Mark Sanchez, 24, has one of the hottest jobs in Gilroy—so hot he has to wear ice packs under his outfit.
If you’ve ever driven on First Street you’ve seen him; the black bird, a crow actually, adorned with a bright yellow hat, beak, and feet, waving to passersby—well that’s Max, the 100-branch Fiesta Insurance Company’s official mascot for 21 years.
Company owner, John Rost, believes that the sight of a 6-foot crow waving at people is a real attention getter and has one in all of his franchises.
He liked it so much he put it in the contract when Barbara Rubio bought the First Street location in 2010.
“Maybe 80, 90, percent in the beginning, came in because of the mascot,” Rubio said.
“People noticed him.”
Over the years the community has embraced this feathered friend, to the point where they sometimes stop in to express concern for his well-being.
“A lot of people come in concerned over the mascot, yelling at us either on the phone, or coming in saying, ‘Oh you guys are nice and cool in here, but the bird is out there,’ Rubio said.
“The good thing about it is they love him. Some people have called and said, ‘I just want to thank you for having Max out there waving, he makes my day.’
Rubio admits it’s nice to know how much the Gilroy community cares, and she’d like to set the record straight: Max always is well-treated.
The mascot’s normal day averages seven to eight hours, with breaks provided every 10 to 15 minutes, if needed. During those breaks the Max suit is shed so that Sanchez, who’s been wearing the costume for the past month, can cool down.
Water is always available for Sanchez, and underneath the costume he wears an ice vest wrapped around his body, keeping him cool and comfortable.
“If it’s too, too, hot, then I’ll put on the vest, it helps a lot,” Sanchez said, adding that after living in Arizona, he’s accustomed to the heat.
Sanchez is enjoying his new role. His favorite aspect of the job is the kids and their hugs.
“Some hugs I don’t even know, I feel something on me and I look down and it’s a little kid hugging me,” Sanchez said. “They come out of nowhere, but it’s cool though, I like it.”
“I feel like a celebrity,” Sanchez told his boss.
Rubio, who spent 19 years as a sales agent with AAA before venturing out on her own, originally frowned on the idea of using a big, black crow to advertise her new business, but it was in the contract.
“I was a little embarrassed,” Rubio admitted.
Now, Max is a staple of her business.
“He has to be out there all the time now. He grew my business, really.”
Sanchez is the sixth person to don the costume. The first was Victor Tamayo, 25, a customer service representative with the company.
“It was fun being out there,” Tamayo said.
In the early years, Rubio instructed Tamayo to pace along the sidewalk and wave at people on the street and in their cars. At times folks would pull over and not only talk to Max, but ask to get their picture taken with him.
But children have always been Max’s biggest fans.
Lana’s Dance Studio, located next door to Fiesta Insurance, provides a steady flow of kids, and they all look forward to receiving a hug from Max.
“That made me feel good, because even though they couldn’t see me, they were smiling,” Tamayo said of the children.
Max makes everyone happy, regardless of age. Tamayo recalled a time when an elderly woman came and hugged him and said, ‘I love you.’
“I felt good, she was actually that happy to see Max out there.”
Tamayo’s reign lasted four years, but the decision to bring him inside the office wasn’t a voluntary one.
In 2014, the Gilroy City Council passed an ordinance banning A-frame signs, balloons, streamers, flags and handheld signs, including people waving signs in commercial districts.
“It’s something that needs to be done to raise our standards here in the community,” Mayor Don Gage said at the time. “We need to clean up our city if we want to attract businesses to the downtown or any place.”
That ruffled some feathers.
“They wanted to eliminate [Max], period,” Rubio said.
She reminded the mayor that he was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony on the opening day of her business, and that he posed for a photo with Max—something Gage told Rubio he didn’t recall doing.
The ordinance resulted in pulling Max from the street. But Rubio, along with a number of small business owners, fought for the right to retain their methods of advertising, and after a few months the ordinance was amended.
“You have to have the mascot within 25 feet of your business,” Rubio said. Which means Max is restricted to the grassy area just outside the office, keeping him off the sidewalk.
Although Max’s absence caused a 10-20 percent drop in business, according to Rubio, something quite unexpected happened.
During the interim while Tamayo worked inside the office, Rubio realized he was a perfect fit for his new role.
“He was great in customer service, he’s really good wherever I put him,” Rubio said.
Tamayo’s move was at first worrisome for him, being it was quite an adjustment from the anonymity provided by donning a bird costume.
“Now I have to show my face,” Tamayo said.
Rubio encouraged him to advance his career even further, suggesting he consider taking the test to become a full-time insurance agent.
“I’ll prepare a little more, and then I’ll take it,” Tamayo said of the test.
Tamayo’s career is a bright one and he owes it all to Max and his boss.
“From then until now, it taught me a lot, I’ve learned a lot,” Tamayo said.
As for Sanchez, who’s just beginning his journey with the company, he has a very positive role model in Tamayo.
Above all, Rubio and her staff want to ensure the community that Max is in good hands.
“Max is being taken care of, we’re always taking care of him,” Tamayo said.