What the Hell Are These "Human Directionals" Listening To?
Ed. Note: Some people in this article chose to only be identified by first name.
Photos by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
James Minor's workday begins a lot like yours. He arrives at a work station, checks his materials, puts on a smile and readies for another day of being the face of his employer.
For the most part, that's where the similarities end. For the next several hours, Minor will do everything he can to dodge traffic and draw attention to himself and the business he's promoting as a "human directional." He'll be positioned on a street corner or median, waving, dancing and twirling a three-foot sign, all in the hopes passers-by will see him and commit to memory what he's selling before driving by.
As he works, sometimes under a hot sun, or maybe in frigid temperatures, he'll listen to music to get through the day, the same as other salespersons or marketing professionals sitting in offices elsewhere. Sometimes, what pours through his earbuds will get his feet moving or provide the rhythm for his adept sign spinning, a practiced sales technique.
Other times, he'll tune into songs to keep him plugging through the day. "I listen to everything. I live with a music teacher, so you kind of get a little bit of everything that way," he says. "I have very diverse tastes in what I listen to -- hip-hop, rock - a little bit of everything."
Minor's been on the job for a year. He's visiting Houston, here for the last month by way of New York to help open a new market for his employer, AArrow Advertising. They're considered a leader in the human-billboard industry thanks to their showboat sign-spinning techniques.
Their "spinners" frequently perform at music events or in videos and their music industry clients have included Snoop Dogg, 311 and The Ting Tings.
"I got recruited straight out of high school, worked up the ladder pretty quickly. It's a very, very good job to have. It pays very well," Minor says. "Basically, what we do is advertise."
Boy, do they ever. In metro areas like Houston, where drivers are frequently bound by bumper-to-bumper traffic, they're ubiquitous. Mornings and afternoons, they're out in numbers and, apparently, quite a few are listening to Skrillex and company.
"Dubstep, drumstep, something fast paced to keep your heart going," Minor says. Amanda, who was advertising for a local smoke shop down the street, agrees that electronic dance music is a good way to go.
"Normally, I listen to 97.9, but I had a bunch of CDs and dubstep songs mixed on my computer, so we just downloaded them to my iPod and I went along with it," she says with an easy laugh.
She says she's in just her second week of human billboarding, but she's enjoying it and is doing it as a side gig. She also believes musical variety keeps the workday from stalling and said she listens to "Spanish music, rock, rap, hip-hip, pop...anything."
L-R: Terry and Troy
Some "sign walkers" aren't content to simply listen to the selections on their playlists. Shaun Jones is a student who took an advertising job three months ago to help his mother with finances. He's usually posted at the edge of a median, a concrete platform for the young man to showcase his smooth Latin dance moves.
"I listen to reggaeton, salsa, merengue," he says. "I like the bachata artists, like Prince Royce, Romeo Santos, Thalia."
While Jones dances, across town in the suburbs, Jared Ebert, a high school junior, sings while signing. He's a musician who performs with bands at his church. Roll down the window when you're passing by and you're likely to catch him belting out the song playing through his earbuds.
"I actually listen to my worship music," says Ebert, who plays guitar, drums, bass and piano. "This is actually where I get my practice in for singing for church."
He says he listens to Chris Tomlin and Tenth Avenue North for inspiration.
Troy works for a gold shop on Westheimer. He's said he's been doing this awhile and is especially enthused around the Christmas holidays, when he and the other human directionals get to don Santa and elf costumes. Today, he's sporting rainbow-colored headgear, a kind of Wavy Gravy-meets-The Mad Hatter thing.
Not surprisingly, Troy says he's tuned into 93.7 FM, a classic rock station. He's a Pink Floyd man, he says, and gets stoked when any Journey song makes the rotation.
Troy's dedication to a singular style of music is an anomaly for human directionals. Most are like Terry, who's been on the job a year now and has found that keeping the iPod on shuffle while shuffling the sidewalk keeps the day moving quickly.
"I listen to a little bit of everything," he says. "I listen to a mixture of heavy metal, country, alternative. I like anything upbeat, anything with a fast rhythm."
He said he packs his music player for work every day and enjoys Luke Bryan when he's feeling a little bit country and AC/DC and Pantera when he's a little bit rock and roll.
Minor might have been speaking for all his sign-bearing brothers when he likened his work, which calls for attracting people to a message, to music.
"I understand music to be a way of somebody transmitting what's in their soul to somebody else," he says. "That's how I look at music. Basically, whoever wrote it, I'm hearing their heart and soul."
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