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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

'Bubba' signs on as goodwill ambassador

I swear I'm noticing more of this lately: There, at the side of the road, hoisting some kind of sign, is a human billboard.

Now, I don't know for a stone-cold fact that more people around are hired for such gigs. All I know is, it sure seems the human form is used as an advertising vehicle a lot these days.

On Reynolds Road the other day, I actually believe I might have seen someone who "billboarded" himself for the military recruiting office there near Angola Road.

But this much I'm willing to bet: Nowhere else in Toledo is anyone hanging around a sidewalk, hoisting a commercial sign, who's older than Harold Brown. "Bubba," actually. Honest, that's what he told me his friends call him.

"Except them in there," he said, pointing with his chin at the Little Caeser's Pizza carry-out on Lewis Avenue, just north of Sylvania Avenue. "They still call me Harold."

At 68, Bubba (Harold? Ach "Mr. Brown," we'll just call him) said standing around with a sign dangling from his neck gives him "something to do."

Now retired, every day he puts on a fluorescent orange T-shirt emblazoned with the pizza maker's name and takes up his post along Lewis Avenue.

"I used to hold it up like this," he said, grabbing the sign in both hands to hold it chest high, "but then I got tired."

Hot-N-Ready $5 large pizza with pepperoni.

Instead, now when he reports for work, Mr. Brown drapes a yellow bungee cord from his neck, and then hangs the sign off the cord's dual hooks on either side of his chest.

"Sign shaking," they call it. Or sometimes "shaker boarding." Either way, said store manager Chris Robinson, it's time-tested advertising at this pizza franchise. Sometimes, hourly workers hired for this job shimmy and whirl and move themselves around in nonstop motion, or "sign twirling."

But on a northwest Toledo street, on an unseasonably hot second day of autumn, all Mr. Brown needs to do is simply stand there, and it begins.

Honk, honk.


Honk, honk.

"Hiiiiiii Bubba!"

Honk, honk.

A quiet wave of the hand.

He's, like, the rock star of Lewis Avenue, that Harold "Bubba" Brown. Or, as Little Caesar's supervisor Jim Jacob looks at it: "He's almost like a Wal-Mart greeter."

Whenever Mr. Brown is out waving, Mr. Jacob said, "we have an abundance of people who stop and talk to him. You see a little bit of [sales] increase on the days he's there. And he just builds up friendliness."

Sure enough, if you stop for pizza while Mr. Brown is festooned in his cardboard sign, he will shout over a thank-you from the sidewalk to the parking lot.

Around the holidays, said Mr. Brown, "some of the older ladies give me hugs. That, and cards and cookies, store manager Chris Robinson couldn't help but add.

"And tips, too!" boasted Mr. Brown.

As human signage, Little Caesar's pays Mr. Brown $6.85 per hour. And that's just fine by him.

"That ain't bad," he said, "for just standing around!"

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