North Texas Daily

The art of waving

The art of waving

January 26
19:56 2017

Austin Jackson | Staff Writer

Towering inches above the cement side of University Drive, a fiery figure waves vigorously to the oncoming traffic. Tildon Henderson, 65, marches to the beat of his own boom box, blaring one of the 20 or more CD’s he has packed for his daily venture.

The gospel music playing from his boom box preaches prosperity, singing out “He is risen!” His gestures and costume, however, warns of a different April holiday. Henderson’s job is to remind the commuters stuck in the University Drive crawl to take a break from traffic, sit down, relax and pay your taxes.

Each morning of the busy season, or the four months leading up to April 15, he suits up in coattails and a top hat, becoming a life-sized Uncle Sam portrayal of red, white and blue nylon. He covers his face with cat-eyed women’s sunglasses and sunscreen, making sure to apply Chapstick to his cracked, blistered lips.

Though his lips are burnt from a 40-hour work week under the sun, he still stretches his mouth into a wry little grin. Henderson said smiling is half the battle.

“They like to see people happy, they like it when you smile and get their attention.” Henderson said. “You gotta be happy, it’s part of my job.”

Working and waving

In 2006, Henderson needed any job he could find, and interviewed for an entry level marketing position. When he heard he would not only do advertising, but also be the advertisement, he didn’t care.

A job is a job, and the paycheck cleared.

He said he has worked everywhere from warehouses to baseball diamonds, but in waving, he found a passion.

Henderson said his love and skill for the gig grew with each passing year. Before picking up the tricks of the ”human billboard” trade, he took his title, “costume waver,” literally. He put on the costume and he waved.

Instead of feeling discouraged with the apathy of commuters, Henderson adapted, upping his game with smiles, gesturing and holding out air high fives to passersby’s.

In 2017, it’s an interactive experience, a conversation of sorts.

Tildon Henderson waves at a car January 16 as it passes by outside of Liberty Tax service. Tom Gonzalez

He appreciates the honks, he respects the eye contact but he said what inspires him to go out there everyday to put on a show are the smiles.

“The biggest adaption and joy is dancing,” Henderson said.

It’s the reason he brings his boombox and 23 CDs in a push-cart to his outdoor office.

He lacks the range of motion and spry moves of a traditional dancer. His spin-moves require several stubby little steps and his arms don’t venture far past his robust belly, but for what he lacks in physical talent, he said he tires to make up for it with tenacious charm.

Henderson’s charm hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Ahmed Samiullah, owner of the Valero gas station neighboring the Liberty Tax Service franchise on Fort Worth Drive, said Henderson, or “Sam” as he calls him, has been a constant joy for the past 10 years.

“He’s very funny, always making action and bringing energy,” Samiullah said. “That’s his bread and butter, standing all day long, working hard. Nothing wrong with [that], it’s his way to earn money.”

Computer engineer Wes Howard, 45, said he cherishes Tildon’s presence and considers him a fixture of Denton’s landscape.

“I always know it’s tax season when he’s out there,” Howard said. “I look forward to seeing him and his goofy smile every year, being so enthusiastic. I actually feel a little anxious until I see him. He is older, [so] I get kind of worried something happened.”

But Curtis B. Lucky, the owner of two Liberty Tax Services locations in Denton, said that despite Henderson’s age, he has not missed a step since he took over the position.

“He hasn’t slowed down the whole time he’s been here,” Lucky said. “I don’t see him slowing down anytime soon.”

Lucky, who opened his first franchise in 2001, said the role of wavers is to direct drivers toward the office.

The position is vital to the growth of his business.

“They’re our number one resource for breaking into customers,” Lucky said. “One of our first [questions] we ask clients is how did [they] hear about us. They say, ‘Well, we saw the guy out there waving, so we thought we’d come in.’”

He said it takes a special kind of person to be a waver and that you never know if they have got what it takes until they go out there and do it. With Henderson, he has been confident from day one.

“He’s always been very confident in himself,” Lucky said. “He pushes the envelope a little more and more. He has the personality, that’s for sure.”

No regrets

After an eight hour day of laying his heart out on the street for a little over minimum wage, dusk draws in, signaling the end of his shift.

His dance moves become more subdued as he grinds out the final stretch.

When 6 p.m. strikes and the air of the balmy day is whisked away by the chill of a January night, Henderson takes off his sunglasses, exposing bright white skin around his eyes, and whips out a flip phone.

After many clicks, he sends a quick text. Within moments, his wife, Viriginia, helps him gather his boom box and his cart and the two go home for the night.

For two years, Henderson and Virgina were a dynamic waving duo: Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. Both worked as wavers for Liberty Tax Services. But when she comes to pick him up, she prepares to head off for her overnight shift at Walmart.

Virginia said the stability of Walmart was preferred over the life of a waver.

“She’s not as wild and crazy as I am,” Henderson said.

But the idea of the pair retiring is laughable to them. They don’t envision quitting their jobs anytime soon. Losing the purpose of work would be a loss for the pair.

This year has been harder than others for Henderson. He said the construction has both interfered with his engagement with potential customers as well as his consumption of fumes.

But he stands resolute, he doesn’t complain, he takes it.

“That’s how I was raised,” Henderson said. “If you don’t feel happy, then get happy. You gotta get with it. Feeling bad, it’s a waste of time, especially if you’re working.”

He said that while some smile, others flip him off and swerve at him to try to scare or intimidate him. For every customer that hits their blinker and decides they should get their taxes done that day, there are thousands who just keep driving.

He doesn’t let the bad get to him and said that if he is down, he fakes it until he makes it, standing guard over the streets like soul-powered Uncle Sam.

He finds solace in the duty and purpose of what he calls God’s work. Every day is a success as soon as he wakes up.

“I don’t work for the man, I work for God,” Henderson said. “Each day, getting to wake up and do my job, is a success.”

Featured Image: Tildon Henderson waves at cars on Carroll street in front of Liberty Tax Service. Tom Gonzalez

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Kayleigh Bywater

Kayleigh Bywater

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