Signs of the times are everywhere. Most of them are so boring that after a while I quit even noticing them — the boredom of familiarity bred by overexposure. Nobody much wants anything that’s overcooked, whether it’s a steak, a politician’s message, a sales pitch, or a 15-inning no-run baseball game. It’s partly this public boredom that keeps ad people in business — too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
Other signs are boring from the “git-go” because they’re unattractive, or maybe they’re offensive, carry a message or draw attention to something we’re not interested in, are made with the wrong colors, the wrong fonts, the wrong arrangement or some other flaw that just bothers us for reasons beyond our own finite ability to elucidate — even if we’re highly educated. As the US Supreme Court’s Justice Lewis Powell once said in a decision, “I cannot define obscenity, but I know it when I see it.”
Signs that are in this group may include an emerging social trend that just gets off all wrong with us. We say to ourselves (or to others), “This is a bad sign. This is not gonna work. We’re goin’ from bad to worse.” For example, that’s the way I sometimes respond, at least internally, to the current trendy sign of people with way too much flesh exposed by their clothing choices. I feel like I’m seeing something akin to a can of biscuits that has popped open and is running over the edges — it’s not what I want to see. Know what I’m talkin’ ’bout? I’m not talking about morality here, I’m talking about distraction of an ilk that can cause other problems, like running into other signs. It just gets to be too much of a good thing (like I already said).
But every now and again, if I’m in the right mood or on my game, I’ll spot a sign that raises my interest. And sometimes even less frequently, one grabs my attention for reasons having little to do with my susceptibilities to its message, product, layout, color scheme, social trend or cleverness. Take the sign above, for instance. Do you wonder exactly what the sign’s maker had in mind? What s/he was attempting to say? I do. Beyond the obviously unattractive terseness, layout, colors and partial defacement, I’m unsure about the intent of the message, which is helped only a little by knowing — as I do — that it’s in front of a driveway into an elementary school’s parking lot. I can bring students, but I can’t drop them off? Why bother to bring them? Think I just wanna drive through the parking lot with them? Is that supposed to be fun? Am I not here to get rid of them for the day? Or does the sign refer to the fact that there is no “student drop-off” (as opposed to a student drop off –what’s that? A chasm that will swallow the poor kiddies as soon as they alight from my car?) I need some clarification. Or at least some testing of the sign’s content against proper spelling/punctuation/usage rules. Hmmm, another sign of the times?
And then look at this sign from the same parking lot, within 25 feet of the first one. Why didn’t they use the same wording, just dropping the “No”? This is absolutely crazy! I can’t drop off my kids (presumably they’re the students, right?), but they can drop me off there?! This is weird! Who’s going to drop off their parents? (Where was this sign when I was a kid? I might’ve dropped off mine — at least for a day!) But really now, think about this: Elementary students are going to drive up to the elementary school and drop off their parents? If I were a California lawyer, I’d be hanging out at that parking lot to pick up a handy personal injury lawsuit or two. Negligent parents letting their students drive them to school, where the parents are dropped off (or step into the drop-off) while the kids go joy-riding for the day? And then they’ve gotta come back and pick the parents up — that’s what the sign says. But notice the inconsistency between “drop off” and “pick-up.” The sign maker apparently was beginning to think about the situation with the sign’s message, but was unsure of “no hyphen” or “yes hyphen,” so did one each way. Now that’s enlightening! Maybe someone should apply a common-sense axiom at this point: “Problems cannot be solved by the level of awareness that created them.” — Albert Einstein
Okay, enough about school ignorance (Does something seem inherently wrong about that?). Here are two of my favorite signs from my cross-country bike ride back in 2004.
This is no joke, folks. A road sign in remote southwest Arizona. I happen to be from Arkansas and know there’s a small municipality there named Hope. Remember William Jefferson Clinton? Remember Mike Huckabee? But the sign above referred — or so I thought, at the time — to a small town as I rode eastward through a scorching, table-top-flat desert between Quartzite and Wickenburg, Arizona along US Highway 60 near its intersection with State Road 72. Strangest thing, though, was that a town never appeared.* I just saw the road sign on the left that indicated Hope, then a mile or so later the sign on the right indicating I was “now beyond Hope.” For a fleeting second I began to feel that way, until I realized I could move on down the road and not get stuck there for the rest of my life — beyond hope. In the background you can see the Little Harquahala Mountains — and a whole lot of sand, ocotillo, cacti and brush. In the foreground is Yours Truly, decked out in riding togs including mesh helmet cover with rear neck protector (no, that’s not my flowing white hair!) to keep my neck from burning and drying to leather under the relentless sun. But Hope had no entertainment to speak of either, beyond the natural beauty of the scenery. I rode through such towns as Brenda, Harcuvar, Salome, Wenden and Aguila (“Eagle”) before reaching Wickenburg. Do any of those places sound like jumping tourist havens? Not!
Another puzzling sign from the same trip: What kind of church would necessitate a highway sign like this one in the Sam Houston National Forest of east Texas? This was a small county road with almost no auto traffic. The sign tickled my funny-bone at the time, and having nothing else to do as I pedaled my loaded bike along, I mused about the sign’s possible implications for many miles more than it was probably worth. Came up with some amusing theories, none of which really bear repeating — unless you’re reading this on a very long bike ride or as an antidote for sleeplessness. Give me a call if you really want to know more.
A church in Louisiana had the following on its marquee:
I got a little serious about that sign; kept analyzing it as I rode, wondering what motivated its author to make such a statement; whether the statement was true or false, useful or not, and how I could prove either proposition. One of the points I did conclude was that it’s this kind of philosophy or statement that sometimes causes non-church people (or even those who are of faith) to get upset or frustrated with the Christians who post such signs. Maybe the creator of the message intended it as some sort of backhanded or subtle way of inspiring hope. But maybe not. We cannot know. I recommend being more careful — and precise — with words.
Finally, I leave you with this sign. Another in my portfolio of shots from the ’04 cross-continent bicycle trek. This one stands for several propositions — or raises several questions — in my mind. Broken dreams? Failed ambitions? People don’t always keep their promises? The fragility and tragedy of life? Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see? Things are not always as they appear? Poor planning? Forgetting the essentials? The best-laid plans of mice and men …
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
* And sure enough, if you go to an internet map of Arizona and drill down on the highway intersection I’ve cited, you’ll see “Hope,” but no town. It’s just an area on the map. And having ridden through there on a bicycle (I think it would seem similar in a car), I don’t see much that’s hopeful about it — unless you think to yourself, “I hope there’s something up ahead!”
©Aug. 15, 2009 by Michael E. Stubblefield – all rights reserved