BURNSVILLE – A man on the side of the highway with white T-shirt and bluejean shorts pumps his fist high into the air as he communicates with drivers.
A nearby bicycle reveals a more simple mode of transportation for the 50-year-old Burnsville town character whose roadside antics and dance routine provides a source of community spirit for both locals and those passing through town.
After each honk of a vehicle horn comes an even bigger thumbs up.
Drivers wave. They smile. It makes their day.
The roadside rowdy is Johnny Broche.
But just call him “Cooter.”
Broche, who prefers to be called simply Cooter, said he’s been doing his roadside gig for many years.
“I’ve been standing on the side of the road for a long time. When I was a kid I did it, but I’m grown now and I still do it. It’s fun,” he said.
Broche said truckers were the only drivers who used to honk their horns, but now those who drive other vehicles now follow the tradition.
The Burnsville resident said he likes to dress up every once in a while.
“I’ve got a cowboy hat and a pair of boots, so when I wear them it makes it even more fun because I wave the hat in the air. Now that’s my favorite time to get out there and do it,” said Broche, who is a disabled person.
Many Tishomingo County, Alcorn County and Crossroads area residents know Cooter and honk their horn on a daily basis.
“He’s definitely a character. It enlightens my day to see him so happy when I honk my horn,” said Glenda Hall, a fellow Burnsville native.
Another woman said she toots her horn every time she sees Cooter.
“He’s very dedicated to the job and most people around here root for him. Plus, he’s really nice and you can tell he enjoys being out here hearing the horns,” said Melody Stevens of Iuka.
One of Broche’s good friends does the same as Stevens.
“You’ve got to love him. I enjoy watching him out there and you can tell he’s in his zone. Sometimes he even dances,” said Cindy Yarbrough, another Burnsville resident.
Broche describes standing on the side of the highway as his full-time job.
“It’s great. People are blowing horns from east to west and just about everyone who drives by honks at me. It gets me excited every time,” he said.
Broche is originally from Chicago. He started standing on the side of the road there, asking drivers to honk their vehicle horns when he was a child.
“Our father was a truck driver, so Cooter gets his inspiration for what he’s doing from him,” said Broche’s brother, Tommy Broche, who occasionally stands on the side of the road with him when he has nothing else to do.
According to Tommy, he and his brother moved to Burnsville after his father dropped them off along with their mother on the side of the road when they were kids.
“I was nine and Cooter was seven or eight. I also remember after my father drove off, he never came back for us. That was the last time we saw him,” said Tommy.
The brothers and their mother moved in with their grandparents and remained in Burnsville ever since.
Both brothers said asking people to honk their horns is one way they can remember their father when he was a part of their life.
“When I first met him (Cooter) he told me he stands out there on the side of the highway because he believes he’s honking at his father,” said Yarbrough, who serves as a financial advisor to the Broche brothers.
According to Yarbrough, she makes sure the brothers have everything they need such as food and money in their account so they don’t have to borrow anything from anyone.
Yarbrough has known Cooter and Tommy for at least 24 years and describe them as good people.
“They are very fun to be around. Cooter has a great sense of humor and will make you laugh every time you see him,” she said.
His roadside show is just one part of Cooter’s unique personality traits.
When he isn’t standing on the side of U.S. 72, he’s collecting cowboy hats or riding one of his five bikes, particularly his “Roadmaster,” which is his favorite. Sometimes he’s adding shoes to his 100 plus collection, he said.
Cooter recently had a bicycle accident which resulted in a broken elbow, causing him to soon have surgery.
“He was waving at a group of people and not paying attention to the road and ended up driving straight into my trash can,” said Yarbrough.
Even though he has a broken elbow, the bicycle enthusiast is still upholding his highway duty.
“I consider myself popular. It doesn’t matter where I go – whether it’s Corinth or Iuka, everyone knows Cooter,” he said with a chuckle.
Cooter said he stands on the side of the road for hours at time.
“Sometimes I’m out there all day long,” he said with a laugh.
Cooter attended school through the 10th grade and personally came up with his nickname.
“I got it from (TV show) Dukes of Hazard, you know ‘Crazy Cooter’ and I just told everyone to start calling me that,” he said.
Many people don’t know Cooter’s real name is Johnny.
“Even though he’s been standing out there for years, I couldn’t tell you his name. All I know is Cooter,” said Hall, one of many area Cooter fans.
Some describe him as a local celebrity.
“It’s enjoyable to watch him have fun. Everyone in Burnsville loves him. He’s definitely an icon here in our town,” said Rep. Bubba Carpenter.
Behind all of the highway attention, many people also know Cooter to be a good person.
“Well, I tell you what, Cooter is a well-known guy. He treats people with kindness when he sees them,” said Mitchell Osborn, a Burnsville native.
Osborn’s neighbor Ricky Johnson agreed.
“Cooter’s just a good guy. There’s no one like him. He’s just Cooter. That’s all I can say,” said Johnson.