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Sign waver's energetic spin grabs attention in Pasco

I think the biggest thing going against me is people don’t understand what I do. Jonas Jones, above, shown rocking out to Korn on his headphones as he gets motorists’ attention

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

I think the biggest thing going against me is people don’t understand what I do. Jonas Jones, above, shown rocking out to Korn on his headphones as he gets motorists’ attention

Jonas Jones dragged a plastic sign along the grassy side of bustling State Road 54.

The 4-by-2 sign — emblazoned with the words "Your Ad Here" and Jones' cell number — weighed less than a pound, but he pretended it was more like a thousand. Jones' face strained under the tie-dyed bandanna holding back his dreadlocks.

A semi honked. Teenagers cheered out the windows of a silver BMW. A man on his way to the post office decided Jones must be nuts.

"I think the biggest thing going against me is people don't understand what I do," said Jones, 24.

They're called "human directionals," the folks who sit outside the pizza parlor with "buy one slice, get one free" signs. Business owners believe they can bring in more customers with a living, waving sign rather than a stagnant poster.

But Jones doesn't like that technical term. He is a "sign spinner extraordinaire," which is better than your typical sign holder, he said.

"We get noticed more," Jones explained as he took a break from spinning in the shade of a loquat tree. (Horticulture is another one of his many passions, along with drumming, guitar and Native American cultures.)

"We interact more with people. We can do tricks with the signs. We don't just stand — we're always moving."

Well, not always moving. A good sign spinner knows to hold the sign still long enough for passersby to read.

"You always have a pause in there," Jones said.

Michelle Ketterman, an assistant community manager at the Columns at Bear Creek Apartments, bought Jones' pitch and hired him for a Saturday afternoon. Nine people came into the New Port Richey office that day, as opposed to the one or two who trickled in on previous Jones-free weekends.

"He was able to generate traffic for us," she said. "Even if they weren't people who leased apartments, he brought them in."

"The guy has a ton of energy," said Steve Amos, a real estate agent at Madison Oaks in Palm Harbor, which employed Jones earlier in the year. "He's entertaining. He definitely gets people to look in our direction."

Jones moved to New Port Richey from Dallas three years ago. He worked in the new construction division of a land surveying company for two years before being let go in March. Blame the housing market.

"No homes, no surveys," he said.

Restaurants and retail stores weren't hiring. A gig at a telemarketing agency failed to stir his soul.

He eventually got work waving signs for a few talent agencies. Now, he's trying to start his own spinning business.

"I'm just tired of working for the man," he said. "Every job I do I am one of the best employees. I am easy to get used up."

He likes the freedom of setting his own hours as a spinner. There's the sun, the exercise, the challenge of catching a 5-foot sign after flipping it behind his back and over his head.

"It's therapeutic," Jones said. "It's like yoga, karate, crocheting or any kind of 'in the Zen' type thing."

Between sign spinning, teaching guitar lessons and selling homemade Hula Hoops and juggling sticks, Jones makes enough money to eke out a humble living of rent, a few beers, music festivals and kayak rides through Anclote Key.

He struggles to convince businesses that he deserves more than what they pay a normal sign waver — usually $8 to $10 per hour. He believes a "sign spinner extraordinaire" deserves twice that.

"They don't understand what kind of attention I can attract or how hard of work it is," Jones said.

Marc Brown saw Jones one day on a lunch break trip to the bank.

"The first thing I thought is, 'Wow, he's taking this thing seriously,' " Brown said. "Someone's getting a good $8 to $10 an hour employee."

Back on the side of the road, Jones pretended to hammer the sign embossed with his phone number into ground.

The light turned green. The driver of a jacked-up white Lincoln honked. Jones' cell phone rang.

A woman who saw his act told Jones' voicemail she'd like him to promote her small business.

"One phone call makes it worthwhile," Jones said. "It's better than staying at home. I'd be doing something goofy and stupid anyway. I might as well try to make something of it."

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com.

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For more information on Jonas Jones, visit myspace.com/spinality.

Sign waver's energetic spin grabs attention in Pasco 11/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, November 3, 2008 7:09pm]

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