After hearing their stories, it’s clear that these folks are somehow representative of our economy. One that has forced people to do things they typically wouldn’t, whether it’s grabbing an extra shift, moonlighting as a waiter or donning a cape and foam hat and burning a few hundred calories on the job. But they’re also emblematic of a change in business itself. A change where the power tie has been replaced by the power of wearing a T-shirt to your most important meeting and telling someone you’re a game developer is more impressive than telling them you’re a doctor. There’s a freedom and, strangely, a nobility to this profession.

Art form

As I investigated further, I discovered sign spinning is not merely evolving as an advertising medium, but an art form. Max Durovic, co-founder of AArrow Sign Spinners, is largely responsible for this transformation. In addition to taking sign spinning to 50 states, Europe and Asia, Max and his group created the first sign-spinning competition in 2007 to reward innovation, creativity and athleticism.

“When you put positive energy into something, you create positive brand equity for the company you’re representing,” Max said of his spinners. This belief seems to have struck a chord with marketers, as AArrow now employs more than 1,000 spinners around the globe. And if they’re at all similar to the couple of dozen folks I met, what they share is not economic desperation as I first surmised, but the simple desire to make people smile.

And that’s probably how this article would have ended, were my commute home one night not literally interrupted by one of the very signs I had seen the spinners holding. It was giant 6-foot arrow with “Rock & Republic Jeans Sale at 3525 Eastham Drive” stenciled across the front. Only instead of being triumphantly spun or flipped, it was just lying there in the middle of the street. Like Tom Hanks in “Castaway,” I had found my Wilson.

A week later, I was standing on Sepulveda Boulevard and my story had gone from third person to first. After spending a single hour with a sign in my hands, here’s what I know:

First, you don’t need Pilates, Crossfit or PX90. You need a large sign, a small iPod and traffic. Done properly, which clearly was not how I was doing it, sign spinning is the ultimate full-body workout.

Second, this job makes you more fun. As someone who has managed to get through every wedding I’ve attended without doing the Macarena or Electric Slide, this sign almost magically transformed me into an extrovert. I mean, it was my job to get noticed. So I spun my sign. I shook my ass. And I smiled at every driver who passed.

And you know what? A few of them smiled back. At which point something became clear. This was no different than what I did every other day at work. Sure, I was using a foam sign instead of an app or a TV spot as my creative device, but the metric for success was the same. It all came down to making a human connection.

Court Crandall is executive creative director of WDCW, an advertising and marketing firm in Culver City.