It can get hard out there for a compliment guy.
Especially when your cool campus phenomenon has morphed into a 12-city tour with a corporate sponsor, an entourage of two public-relations handlers, and a bossy videographer, hot weather, empty Rocky steps, and a park ranger who won't allow the little yellow Kodak "I was complimented today" stickers to be handed out at the Liberty Bell.
But if anyone can keep looking on the bright side, it's these good-natured guys, shouting out compliments to passersby as they hang on to their goofy handwritten "Free Compliments (High Fives Welcome)" poster, straight out of Purdue University, taking on cities not exactly known for their random good nature. Give it up for college juniors Cameron Brown and Brett Westcott.
And bask in their approval, Philadelphia. They are relentless.
"I like your hat!"
"That's a really cool dress."
"I like your heart earrings."
"Ma'am, you're radiating today."
"Man, those are some awesome camo pants, and those are cool dog tags."
"I like the floral pattern on your arms."
"You are a very cute couple."
"Sir, you're looking very professional today."
And that was just the first 15 minutes at Sixth and Chestnut near the Liberty Bell, where the National Park Service declared their stickers advertisements and ordered their PR assistants to stop handing them out.
The itinerary that followed also included a trip to the unusually unpopulated Art Museum steps, which they first climbed in a spontaneous burst of enthusiasm but then had to run again for the videographer, and a final stop at Ninth and Passyunk, where complimenting eased nicely into lunch. (They planned to try both Pat's and Geno's.)
For the most part, their compliments were well-received - Brett, a civil-engineering major from Chicago, radiates sincerity; Cameron, a management major from Ohio, handles the enthusiasm end.
The duo, who began in 2008 spending Wednesdays standing outside Purdue's chemistry building for a few hours doling out free compliments, say the offer by Kodak (which followed 50,000 hits on YouTube and a stint on Good Morning America) to fund this tour has been just a wacky stroke of good luck - although it did lead to some backlash in a disapproving compliment-guys-have-sold-out editorial in the Purdue University student newspaper.
The idea to give compliments had simple roots. "I woke up with the idea," says Westcott. "I wanted to go out and do something nice."
He said people were so used to keeping their heads down as they walked through campus that student groups posted flyers on the ground. "We wanted to pick people's heads up."
He says the corporate sponsorship has not changed their motivation, just allowed them to bring happiness to places they've never been, including New Orleans, Washington, and, today, New York. "Compliments are still completely sincere."
"We're just two college kids doing something fun," says Brown. "It's the best summer job I've ever had. People say it's going to pay our tuition. But I pay $34,000 a year. It's not even a tenth of that." Brown wouldn't give specifics.
But it does seem to have become a bit of a grind, with Philly the 10th of 12 cities they've hit in a huge RV with their pictures plastered on the side. (Rochester, N.Y., the home of Kodak, is the location for the synergistic finale. The pair say they will resume their regular unsponsored gig at Purdue in the fall.) Their day seemed directed mostly by the needs of the videographer, Jesse Selwyn of Los Angeles, hired to produce a video from each city posted to the tour's Web site, brightsidetour.com.
"It's a little taxing for them," says Selwyn. "They're in college. They miss their friends."
Selwyn says that Kodak told him not to go too heavy with the branding for the video, to keep it light and "very guerrilla."
The compliment guys are clearly good at what they do. They have mastered the art of finding something very specific to approve of, an endearing quality that men all over the city should learn. (Much better than the standard "You look nice.")
"That's an awesome paisley-patterned shirt."
"I like your beard. I can't get that same connection." (They used this line several times, pointing out their own scraggly facial hair's bare spots.)
Maybe half the time they were ignored. Still, tourists, especially, seemed charmed and ever-more inclined to speak well of their visit to the City of Brotherly Love. And natives also seemed pleased to be noticed.
"I like your shirt," Brown told Jackie Hagendorf, 68, of South Philly.
"This doesn't make me look fat?" she asked him.
Not at all, he reassured. She was satisfied.
"I think that's great," she said as she walked away, her step a little lighter maybe, happy in her blousy white top. "What more can I ask for?"
Outside Geno's, Westcott told Ronada Hewitt, 18, of D.C., that he liked her hair.
She smiled. "I think it's cool. It's so random. It's encouraging."
But seconds later, the naysayers kicked in. "I think he was being sarcastic," teased her friend Devante Hancock.
No, Devante, he meant it.