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Doug Clark: Hey, thief, this topping not on menu

Considering all the human-on-human crime going on around here of late, it’s doubtful police will spend any time worrying about who snatched the robot head on New Year’s Eve in Hillyard.

Which is too bad.

Nobody should get away with a beheading, even if the victim is a mechanical sign flipper.

Manny Quinn, I mean.

That’s the name employees gave their motorized co-worker when he showed up last November to flip advertising signs outside Little Caesars Pizza on North Market Street.

Things went pretty smoothly, with a couple of amusing exceptions.

Like the guy who was seen trying to talk to the mannequin like a real person.

And a couple of calls came into Little Caesars from people concerned that sign guy wasn’t wearing warm enough clothes.

Hillyard.

Go figure.

But nothing serious happened until New Year’s Eve, when fiends unknown did the Marie Antoinette on poor Manny.

David Olsen, who owns several Little Caesars shops in Spokane, believes it was “probably kids” who made off with the head.

I drove to the scene of the snatching Friday to talk to Olsen about the decapitation as well as the broader issue of robots in the flip force.

These mechanized mannequin marketers are popping up here and there all over the country. In Spokane, you can see these made-in-California contraptions at Olsen’s pizza businesses and a couple of oil-change places.

The things essentially do what their flesh-and-blood counterparts do: Wave signs in an attempt to lure customers into stores.

Granted, no lifeless thing can have the panache or acrobatic moves of an accomplished human sign flipper.

On the other hand, you’ll never hear a robot wanting a pay raise or complaining about having to work a double shift.

Olsen struck me as a really nice guy who cares about his employees.

But the pizza biz is as competitive as it gets. And with the economy this bad, sometimes you have to cut back wherever you can.

Even so, these android anchovy pushers take a bit of getting used to.

I practically drove off the road the first time I encountered the South Hill’s Manny.

He was wearing a ball cap and an orange T-shirt and twirling away outside the Little Caesars at 29th and Regal.

Stiff and lifeless as any store window mannequin, the sign moved in an oddly human cadence.

My son, Ben, was so taken by the sight of Manny that he created “The Robotic Sign Flipper,” a faux movie trailer that you can watch with this column or at http://youtu.be/ UoWkrL3GSqQ.

I don’t know. The more I study this issue, the more I’m convinced that this might be the wave (har!) of the future.

I don’t want to cause a panic. But it may be just a matter of time before robotic mannequins take over more and more of our jobs.

They’ll probably start at the symphony. The motorized motion seems perfect for moving a conductor’s baton.

True, every piece of music would have to be performed at the same monotonous tempo.

But the savings will be tremendous.

And who wouldn’t be for mannequins replacing the City Council?

Of course, how would you know?

An all-mannequin council may be a long way off, sure.

But a guy can dream, can’t he?

By the way …

Don’t be surprised if the aforementioned South Hill Manny looks a little, well, different these days.

When I drove up there on Friday, Manny was completely disguised in the franchise’s trademark Little Caesars costume.

Store manager Jesse Lundquist told me why he did this.

See, South Hill Manny’s head was loaned to headless Hillyard Manny until a new dome can arrive.

Head swapping. There’s another thing you can’t do with human employees.

I wish I could give you a happy ending, but alas, these creeps struck again Friday night, stealing Manny’s replacement noggin.

“It’s crazy,” Olsen says. “I don’t get it.”

Nor do I. If these jerks had any common decency they’d quit while they’re ahead.

Doug Clarkcan be reached at (509) 459-5432 ordougc@spokesman.com.


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