I hate to say this because my brother Bill is in the sign business, but Iíve come to believe there are just too many signs in our lives. Letís take a little trip down the road and see what messages may be out there competing for our attention.
OK, here we are speeding along nicely on a toll highway, and all of a sudden warned TOLL BOOTH AHEAD. How far ahead ? It doesnít say, but itís coming up ó probably fast ó and we need to dig out some cash. Next, a sign reading TOLL BOOTH 500 FEET. Let the fumbling begin. In the near distance looms further intelligence: A sign points us to EXACT CHANGE LANE. But we still donít know what constitutes ďexact change.Ē And suddenly we discover weíre in the E-Z Pass lane, which is nice except that we donít happen to have a pass, so itĎs not going to be E-Z. In abject distress, we veer laterally to a line for ALL VEHICLES, filling up rapidly and from which we draw a smart-alec chorus of annoyed horns from more knowledgeable travelers.
Off the toll road a few miles further, on the outskirts of a city, we are greeted by a sign reading, THICKLY SETTLED. I am instantly reminded of a friend from another country, who on seeing that message, asked innocently if it referred to some geological perversity, perhaps an area in which the land had settled, causing the earthís crust to thicken. No, I explained, it just means the area is densely populated. ďWhy donít they just say, DENSELY POPULATED?Ē he inquired. He had me there.
FALLING ROCK ZONE. Ever seen a falling rock there? Iíve never seen one even jiggle. Which makes END OF FALLING ROCK ZONE less of a break and more of a redundancy How about DEER (or even better) MOOSE CROSSING. Ever see it actually happening? We stopped beside such a sign once when the kids were little, hoping to make a cheap field trip out of it. We saw a squirrel or two as we picnicked in the car for half an hour, but nothing with antlers. False advertising, State of Maine.
Near an airbase in New Hampshire, we saw this: CAUTION: LOW-FLYING AIRCRAFT. Great, but what did they expect us to do about it? We thought of ducking down inside the family sedan as we passed, but feared we might be in violation of all those signs urging us to STAY ALERT. Drivers with Thule boxes on the roof could pull over and take them down, I suppose. Or if the planes get down too low, we might have to bail out altogether and head for a foxhole.
Hereís another: BRIDGES FREEZE BEFORE ROADWAYS. On a hot day in July, the thought of a frozen bridge is a distinct relief, not a hazard. But the signs are there 365 days a year.
SLOW SCHOOL, says a yellow triangular sign near the entrance to a red brick building. My quick reaction: It has nothing to do with my speedometer. I just feel sad for all the slow learners inside.
Another pair of attention-getters: SQUEEZE LEFT and MERGE. If cars were made of rubber, not steel, I might understand the first. As for the second, it might make sense to me if I were CEO of some Fortune 500 company in need of a bailout, but what am I expected to do as a driver except just fit in with the traffic flow?
I guess my favorite is END OF MEASURED MILE. First, because I donít remember seeing START OF MEASURED MILE and second, because I donít care and canít imagine why they bothered to measure it in the first place. I donít know about you, but I have other stuff to worry about.
Signs, shmigns. Sorry, bro.
Reach Sid McKeen at mckeensidney@gmail.com.