It is a sign of the times.
The Great Depression had men walking around in A-frame signs.
The Great Recession has young people twirling signs.
Employing them are businesses vying for a commodity that seems as scarce at times as common sense in Sacramento - consumer dollars.
I haven’t come across anyone who said they were prompted to visit a particular business because of someone head banging to i-Pod music at an intersection. It does, though, in most cases imprint in your mind the name of the business assuming, of course, that the sign twirler isn’t moving around as if their personal electronic listening device is electrocuting them.
There is definitely an art to making a living as a human billboard.
If you look listless you might as well be holding a sign proclaiming you will work for food. Do a cross between the jitterbug, fox trot, twist, and acting as if you’re in a mosh pit while listening to Van Halen attracts a lot of attention but not necessarily to the sign.
One obviously doesn’t want someone who is comatose to twirl a sign. But if you want the world to know you have $9.99 pizza you might want potential customers to be able to read the message without getting a migraine headache.
Some folks say they’d like the sign people to disappear. I say live and let live as long as they don’t commit two cardinal sins that have been done in Manteca although extremely infrequently:
•1. Do not push the pedestrian walk button on the traffic signal at the intersection where you want to get people’s attention. Not only is that cheating but you’re inviting road rage from people who don’t appreciate the fact you’re holding them hostage - even if it’s just for a minute - so they can see your sign. This no-no is usually done by volunteer sign wavers for one-day car washes.
•2. Do not block pedestrians. This may sound obvious but on more than few occasions dancing sign twirlers oblivious to the rest of the world have blocked the path of folks in wheel chairs.
The elite among the sign twirlers don’t hold an actual sign. Instead they are the sign.
The shining example in Manteca is Mr. Pickles. If you doubt that watch the guys who dance around as pickled cucumbers. Motorists wave at them. Motorists honk at them. And there are even those out-of-town motorists who snap pictures as they’re driving by.
For the most part the pickle guys are cool. The only uncool one I ever encountered thought it was smart to perch on the concrete curb adjacent to the left turn lane on Commerce going onto Yosemite. That was more than a few months ago. Antics like that prompt some to wonder whether human billboards need to be regulated.
Given the fact they are creating jobs and aren’t as messy as A-frame signs, flag banners and a whole host of other advertisements, who cares?
You don’t find sign twirlers chained to trees like A-frames nor do they block a driver’s view of pedestrians like more than a few flag banners do around town.
Actually I’m waiting for the next big thing in sign twirlers - political advertisements.
Imagine the impact of a candidate hiring a small army of old-fashioned A-frame sign walkers reminiscent of the Depression walking around saying vote for Joe Blow because the incumbent has reduced me to being a human billboard thanks to their handling of the economy. An enterprising politician might hire a bunch of folks to walk around in signs designed like barrels with signs saying “this is what you’ll have left if you re-elect the incumbent’ while wearing nothing but swim trunks. They wouldn’t need to dance around to drive home the message.
Or they could have folks strutting around twirling a sign at street corners proclaiming you’d better vote for Joe Blow unless you want your next job to be what I’m doing.
I’m willing to bet that just like when the economy got rolling as the Great Depression faded and A-frame sign walkers became scarce the same thing will happen to sign twirlers when the Great Recession becomes an ugly memory.
That is except for pizza sign twirlers.
They’re still going to have a tough sell given that a booming economy in Manteca is likely to quadruple the number of McDonald’s to 16.