Jack Davies lives in a house in Georgetown overlooking the Key Bridge. This means that, for most commuters, the Davies home is a sort of tantalizing mirage from the promised land, a taunting wink from a magical place that floats above the horns and brake lights and gridlock.
That’s why Davies decided to order a 20-foot inflatable Santa Claus last winter and install it on his roof deck, facing out over the river.
“Tens of thousands of people come over the Key Bridge every day, and most of the time they’re stuck in traffic,” Davies explained to me this week. “I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to make people smile?”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, with plenty of happy commuters and not a single complaint about how Santa was bringing down the neighborhood. The giant Saint Nick, who was ordered from a vendor in Florida, went up shortly after Thanksgiving, and remained in his perch until a few days after Christmas, when he was deflated and packed into a two-by-four foot box for storage until the next holiday season.
In the meantime, Davies — the founder of AOL International and a minority owner of the Washington Capitals for nearly a decade — came up with his next inflatable idea: a hockey player in Caps red, bringing playoff cheer to frustrated morning commuters.
He called the same vendor, who had done sports mascot work in the past The vendor asked for some images. With help from the Caps’ marketing department, Davies sent hockey-player examples, along with the proper logos and fonts. They settled on a design, and despite the vendor deciding this was the hardest inflatable he had ever tackled, the 20-foot tall Capital headed north, just a few days after the playoffs started.
Davies solicited the help of a pair of Caps season ticket holders — Michael Murphy and Clarke Williams, who had helped him install Santa. In mid-April, they got the generic player (wearing No. 00, with “Let’s Go Caps” on his back) to stand guard, looking out over the city and the Potomac River while Rocking the Red. He’s been there ever since.
“Three guys up there wrestling with a 20-foot creature is difficult,” Davies said. “But once we get him in place, he’s weathered a lot of adversity.”
What sort of adversity? Well, when Davies was in New York last weekend for the start of the Rangers series, he got a text from Williams asking what had happened to their player. Seemed water had gotten into the rooftop outlet, and the lack of power cut off Giant Caps Man’s air.
“I had to adjust the circuit breaker, and in about 60 seconds he inflated again and was back in action,” Davies said. “I suppose there’s a metaphor there; even you’re deflated, with a little help and support you can bounce right back.”
(Of course, the Giant Caps Man didn’t have to learn that lesson through three overtime periods, but still.)
Fans have sent me pictures of the inflatable fellow from the Key Bridge and from Rosslyn; he’s easily visible from the GW Parkway, and presumably to passengers flying into National Airport from the north.
“I was afraid I was violating not only Georgetown zoning ordinances but a few FAA regulations,” joked Davies, 62, whose house is on Prospect Street.. “But we’re all good Caps fans, and we’re doing this to perform a public service and offer a little boost for the Caps.”
The inflatable, it goes without saying, will remain inflated until the Caps’ playoff run ends — “hopefully into June,” Davies said. After that, he’ll be donated to the team for fan events, until next Spring’s playoffs.
I did point out to Davies that while he was trying to put smiles on the faces of commuters, he might accidentally be making the morning drive more painful for any area Rangers fans.
“They deserve whatever ill feelings they might have,” he said.