Walking along Conroy-Windermere Road one morning last week, Donald Weber stopped when he heard a voice yell out from a car waiting at a light.
"Hey, handsome, how are you?" hollered the woman behind the wheel. Weber peered into the vehicle and said hello. She smiled and drove away.
"If I can make somebody smile, that makes my day," Weber said. "And I make a lot of people smile."
Almost every day for more than seven years, Weber, who says he's a "young 85," has walked along the busy stretch of road in southwest Orange County where about 45,000 cars travel daily. He's a common sight in his big, tan straw hat as he walks on the sidewalk along the two-mile route, which starts at his home in the Winderlakes subdivision and takes him to Chain of Lakes Middle School and back.
And over time, Weber has become a part of many commuters' lives.
"He makes my day when I see him," said Reema Hayden, a runner who lives in Dr. Phillips and calls him "the mayor of Conroy-Windermere Road." Hayden said he brings joy to both runners and motorists, many of whom don't know Weber's name but acknowledge him with their horns. Some days, he gets 50 honks.
"He's like a fixture on this road," she said.
Weber begins his daily, hourlong walks about 8:30 a.m. — just in time to greet the morning commuters heading to work and students going to school. A bit hunched over and in no hurry, Weber sticks to the north side of Conroy-Windermere Road for the entire two miles.
He's careful at intersections, dodges sprinklers, lets bicyclists and runners pass and goes out of his way to wave at those who seem to ignore him. Persistence usually pays off, and they wave back, he said. He's difficult to resist.
"I've always been a friendly-type person," he said.
A walker all his life, Weber grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and worked as a bus mechanic for more than 45 years. He and his wife, Dolores, moved to Central Florida in the late 1970s and eventually settled in the Winderlakes subdivision, between Dr. Phillips Boulevard and Hiawassee Road.
"When I moved out here, it was nothing but orange trees," Weber said.
He started his walking routine a week after his wife died of cancer in 2006. For the first five years, he didn't bother to interact with the passing cars, but on a lark, he started waving at people. And it caught on.
"Everyone here along the street knows him," said Kathy Zimmerman, who lives in the neighborhood and sees Weber most days.
Weber has become so popular that students have written reports about him. An Olympia High School student wrote a page-long essay that described Weber as someone who "symbolizes the discipline of a man with a determined mind."
Another student gave him a note that began: "Dear old man on Conroy Road."
"Seeing you on Conroy Road cheers me up!" she wrote. " …When I go to school every day and I don't see you, I feel like my morning is missing something."
Weber rarely misses a day, no matter what Mother Nature throws at him. When the summer sun beats down, Weber goes shirtless and sports a straw hat and shorts. When temperatures dip into the 40s, as they did this week, Weber bundles up in layers and wears gloves and a winter hat.
On the way back home one day last week, Weber ran into Jerry Horvath, his wife, Janice, and their daughter, Jacqueline Pryce. The family walks a few times a week, and they almost always see Weber.
Janice Horvath called Weber an inspiration, both for her exercise routine and for many other walkers in the neighborhood.
"If he can do it every day, we can at least do it a couple times a week," Janice said.
After a chat with the Horvaths, Weber continued on his way, stopping every few minutes to wave at passing cars and SUVs.
"Life's too short not to smile."
email@example.com or 407-420-6226