by Pettus Read
On a trip into our capital city recently, I saw a billboard that contained an advertisement that really made me think. In large bold lettering it said, "Are you an adult that cannot read? If so, we can help." I do understand the concept behind the advertising campaign and the important need for increased literacy in our adult population, but if you are an adult who cannot read, how do you know what the billboard said?
Just as this sign made me think, and possibly not in the way the designer wished I should have thought, each day we all see signs that tell us things that we usually just take for granted. Stop, yield, one way, RR crossing and other simple transportation signs are just a part of our everyday life. The signs that get my attention are those that are intended for one meaning; but yet, cause weird me to scratch my head and say, "huh?"
For example, there was a sign in a Maine restaurant that said, "Open seven days a week and weekends." Did not the seven days cover the weekends as well or did the owner come from some place that used some kind of different calendar than we use in this country?
Signs are also a way to see how things have changed over the years. I remember the summer J.C. Penney in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, put a sign in their front window that read, "Cold Air-Conditioned." It was one of those summers that was extremely hot and everyone was stopping in the store just to see what it felt like to experience real air conditioning. Since very few homes in those days had central air conditioning and certainly not the folks I knew out in the rural areas of the county, the coolness of the store was something really special. In fact, many folks had to go back outside because of experiencing an "ice cream headache" due to their bodies not being use to such cold air.
However, today we take air conditioning for granted and if it is not working in a retail store there would be very few customers who would even darken the doors. Nope, a sign saying, "No air conditioning, hot as fire inside, come on in," just wouldn't work.
Other signs that have been taken down and gone the way of the carrier pigeon are free TV in every room, free air for your tires, attendant on duty, gas pumped here, service station, pay phone, service with a smile, just to name a few. Yes, they are all signs of days gone by.
Today everything relates to internet and broadband. I walked in a McDonald's recently which had signage that referred to the fact that their store was internet accessible. I'm sure that is great if you carry your computer with you to get a hamburger and needed to check out the worldwide web as you downed a Big Mac and fries. But, it is a sign of the times.
For those who are in that fast-lane and just can't get away from being communicated to, a restaurant with broadband is the answer. But, for me when I go to eat the only communications I like are those from whom I am enjoying my meal with. Not a cell phone buzzing on my hip, a laptop flashing the latest stock quotes or a Bluetooth blinking in my ear. Those modern day items make it hard to "read the signs" of everyday life.
I'm sure there is a generation of you out there who remember the old Burma Shave signs posted on the sides of the roadways. In an article written by Candace Rich, she says, "In 1925 young Allan Odell pitched his sales idea to his father, Clinton. He used small, wooden roadside signs to pitch their product, Burma Shave, a brushless shaving cream. The red and white signs grew to over 7,000 nationwide at the height of the campaign."
The campaign ended in 1963, but the Burma Shave idea often still pops up on rural roads being used for other businesses. The campaign used four- five- and six- sign sets placed along the side of the road about fifty feet apart to make a catchy slogan. As you drove along, each sign would lead you to an expectation of what the next sign would say. One set of Burma Shave signs containing six signs read, "Train wrecks few - Reason clear - Fireman - Never hugs - Engineer - Burma Shave."
The Burma Shave signs went away due to cars going faster and people having a lessened attention span, plus the signs were not flashy enough for today's consuming public. But, during their day they were great signs of the time. I do wonder when other generations look back on our times, what will be our signs they will remember us by? "Internet Accessible" just doesn't have the ring or nostalgic image like a Burma Shave sign.