At a stoplight outside the Beltway comes a Mini Cooper decorated like a box of fireworks. Atop the car is a giant pink and yellow Big Boyz Bail Bonds pen, looking at first like a guided missile.
You imagine The Jolly Green Giant making bail:
Big Boyz: "OK, Mr. Giant, just sign here."
Jolly Green Giant: "Ho, ho, ho!"
Big Boyz: "No--not with that pen!"
Look up the word "ubiquitous" in the dictionary and you'll see a picture of the pink and yellow Big Boyz pen.
Then you think: But why flood the world with a tchotchke promoting a service for such a small niche market? How many people in the Baltimore area could actually need to post bail each year?
"It's marketing," one of the Big Boyz, who's normal size, tells me.
Well, yeah. But 500,000 pens?
Bug scientists say 17-year cicadas emerge by the millions, and no matter how many the birds eat, the things will live to reproduce by the millions. This numerical logic drives the pen promotion. In the future, when giant cockroach archaeologists excavate Central Maryland, here's what they'll find: Ravens jerseys and Big Boyz pens.
My dream is a nighttime ride-along with the "Pen Car," as they call it, cruising through Halethorpe and Landsdowne, the giant pink and yellow pen glowing atop the little rolling sideshow.
Big Boyz: "Lefty's house is up here on the right."
Me: "Why do they call him 'Lefty?'"
Big Boyz: "Everybody at the rendering plant's called 'Lefty.'"
The individual Big Boyz pen has become--what's the word?--iconic. My 20-something daughters think they are edgy, cool. My 16-year-old son covets a Big Boyz T-shirt. As do my 50-something writer friends.
"We're trying to brand it," one of the Big Boyz says. "Want some pens?"
I'd say it's working.