Dave "Big Dave" Sylvester

Dave “Big Dave” Sylvester high fives patrons entering the Pickle Barrel in Bozeman on Saturday as part of his nationwide hug and high-five tour.

It doesn’t take long to get to know Dave “Big Dave” Sylvester, especially when he’s extending his arms for either a high-five, hug or both.

Written on a sign he set up outside of the Pickle Barrel in Bozeman on Saturday was, “Spreading good vibes one hug and high-five at a time,” Sylvester said that’s his mission. He said he hopes his hugs and high-fives motivate people to be a better person, as he pointed at a hashtag on his sign that said, “#beabetterdude

“And the hugs and high-five tour has begun,” said Sylvester after he set up a banner outside of the sandwich shop.

His hugs are firm and his high-fives produced loud pops that caught the attention of most sitting outside enjoying lunch and people passing by. The personal trainer’s actions were a magnet for most anyone in the area, and that produced more hugs and high-fives.

In time when the country is so divided, he said, he feels that the hugs and the high-fives that he hands out in every state are needed now more than ever. The Philadelphia native said he tries to engage everyone; even people he thinks wouldn’t normally want a hug.

A lady stopped to talk to him in one state, and asked if he had ever hugged a President Donald Trump supporter, which he said he supposed he had but never asks people for their backgrounds while spreading his love. Sylvester said the lady looked at him and said, “You see what you put out, so I guess you see goodness in everyone.”

In the hand not giving out high-fives, Sylvester had a counter that he clicked with for every gesture done that day. It was the first time he visited Montana, one of the last three states he has not been to, and the number of hugs and high-fives got closer to the 9,000 mark on Saturday after he got set up.

Teachers want to educate kids that will in turn make a difference, he said. But, for him, it’s the pop of a high-five or the embrace of a stranger that he said he hopes makes a difference for the people he encounters.

“Everybody’s focused on what’s dividing us, but I just want to focus on what brings us together,” said Sylvester, referring to the hugs and high-fives.

After setting up his banner, Sylvester walked into the sandwich shop and explained to two employees his mission. He then proceeded to reach his arms out for a hug from the two behind the counter.

“You give really good hugs,” said Arynn Collins, a Pickle Barrel employee.

“Well, it’s kind of my job now,” Sylvester replied.

Walking out of the shop, Sylvester had been noticed by other people in the immediate area, including Joan and Kim Pribanic. He held the door for the two as they exited the shop, and then asked them for a high-five, which seemed gentler than the others he had been handing out.

“I was slightly shocked, but it’s good,” Kim said. “It’s better than a lot of other options out there.”

The Pickle Barrel in Bozeman was just one of Sylvester’s many stops in his tour of the lower 48 states. His journey to spread love and joy to everyone started in June, with help from Duke Cannon, a soap company.

“I told them, I will hug and high-five everyone in the country, and for a moment they will smell your soap,” Sylvester said.

Sylvester drove into town on Saturday from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and said the hug and high-five tour continues at the Pickle Barrel in Billings on Sunday.

“I just think something like this needs to be done,” Sylvester said. “It needs to be done.”

Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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