Monday, July 21, 2008


Every once in a while I will be walking somewhere and think, "this seems like it would be a pretty good place to sleep if I was homeless". Not that I intend to ever be homeless, but I figure it can't hurt to have a plan just in case. However, one thing that I don't really have a concrete plan for yet is what I might put on my cardboard sign that I hold while milling around the freeway exit or outside 7-11. It seems that this is a pretty cutting-edge field in the landscape of being homeless, where innovation is heavily rewarded before it becomes adopted as industry standard. I'm thinking that the first guy that made the "It's For Beer" sign made a killing for the first couple of days before everyone else on his street adopted the "charmingly honest about my vices" approach. The thing is, it's probably not that people wanted to buy this gentleman a beer, but rather they were responding positively to the creative marketing effort he was employing.

I think the first sign I might try out would be the logical extension of the "It's For Beer" paradigm: "It's for her" with an arrow, and I would just hang out next to a prostitute all day. See, people would probably think, "I don't agree with his behavior, but I cannot deny that that guy is really honest, thus is probably the most worthy of my change", but in reality the joke would be on them because I'd probably use it to buy beer. Another thing I might try if I was one of those homeless dudes who has a dog would be to make a sign that said, "Need more ingredients for dog stew". I bet people would think it was a pretty good joke, chuckle, and give me a quarter or two, then a few minutes after they drove away the doubt would begin to creep in. Sign for outside a coffee shop? How about, "drip coffee instead of a latte could save you hundreds of dollars on an annual basis", then I could collect for my helpful money-saving tip when they exited the store. They would probably also appreciate the irony of receiving financial advice from a homeless guy and might kick in a little extra.

It is also entirely possible that the writing on the sign is completely irrelevant. Probably my first homeless project would be to build an abacus out of beer tops and coat hangers to perform some statistical analysis on the collective panhandling experience of my new colleagues. One guy in particular that I'd like to gather data from is the guy who operates the cardboard sign that reads "GOOBLES?" on the Greenlake off-ramp from I-5. Whether by the inherent lack of precision of his materials, or by poor stylistic choices and shoddy execution, it took me at least five minutes to figure out that it was probably intended to read "GOD BLESS". Since the "GOD BLESS" signage flavor is so ubiquitous, it would make an excellent control sample to base the specific performance of "GOOBLES?" on.

My gut would tell me that the brilliantly incomprehensible "GOOBLES?" should massively outperform the forgettable "GOD BLESS", for reasons not the least of which is the innovative quality of asking a question to inspire interaction with the end-user. I don't want to rely solely on my gut here, though, because if I'm wrong and the cleverness or uniqueness of the sign is irrelevant, I just wasted a dollar on a black marker that I could've put towards my next alcohol purchase. Kids, this is why studying statistical analysis is important.

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