Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Roadside Attractions

In God We Trust…United We Stand, 2011

There are a lot of ways to get to know a place. You can go and spend time walking around. You can talk with people who live there. You can pick up a local paper, listen to a local radio show or hang out at the local coffee shop. Here on the East Coast of the United States some of us refer to the “grit line” or the “iced tea line,” that point north of which one can, respectively, no longer find grits on the menu or expect an iced tea glass to be refilled automatically at no additional cost.

Yet another way to get a sense of a place’s personality is to watch the signs along the road. Urban and suburban areas that still allow billboards have the latest advertising messages. The products are contemporary and the offers are up-to-date and generally focused on stimulating the inclination of people who are out driving around to make impulse purchases.

Along some rural roads there are few signs left; perhaps a few historical markers and a few old paper billboards advertising products and events that are long gone.

Out in rural Oklahoma I found signs that spoke to very practical needs: the local dentist’s office, insurance agents and Charles Smith, the bail bondsman who “never sleeps.”

Charles Smith Never Sleeps, 2011

Another thing you see more of along rural roads are expressions of values. The country highways we travel up and down the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware are full of advertising for social services agencies, county fairs and evangelical ministries. There’s a sign in front of a little church along the road in Southern Delaware that announces that “Jesus is Here.”

On the road between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Sallisaw, Oklahoma, the largest category of signs I saw was pronouncements of faith and patriotism. The next largest group was signs for churches.

Whole Lot of Love, 2011

Scold, 2011

Home of the Free Because of the Brave, 2011

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