The Sign Shakers of Southern California

signshakers.jpgOne of the things that I’ve always marveled about in Southern California is how many things that are automated in other areas of the country are done by real people in Los Angeles. You take your car to a carwash in Ohio, when you come out, you’re left to dry it yourself. If someone dries it for you, it’s called “detailing.”

I guess the best example of this is the sign shakers. They stand on street corners at rush hour or weekends and hold a sign and wiggle it, to create excitement or attract our attention. They’re signs for cell phone stores, going out of business sales, model home tours and pizzas.

It makes me wonder who takes these jobs and how they get them. At first I thought they were immigrant jobs but I’ve noticed that often they don’t look like immigrants. I watched at a very long light down in Orange County one afternoon as a pasty fellow sporting a white fishing hat, white tee, white shorts and white tennies and white iPod tossed around a blue arrow sign for AT&T Wireless with skills that rival something seen in a costume character at the Disneyland main street parade.

I’ve never seen a want ad for sign shaking. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really know what the position is called. I’m not sure if these are the same people that jam fliers into my hands on Melrose. Is there a class system for these types of jobs? Does it fall above or below barista?

But maybe that’s how the career of a sign shaker is supposed to go, they’re just biding their time until they can get in at Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm or Universal Studios. They dream of the best corner in California, where someday they’ll be discovered and given a plush head to put on their very own shoulders.

18 Replies to “The Sign Shakers of Southern California”

  1. There’s a sign shaker for the insurance place around the corner from the gallery and the same guy has been doing it for months, years even.

    He’s into it.

    What do you think the going rate for sign shaking is?

  2. There is a sign in Calabasas (of all places) for weekend sign spinners. They claim the starting pay is 9.50 an hour.

  3. Hah, that’s the corner of Santa Monica and Van Ness where Little Ceasar’s is, right?

    “Does it fall abover or below barista?” That’s gold.

    Seriously, I feel sorry for these people. Even more now that summer’s here. I highly doubt they make more than minimum, so for them to be out in the sun, standing up, and completely ignored most of the time it’s not cool.

  4. Sign holders definitely don’t have it easy, but who I empathize with even more are those pour souls that are made to don creepy animal costumes and basically parboil themselves waving at the passing masses.

  5. I applied for a sign-shaker job for new housing developments back when I was in college. I actually got to an orientation but then never showed up the first day. The pay actually was above minimum and wasn’t too bad. I remember that they insisted you wear all white and they would allow you to listen to your Walkman. There were not, however, any clinics in sign twirling which disappointed me. I came to me sense in time and am grateful I never actually did it.

  6. Best sign spinner: the multicolored dreadlocked raver, on a permanent trip, dancing with his $1-a-slice pizza sign on Venice Beach
    Creepiest sign spinner: those living Subway Sandwiches you see all over town

  7. Saw one this afternoon shakin’ his Shakey’s sign in a full head to toe spidy costume. It was high-noon and he was trying to stand in the shade of a lamp post for goodness sake.

  8. i know that sign-shaker and corner oh so well. i knew exactly where that was the second i saw the photo. i guess that shaker or shakers should go into the sign shaker hall of fame, because seriously they have left quite an impression on me as far as sign shaking goes.

  9. I have always marveled at the sign shakers, you would be surprised, we have them here in Ohio too.

    Oh and the carwash thing.. I have never been to a carwash where they didn’t dry the car. Just thought you should know :)

  10. Wow Cybele — that post was borderline racist. I don’t know your nationality, nor much care for it, but minorities in this country have it hard, and America should be glad for efforts, menial as they may be. I don’t mean to open pandora’s box with this, I understand that they cost us tax-money, over-crowd our schools, endanger our highways, and such, but there have been plenty of studies that show and prove, they are an important part of our economy. I’m a black man myself, and my not-so-distant ancestors have their own story of being welcomed to the country. The hispanics have theirs. Let’s try to all respect what they do, because after all, someone’s gotta do the hardwork in this country — I sure as hell am not gonna lay the railroad tracks, but I’ll ride the train.

  11. Borderline racist, Big Mike? What, because Cybele observes (correctly) that it’s mostly minorities she sees doing the sign shaking? And while you’re at it, could you show me where she demeans these hardworking people to such a degree that you have to sermonize on how we should all try to “respect what they do.”

    You are absolutely right that we should appreciate their efforts and abilities to suffer through such menial labor no one else wants in order to make a buck no one else needs, and nowhere in Cybele’s thoughtful commentary does she do anything but that.

  12. I’m not comfortable with the notion that noticing immigrants, legal or otherwise, often take jobs that more-established members of our country shun is racist.

    As a way up, everything from boxing to railroad laying has been used to offer many people a way to better themselves and their families. The fact that many people find sign shaking beneath them explains why others take those jobs.

    I suppose if your looking for racism, or ageism, or sexism, you can find it anywhere.

  13. Well, this has been very interesting reading. I have always wondered if the “Arrow Guys” actually have a name. I would call them Para-Advertisers.

    And if these Para-Advertisers can be found in Ohio, do you think they are in other parts of the country as well. I always thought that they were just a SoCal thing.

  14. Hey Cybele, I’ve been meaning to blog about this myself!

    A good friend of mine in OC just sold his (very expensive) house to the guy who started a main company who does the sign-shaking for real estate properties. I don’t know if that is the same dude who started the pizza/fast food/wireless phone sign-shaking companies, too… but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was.

    P.S. – I used to pass by this Little Caesar’s sign-shaker at Santa Monica & Van Ness every evening on the way home!

  15. I used to be a “sign shaker, actually the true slang term is sign twirler and the tech term is “human directional.” I got paid 15 an hour, but I guess they couldn’t afford it because when they shorted me on one of paychecks and I called them on it they fired me. Long story short I’m suing them.

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