THE ANSWER IS NO. You’re asking yourself if Mays is yelling his way through our interview. But he’s not like that off camera -- not unless he has to be.
“A couple of years back, I was walking through the airport, and a woman stopped me and said, ‘You look like that guy on TV,’ “ Mays recalls from his Florida offices, where Sullivan, who pops in and out of the room during our chat, also works. “I said, ‘Yes ma’am, I am. I’m Billy Mays.’ She said, ‘Prove it.’ “
Mays was dumbstruck. He pulled out his driver’s license, which is issued to William Mays. The woman didn’t buy it. “You just look like him,” she said, and she walked off. That was the last time he bothered with documentation. Now if anyone asks if he is who they think he is, Mays just pauses, sucks in a quick breath of air, and blasts them with, “Hi, Billy Mays here!”
Everyone knows Billy Mays, but not many people know William Mays, who is licensed to operate a motor vehicle in the state of Florida. So just who is he? Let’s get caught up.
In 1983, Mays returned to McKees Rocks after attending, playing football for, and subsequently dropping out of West Virginia University. His father’s hauling business had fizzled as industry regulation pushed independent haulers aside. One day, while Mays was in “a local establishment,” he ran into a high school friend named Mike Jones, who was on his way to Atlantic City to sell products to passersby on the boardwalk. Jones convinced Mays to go with him. But there, for the first and possibly last time, Mays couldn’t sell -- at least not at first.
“I wanted to quit the first day,” Mays says. “I was being laughed at. I was being humiliated by people who were broke and drunk.”
But he didn’t quit, in part because he didn’t want to let Jones down. Jones, who is two years Mays’s senior and had played football with him on the Sto-Rox High School Vikings football team, had been Mays’s idol in school. So Mays stayed on and, in time, learned from the veterans of boardwalk selling, including Jones, how to win over crowds and produce sales by using certain tried-and-true techniques. First, draw a crowd. Then, get them to agree or at least sympathize with you. For the last part, the “chill down,” you close the pitch by making the first sale and lining up other buyers.