Tax time is behind us for the year and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that’s very sad about that. So Mark Reese might stand nearly alone in watching April 15 go by with any sense of wistfulness. But Mark works for Liberty Tax Service as a “waver” and, also unlike many of us, he loves his job, which comes to a screeching halt every April 16th.
If you’ve driven Central Ave with any regularity since January, you’ve probably seen Mark on the corner of San Pedro dressed like the Statue of Liberty and perhaps playing a stars ‘n' stripes inflatable guitar. You might’ve wondered how he maintains his enthusiasm in the face of so much apparent indifference and, on that note, pondered just how effective “waving” can be in attracting customers. Well, I at least wondered all that. And it turns out Mark was more than happy to provide some insight into just what makes a waver…wave.
Mark has been waving since 2008. So he's been at it awhile and offers that it's become a sort of hobby. He has other full-time employment, as well as being a stand-up comic, actor, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, karaoke aficionado. But after four seasons, he says he’s treated like family at Liberty Tax and takes his waving seriously. He’ll even tell other business owners when their wavers are not getting the job done. “You’ve got to engage,” he stresses. “Give the thumbs-up. Respond to honks. Don’t just stand there. The traffic is my audience.”
He estimates that waving attracts an average of one customer every two hours, although numbers can go higher. This isn’t actually a bad return if one is talking about something like tax services. Still, getting the attention of as many people as possible is challenging and, no matter what the weather or time of day, a waver has to keep their enthusiasm high. For this, music is crucial. Mark has two MP3 players for his 3-4 hour shifts. During the first couple hours, he prefers classic rock. But as time goes by and energy can start to wane, he’ll switch to pop and 90’s hip-hop. “Walking on Sunshine.” Perhaps even a little “Ice Ice Baby.” Anything that keeps him moving to the beat of the vehicles streaming past. “If cars are doing 40 mph, you go 50,” he says.
I would suspect that standing on Central for hours at a time can’t come without a certain amount of risk. Mark recalls a “soda baptism” in which a colleague was hit in the back of the head with a full cup of soda thrown from a passing vehicle. Surprisingly, the culprit, a student, was tracked-down by a witness. Then there was the waver who declined a panhandler’s request for change several days running until one day the panhandler didn’t ask for anything and instead punched the waver in the face. But it seems altercations are fairly rare and, really, messing with a waver seems like a very low thing indeed.
This wasn’t even the first time Mark had been asked about his job. Crystal Gutierrez did a story on KRQE about him and some fellow wavers last year. He says waving is his favorite job, as well as the easiest. “I get to work outside, listen to music, and I get paid. I have artistic license to do what I want.” I ask how a waver finally knows he’s made it. Certainly there is the mastery of rapid twirls and the tossing of signs high in the air, as well as fancy dance steps and extravagant costumes. “But I suppose the best thing a sign waver can do,” he finally replies, “is cause a car accident.” Then he laughs mischievously. Of course, one doesn’t want to hurt potential clients. We’ll leave that to the I.R.S.
Thanks to Mark for graciously answering my questions. Until next tax season you'll have to look for him on Facebook or watch the Liberty Man Movie. Also, thanks to David at Viva New Mexico for making things happen and taking the photo of Mark in action when I was otherwise detained.
John Mulhouse is an Albuquerque-based frequenter of gravel roads, ghost towns, and empty buildings. His blog, City of Dust, features photos and hidden history from all corners of New Mexico and beyond. He publishes a ghost-town-photo-a-day on Facebook.