Human billboard gets his groove on to the delight of passing motoristsWritten by Quintin Ellison
It ain’t easy be green. Nor is it particularly easy for a full-grown man to position himself beside a busy highway and gyrate wildly for hours on end, day after day, in a Statue of Liberty costume.
Bryan Pixa is doing just that, serving both as a dancing human billboard for Liberty Tax Service in Sylva, located on Asheville Highway, and as a living testimony to those basic qualities that helped make America great: if you are going to do a job, do that job and treat your employer right. Earn that paycheck, son.
In the process of living up to America’s beloved work ethic, Pixa might be emerging as the best street entertainer Western North Carolina has ever seen. Surely he’s the most enthusiastic Statue of Liberty anyone in Sylva has ever seen, what with his leg kicks and wiggles, his hippity-hoppity get-down jiving and grinding, never-let-up-for-a-breath dance moves.
“He’s great,” Liberty Tax Service’s front-desk employee, Brittany Grillo, said of Pixa’s Lady Liberty. She is uniquely qualified to critique Pixa’s overall interpretation of the Statue of Liberty, theatrically and artistically speaking.
Grillo, you see, is a retired Sonic restaurant hotdog.
“I love the way he works,” the onetime hotdog said, who admitted she wasn’t as animated in her dramatic role as a life-sized hotdog.
And yes, those hotdogs and Lady Liberties, that human cow who not so long ago waved its hoof somewhat drearily to passing motorists on behalf of Ryan’s restaurant in Sylva — they most certainly do bring in business, Grillo said.
Does seeing a man in a green Statue of Liberty costume suddenly gyrate into view make drivers’ turn the wheel, pull in and get their taxes done? It works, Grillo insisted.
And it’s relatively inexpensive outdoor advertising. In these dour economic times, businesses such as Liberty Tax Service — a franchise within a national storefront tax preparation company — are pulling out the stops to attract new customers. Lady Liberty captures people’s attention and helps with branding.
This is really just basic old-fashioned advertising livened up for a modern audience. Because when you get right down to it, Pixa and his fellow human billboards are reinventions of the old-fashioned sandwich boards.
“I can’t afford it — I wish I could,” said Anita Stephens, who owns Sign Crafters a door or two away from Liberty Tax Service. “It seems to work, and it’s very entertaining. My customers stand at our door and say they could watch him all day.”
It’s not easy money. Passing motorists are generally supportive and appreciative of Pixa, but there is always the occasional jerk in those poor, tired, huddled masses stopped at the signal light before turning onto N.C 107.
“‘I thought it was Lady Liberty, not big fat Liberty,’” Pixa recounted one passerby as shouting.
Not that he can easily hear what’s being said, supportive or ugly. Under the historically accurate seven rays of his crown, hidden behind large dark sunglasses and heavy smears of green face paint, Pixa is sporting ear buds and rocking out to music. It makes the time pass, keeps him entertained and provides a beat to dance to.
Sometimes, when an emotional lift is in order, the music is undiluted reggae. More often he’s indulging a sudden and strong passion for the music of Ben Harper, who mixes blues, folk, soul, reggae and rock.
Pixa loves being a human billboard and he loves working for Liberty Tax Service. But he’s wearing a Statue of Liberty costume for a very serious reason: Pixa wanted to be in Sylva for the imminent birth of his child. His wife is from here, and Pixa had been living six or so hours away working a regular, successful, routine job in Virginia.
The couple lost their first child in 2008, just hours after the baby was born.
“It was a unique situation,” Pixa said. “I needed to do something to get back to Sylva.”
A newspaper help-wanted ad for the position of a living Statue of Liberty caught his attention.
“I thought, ‘I can do that,’” Pixa said.
Pixa is a musician and an oil painter, and sometimes plays harmonica for motorists while working as the Statue of Liberty. Pixa said he sometimes imagines passing mothers and fathers warning their children they’d better get an education or they’ll grow up to be a Statue of Liberty, just like him.
“But I’ve got an education,” Pixa said good-humouredly. “I just needed some steady income. And I’ve ended up with the best job in town.”