Jerry Ross makes a living playing a Little Caesar’s advertising “air” guitar in Central Point. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Playing for Pizza

CENTRAL POINT — While many people come equipped with an air guitar, whether acoustic or electric, Medford resident Jerry Ross has the privilege of using his invisible-guitar-playing skills to earn a regular paycheck luring passing motorists to buy pizza. His instrument of choice is a giant plastic guitar boasting the phrase "Hot and Ready!" Monday through Friday, cars pass Ross at the corner of Pine Street and Freeman as he strums, advertising Little Caesar's $5 pizza special.

If they stop to ask, those who can't make out the tunes blaring from his boom box find out his plastic guitar plays along with a favorite local country music station.

Some passersby honk and wave. Others flash a peace sign. Kids point and smile.

Occasionally pennies are flicked at his forehead or his equipment is "messed with," he says, but Ross has yet to be discouraged.

One of the few dancing sign wavers to stick to the job at the corner of Freeman and Pine, Ross has been a regular fixture at the corner across from McDonald's for six months.

His predecessor's gave up their air tunes after only a week or two.

"I just love what I do," Ross admitted recently. "It's a lot of fun. I even have kids on the school buses doing the air guitar. Just the other day we had a big busload of kids, I guess they were coming back from a field trip with their teachers, who were going wild playing air guitar along with me." A recovering alcoholic with a learning disability that prevented him from learning to read or write as a child, Ross says he's grateful for his guitar-playing gig.

He says his only hope is to evoke a smile or two from those who pass him by.

A Redding, Calif., native, Ross made his way to the Rogue Valley in recent years doing track maintenance for the Central Oregon Pacific Railroad. After being laid off, he hounded temp agencies for work before finding his way to the pizza place.

An alcoholic from a long line of the same, the 48-year-old had a vocational counselor tag along for his interview to fill out the application. Once hired, Ross said he fine-tuned the pizzeria's marketing ploy to serve his new employer the best he could.

"They showed me what they wanted and I just spiced it up a little," he said with a laugh.

While his 9 to 5 guitar playing gig helps pay the bills, Ross said he values the chance "give back." With no money to pay for alcohol treatment just over a year ago, Ross relied on community-funded programs to kick a habit that cost him two wives and countless opportunities.

"They have a special deal for people who don't have the money for treatment and I know how lucky I was to get some help," Ross said. "I just got through celebrating 13 months of sobriety.

"It's not actually for the money but just to give back to the community and make people smile. That's what I get from this job."

While the guitar gig for Little Caesar's is not the most glamorous available, shift manager Dustin Tiller said Ross has made a name for himself as a pizzeria rock star of sorts.

"We all think he's great. He's by far the best sign dancer we've ever had. We usually get people who work for two weeks at it and just want to quit," Tiller said. "It's great to have someone stick around. We get three or four compliments about him every day."

Thursday afternoon, Central Point mom Hannah Rayleigh's two sons laughed and pointed at Ross from the McDonald's parking lot.

"They wave at him all the time," said Rayleigh. "I think he's hilarious. He sure looks like he's having a good time."

With his alcohol problem under control and a job he enjoys, life is looking up. He proposed marriage last month, and the couple plan to marry soon. He's received a half-dozen job offers but says he'll stay right where he is.

"I know how lucky I was to get this job and I'm not going anywhere," Ross said. "I wouldn't do that to my employer, especially when I'm having so much fun. I think people would missing seeing me do this."

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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