A Day With the Metro Ad Man

Antwoin Delph affixes an ad to a pillar on the lower platform at Metro Center.
Antwoin Delph affixes an ad to a pillar on the lower platform at Metro Center. (By John Kelly -- The Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Antwoin Delph was an island of calm yesterday as people rushed around him on the lower platform of the Metro Center subway station. This was his office, after all.

He had positioned his stepladder just where he wanted it. Beside it was a little wheeled cart full of rolled-up tubes of vinyl. When Antwoin pulled a tube out, he looked like a golfer selecting a club.

It was Antwoin's job to transform the gray concrete pillar in front of him into a Virginia vineyard, complete with plump grapes and a curly-haired woman proffering a bottle of wine. That's what was printed on the lengths of 3M Scotchcal film in Antwoin's cart, anyway: an advertisement for the commonwealth's tourism department. "Live passionately -- Virginia is for lovers," it would say once Antwoin had affixed two vertical halves to make a seamless whole.

A small crowd had gathered. Those of us who toil in offices and cubicles, pushing paper and making phone calls, were intrigued by someone who actually did something.

"You're keeping me entertained while I wait for the train," said a man in a necktie.

Antwoin unrolled one half of the ad and then rolled it back on itself to keep it from curling. The vinyl was about nine feet tall by four feet wide, and as Antwoin climbed up the stepladder and held the vinyl against the pillar, he looked like a man trying to wrap an oak tree with a shower curtain. He hugged the pillar and adjusted the ad -- up a bit here, down a bit there -- then used pieces of blue sticky plastic to tape it in place temporarily.

"The first time, I definitely wasn't comfortable," confided Antwoin, 26. That was about two years ago. He had been working as a forklift operator when a friend told him about the job with J. Perez Associates, the contractor that puts up ads in the Metro system and on Metro buses. Driving a forklift was nice -- "You're sitting down all day," Antwoin said -- but this was nice, too. He had quickly become an expert. It still bothered him when someone wrote on his ads, blacking out a tooth or scribbling in graffiti.

With the vinyl held in place on the sides, Antwoin folded the top over about six inches and peeled off the backing to reveal the sticky side underneath. He pushed the top of the ad against the pillar, smoothed it with his fingers, then ran a tiny squeegee over it. He did that again and again -- pull backing, push ad, run squeegee -- until all the air bubbles were gone and the piece of vinyl was stuck like a limpet to the concrete pillar. Then it was time to do the second half.

"This is always harder than the first one," he said. Whoever had designed this ad hadn't done him any favors. The ad was split right in the middle of the woman's face. "You'd think they'd break it in the grass or something," he said.

He climbed the ladder again. It was a little before noon, the perfect time to put up what Antwoin called "direct app" pillar ads. Any earlier or later and the platform would be too crowded. He still had to deal with the wind from the trains.

"Sometimes when a train comes in, I just wait," he said from atop the stepladder, "because it will blow."

The second half took more time. There were a few inches of overlap on each half of the ad, and if Antwoin wasn't careful, the woman could end up with two noses, or no nose at all.

"I've got to get it perfect," he said as he tugged at the vinyl. When he was finally satisfied, he pulled the backing and starting squeegeeing the ad in place. He got to the bottom and said, "Right here I'm going to have to work my mojo."

The text down there read "Mary Watson-DeLauder, Sommelier, Leesburg, VA," except things didn't quite line up, and the middle word looked like "SoSommelier."

"I'm gonna cut it and bring it around," Antwoin said. He razored the top "Sommelier" out and scooched it to the left, covering up the "So" and filling in the bare patch with some foliage he cut from elsewhere. It was like a skin graft or Photoshop without a computer.

"That one's done," he said, packing up his cart. "Six more to do."

Easter Egg Roll Tickets?

A reader in Reston has donated some children's tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll for use by needy kids. I have access to needy kids through this column's work with Send a Kid to Camp, but I need at least one adult ticket. If you have an extra adult ticket to the Group B 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. time slot, please send me an e-mail: kellyj@washpost.com.

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