It’s a few minutes after 7 a.m. in Long Beach. The city is awake but just barely. It’s still stretching and yawning and putting the coffee on.
But Jim Danno, of the Long Beach Public Works Department, is on his hands and knees in the Pike Outlets parking garage, holding an electric grinder that’s screaming heavy-metal racket at a signpost anchor, a fountain of sparks reflecting in his dark safety glasses.
There are signs of Danno all over the south half of the city. He repairs, installs, cleans up and otherwise maintains city signs, roughly 100,000 of them in his half of the city, a territory that stretches from just east of the 605 Freeway to the Terminal Island Freeway, between Wardlow Road and the Pacific Ocean. Another worker does the north half of the city, and a third person does installations and repairs of the higher signs, such as the ones that stretch out over intersections.
Until you go for a ride with Danno, you might not realize the incredible variety of signs in the city. Sure, there are street signs, no parking signs, street-sweeping signs; signs telling you to merge or yield or that it’s OK or not OK to make a U-turn.
But there are signs saying “Golf Carts OK in Daylight Hours” or “15 mph on Bridge for vehicles over 10 Tons.”
There are pictogram signs showing that you must not drive your car on the train track (like you’d need a sign for that), or that there’s no horseback riding allowed or that you should throw trash in the trashcan. There’s a red sign you rarely see posted that warns, in Burma Shave-ese:
There are definite problem areas in town for the sign-fixer. Fourth Street’s Retro Row is notorious for stickers from bands and skaters who cover signs with them.
And wherever there’s a center divider with signs on it, people knock those over all the time. He rattles these area off like a Fed reeling off the names on a most-wanted list: “Appian Way by Mothers Beach, First Street and Redondo, 20th Street and Pine Avenue, Cedar and Eighth, Chestnut and Ninth.”
Danno’s truck is loaded with hundreds of signs, mostly the kind that are familiar to most drivers.
“I carry at least three of each of the city’s emergency signs,” he says. “Stop, Yield, One Way, Wrong Way and Do Not Enter.” Many of the signs deal with street sweeping. But there are some weird ones, including one Danno was off to install after dealing with the Pike Outlets garage sign.
It was on Pacific Place next to the Wardlow Metro Station parking lot where he was installing a two-part sign. One, a pictogram indicating that there are train tracks ahead, and a second sign below that one elaborating, in plain English, that there a “2 Tracks Ahead.”
“Is that really useful information?” I ask Danno. He shrugs and smiles. “I just put ’em up.” He lifted a jackhammer out of his truck and, with plenty of difficulty, manages to pound a three-foot-long anchor into the dirt in an area already cleared and marked off by the utility companies, with different colored spray-paint markings showing him where it’s OK to hammer the signpost without hitting something useful or dangerous: Yellow paint for gas, red for electricity, blue for water and orange for fiber optics.
A call comes in on the radio as he’s finishing. A car had plowed into pole holding a street-sweeping sign at 32nd Street and Pacific Place. “That’s good,” says Danno. “We’re right in the neighborhood.”
Efficiency often determines how he spends his day.
“I go into the office at 6 a.m. and get my assignments. Usually 10 or 12. A lot of them come from the GO Long Beach app, and we get some from council members responding to their constituents. But if I get an emergency, I’ll head out to take care of it and then while I’m there I might see two or three other signs nearby that need replacement.” He’ll replace up to 30 signs before his day is over.
And it’s not always just taking down a sign and throwing up a new one. It’s not even 8:30 in the morning and already he’s grappled with a Sawzall, a grinder and a jackhammer. And now this pole that’s been knocked flat by a late-night driver. Danno has to fire up the grinder again to cut the pole from its anchor and then get concrete out to apply over the stub so someone doesn’t mess up a foot kicking it. He can’t put in a new pole until, once again, he gets clearance from the utilities.
Danno is utterly enthusiastic about this job that he’s had for three years. He bristles at promotion; a desk job away from the sign business. “Oh, no,” he says. “I love doing this. It’s a great job and it provides instant gratification over and over each day. You take something that’s become a blight and you replace it with something fresh, and then you go off and do another one. And, trust me, there’s always another one.”
Support our journalism.
Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.