The WAVE MASTER
BY PATTIE DURHAM
If you have driven north or south on U.S. 1 through the city, you have seen Tom Laigo hard at work at one of his many part-time jobs. Most would remember him if shown a picture of him with his mannequin on his shoulders and holding a sign, advertising for a local business.
Laigo discovered “waving,” as he calls it, in 2009 when he got his first job with Liberty Tax. Dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume, he waved and held a sign aimed at drawing in customers who needed assistance with filing their income taxes. Others refer to this job as sign flipping, but Laigo likes to wave to passersby while attracting attention with his antics; his mannequin, Natasha; or riding his unicycle.
Working since he was 15 in his native Washington state, Laigo has a resume of multiple skills he developed along the way. He has made siding, windows and doors and tongue-and-groove flooring in the Northwest.
“When I lived in Washington, I worked one job,” he says, “and it paid all of the bills. But, when I moved to Florida, I found that one job just wasn’t enough. I have always worked part-time jobs along with my full-time job here.”
He ended up in Florida after his wife, René, left Washington to visit her mother in the Sunshine State.
“My wife returned a few months later and says we’re moving,” Laigo says. “I thought we were moving to a bigger city here, but she said, ‘No, we are moving to Florida. I bought a house.’
“When I married her in 2002,” he adds, “I told her I would follow her anywhere.”
Coming to Fort Pierce brought about many changes for Laigo. He found a job at Mueller Plastics, working mostly the night shift. Then he started working part-time at S&S Takeout and eventually 15 waving jobs. He says he has to feed his wife, two cats and a dog.
Laigo has had as many as 15 part-time jobs per week since his retirement in 2014, but the number is down to nine. He does wave work for multiple businesses along U.S. 1 and other parts of the city. He will take the sign from those businesses not on U.S. 1 and ride his bicycle out to the highway for the best advertising.
Laigo says the Florida weather doesn’t faze him as he “grew up playing in the rain in Washington.” Years ago, he had a five-hour segment scheduled for The Ramp Raw Bar but it was pouring down rain. He went to work anyway. Then, a black Cadillac rolled up, the window opened and a hand appeared, holding a $20 bill. A man said, “You deserve this.”
People who recognize him from his work often speak to him and sometimes give him things. In line at Publix, another customer who recognizes him might pay for his groceries.
The youngest of four, Laigo says he was always active as a child, taking lessons in kung fu, karate and classical guitar. His siblings would beat up on him or blame things on him. It was always, “Tommy did it!” he says, adding that the whooping would follow.
He was known at school for his gymnastic abilities and all of that activity has paid off in his retirement years. He says that he can work for six hours at a time, riding his unicycle or just doing his exercises while waving and holding the sign.
The mannequin, Natasha, who normally sits upon his shoulders as he works is on the disabled list. He is going to build another soon. All his female mannequins have been called Natasha, derived from his love of gymnastics.
“In the beginning, I had a Mustang convertible,” he says, “and I was working at Liberty Tax. I put her on the top of the car and I was jumping on the hood of the car with my sign. I looked back and she was gone. I got down and looked. She had slid down the car and fallen on the ground, where she was doing a handstand. So, I named her after a gymnast at the time, Natasha. They have all been Natasha since then.
“When I build a new one, it is going to be the seventh one. In December, I turned 70 and my birth certificate says I weighed 7 pounds, so I will debut her on the Fourth of July, which is the seventh month.”
Hours of waving out in the hot sun have left Laigo with a deep tan. Pulling down a sock, he points out the difference in his skin tone.
“I want to live to be 100,” he says, “so I can ride my unicycle on the side of the highway and wave to everyone, holding a sign that says: Today is my birthday and I am 100.”
See the original article in the print publication
Lives in: Fort Pierce
Education: High school and some college; three years in the Army
Family: Wife, René; three siblings
Hobbies: No time for hobbies
Someone who inspires me: “My wife who is a great artist!”
Something most people don’t know about me: “Most people think I am dancing out there with the sign, but I am not. I am into a different kind of exercising. I am creating energy. I can go for six hours nonstop.”