This postapocalyptic job market has turned working men into the wolves from The Grey. Go near our employment, and we'll devour your testicles while our buddy claws out your eyeballs. So we can't imagine what it's like to lose a hard-earned job to a garishly colored, thrashing, two-story, fan-powered tube. But that's what appears to be happening to human billboards throughout South Florida. Dudes wearing giant tooth suits outside dental offices are being pushed out of jobs by wacky, waving, arm-flailing, inflatable tube men.
Before April 15 every year, the streets are flooded with people wearing foam Statue of Liberty hats and spinning cardboard arrows, advertising tax-preparers' offices. We've found no industry statistics, but we're certain we've seen fewer real people holding signs. In their place: the inflatable Zydrunas Ilgauskas-looking balloons known in the industry as "sky dancers" or "sky guys."
We called a leading local purveyor of sky guys, Games on Wheels in Kendall. "Sky dancers is very good option to get the attention of the people," Dixon Vargas cooed in slightly broken English. "People can see the inflatable man down the street, and they think, Something happened there."
Yeah -- a job was murdered. Vargas sells his nefarious, undulating automatons for $450, which quickly becomes cheaper than paying somebody $7 an hour. But can they compete with hard-working, sign-waving humans? We went on a tour of local sign-spinners, starting with Adolfo, a guy pointing an arrow at a Biscayne Boulevard Little Caesar's. "I'm content!" he declared in Spanish, spinning his arrow so energetically it knocked his hat askew. "I practice 'getting air' at home with a piece of cardboard."
In North Miami Beach, Paul-- a dude holding an umbrella in the pouring rain, with a sign around his neck directing drivers to an accountants' office-- said he immigrated from Haiti three years ago, and has nine kids to raise. This is one of his many gigs. "This job is good," he said. "It pays me. I pay the house, I pay cell phone, I pay my car insurance... You have pay? You give me some more work?"
But perhaps Miami's best ambassador for the human advertisement is Jim, a fellow wearing a gold suit and dollar-sign necklace and holding a wad of fake bills outside a gold store on NE 167th Street. He used to spin a sign until his bosses were told it was against local code. He has held this job for three years. The only downside: His superior is a woman. "I do not like working for females bosses," he ruminated, "but I have to."
Asked about tube men, he scoffed, "You know what? That's bullshit." Cars passing by honked, sort of proving his point. Then Jim did a little jelly dance, imitating his balloon foes -- and scoring a victory for humankind.
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Here's this reporter's Diane Sawyer-esque interview with Jim: