Local Color - Staff Picks
Published: July 18, 2012
Jose Melendez, Orlando's Mr. Gold
Gracing the cover of Orlando Weekly's 2012 Best of Orlando issue is no sweat, when you're Jose Melendez. Better known as Orlando's Mr. Gold, Melendez is the man in the gold lamé Elvis suit, dancing at the corner of Colonial Drive and Maguire Boulevard. His job is to get your attention, and then to get you inside the Diamond Exchange, where they trade (what else?) cash for gold.
As thermostats inch higher, and another cruel July makes us rethink why we live in Central Florida, Melendez will still be working outside, top hat and gold mask glinting in the sunlight. So how much is he hating his job right now? Not at all, it turns out.
"I don't like it, I love it," Melendez says. "One hundred percent."
In fact, he says he works better in the hot air. Melendez, 35, was a "house dad" for a couple of years before taking on the gig two years ago. An Orlando resident of 25 years, Melendez attended Oak Ridge High School before getting into trouble with the law.
"Being an ex-con, cause I am, I'm an ex-felon, it was hard for a while, yeah," he says, recalling a less gilded chapter in his life. "But I was given a chance to work."
That chance came from Jim and Virginia Ann Rodriguez, the owners of Diamond Exchange, who were already trying out a Mr. Gold character. But the role called for a more dazzling personality.
"They had one, but not one like me," Melendez says. "They used to have someone out there just waving."
Melendez, a single dad, knew he could do it better – and he does. He tips his gold top hat with a distinctive flick of his wrist, he engages people driving along Colonial, dancing nonstop the whole time he's out there. Maybe he's so good at his job because he's inspired by faith. He listens to gospel music while he's working, and he describes his job as a religious experience.
"It's more like praise and worship all day long," he says. "I don't call it routine ... it's worship."
When Melendez isn't working for the Diamond Exchange, he likes to spend time with his 7-year-old son, Elliott, who already exhibits his father's confidence and charm. When asked if he's currently single, Melendez responds carefully, "I got my eyes on this special woman. ...
She's a very special, godly woman. And she know who she is."
In a steaming, sweltering city full of sign twirlers who look like they're one step up from rock-bottom, Melendez has made a bona fide career out of what is arguably one of the worst jobs in town. But Melendez doesn't see it that way – as unemployment continues to crush the spirits of thousands of Floridians, Melendez considers himself lucky.
"I said, 'I'm gonna turn this job into a career,' and I did." he says.
That's why we chose him to represent us in this issue – he embodies the spirit of the Best of Orlando.