Philadelphia Metropolis


Adventures of the Sign Guy

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By Bill Fulton

I am The Sign Guy. That's what most people call me. It has to do with my part-time job. I put out open house signs for various real estate development companies on the weekends. My route is roughly the northwest section of the city. Every Friday night I load up the 2004 Ford Taurus with signs and make my way through the streets of Roxborough, Manayunk, East Falls and parts of Germantown.  As far as part time gigs go it's actually pretty easy.  I put directional signs on various corners of high traffic intersections and point weekend joy riders the way to new home developments.

The pay is, at first glance, modest. I get two dollars for each sign I place during the weekend. It may not sound like a lot but when you are putting out 60 signs on a Friday night; it does add up.The part I like best about this side job is that I get to cruise around the city and watch how people spend their Friday nights.  This may sound a voyeuristic or just flat out creepy.  But I believe it falls right in line with my writer's personality. We observe people and we think of stories...that's what we writers are wired to do.

Open House 2.jpgTo me, the most fascinating thing is to see how each neighborhood I travel through has a distinct character. Take Roxborough for example.  Driving down Ridge Avenue one can see a more Main Street type of look. There are mom-and-pop retail stores, diners and the weekend nights usually bring all the young kids walking "The Avenue".  Roxborough is also a blue-collar neighborhood.  The sight of a guy zip tying open house signs on a light pole on a Friday night doesn't really raise an eyebrow." He's just a guy trying to make some extra money," they think to themselves.

By contrast, head down Henry Avenue to East Falls and the reception is different. First, I go through the campus of Philadelphia University which, although mainly a commuter school, still has a pulse on the weekend. In fact, I think 'open house sign throwing' is now an intramural sport on campus.  I'm basing this on the remnants of signs I see dangling from trees and shrubs along Schoolhouse Lane as I gather up my signs on Sunday nights.

Once you navigate the traffic and undergrads from Philadelphia University, you stumble upon the well-manicured properties of residents who are less than welcoming. More than a few of these upscale taxpayers fancy themselves as progressive. They have quaint urban landscapes and hybrids parked in their driveways with Obama '08 stickers slapped on their bumpers.  So, apparently, they are big on the environment and change, but not so keen on open house signs on the corner of Queen and Henry Lanes.

Almost every other weekend, someone from the unofficial, yet hyper-vigilant community watch committee will take time away from watching the PBS pledge drive and threaten to tear a sign down and toss it in the trash as soon as I depart.  "That's fine pal," I counter. "I get paid either way. Just remember to recycle."

I find it amusing that this patch of William Penn's "Green Country Towne" considers itself far removed from the clutter of the city. I chuckle because just three blocks away is gritty Germantown.

I don't spend a lot of time when I go through Germantown. I drive up to the corner, jump out of the car, place the sign, jump back in the car and leave. This is mainly because it's usually about 1 a.m. when I roll through the neighborhood, so there isn't a need to engage in small talk with anyone else who happens to be out at that hour.

My weekly route eventually ends up full circle back in Manayunk. This is where I place the last few signs along Main Street before going home.  It's also the most crowded area of the route. Manayunk is most known for its weekend nightlife. As the bars let out early Saturday morning I can surely count on the best stories to stagger right before me.

There is the drama of the girlfriend and boyfriend shouting match as they try to flag down a cab. "I hate you!! You ruin every weekend," drunken girl screams.

"Shut up Bitch and get in the cab," the drunker boy slurs back at her.

Or my personal favorite: "Hey, there's crazy sign guy again," a crew of revelers begins to heckle. "He's here every weekend. Get a life loser!!"

By this point I have been schlepping my signs through the city for over two hours.  Needless to say, I'm not going to suffer fools gladly.

"Hey, Junior," I respond "Which one of us just made $120 tonight and which one of us dropped $120 on Jaegerbombs in that bar over there?"

Befuddled by the question, my hecklers have no response.

The Sign Guy wins again.



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