Walking home from school one day, I saw the sign posted prominently on the door of a saloon called “The Palace.” It read: NO MINORS ALLOWED!
I remember feeling a sense of outrage. Why, I wondered, would hard-working guys—who daily risk their lives deep below the earth—be so singularly ostracized? Shouldn’t the person who misspelled miner be the one not allowed?
The fact is signs have always confused me—raising more questions than they answer.
Like STOP for example. Why? Maybe fewer drivers would comply if they had an explanation.
Some signs are just fine. WELCOME for example. Hard to have a problem with that one. Especially a sign that reads: WELCOME MINORS AND MINERS!
Others are placed simply to announce and identify a place:
ENTERING WEST SEATTLE.
LEAVING DES MOINES.
Certainly those warning signs that let you know what’s coming are helpful:
CURVES. SHARP TURN. SUDDEN PLUMMET.
But many signs are noteworthy for other reasons—from where they are placed, to their spelling, to their content. Keep an eye out and you’ll start seeing them everywhere:
NEW AND USED ANTIQUES.
FIRST CHOICE ELECTRICAL. CALL US NEXT TIME.
WILLOUGHBY’S DRY CLEANERS. DROP YOU PANTS HERE.
VIDEO ONLY: MORE THAN JUST VIDEO.
Here’s a sign you sometimes see at crossings with a yellow light: STOP WHEN FLASHING! It’s hard to make sense of that one. If a guy were flashing, why would he stop? It’d make it just that much easier for the cops to catch him.
When my daughter was young, ordinary road signs would catch her eye. Her comments about them were always insightful. “Why,” She would ask, “Would anyone have to put up a sign like NO SHOULDER DRIVING? It’s way easier to steer with your hands.”
Another questionable one is WRONG WAY. A warning sign—or a street sign like
S.W. ADMIRAL WAY?
And then there’s SLOW CHILDREN. OK, maybe kids aren’t always going to make the honor roll—but does it need to be made public on a road sign?
When my daughter was learning basic math, she was intrigued by the greater-and-lesser than symbols (>>>) or (<<<). So when we would come to a curve in the road—rimmed with a series of signs indicating those same symbols (>>>) or (<<<)—she would logically state, “The people that live on that side of the road are greater (or lesser) than the people who live on the other side. Perhaps that’s correct. Who knows?
Whenever my wife is parking downtown in an underground lot, she always looks for the words LOW CLEARANCE OVERHEAD—figuring there’s a sale going on.
In Bend, Oregon—where I grew up—there’s a sign as you approach town: BEND AHEAD. Or is that BEND A HEAD? Why?
And there’s another small town farther down the road called “Burns.” You know will be going in the right direction when you see the sign reading: BURNS LEFT LANE. But who would volunteer for that? Better bring the ointment.
There’s also a town in Oregon named “Boring.” It doesn’t help that there’s a sign leading there that reads: BORING TWO MILES. Must be true. I nearly fell asleep at the wheel last time.
And farther south along Highway 26, near Mt. Hood, lays a small hamlet named “Zig Zag.” The road sign—ZIG ZAG TWO MILES—has resulted in numerous driver arrests and countless Breathalyzer tests.
Thanks goodness Washington State doesn’t have town names like that.
Humptulips does not count.
Meanwhile, even now as a grown young woman, my daughter still keeps an eye out.
Her latest? END CONSTRUCTION. She says, “I must agree. They should be done
with it by now.”