After Mark Little parks his truck along bustling Big Bend Road, he slams a metal ladder against the side.
His teenage daughter sits on the bumper under an umbrella, cell phone in one hand and business cards in the other. Her dad climbs to the top, where the tin roof is scalding.
He strips off his shirt, smears Coppertone SPF 100 on his bald head and Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil on his shaved chest. He ties on a red Superman cape.
He takes off his pants.
The petite red Speedo resting low on the hips is the piece de resistance. This is when the horns start bleating, when sleepy commuters startle to attention, when the stark marketing beings to work.
A woman leans out of a pickup.
• • •
He's the ultimate Florida billboard. Only here, with jammed roads, scant mass transit and blazing sun, can your skivvies save your business.
No, really. It's actually working for Little, 40, who owns Mighty Movers packing and moving company. In the 20 times he has stripped down and stood roadside, he has secured 25 new clients. One, he says, paid $1,600 for a big job. It was his best day in more than seven years.
So if you ask Little whether he likes doing this, standing there in half a birthday suit, he will reply stone-faced that he likes making $200 an hour.
He allegedly likes to have a good time.
"I like to think I'm funny," he says, without a smile.
But he doesn't laugh much while he's up there. When a car horn blares, he lifts his arm chop-chop, eyes stowed behind mirrored Oakleys. When people pull over to take a picture, he hoists a gold strongman barbell carved out of foam, and his daughter hands them a card.
He approaches it with the pragmatism of a businessman. Why wouldn't you stand in a Speedo on your truck?
"You got the Little Caesars guy standing there in the bushes, and you got AT&T holding their signs, and you got the Statue of Liberty for taxes," he says. "In this economy, you have to do things that are a little out there."
• • •
Barbara Little was funny for real.
She worked as her son's receptionist for six years, dealing with clients, drumming up business on MySpace.
Little called her occasionally using a fake accent to see how she would handle it. To pay him back once, she said some nudists named Cinnamon and Candy had hired him to move them into a new apartment. She let him imagine the job of his dreams for days.
"We were very close," he says. "I was the baby of the family. My mom always bragged on me."
When she died of cancer last February, his work and life unraveled.
The economy was already hurting his business, and he struggled to pay for a funeral, he says. Barbara left his daughter a pickup truck to drive when she turned 16. The family had to sell it. Little was depressed and lethargic for months.
He finally found the energy to go to the gym again, something he'd done for 10 years. He started working out two hours each day, lifting heavy weights. One day in the locker room, he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror.
He was spending $1,000 a month to advertise in circulars.
• • •
He wore a Superman shirt and basketball shorts the first time.
No one cared.
He took off his shirt.
No one cared.
He yanked the legs of his basketball shorts into his underwear.
He informed the family of his brilliant plan. Destiney Little, 15, thought her dad had lost it.
"I was just like, Dad, no."
Little knew the Speedo was essential. He could find only navy blue and black at the store, so he ordered red online. He had a small mock truck made, easier to stand on the corner of Highway 301 across from the Walmart. He took the big truck out to Big Bend Road across from the Applebee's.
Women stopped to give him phone numbers. Two undercover cops stopped for a photo, he says, with a criminal in the backseat. Someone stopped him in the grocery store and told him to keep it up. And when Destiney's friends at school said it was cool, she did, too.
• • •
A car zooms by on the highway.
Little's arm shoots up.
Destiney gets a text.
Just saw your dad.
Little is not the type to ponder personal degradation and the sociological impacts of baring your body for attention. He shrugs, business cell phone clip tugging on his Speedo.
He's working on buying a second truck. He wants to open a storage facility. He wants to break a record for camping on his truck, because surely there's a record somewhere. He thinks about starting a waterslide business next to the truck.
People would pay good money to slide with Superman.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.