House painter Dennis Easterling of Charlotte won national media coverage in December 1991 when he climbed atop a Longhorn Steakhouse billboard on Independence Boulevard and vowed to stay until the Charlotte Hornets won two straight games. He ended up waiting 35 days. Two years later, Easterling earned headlines for running in the Republican primary for mayor. He lost, garnering just over 700 votes. “What that showed me,” says Easterling, 59, “was that at least 700 people in Charlotte were as crazy as me.”
Following are excerpts from an interview with reporter Mark Price.
Q. Why, why, oh, why?
I was out of work at the time due to a back injury, and I'd read about this disc jockey in Atlanta who lived on a billboard for a couple of weeks to pull for the Atlanta Braves. I had a friend who worked for WBT radio, and I told him if we could find a billboard for me to crawl up, we could use it for positive exposure. The Hornets weren't doing so well, and there was talk about firing the coach for not winning any games. At one time, we thought about staying up until they won three games in a row, but I'm glad we didn't. I don't think they won three games in a row that entire season.
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Q. When it comes to the intimate details, what was the tough part?
We had to get a security guard to be there 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., because of crazies who kept showing up in the middle of the night. We had neighborhood kids that shot bottle rockets at me and threw mud clods and tomatoes. One night, some drunken teenagers tried climbing the scaffolding….I got used to the weather. It was freezing, but I had a heater. The worst part was that I caught intestinal flu the last week I was up there, and it was 26 feet down to the restroom. I was miserable. When they won those two games, I had done all I could do. I was ready to come down. I wasn't trying to set a Guinness Book record, but I did follow their rule of limiting myself to one 5-minute break per hour.
Q. What did you do that first night down after 35 days?
Bill Dukes, who owns Longhorn Steakhouse, showed up with a limo and took me to his restaurant, where they had a “welcome home” party after the restaurant closed. He had agreed to take care of my bills while I was up there, since I was on his sign. The next morning, I had to get up at 5 a.m. and go remove my things from the billboard. It was only fair that I go clean up after myself.
Q. What other big stunts have you pulled?
After the (9-11) terrorist attacks, it was arranged through a car dealership on Independence Boulevard that I would stay in an old Huey helicopter in the parking lot until we captured Osama bin Laden. The helicopter was donated by an aviation museum and towed to the lot. It ended after 67 days, when President Bush announced that we were no longer going just after bin Laden, but all terrorists.
Q. What do you do now?
I'm still a painting contractor. It's a small operation, with only one full-time guy who helps me out. I've got arthritis in my back now, so I can't get up the ladder like I used to. …I'm not saying that I won't try something else crazy in the near future. We're talking about something right now.