Sign of the times
On my morning commute recently, I had to do a double-take at a roadside sign.
There, among the signs reminding me of the speed limit, warning me about an upcoming stoplight and informing me to expect a school crossing soon, was another: "Drive safely."
Is that a polite reminder, a mandate or a scold? Do people plan to drive any other way? This got me thinking about the other unnecessary signage I've seen and made me wonder. How about "Road is slick when wet"? Or a "This way" sign with a big arrow pointing, you know, that way. Someone told me they had seen a sign on a power pole with "Caution: Do not hit pole."
New York City even tried putting up "Don't honk" signs on its congested streets. Anyone who has ever driven or walked along New York streets can tell you those signs, since removed, were an exercise in futility.
Some silly signage makes sense to me, like warning people who might be new to a stretch of country road that several miles of curves lie ahead so they should plan on slowing down. But others are just like, "Huh?"
"Unnecessary noise prohibited." Who is to say what an unnecessary noise is? A blaring radio? A crying baby? A major case of intestinal gas? And what about the signage to warn you of what seems like what should be painfully obvious? "Tall cliffs: Do not let your pets or children run free." "Please be aware this balcony is not on the ground floor." "Sidewalk ends."
The truly sad thing about unnecessary signs is that we appear to need them. "Slippery when wet"? Yes, enough of us are blindly barreling through places where we should be more cautious after a rain, a flood, a spill, so that we need a reminder to be careful. The question is more, do the signs work? Or are we so oblivious, due to an overabundance of signage or sheer head up our butts that the signs are useless because we don't see them?
The fact that we need a sign on plastic bags reminding us not to let toddlers put them over their heads saddens me. Yet I wish there were signs on refrigerators warning people to disable the door hinges if they dispose of the appliances.
As a kid we were regaled with horror stories of hapless children who hopped into an abandoned appliance only to be trapped inside and suffocated. It seemed like the public service announcements were everywhere. But that has been many years ago, and I feel like younger generations have no idea of the hazard.
And I wish there were discreet little tabletop signs in every restaurant reminding parents not to let their adorable offspring run amok through the establishment. As a fellow diner and past server I find this one of the most annoying (and dangerous) behaviors adults commit in restaurants. Just because your kid can't sit still and you want to finish your glass of wine doesn't mean the rest of us should suffer.
But enough of that tangent. This is about signs. Signs we need, signs we could live without, signs that do no good.
One resident of a rural road, tired of cross-country drivers speeding, put up an official-looking warning sign designed to get cars to slow down: "Look out for flying monkeys." Yep, that would get me to slow down and start looking around my surroundings.
Smart lady, that one.
Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the West Linn Tidings.
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