One sign of the times – keep it moving

In the old days, drivers saw Burma Shave signs planted by the
freeway, doling out an advertisement one word at a time.
In the old days, drivers saw Burma Shave signs planted by the freeway, doling out an advertisement one word at a time. Presumably the terrain was boring enough that the carload would happily anticipate each installment. But today our visual landscape is so cluttered that we barely notice signs anymore.

Hence the human to hold the sign.

And hopefully jiggle it around.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about those sign holders, who stand in brutal sunshine and morose rain. Earphones in, they listen to some private music while hours pass. I assumed they must silently resent the world in general.

And then I met “John,” who holds a sign five hours a day, six days a week, and is incredibly upbeat. “I’d hold a sign for anybody if they made it right for me,” he told me.

What, I asked, do you think about for five hours? He listens to his music, and he devises new ways to grip the sign. “I learn ways to twirl it around and do fun stuff. If you see me drop it, it’s because I’m trying something new,” he said.

He pointed out that he likes seeing people honk and wave, and that he’s lost weight pacing and shaking the sign. “I’m lucky, too, to have this shade,” he said.

Huh … shade? Not a tree to be seen. He showed me how the lightpole behind him gives one foot of shade, and later in the day he can step into the shadow cast by a speed limit sign. That’s optimism I’d like to buy … or rather, bottle and sell to others.

When I think about it, a lot of jobs I’ve held allowed me to similarly dwell in my thoughts – just not so overtly. Many complain about office cubicles; John’s space is a nice stretch of busy road (although he could do without the carbon monoxide, he admitted).

John makes minimum wage now, but he used to make $30 an hour with a gardening business that went downhill after the dot-com bust. He has only one account left, he said. He’s happy he has a split shift to take advantage of morning and afternoon commute viewing of his arrow-shaped message; he can take a two- or three-hour lunch. To me, this seemed like stretching out the shift to take all day, but John’s a wonderfully half-full-glass man.

So why are you writing about this, he asked me. I answered honestly: that I’d wondered what it felt like to stand there and hold a sign all day.

With a huge grin, he handed it over to me. And so I set down my notebook and attempted to spin it: it’s harder than it looks, people!

The sign weighs 4-5 pounds and has two silver cupboard handles on the back. I bounced it up and down and got a few smiles from drivers. And yes, I could begin to understand the sense of showmanship and playfulness John talked of.

Thanks, John, for letting me walk (one-thousandth of) a mile in your shoes.

TINY McPUNY: The Gilroy Public Art Committee wants input on art to be installed in front of the library. We should get involved, or else we lose our right to complain about what gets put up. An artist friend (who, to her credit, did not live here at the time that plans got underway) has poked mild fun at the new sculptures on Monterey because of their diminutive stature.

“They look like the models an artist prepared to show what the real, full-sized sculpture should look like,” she said.

DÉJÀ VU ZOO: Received two voters guides today from two different organizations but they were exactly the same, just with certain elements rearranged. One was from the “Values Voters” (The Family, Faith & Freedom Association) and the other from the CA Taxpayer Protection Voter Guide. My eyebrows raised with their repeated assertion that Prop 19 “allows school bus drivers to smoke pot right before work.” Yup, that’s what it’s all about. Getting those school bus drivers high as can be, and then putting little kids in those unseatbelted death seats.

Studying the two guides, I saw that they both referenced the Capitol Resource Institute in Sacramento. I looked at the group’s website. On the home page two headlines announce, “Boy Scouts under Attack from Lesbian Group” and “Readings Teach Students to Embrace Same-Sex Marriage.” Puh-leeze. They’re nothing but a homophobic scaredy-pants group with so much damn money they can split up into two different orgs and send out twice as many voter guides.

And speaking of too much mail … Meg Whitman, you may be rich but you can’t buy my vote. Stop sending me two pieces of expensive, four-color, heavy-card-stock mailers every day. Even the lumberjacks are complaining.

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