. His absence weighed on me. I actually thought about the man as I went through my day. Dreadful thoughts went through my head. A lot of bad things could happen to someone, even a boxer, who hung out at busy intersections.
For me, in a way, he became a metaphor for how we live our lives. To an extent, aren’t we all just shadowboxing at the intersections of our lives? Not willing shrink from the fight, but content to stand and do battle with an invisible foe. Where winning means we can move forward along our journey.
This past Monday, he was back at his usual spot and all seemed right in the universe. Our protector restored and more villains to be vanquished. Unfortunately, I will not have the pleasure to observe his skills on a daily basis anymore. This coming Monday, I start a new job in a different part of town and my route will not pass through this intersection. His intersection.
I’m going to miss the Shadowbriar Shadowboxer.